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Taking Care of Your Mental Health While Pregnant

Mental Health

While pregnant, the biggest thing you might worry about is your physical health and that of the baby—that makes sense! Every week, your tummy grows a bit more and is a visual reminder of your baby’s upcoming due date. You feel kicks. You get cravings. You might develop sensitivities to certain smells. It’s almost impossible to ignore the very obvious realities of your health and, often, that makes you hyper focused on your physical health and ensuring your baby grows well inside of you. 

As you experience these physical changes, you may also notice shifts in your thinking and overall mental health, but those changes are easier to ignore because they’re not physically or visually obvious. However, research shows that children born to mothers who suffer from mental health ailments such as depression tend to have a low-birth-weight and can be negatively affected in other ways. Additionally, women addressing mental health issues with poor coping strategies may not maintain healthy habits or may turn to drugs or alcohol during their pregnancy. 

Today we’ll highlight the importance of acknowledging and caring well for your changing mental health while your physical body does the hard work of growing your little one. 

What Factors Influence Your Mental Health While Pregnant?

Even when you’re not pregnant, your mental health may change slightly depending on things like your menstrual cycle and hormonal changes, life situation, relationships, or a clinical mental diagnosis. When you’re pregnant, some of the same mental health triggers may present, but they’re accompanied by the added stress and anxieties of pregnancy. While this list isn’t exhaustive, below are a number of common factors that might influence your mental health when pregnant.

1. Physical Changes During Pregnancy

Growing a baby is a huge burden on the body, even though it knows exactly what to do. While your little one is developing, you may experience profound physical changes such as varicose veins, morning sickness, constipation, backaches, headache, leg cramps, hemorrhoids, and indigestion. These changes can cause stress, depression, or low-self esteem as you navigate discomfort and physical changes you may not like. 

2. New or Worsening Depression

According to the National Library of Medicine, many women experience psychological well-being issues during pregnancy, with anxiety and depression being the most common issues. Babies born to depressed mothers are more likely be at higher risk of developing health issues like rash, vomiting, have a low birthweight, diarrhea, excessive crying, or need to stay in the neonatal care unit longer.

3. Situational  Stressors

For some women, mental declines occur because of their life situation. If you’re struggling with job stresses, worried about child care, or have a bad relationship with your partner, you may suffer from anxiety out of uncertainty of what lies ahead. For some moms-to-be, the stress stems from concerns that they don’t have enough community and familial support, worry about hereditary health concerns affecting the child, or deep-seated (and often incorrect) beliefs of being a bad parent. A pregnant woman’s situation in life will greatly affect how she feels about her pregnancy, her baby, and their future together.

4. Health Disparities And Its Effects

Recent research shows that women of color suffer from depression during pregnancy more often than pregnant White people and as many as 54% of Latinas and up to 28% of Black women in the United States have experienced pregnancy-related depression. This is often a result of negative health outcomes that are common because of medical bias against women of color. 

This bias may look like subtle ethnic and racial prejudices in the healthcare system like disregard of a patient’s medical wishes. It can also look like a pregnant women struggling to find healthcare in her neighborhood including culturally appropriate mental health care, limited access to affordable insurance, and lack of easy access to doctors and daycares. Some women are worried that child protective services or immigration agencies will get involved. And, according to the CDC, Black women are at least three times more likely to die due to a pregnancy-related cause when compared to White women. 

At the end of the day, many women of color are simply afraid that they or their child will not survive childbirth because of health disparities or that their child will not have access to good healthcare and opportunities in life. This stress can lead to poor mental health. 

Caring For Your Mental Health While Pregnant

If you're pregnant, poor mental health outcomes aren’t guaranteed—there’s plenty you can do to care for your mind just like you care for your body and baby. Here are some things you can do to improve your mental health outcomes while pregnant and beyond; your health and your baby’s health depends on it:

1. Lean On Your Community

Most people know a handful of people who have a calming effect. These people, whether friends, family, or even coworkers, tend to bring light into the room and make you feel relaxed and better about yourself. These are the people who can help you refocus your attention on things you can be grateful for and calm you down on your bad days. Be intentional about spending time with and staying connected to them; they can help you survive your toughest mental health days.  

We also recommend connecting with other pregnant women and new mothers near you. Building or joining a trusted community of women in your stage of life can be incredibly helpful. The group can be there for each other and swap advice or baby supplies.

2. Eat Regular, Healthy Meals

According to Science Direct, good nutrition and good mental health are directly related during early pregnancy. A 2019 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increased fruit and vegetable in a diet positively impacts psychological health, and daily vegetable consumption has a therapeutic impact by reducing symptoms of depression among people who suffer from clinical depression.  Your doctor can best guide you on what’s best to eat for your specific pregnancy, but general guidelines encourage vegetables, healthy fats, and fiber from fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, which can alter neurotransmitters and reduce symptoms of depression.

3. Stay Active

It’s important to avoid a sedentary lifestyle if possible, so talk with your doctor for help identifying exercises that are safe for you and your baby. When it comes to mental health, exercise has enormous benefits because it boosts the brain's dopamine and serotonin levels resulting in a wave of positive emotions. Regular exercise can reduce depression, anxiety, ADHD and also relieve stress, improve memory, and boost your overall mood. 

If you’re new to consistent physical activity, we recommend that you start small! Most women start with low-intensity exercises like walking or swimming, and aim for at least 30 minutes of activity each day. 

4. Limit Big Changes

You’re already about to experience a huge life change once the baby’s born—avoid other changes like moving jobs or homes if possible. Change naturally causes us to feel uncertain about our present and future; for most people, this uncertainty leads to anxiety and stress. As much as possible, limit major shifts and focus on making small and thoughtful changes that are easier to mentally cope with. 

5. Keep In Touch With Your Doctor

While pregnant and for up to a year afterward, make your doctor your best friend. Keep notes of your mood changes and mental health and share them with your physician during your check-ins. They’d be able to clarify if your mood swings are normal and if they are, your doctor can help you find solutions whether diet-related, environmental, or medicinal. 

6. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

When things get stressful, drugs and alcohol can be easily-available means for coping mentally. Not only could drug and alcohol use increase your risk for substance abuse, but it can lead to increased risk of heart, high blood pressure, and liver disease. In addition, substance use while pregnant tends to worsen mental health. 

Various substances can lead to poor health outcomes in your baby. According to the CDC, alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, stillbirth, and developmental disabilities. Opioid use during pregnancy can cause preterm birth, poor fetal growth, stillbirth, and birth defects. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of health problems for developing babies, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

7. Ask for And Accept Help

Some of the things that might negatively impact your mental health may have simple solutions, but it might be difficult to engage your problem-solving skills if you’re stressed and overwhelmed. If you don’t know how to manage your feelings around your changing body, your situation, or health disparity, ask for help. Check in with your support system if you need emotional, mental, spiritual, or financial help. Asking for help may hurt your pride, but your health and baby are too important to risk. If you’re worried about things like substance abuse or worsening depression, it’s especially critical to seek assistance.  

We’re here to help.

If you’re struggling with your mental health while pregnant, know that you’re not alone. The Source offers free care for expectant and new moms with a full staff of nurses and professional counselors. If you have major concerns or just need someone to talk to, book an appointment below.


Written by:
Davina Adcock

Davina is a native of Grenada and a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. She's a content specialist with a passion for empowering women to thrive and reach their full potential. In her free time, Davina is probably painting, reading, or baking something unnecessarily sweet.

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