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Taking Care of Mental Health During Pregnancy

It can be easy for pregnant women to neglect their own psychological health.

Devon Divine / Unsplash
Source: Devon Divine / Unsplash

From prepping the nursery to buying the right car seat, moms-to-be definitely have their plates full in the months before the baby arrives. But one thing that often gets overlooked in the mad dash to motherhood is more important than any outfit or accessory: mental health.

So much attention is focused on the new life coming into the world that it’s easy for pregnant women to forget to check on their own psychological and emotional well-being. But pregnancy is an especially important time to stay on top of these issues, especially because so many unique challenges commonly arise. Everything from mood swings and irritability to tearfulness and anxiety is perfectly normal and natural. There are a million “what ifs” that may crop up, concerns about body changes, fear of giving up control, changes in relationships, worries about work, etc., Thinking and feeling all of these things and more is a typical part of the journey to motherhood, but making sure they don’t develop into chronic depression or anxiety is crucial.

When is it time to seek help?

Experiencing ups and downs during pregnancy is certainly expected, but if certain symptoms persist more than two weeks, it’s time to get help. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Sadness that won’t go away
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling anxious
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or worthless

Experiencing any one of these issues means you could use some support around your mental health. And let’s be clear: You don’t have to experience debilitating depression or weather a traumatic experience in order to merit help. Even just feeling a little bit off or unlike your usual self is enough reason to seek help.

What does treatment look like?

Sometimes women are afraid to reach out for help because they don’t want to take medication or see a therapist. While those two strategies can be majorly beneficial in some cases, treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every person is different, and every treatment strategy may be composed of different elements. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Therapy. Working one-on-one with a trained therapist can be a critical method for overcoming negative thoughts and feelings — during pregnancy and any other time in life. There are many different types of therapy models and philosophies, so doing some research can help you find a provider who’s the perfect fit.
  • Medication. Antidepressant drugs aren’t always necessary to treat depression symptoms during pregnancy, but in some cases, they can be essential. Working closely in an open and honest way with a medical doctor you trust is the best way to figure out if medication is the right treatment for you.
  • Mindfulness. Practicing awareness around your thoughts and feelings is an important skill for anyone, not just expectant mothers. While meditation and mindfulness may not combat severe symptoms, learning to tune into your thoughts and feelings may help you cope. Amid all the frenzy in your day, carve out time — even just a few minutes — to sit by yourself, notice your breath, unravel any tension that’s built up in your body, and pay attention to your thoughts.
  • Groups. Building a community can go a long way in keeping you feeling grounded and understood. While friends and family are of course important, finding solace in people who get exactly what you’re going through can be a huge relief and important outlet. Seeking out pregnancy support groups where you can be open and honest about your feelings and experiences and hear what other women are going through can help normalize your journey and make you feel much less alone.

If you’re having intrusive thoughts of hurting yourself, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. To locate a mental health professional near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Kristen Scarlett, LMHC, is Co-Clinic Director at Octave in New York City. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Nationally Certified Counselor, with over 20 years of experience working with patients on various issues, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, OCD, and relationship problems.

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