Mental wellbeing and planning a pregnancy

Taking care of your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health before pregnancy is important.

Planning to have a baby can be very exciting. It can also be daunting. You’re making plans for a huge change in your life. You may be thinking about:

Being anxious about these things is normal and healthy and you should not think that it is a problem. But in some cases the periods of worry and stress don’t go away, and this is when they may turn into something more serious. Look out for changes in your mood that are lasting much longer than is normal for you. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are not unusual in pregnancy so it’s important to look after your mental wellbeing before and after you conceive.

If you have an existing mental health condition read more here.

What can I do to look after my mental health?

There are some things you can do to help take care of your emotional health as you try to conceive. These include:

  • being active/exercising
  • eating well
  • being honest about your feelings
  • talking to someone you feel you can trust – your partner, a family member or a friend
  • getting help if you have any concerns about your feelings
  • finding ways to relax.

Alcohol, drugs and mental health

Alcohol and non-medical drug use can be bad for your mental health, making feelings of depression and anxiety worse if you have them. Sometimes people may also use alcohol or drugs as a way of trying to cope with mental health problems. When you are planning a pregnancy it is best to stop drinking alcohol and taking drugs.

Talk to your GP if you have worries about not being able to stop alcohol or drug use. They will be able to refer you to specialist services. As well as the NHS, there are a number of charities and support groups across the UK that can support you.

Support from family and friends

Having a support network of people close to you who you trust and can talk to before you become pregnant will be very helpful during pregnancy and afterwards when you have a small baby to look after. It will also help you keep stress levels down.

Trying to get pregnant can be a lonely time for some because talking about it might not feel easy or normal. You may find it helpful to talk to people you trust, especially if it is taking a while to happen. You may find that the same happened to others.

If you are having specific fertility issues Fertility Network UK  has an online forum and fertility support groups where you can find other people who are going through the same things as you.

Chronic (continual) and ongoing stress can sometimes affect the baby’s development in the wombs, so support and reassurance from family and friends will also help you when you become pregnant and as your baby develops. You may find it helpful to ask for support from family and friends now to help you have a healthy and happy pregnancy.

Your relationship with your partner

Planning a family with your partner can be a very exciting time. For some, trying to conceive can even improve your relationship.

For others, trying to conceive can cause some stress and sex may become routine or even feel like a chore. This can cause problems between partners, and in some cases may make you unsure about starting a family.

It’s important for you and your partner to try to keep sex enjoyable by focusing on each other and your relationship, rather than worrying about conceiving. Try to also spend time together doing other things that are important to you as a couple.

If you or your partner is feeling worried about conceiving, try to give each other time to talk about it.

It may help to get professional support. Relate can offer you space for you to talk about your worries together in a safe and confidential place with a trained counsellor.

It may be helpful to deal with any problems in the relationship before you get pregnant or have the baby. But remember it’s never too late to get support. 

Domestic violence

Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial. Some abuse starts when women become pregnant. Other times the abuse gets worse during or after pregnancy.

Domestic violence or abuse can cause emotional and mental health problems, including stress and anxiety. It also puts you and your unborn child at risk.

It may be very difficult to recognise or admit what is happening. Remember that domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone and you are not alone.

There are professionals you can talk to if you are thinking about having a family but are being abused. Nobody will judge you or tell you what to do, it’s just important that you get support (listed below).

When should I get help about my mental health?

You may feel all kinds of emotions as you plan for pregnancy, but it’s important to be aware of any changing feelings. See your GP if:

  • you’ve been feeling depressed for more than a few weeks
  • your anxiety is affected your daily life.

If you go to your doctor with concerns about mental wellbeing you may be asked some questions. These are designed to help them look for signs of common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. For example, they may ask:

  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  • Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by feeling nervous, anxious or on edge?
  • Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by not being able to stop or control worrying

Try to answer any questions as honestly as you can. Remember these feelings can be quite common and your doctor is there to help you.

If you need further support you may be referred to a mental health professional.

Depending on their assessment you may be offered:

  • medication
  • talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapies
  • guidance on self-help therapies.

You will probably be referred to a perinatal mental health specialist and will be monitored more closely during and after your pregnancy.

Find out more about getting help and support with mental health when you are pregnant.

Will my mental health be monitored after I get pregnant? And how?

Yes. Many women feel more vulnerable and anxious when they are pregnant. But if you haven’t experienced mental health problems before, try not to worry about becoming unwell after you conceive. Your midwife and the rest of your care team will ask you about your emotional wellbeing at all appointments through your pregnancy. Be honest with them if you are having problems.

It can also help to find out more about the symptoms of common mental health conditions in pregnancy, such as anxiety and depression.

Are you ready to conceive? Use our tool to find out.

Sources

1. National Institute for Health Research (2017) Better beginnings Improving health for pregnancy https://www.dc.nihr.ac.uk/themed-reviews/health-in-pregnancy-research.htm

2. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Depression, Page last reviewed: 05/10/2016 Next review due: 05/10/2019. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/causes/

3. Glover V, (2015) Prenatal stress and its effects on the fetus and the child: possible underlying biological mechanisms. Advances in neurobiology 2015;10:269-83. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1372-5_13

4. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Domestic abuse in pregnancy, Page last reviewed: 17/03/2018 
Next review due: 17/03/2021.  www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/domestic-abuse-pregnant/

5. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Moodzone, Page last reviewed: 20/01/2017 Next review due: 20/01/2020.  www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/

6. NICE (2013) Antenatal and postnatal mental health: clinical management and service guidance National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

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More support with mental health

Anxiety UK

Organisation run by with anxiety disorders, offering information, support and therapies for people experiencing anxiety.

Helpline: 08444 775 774. Visit the Anxiety UK website.

B-EAT

Eating disorders charity providing information, support, local groups and an online chatroom.

Helpline: 0845 634 1414. Visit the B-EAT website.

Bipolar UK

Information and support, local groups and an online chatroom for people with bipolar disorder. Visit the Bipolar UK website.

Bipolar Fellowship Scotland

Information, support and advice for people with bipolar disorder.

Visit the Bipolar Fellowship Scotland website.

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

Provides information for those who are considering some form of counselling.

Call them on 01455 883316. Visit the BACP Website.

Contact a Family

Offers advice and information for families with disabled children.

Helpline: 0808 808 3555. Visit the Contact a Family website.

The Couple Connection

Relationship advice and support. Visit the Couple Connection website

Family Lives

Support for anyone parenting a child.

Helpline: 0808 800 2222. Visit the Family Lives website.

Gingerbread

Information and support for lone parents online and through a network of local groups.

Helpline: 0808 802 0925. Visit the Gingerbread website.

Home-Start

Support for families with young children.

Call them on 0800 068 63 68. Visit the Home-Start website.

Maternal OCD

Maternal OCD is a voluntary organisation dedicated to raising the profile of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for mothers. 

Call the OCD Action helpline on 0845 390 6232 or 0207 253 2664.

Email: [email protected] Visit the Maternal OCD website

MIND

Mental health charity providing information, support, local groups and an online chatroom

Call them on 0300 123 3393. Visit the MIND website.

Mumsnet

Although they do not provide advice Mumsnet has a very supportive mental health forum.

Visit the Mumsnet mental health forum.

No Panic                          

Online and telephone support for people suffering from panic attacks, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and anxiety disorders.

Helpline: 0800 138 88 89. Visit the No Panic website.

OCD Action

Provides telephone advice, online chatroom, local support groups for people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Helpline: 0845 390 6232. Visit the OCD Action website.

OCD-UK

Provides telephone advice, online chatroom, local support groups for people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Helpline: 0845 120 3778. Visit the OCD-UK website.

PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support)

Provides telephone support, online information and local support groups for pregnancy depression and postnatal depression.

Helpline: 0843 2898401. Visit the PANDAS website.

Rainbow Trust

Supports families with children who suffer from a life-threatening or terminal illness.

Call them on 01372 363438. Visit the Rainbow Trust website.

Rethink

Supports people across England to get through mental health crises, to live independently and to realise they are not alone. Find a support group in your area.

Call the mental illness advice service on 0300 5000 927 (10am-2pm Mon-Fri) or use the contact form on their site. Visit the Rethink website

Samaritans

Confidential service offering emotional support to those in need.

Call them on 08457 90 90 90. Visit the Samaritans website.

Women’s Aid

Support for women experiencing domestic abuse.

24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247. Visit the Women’s Aid website.

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Last reviewed on June 5th, 2018. Next review date June 5th, 2021.

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