What is 'normal' and what is not.
The chances are quite high that you feel horrendous! The joy of becoming pregnant in the first place is likely to be a long distant memory as your hormones start raging and your body launches into morning sickness and extreme tiredness. While this doesn’t happen to everyone, it is completely normal and is a sign that your body is working hard to protect you and your baby through the entire process. With the hormones oestrogen and progesterone increasing in your blood, you will probably experience emotional side effects as well as physical ones. For some, these feelings are short lived, but for others, they can last for the whole pregnancy and become totally overwhelming.
Common Pregnancy Emotions
Your partner will definitely know about these!! The levels of oestrogen and progesterone will fluctuate in your bloodstream throughout your pregnancy. These fluctuations may well cause your mood to fluctuate too – happy one minute, low and sad the next. Irritability and anxiety are often experienced too. The moodiness is often worse during the first trimester, but might last through your whole pregnancy.
Fatigue and Brain Fog
Are you suffering from crushing exhaustion? Or finding it hard to think clearly? Again, completely normal and we can blame another hormone, known as the ‘pregnancy hormone’ (‘human chorionic gonadotropin’). This hormone increases during pregnancy and is used as an indicator in a pregnancy test. The exhaustion can contribute to the brain fog; it’s hard to concentrate when you’re too tired to think properly.
Feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable
Even if you feel excited about your pregnancy, it is completely usual to have some unsettling thoughts. You might wonder if you’ll be a good mother, if your relationship will be affected or how you will cope financially.
It’s common for pregnant women to worry about accidentally harming the baby, or having a difficult birth. It’s normal to worry about how life will be when the baby arrives. Tiredness, morning sickness, hormonal changes etc will all make these normal concerns feel overwhelming.
What to do when it all feels a bit much
It’s so hard to feel positive when you are tired and sick. There are several things to do at home that will help you cope:
1. Rest and sleep. You will need extra sleep (understatement of the year!) so make sure you take it. I remember having to go to bed at 6.30 at night and sleeping through until 7.30 the next morning… and then still needing a 2-hour nap in the middle of the day! It’s normal to feel exhausted and it’s okay to allow yourself time to recharge.
2. Even if you are feeling nauseous, try to eat several small but healthy meals a day. Avoid sugary foods, alcohol, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks. Eat foods that are high in energy and natural oils, such as nuts and avocados. Iron rich foods are also recommend – iron is important during pregnancy and directly contributes to your energy levels, helping you sleep better too. (Here’s a top tip! Try cooking with an iron frying/griddle pan as this increases your iron levels too!)
3. Understand the ‘mental load’ and try to reduce it
Your ‘mental load’ is everything that you think about, worry about and need to do. It is your mental ‘to do’ list. The thing is, your mental load will increase hugely while you are pregnant. Things that didn’t seem important will now have a much greater significance and can easily feel overwhelming.
Let me give you an example:
When you were single, if you didn’t do your washing for a week you’d still cope. You might have to re-wear a few things but no one would notice and no one (including you) would care. Fast forward and consider the same situation while you are pregnant – or when the baby is newly born. Now, if you don’t do the washing for a week, your baby has clothes that aren’t clean and you might be adding to the germs in your house which might be bad for your baby. The mental load for something that wasn’t an issue is now huge. The washing has become an emotional task and if you don’t do it you might feel that you are being a bad mother. Of course, you are NOT a bad mother (you should see my washing pile!) but these feelings are hard to cope with and difficult to put into perspective.
My advice is to try to write all your worries and things you need to do down on a long list. Put them in order of importance, placing those that need to be sorted quickly at the top of the page. Then delegate as many jobs as possible, and/or work through them one at a time until you feel more in control.
4. Help your partner – Dad’s, this one’s for you. Read the section above (3) and understand how mum’s mental workload just got huge. (Bear in mind, too, that she is probably juggling this workload with her job and other family commitments too.) It’s really helpful to understand that she isn’t just nagging you to do chores; instead she will be seeing it as a representation of how good a mother she is. If the bin is overflowing, she will think she is a bad mother for letting the rubbish near her beautiful new baby. So if she asks you to take the bins out, please do it straight away and put her mind at rest. Please do any chores she asks you to do immediately and without question. You will be helping far more than you might realise.
5. Take some exercise. Some activity everyday – such as a walk, some yoga or a swim – will help your general fitness and is also good for your mood. Base your fitness on the amount of exercise you did before you became pregnant. If you are not a gym bunny, now is not the time to hit the gym for an intense workout 7 times a week. A walk round the block, however, will do you the world of good. If you are super fit, you will find that you can’t do quite as much as you are used to, but that’s to be expected. Talk to your health professionals about a suitable exercise plan. Also, join an antenatal class. Pregnancy yoga, NCT, bumps and babies classes and online support groups are all great for helping you feel connected.
6. Feelings about the unknown can often make you feel worried and anxious. A great way to address this is to spend some time educating yourself about the things that concern you. Read up on parenting techniques, positive birth experiences and ways to get prepared. Turn the ‘unknown’ into a ‘known’ and this can help put your mind at rest. This is the time to throw yourself into learning as much as possible – and this is the place to do it. Check out the other sections here on Bub Hub and please message me if you have any other questions.
Extra help and support.
More than 1 in 8 women experience depression or anxiety when they are pregnant; sometimes both. Because pregnancy provokes a whole range of new emotions it is sometimes hard to know what is normal and what is turning into a serious mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety. There are some signs to look out for and it is important that both you and your partner are aware of these so you can look for the support you need. This list is taken from the NHS so please check their website for further information (link) and, of course, check any concerns with your health professional if you are worried.
Always see your GP or your midwife if you:
· have prolonged feelings of sadness
· have intrusive thoughts that you can’t control
· have lost interest in things you normally enjoy
· find yourself engaging in repetitive patterns of behavior, like repeatedly washing your hands or checking social media
· feel worthless
· feel unable to concentrate or make decisions
· have difficulty falling or staying asleep
· have lost your appetite
· are having panic attacks
· feel morbidly fearful of giving birth
· have thoughts about suicide.
If you have had depression or anxiety or any other mental health diagnosis in the past, then talk through this with your midwife early in your pregnancy. A relapse can be possible during pregnancy or after you give birth.
Mental health is a big deal for pregnant women/new mums and I think it is important for us to take it very seriously. I’ve noticed there is a distinct stigma around mental health here in the UK (and in western culture in general) and many people worry about the mental health ‘label’. However, as we become mothers we have to do things for ourselves to keep well and healthy…. BUT we also have to look at the bigger picture and do things for the benefit of our children too. Your mental health will directly impact your children and the quality of their lives so I want to encourage every single mum to get help if you need it for your children’s sake.
You know yourself better than anyone; you know what feelings are normal and when you begin to feel overwhelmed; you know what you can handle and probably have a good idea when you need help. If you start to experience any of the points listed above, contact your health professional - do it for the health and success of your child. By doing just that, you are being a fantastic mum.