Self-care: Mental health issues and pregnancy

by My Kent Family reporter

Hollywood rom-coms tell us that falling pregnant generally brings happy tears, excitement, and a feel-good 'glow' that radiates from within.

It's no wonder then, that feeling vulnerable, anxious or overwhelmed during pregnancy can catch many women off guard at a point that is supposed to be the happiest time of their lives.

While much has been written about postnatal depression, a new study has revealed that pregnancy can be just as challenging a time for many women. It found that one in four suffer from a mental health issue during pregnancy - before the baby has even been born.

A quarter of pregnant women have a mental illness of one form or another
A quarter of pregnant women have a mental illness of one form or another

Researchers at King's College London found that when interviewed, a quarter of pregnant women had a mental illness ranging from depression (11%) and anxiety (15%) to eating disorders (2%) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (2%).

We all need time to look after ourselves, but this becomes really important during pregnancy, when you're going through major mental and physical changes. That's where self-care comes in - simple lifestyle techniques that can help manage the symptoms of many mental health problems.

With that in mind, we've found a few simple and natural ways to help anyone dealing with depression and anxiety from the first to the third trimester.

A good sleep always makes for a healthier, happier you
A good sleep always makes for a healthier, happier you

Get an early night

There's no denying you always feel happier and healthier when you wake up after a restful night's sleep. The National Sleep Foundation advises that pregnant women need a few extra hours rest at night than the average adult, and they could benefit from a few short naps during the day too. Sleep impacts many of the chemicals in your body, including serotonin, and people who are deficient in this neurotransmitter are more likely to suffer from depression. You can help to boost your serotonin levels by making sure you're getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night during pregnancy.

Practise pregnancy yoga

Getting into a downward dog pose is probably the last thing you want to do when you're six months pregnant, but according to the Mayo Clinic, practising prenatal yoga can improve sleep and reduce stress. As well as gentle stretching to relax and strengthen, a pregnancy yoga class will usually include guided meditation and breathing exercises to help calm anxious thoughts. Find a local prenatal instructor who can modify the postures to suit your stage of pregnancy and do your own research about safe and unsafe poses.

Practising prenatal yoga can improve sleep and reduce stress
Practising prenatal yoga can improve sleep and reduce stress

Make time for the things you love

One of the most daunting things about pregnancy is the overwhelming feeling that your life is about to change drastically. Make sure you keep the hobbies and rituals that define who you are, to help bolster a sense of self during a period of flux. Whether it's going to see an exhibition, scheduling an evening of pampering or keeping up with a local book club, it's important to make small pockets time for the things you enjoy.

Meet other mums

Any mother will tell you, having other women on speed-dial who know what you're going through can be a sanity-saving connection. During the later stages of pregnancy, it's normal to feel quite isolated and even just getting out of the house can be difficult. That's why it's crucial to have a strong support group that can lighten the load of motherhood and ease feelings of loneliness. Look for local meetups, mother and baby groups or simply sign up to online forums like Mumsnet.

Meeting other mums can be a big help
Meeting other mums can be a big help

Get outside

It's true what they say - fresh air is good for you. Studies have found that spending just 15 minutes a day in nature can boost focus, ease anxiety and increase levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine. More importantly, getting your fix of all-important vitamin D from natural sunlight can help you to sleep better at night. And the better you sleep, the better you'll feel during the day.

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