A bit about me
I started writing this blog as I feel both emotional and mental health of new parents is a much discussed, little done about topic. I want this blog to inspire understanding and action. I am by no means an expert in perinantal (peri meaning around and natal meaning birth) mental health. However, I feel that talking from experience makes this blog meaningful in a different way.
Why #minimeltdowns? I experienced my first mini meltdown post birth at about 14 weeks. There was nothing mini about it. In fact, it was pretty devastating and resulted in a broken phone, a flooded car engine and 12 hours where I could not talk to my husband or care for my baby. I know for a fact that other new mum friends were experiencing similar feelings and the label #minimeltdowns was the one term that we seemed to feel comfortable using to explain what was actually going on.
A relaxing exercise to try
I would like you to count very slowly from 10 to 1 in a moment.
Close your eyes, try to focus completely and utterly on your breath, envisage the in breath and the out breath.
How does that feel? Perhaps a small sense of calm in your busy day? Now, imagine how helpful those 10 seconds could be when you’ve not slept for 3 nights, your baby is screaming for its 7th feed of the day, it’s only midday and you are quite literally at breaking point.
Admittedly, it does take some practice but it can be transformational in bringing your stress level down a few notches and giving you that bit of extra head space and energy to resume willingly with the 8th feed of the day.
We did this exercise at the coffee morning and the calm in the room was, quite literally, amazing. Even the 30 plus babies in the room had quieted and stopped fussing as much by count 7.
COFFEE MORNING GET-TOGETHER – WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT
Did you know?
It is estimated that 2 in 5 new parents experience mental health issues (figure from the Royal College of Nursing study carried out on 2,000 new parents in 2015).
We ran an Emotional and Mental Health for New Parents get-together a few weeks ago at our local pre and post natal coffee morning. There were 30 new parents at the coffee morning. That means that around 12 of us could be suffering with a mental health issue. What I found fascinating about this study are two things:
- how common these feelings actually are amongst new parents
- we are not necessarily seeking help – under half of new parents with emotional/mental health concerns don’t seek help… hoping that the feelings would simply go away. I find this so sad.
We structured the coffee morning around three key questions and had fantastic input from Rebecca Hirons, a clinical psychologist specialising in perinatal mental health.
What do people mean when they talk about emotional/mental health concerns for new parents and how can we better identify these issues?
There is so much pressure to be happy and excited about the birth of your little bundle of joy. As new parents, we often feel like we have to be on top of everything, commonly feeling worried that you’re a bad parent if you’re struggling with your mental health.
The spectrum of emotional and mental health issues facing new parents is huge, ranging from the hormonal tears and the frustration of sleep deprivation, to pre and post natal anxiety disorders and depression (including perinatal depression, perinatal anxiety, perinatal OCD and postpartum PTSD). These feelings are common to both mum AND dad.
How can we identify if what we are feeling is normal or something more serious?
Official guidelines say that if you have felt low for most of the day for a period of 14 consecutive days then you could be experiencing something more than the normal post baby emotional rollercoaster. It is much easier said than done to try and recognise this.
I’ve put together a summary of the discussions that were going on in the room when we talked about this hugely important topic.
|‘Normal’ new parent experiences ||Maybe time to talk to a medical professional|
|Not having the energy or time to feel enjoyment from usually enjoyable activities but recognising that when things get a bit normal, they’ll be a welcome distraction||Losing interest in normal things that give you a happy vibe and not seeing how you could enjoy them again|
|Baby brain!||Finding it difficult to focus, concentrate or remember over the medium term|
|Feeling anxious about the new situation you are in||Panic attacks (a racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, shaking or feeling physically ‘detached’ from your surroundings)|
|Feeling very happy and very quickly feeling very sad but understanding why this is||Abrupt mood swings|
|Becoming easily frustrated||Feeling disproportionate anger|
|Feeling too tired or too emotional to chat to everyone all the time||Withdrawing from friends and family over a period of a few weeks|
|Thinking “how on earth can I know how to look after a little human being”||Persistent, generalised worry, often focused on fears for the health, wellbeing or safety of the baby|
|Leaving your baby to cry and wishing someone else could look after them for a while||Having thoughts of harming your baby or yourself|
Finally, something important to bear in mind….. if there is past history of feeling mentally unwell in a close family member or importantly if there has been a mental health issue pre/post baby with your mum or sister for example, you could be more vulnerable.
What are the impacts upon family life?
We concluded that sleep deprivation is a hugely disruptive in the first few months. It makes it so hard to know what feelings and behaviours are common to new parents and what feelings and behaviours are more serious.
- The relationship between mum and dad is so important but is so hard at the same time. The transition from just the two of you to, boom, now there are three of you can, quite literally, be shocking.
- The confidence of mum and dad can be easily eroded over a couple of weeks with many new parents questioning their ability to care for little one.
- Self-confidence can plummet and that combined with recovery for mum, trying to maintain a household, body image fears, establishing feeding and routines…..
My advice, take some time to talk honestly about how you are both feeling and decide what action you can take to start to help each other. How is dad feeling emotionally? Men’s mental health is frequently low on the list of priorities after baby is born. Stay vigilant…..especially when dad is sleep deprived, expected to carry on with his busy day job and is seeing mum struggling but often feeling powerless to help in any meaningful way.
What help is there is out there, why aren’t people always accessing help and is it actually any good?
Most of us concluded at the coffee morning that our greatest challenge is recognising what is normal and what is not. Do we need help? Do we want help? Do we feel comfortable asking for help?
The first port of call is the GP, and it is also worth having a chat with the health visitor (both of whom can be fantastic but neither of whom is usually a mental health specialist and can also be time pressured). Here is an interesting thought, they are both there to help but may not always be able to identify what you need. How can you ensure you get access to the help you need?
Why don’t we seek help? Often it is because we don’t feel we really need it and hope that the situation will change when things get a bit easier. Things will certainly change, but why take that risk? New parents can also feel unwilling to disclose or discuss their problem because of fear of stigma and negative perceptions of them as a parent. Maybe you simply don’t feel comfortable talking about it with anyone. Maybe you don’t have confidence in the medical system.
|There are three main types of help out there:|
I believe they are all very good…. but you may not find the one or the combination that best suits you straight away. It may not always be obvious, easy or immediately effective. But don’t give up. There will be the right combination of help for you out there.
ACTION – DO SOMETHING TODAY
Your GP is generally the first port of call as they are the gateway into accessing the help you need.
Self-help can be extremely powerful in combination with any course of action.
This list is a summary of websites to take a look at: a mixture of advice, self help and information.
https://www.covwarkpt.nhs.uk/iapt – for services in Coventry and Warwickshire and the IAPT national directory
https://www.mind.org.uk/ – a great go to for information and advice
http://www.mentalhealthmatters.com/ – offers a fantastic helpline (although services may not be available in your area)
http://www.dadsmatteruk.org/ – resources specifically for dads
http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/ – information and local groups
https://www.covwarkpt.nhs.uk/dont-panic – self help resources
https://rethinkyourmind.co.uk/– self help resources
Previous #minimeltdowns blogs….
Minimeltdowns – Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Pre and Post Baby: An Introduction