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Maternal and family mental health after having a baby

Last Updated 3:59pm, 11 August 2021


Introduction

As the early days of having your baby begin to stretch into months, we recognise that things change and move on.  As part of our Health Visiting offer, we can support you and your baby mental wellbeing. We know that many parents don’t feel able to talk about how they might really be feeling because they are worried about what other people may think. It is really important that you share these feelings with someone so that you know that you are not alone and that you can get all the support you need.

How to look after your own mental health

Having a new baby is a life changing event for both parents.  You are adjusting to a huge change, socially, personally, psychologically, and physically. This type of change is enough to unsettle anyone. It can also be confusing having so many changes and not knowing whether the way you’re feeling is just a normal part of motherhood/fatherhood or if it’s low mood or depression.

Having a baby can also put a strain on relationships, whether that is between you as parents, or relationships with existing children in the family who are also adapting to the changes a new baby brings. This website has lots of information on it about changing relationships: Relationships after having a baby.

This video explores ways to deal with arguments with your partner after your baby is born

The Every Mind Matters website has lots of useful information and advice.

Talking between you and your baby

Speech, Language and Communication is also key, not only for yourself but also with regards to your baby’s development. Take time to look and respond to your baby.

Remember, not all children develop at the same rate but during birth to 3 months your baby will:

  • make vocal sounds e.g. cooing and gurgling
  • start to smile in response to a familiar adult
  • be startled by loud noises
  • enjoy watching a human face more than anything else
  • copy facial movements e.g. sticking out tongue
  • cry when unhappy / uncomfortable
  • turn towards a familiar voice
  • recognise the difference between happy and sad faces and tones of voice
  • turn towards the smell of a familiar adult

Understanding both your needs and your baby’s needs are really important in keeping you both well.

Talking for you

Talking about how you are feeling helps you get through the exciting, yet challenging time of becoming a parent. It doesn’t matter who you talk to, but it is worth having someone in mind that you can trust and who can support you if needed. One of the first steps to getting better is knowing and accepting that you maybe unwell.

You may have mixed emotions about your pregnancy and your baby. This is completely normal.

Here are some common signs that you should talk through with your health visitor:

  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Being irritable/arguing more often
  • Lack of concentration
  • Change in appetite
  • Problems sleeping or extreme energy
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling more anxious
  • Lack of interest in usual things

Some women can also have:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Strict rituals and obsessions
  • Lack of feelings for their baby

It is important that you look after your own mental health so that you are well enough to care and enjoy your baby. Think about the suggestions below that may help you to consider how you can cope. Some of these may be more difficult to achieve in light of Covid-19, so you may need to be more creative in how you achieve this.

Ways to cope

Ways to cope: what might appeal to me?

  • Talking to someone I trust about how I feel, such as a parent, sibling, partner or trusted friend
  • Talking to my midwife or health visitor about how I feel
  • Keeping active
  • Having a healthy diet
  • Finding out about different ways to relax, such as yoga, meditation
  • Asking for help with things at home, like chores and babysitting
  • Asking for support if I am worried about my baby
  • Finding out about how to change my thinking patterns
  • Discussing the possibility of counselling or medication with my GP
  • Keeping a journal of my feelings through pregnancy and beyond.

Five steps to mental wellbeing

Ask yourself the following questions

Depression Identification

  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder Scale Identification (GAD-2)

  • During the last 2 weeks have you been feeling nervous, anxious or on edge?
  • During the last 2 weeks have you not been able to stop or control worrying?

If you answer yes to any of the questions and want support, then please contact your Health Visitor.

Where can I get help?

Your GP or Health visitor can signpost you to additional support via the perinatal mental health team if needed. Equally you can refer yourself to TALKWORKS our free NHS talking service in Devon who prioritise parents.

Dads can be impacted also

We know that having a new baby can impact on Dad’s emotional wellbeing also. In the current Covid-19 situation we have heard many dads are feeling a little disconnected from being able to ask health professionals questions about pregnancy and their baby in those early days. If you feel your mood has been impacted speak to your GP.

Here are some ideas for dads to support that bonding with your baby:

  • Talk and respond to your baby – they will already recognise your voice from pregnancy and the early weeks.
  • Skin to skin with Dad can have a huge impact on early brain development.
  • Take time to just be with your baby – you are their new world they are just as curious to watch you as you are them.

Here are some common signs Dads can experience. If you are experiencing these you should talk them through with your GP.

  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Being irritable/arguing more often
  • Lack of concentration
  • Change in appetite
  • Problems sleeping or extreme energy
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling more anxious
  • Lack of interest in usual things

Some women can also have:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Strict rituals and obsessions
  • Lack of feelings for their baby

It is important that you look after your own mental health so that you are well enough to care and enjoy your baby. Think about the suggestions below that may help you to consider how you can cope.

Ways to cope

Ways to cope: what might appeal to me?

  • Talking to someone I trust about how I feel, such as a parent, sibling, partner or trusted friend
  • Talking to my midwife or health visitor about how I feel
  • Keeping active
  • Having a healthy diet
  • Finding out about different ways to relax, such as yoga, meditation
  • Asking for help with things at home, like chores and babysitting
  • Asking for support if I am worried about my baby
  • Finding out about how to change my thinking patterns
  • Discussing the possibility of counselling or medication with my GP
  • Keeping a journal of my feelings through pregnancy and beyond.

Five steps to mental wellbeing

Ask yourself the following questions

Depression Identification

  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder Scale Identification (GAD-2)

  • During the last 2 weeks have you been feeling nervous, anxious or on edge?
  • During the last 2 weeks have you not been able to stop or control worrying?

If you answer yes to any of the questions and want support, then please contact your GP or self refer to TALKWORKS.

Responding to your baby's crying

Having a baby provides us with a huge learning curve in the understanding of what our baby is telling us. In understanding that how we respond to them might impact on their brain development, both now and in the future, we learn about responsive parenting. Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative provides us with research-based information that considers how to build close and loving relationships with your baby in a responsive manner. Babies have a strong need to be close to their parents, as this helps them to feel secure and loved. As parents often we have a strong need to be near our baby also.

UNICEF – Happy Baby leaflet

Here we share some myths that are commonly repeated in our society

Myth Truth
Babies become spoilt and demanding if they are given too much attention When babies’ needs for love and comfort are met, they will be calmer and grow up to be more confident
It’s important to get babies into a routine as this makes your life easier Young babies are not capable of learning a routine. Responding to their cues for feeding and comfort makes babies feel secure, so they cry less, which makes your life easier too
You should leave babies to settle alone so that they learn to be independent When babies are routinely left alone they think they have been abandoned, and so become more clingy and insecure when their parents return

What to do if my baby is crying and I am unsure what to do?

Babies do sometimes cry. Here is a quick checklist to help you in those early days.

  • Is your baby needing comfort, feeling lonely, or wanting to be close to you?
  • Is your baby over stimulated and need a little quiet time with Mum or Dad?
  • Is your baby hungry or thirsty for breastmilk or first formula milk?
  • Is your baby uncomfortable with wind or need a nappy change?
  • Is your baby too hot or too cold?
  • Do you think your baby is unwell?

Soothing your baby

There are many things you can do to sooth your baby.

  • Hold your baby in skin to skin contact. The feel of you close by and the sound of your heart beating impacts on their hormones and may calm them. This goes for you Dads as well
  • Breastfed babies often feed for comfort as well as nutrition. They obtain hormones within the milk that calms them – breastfeeding is always an option for calming your baby if unsettled
  • If you are formula feeding your baby is your baby hungry? Remember babies grow at different rates at different times and are all unique – rely on their feeding cues rather than the instructions on the formula tin for frequency of feed and amounts (always follow the preparation guidance)
  • Talk, sing or hum to your baby – baby’s love the sound of their parent’s voice, as it is familiar from even before they were born
  • Go for a walk with your baby – a change of scene can sometimes make a difference and fresh air is great for everyone
  • Do you need to remove/add some clothing?
  • Change their nappy

Sometimes it takes a combination of these to sooth your baby and sometimes only one.

If the crying won't stop

The crying won’t stop, what can I do now?

It’s recognised that not every baby is easy to calm, and for some parents it can feel as if they are doing something wrong. Some parents feel overwhelmed with their baby crying.

This website gives you lots of ideas about how to cope with crying: ICON – Babies cry you can cope – Advice and Support | ICON

If you are a parent with a young baby that won’t stop crying please watch this video. It is from the perspective of the dad and shows how to use the ICON resources.

If you’re struggling with crying and feel like you can cope:

  • Stop
  • Don’t get angry with your baby or yourself
  • Place your baby in a safe place nearby where they can still hear you and take a couple of minutes to calm yourself down
  • Once calm return to your baby and go through the above steps again, rocking your baby and re-engaging
  • Remember this phase won’t last for ever and your baby needs you – you are their world
  • Never Ever Shake your baby!
  • Do not leave your baby to cry for long periods on their own, without you nearby and responding to them by voice, as this increases the stress hormone cortisol to the brain
  • Call a relative or friend – to give you support through this time
  • Call the Public Health Nursing service – we can support you with strategies to manage this.

Further information and support

As your baby grows you will come across different challenges that may impact how you feel.

Remember there’s support available in many different forms to support you right from the beginning of your pregnancy until your child hits adulthood.

Contacting your Health Visitor

  • email your local Public Health Nursing Hub where a Health Visitor will respond to your query
  • Text us for health-based advice via our Chat health number; 07520 631721 and receive a response back via text. (This number cannot be used to book or rearrange appointment time)s.
  • phone your local Public Health Nursing Hub to discuss any queries with a Health Visitor.

Virtual Family Focus sessions

Devon Public Health Nursing are offering digital group sessions for parents to attend, covering a range of experiences that parents might face during the early days. These friendly virtual parent sessions are undertaken via Microsoft Teams and facilitated usually by one of our Community Health Workers.  We call this Virtual Family Focus.

In the early days you may want to consider attending the following virtual family focus sessions:

  • Focus on: What is my baby telling me
  • Focus on: Keeping well after my baby arrives

To book your place email your Public Health Nursing hub stating your name, your child’s name, your email address, and your telephone number and which session/s you would like to attend. We will then send you an invite link.

Contacting your Children’s Centre

Children’s centres offer families targeted support for a variety of situations. Children’s centres in Devon provide Early Help services to the whole family, from pregnancy through to age 19, when families most need support using the ‘team around the family’ approach.

Action for Children run the Children’s Centres in the Devon County Council area

There’s also a fantastic online option where you can talk to a family practitioner about a range of questions that you may have.

Other sources of information and advice that you may find useful

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