I’ve been in long-term recovery for years. Being pregnant, on the other hand, is mind-blowingly new. That may be one reason people have asked me what it’s like to navigate the mental health challenges unique to pregnancy as someone in recovery. They really seem to be asking, “How are you staying sane and sober through the mood swings, hormonal changes, and body image concerns?” What follow are some tips from personal experience that I hope can help expecting mothers tend to their mental health and exercise good self-care during pregnancy.
How to Take Care of Mental Health During Pregnancy
In conversations about maternal health, mental health can get eclipsed by the physical— yet it is just as important and needs to be prioritized, especially when you’re expecting.
Help for the Emotional Ups and Downs: Pregnancy Happiness, Sadness, Depression, and Anxiety
In my case, a rush of new hormones during the first trimester absolutely affected my mental health. I found myself hitting an emotional wall everyday around 3PM, at which time I would get weepy or overly sensitive towards little things. At night, I would feel so burnt out from the day that I would crawl into bed at 8PM just to turn it all off.
It helped that l already had a mental health care team in place, including a therapist and psychiatrist who I was seeing in regular appointments. I found myself saying to them, “I just don’t feel like me.” They both acknowledged my emotions and assured me that although unpleasant, the weepiness and sensitivity were relatively normal in pregnancy.
My psychiatrist and I revisited my medication regimen and set up a more regular appointment plan to ensure more frequent check-ins. My therapist, whom I see weekly, started to incorporate breathwork techniques into our sessions to help ease my stress and give me a tool for managing the weepy spells during the day. Both supports helped tremendously, and while I can’t speak to what is typical during every pregnancy, I will say that the highly emotional symptoms got immensely better around week 18 of my pregnancy.
How to Stop Overthinking During Pregnancy
Overthinking during pregnancy is so tough. Since this is my first baby, everything is so new and foreign that it is hard to understand all the changes to my body and know what is normal and what is not. I quickly discovered that Google is not my friend when my over-active mind is trying to decipher why I have certain symptoms.
Stay Away from Google and Be Selective About Where You Get Your Info
In other words, stay away from Google! Although we are all accustomed to using it to answer just about any question, the worst-case scenarios that appear in search results can be an unnecessary source of fear and stress.
Instead, I downloaded a pregnancy app that gives helpful tips, discusses weekly symptoms, and provides perspective on what to expect. Another fun perk of the app is that it tells you how big your baby is each week, by providing a size comparison (to an ear of corn, etc.).
Reach Out to Other New Moms for Support
I thankfully also have a few new moms in my support circle, and they have been a tremendous help when I have questions or anxieties. The best part is they are all so willing to listen and offer support.
Keep in Touch with Your Ob-Gyn
When serious questions come up, I call my ob-gyn to get her feedback as well. At first, I worried that I might be annoying her, but she assured me that first-time moms often have the same questions, that her role is to support me in the process, and that no question is too small.
How Mental Health Can Affect My Unborn Baby
It doesn’t take a medical professional to know that a mother’s mental health can affect her unborn baby. We all know that stress can cause physical manifestations that affect us under normal circumstances, but when you’re sharing your body with someone else, it’s something to be that much more cognizant of.
If you don’t already have a mental health team in your corner, GET ONE NOW! Without that extra layer of support, I really don’t know how I would have navigated the past six months, and I think my mental health would have really suffered and caused negative effects for my baby.
In addition to my mental health team, I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive tribe in other aspects of my life. My husband has been in my corner every step of the way, listening to every crazy thought that comes through my head and picking up so much of the slack in our normally split housework. And when I’ve cried over fears of not being an equal partner in certain facets of life at this time, he reminds me how important my task at hand is and reassures me he is happy to help me navigate those parts of life while I handle the physical part of us becoming parents.
I’ve also been blown away by all the support I’ve gotten from my work family at FHE Health. I’ve always known that I work for an organization that cares about me as a person, but it has been so amazing to feel taken care of by my coworkers. They regularly check in to see how I’m feeling and always offer to support me in any way I need. They’ve all contributed so much to keeping my stress level manageable and my mental health in a good place.
How Body Image Issues in Pregnancy Can Affect Mental Health
Body image certainly plays a part in my mental health journey. I’m someone who has always struggled with my weight, and after many, many years of working on it, I had finally gotten to a place of feeling confident in my skin and learning to appreciate my body. Pregnancy has reintroduced a bit of that struggle. I started noticing changes as early as the eighth week. Now that I’m well into the second trimester, previous pants no longer fit, and the belly is fully present.
This fall also happened to be wedding season amongst extended family. That required a lot of clothes shopping in bigger sizes and coming to terms with the reality that my Spanx would only help so much. It all shook my confidence: Even though I knew intellectually that my shape changes were a normal part of pregnancy, it still put me in a tough place.
Although I adore my husband and value his opinion, in this area his affirmations were not helping— so I again turned to my tribe of women. They rushed to my aid by responding to frantic photos taken in dressing rooms and helping me pick out items that made me feel confident and comfortable. They’ve also recommended tons of maternity pieces that I’ve added into the rotation and that have helped me feel more comfortable in my skin. Although there are still occasional days when I groan in my closet while figuring out what to wear to work, my physical confidence has returned, and I have begun to embrace my changing shape as a sign that I am increasingly more ready for motherhood.