Pregnancy isn’t just the physical changes to your body as the baby grows. It also plays havoc with your emotions. Clinical psychologist Michelle Nortje gives you the lowdown on what to expect.

During pregnancy woman often experience a myriad of emotions, from intense happiness to sadness, and everything in-between. It’s certainly not a straightforward or ideal period, and it’s a process filled with mixed emotions.

There is the excitement to meet your new baby, as well as the uncertainty of what parenthood may bring. So it’s important for mothers to focus on and understand their emotional experiences in preparing for the birth of their baby.

What causes these difficult emotions and feelings? 

There are multiple changes for the new mother to adjust to over the nine months of pregnancy. Some of these can be experienced as overwhelming and difficult to manage. The risk factors for experiencing difficult emotions can be linked to what is happening in your body, but they are also impacted on by stressors within your environment.

Physical changes

During pregnancy there are fluctuations in a woman’s hormones, and as the baby grows there are continual changes to your body, appetite, and energy levels. The growth of your baby is exciting as he reaches important developmental milestones in utero. However, there is of course physical discomfort as the due date arrives. Some women may struggle with their self-confidence as their body grows, weight increases and body shape changes.

Preparations for the baby’s arrival

There are several emotive adjustments and choices in preparing for the arrival of a new baby. With modern baby stores filled with so many options, it can at times be daunting selecting what you feel is the best choice for you and your baby. These choices may include decorating the baby’s room, deciding on baby care brands, or even choosing between cloth nappies or disposable diapers.

Financial preparations

Having a baby is certainly not cheap! In choosing to have a baby, there are important decisions that need to be made about providing in a concrete way for your baby. This can become a more problematic stressor if for example, a couple is struggling with unemployment, if a mother is a single parent, or if the mother is the main breadwinner in the family.

Being able to make sufficient financial preparations beforehand can help alleviate some stress closer to the baby’s birth.

Being a first-time mother

Of course, having other children already doesn’t mean the second or third pregnancies are a breeze! However, being a first-time mother comes with its own unique worries and uncertainties.

It can be intimidating when there are so many expectations set out for mothers in media and by family or friends, about what is best for you and your baby. It can be hard for women to be able to just listen to their own valuable maternal instincts without referring constantly to the internet or resource books.

Health concerns

Your experience of pregnancy can also be influenced by your own and your baby’s health. Medical complications during pregnancy, such as hypertension, being an older mother, genetic disorders, and HIV are some of the worries that can aggravate the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy.

It is so important for a mother struggling with health concerns to consult regularly with their health professionals and get the necessary support and information.

Family stressors

A recent bereavement, family discord, domestic violence, family living far away or an absent partner are a few of the family stressors that can impact on a mother’s emotional experience of her pregnancy.

These kinds of worries can make it difficult for a pregnant mother to have sufficient space in her mind to contemplate and wonder about her new baby.

Depression

It is common for mothers to develop symptoms of depression during or after pregnancy. This is more likely in women who have previously been

given a diagnosis of depression.

Depression during pregnancy is actually fairly common, and may even be more common than we know because many women may be reluctant to admit their struggles.

Postnatal depression can be differentiated from the ‘baby blues’ by its increased severity and duration.

In either case, it is important to seek help from a professional as soon as possible.

Ways of coping

Take time out to begin to build a relationship with your baby

Daily routines can become rushed and busy. Part of the process of pregnancy is also getting in connect with your baby in utero.

Take time out of your day to chat to your baby, rub your tummy, play music or sing for your baby. These are ways to engage and bond with your baby during the pregnancy.

Baby’s hearing develops quite early on, so the baby is able to already begin to recognise your voice and feel soothed by your presence and become attached to you.

Spend time doing things you enjoy

In order to create some balance amongst all the stressors already discussed, it is important for a pregnant mother to spend time doing things that are pleasurable and relaxing. For example, gentle exercise, meditation, cooking, reading and some pampering can help to manage the emotional ups and downs.

Ask for help 

Getting adequate support from your partner, extended family and friends is helpful to alleviate some of the strain of pregnancy. This can involve having someone to talk to about your experiences or it can include getting concrete help with everyday tasks like chores or errands.

Being able to express all your feelings, both the positive and the difficult ones, instead of keeping them bottled up inside, is vital to emotional health in pregnancy.

Some women find support in social media groups where themes such as breastfeeding and sleep routines are explored amongst other mothers. In addition, psychologists, psychiatrists,  lactating consultants or, gynaecologists can be helpful professionals to seek assistance from at different times of the pregnancy.

Psychologists are able to provide effective interventions for depression both during pregnancy and after giving birth. Interventions such parent-infant psychotherapy (PIP) and the new-born observation system (NBO) are two examples of tools psychologists use to help mothers struggling with depression to manage their difficult emotional experiences while still being able to focus on building a secure relationship with their baby.

Bringing a new life into the world is a daunting and magical experience. A pregnant mother’s emotional health and experiences are a central part of this journey. The most important rule for any new mother is to trust yourself and your baby’s communications.

Mothers need to also remember that their emotions are valid and important! Give yourself space and time to process the myriad feelings so that when your baby is welcomed into the world, you have adequate space to also consider the experiences and feelings of your baby.

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