Becoming a parent and your mental health
Having a baby and becoming a parent can bring up emotions you’re not expecting.
It’s normal to have a mixture of emotions when you find out that you’re pregnant and when you have a baby. You might feel excitement and joy, or worry and anxiety about not feeling ‘ready’ to be a parent or about ‘getting it wrong’
If you have a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, this can affect how you feel about your baby. You may also be more negative and judge yourself as a parent more than you would do when you are well.
Many women with mental health problems look after their children well despite their illness.
Taking action will help
Lots of women who have mental health problems are frightened that their baby will be taken away by social services if they tell people they are struggling with their mental health. In fact, getting help and treatment for your mental health shows you’re trying to do the best for your children.
Most women with mental health problems are never referred to Children’s Social Services. However, if you are referred you will need to understand why this has happened and how the process works.
Visit the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) website to understand more about Children’s Social Services and Safeguarding.
When to ask for help
Symptoms of mental illness can affect how you feel about your baby. It might affect the way you bond with your baby, or reduce your ability to care for your children in the way that you would when you’re well.
If you’re worried about any feelings and thoughts you have about your baby or being a parent, it’s important to talk to one of the professionals you’re seeing.
Talk to them if your symptoms are getting worse too. You may need some extra help until you recover.
It is normal to have a mixture of emotions when you find out you’re pregnant and when you have a baby.
You might feel excitement and joy , or worryabout not feeling ‘ready’ to be a parent, or about ‘getting it wrong.
- You may or may not fall instantly in love with your baby. It often takes time to develop a close bond
- You might feel sad about what it seems you’ve had to give up, for example: time on your own with your partner, work, time to exercise or see your friends. You may feel that you’ve lost your independence
- You haven’t lost these things forever – but there will be a lot of changes when you have a young baby
- You might feel under pressure from yourself or others. There are many pictures of happy families on social media, so it’s easy to assume that other people find parenting easy and are ‘perfect parents’. The reality is that most people have a mixture of happy and challenging times.
Try to have realistic expectations and not to be too critical of yourself. Some days will be easier and more enjoyable than others. It’s normal to feel exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated at times.
You may have memories from your own childhood and how your parents treated you. Depending on whether this was mostly positive or negative, this can bring up emotions you don’t expect.
For example, you might even feel a bit jealous of your baby. You and your partner want to give them a good life but you didn’t get a good start in life yourself.
If you have a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, this can affect how you feel about your baby.
- You may also judge yourself more negatively as a parent than you would do when you are well
- If you’re worried about any feelings and thoughts you have about your baby or being a parent, talk to one the professionals you’re seeing.
This is particularly important if you think this is affecting how you feel about your baby.
There is a lot to get used to and a lot to learn when you have a baby. Your midwife, health visitor and the perinatal mental health team can give you advice and help.
Don’t expect to feel confident straight away - it takes time to get to know your baby and to know how to look after them:
- You will need to feed, clean and dress your baby
- You need to learn how to comfort and soothe your baby when they are upset
- Your baby will enjoy being held and cuddled and spending time with you
- You can help your baby to feel secure and to develop close loving relationships
- Talking, singing and playing all help your baby to develop.
Where to find support online
Have a look at some of these resources to help you to understand what your baby needs and how you can enjoy everyday life as a parent:
Unicef – Baby Friendly
Visit the Unicef Baby Friendly website to see a lovely video and some helpful information on building a close relationship with your baby.
Best known for relationship guidance, visit the Relate website for some great video content and advice on how to cope with a new baby from the changes in relationship dynamics, to family finances.
You can find lots of advice and information on the NHS Start4Life website, on everything from breastfeeding to when your baby will have their first vaccinations.
You can breastfeed or bottle feed your baby.
Breastfeeding has many advantages, but it’s not right for every new mum, so don’t worry if you find it difficult.
If you’re taking medication for a physical or mental health problem, talk to your psychiatrist or GP, but don't stop your medication before getting advice. They will help you weigh up the risks and benefits of breastfeeding when taking medication.
It is possible to breastfeed when you are taking many of the medications used to treat mental health problems, but there are a few that are not safe, so do seek advice.
Bottle feeding allows you to share feeding duties, which might help you get more sleep.
This may be helpful if sleep deprivation triggers relapse of your mental illness.
There is lots of help and support if you do want to breastfeed. Ask your midwife or health visitor about local breastfeeding groups and cafes where you can get support in Ealing, Hounslow, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Hounslow.
Where to find support online
The National Breastfeeding Helpline
Talk to a mum who knows about breastfeeding. Get telephone and web chat support from trained breastfeeding volunteers. Open 9.30am – 9.30pm every day of the year.
The Breastfeeding Network
The Breastfeeding Network are a great source of information and support, including information about breastfeeding while taking medication and perinatal mental health.
Visit the Breastfeeding Network website
You can see lots of videos on the Best Beginnings website, including some to help dads support breastfeeding mums. They are also available on the Baby Buddy App.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT)
The NCT website offers information on infant feeding a helpline and local face-to-face support.
The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM)
Visit the ABM website for lots of detailed breastfeeding support with everything from how breastfeeding works, to expressing milk and how to use a nipple shield.
All new parents need help and support. It’s very important for you to get support if you have a mental health problem, or are at risk of postnatal mental illness.
For some mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation can sometimes lead to relapse. Having a partner or family member to help with at least some of the night feeds can be very helpful.
- Accept offers of help from family and friends. This can include offers to cook, shop or take older children to nursery or school
- Let others look after your baby for a while so you can sleep and rest
- When you feel ready, it also helps if someone can look after your baby to give you time to yourself to do something you enjoy, like spending some time with your partner or with friends.
Don’t worry if you don’t have family or friends nearby – there are lots of other ways to get support:
- Ask your midwife, health visitor or GP to give you advice and support and tell you about, or refer you to services that you might find helpful
- If you’re under the care of the perinatal mental health service, our team will also be able to tell you about what’s available locally
- The Children’s Centres in Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Hounslow all have groups to support new parents. You will also be able to meet other parents there. There are many other groups for mothers and babies throughout the three boroughs.