Prioritizing Mental Health During Pregnancy for a Healthy Start for Expecting Mothers


Although it's commonly believed that pregnancy is a happy period, there can be serious emotional difficulties.

Although it’s commonly believed that pregnancy is a happy period, there can be serious emotional difficulties.

Treating depression in pregnant women is important for the health of the mother and the unborn child, as it affects 14–23% of us.

As a senior psychologist at Mpower, an institution devoted to advancing mental health care, the following article offers a comprehensive view of the critical intersection between maternal mental health and the well-being of both mothers and their offspring. The topic of prioritizing mental health during pregnancy is not merely a professional concern but a societal imperative that demands nuanced understanding and determined action.

Pregnancy is a profound period of transformation, encompassing physical, hormonal, and emotional dimensions. While it is a time often associated with joy and anticipation, it also presents an array of challenges that can significantly impact a woman’s mental health. The myth of unconditional happiness during pregnancy obscures the reality that many women experience a spectrum of emotions, including anxiety, stress, and, in some cases, clinical depression. Acknowledging and addressing these emotional complexities are paramount for fostering a healthy start.

I advocate for a multi-faceted approach to prioritising maternal mental health during pregnancy. Here are some additional tips, supported by statistical data, to underscore the importance and effectiveness of these strategies:

Understanding the Emotional Roller Coaster

Pregnancy hormones can significantly influence mood and emotions. It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience heightened anxiety, mood swings, or even depression. According to the American Pregnancy Association, nearly 14–23% of pregnant women struggle with some form of depression during pregnancy. Recognising and addressing these emotional changes is essential for a healthy pregnancy.

The Importance of Mental Health

Pregnancy triggers a range of emotional and psychological changes due to hormonal fluctuations, physical discomfort, and impending life changes. Research shows that 10–15% of pregnant women experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. In a country like ours, cultural expectations and the pressure to conform to traditional roles can exacerbate these feelings.

The mental state of an expecting mother can directly impact foetal development. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to complications such as preterm birth or low birth weight. Studies have shown that high stress levels can affect a baby’s brain development and immune system. Therefore, managing stress and fostering a positive mental state are paramount. Let’s understand a few actionable tips for expecting mothers:

Tips for Expecting Mothers

  1. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:Yoga and meditation can significantly reduce stress. Programmes like prenatal yoga are widely available in India and can help manage anxiety. Lamaze classes emphasise the mind-body connection and also teach relaxation techniques that instill confidence in expecting mothers.
  2. Stay Physically active.Engage in regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga. Research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynaecology shows that exercise during pregnancy is associated with reduced anxiety and depression symptoms.
  3. Maintain a Healthy Diet:Nutrition plays a crucial role in mental health. Consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can positively affect your mood. Research has shown a link between a healthy diet and low rates of mood disorders during pregnancy.
  4. Connect with Support Networks:Engaging with family, friends, or support groups can provide emotional support. In India, traditional family structures can be both a source of support and stress, so finding a balance is key. Family plays a pivotal role in an Indian woman’s pregnancy experience. Encouraging open communication about mental health within the family can create a supportive environment. Additionally, community resources such as local women’s groups and healthcare programmes, can provide essential support and information.
  5. Educate Yourself:Understanding what to expect during pregnancy can alleviate fears and anxieties. Reading books, attending prenatal classes, and following credible sources online can be very helpful. Asking questions to your gynaecologists is the first step to educating yourself and preparing for the stages of labour.
  6. Prioritise Sleep:Get adequate and quality sleep each night. Sleep disturbances are common during pregnancy, but strategies like creating a relaxing bedtime routine can improve sleep quality and mental well-being, according to studies in Sleep Medicine Reviews.
  7. Seek Professional help.It’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Psychologists and counsellors can offer valuable support and coping strategies.

Conclusion

Prioritising mental health during pregnancy is not just beneficial but essential for a healthy start for both mother and child. By taking proactive steps and seeking support, expecting mothers in India can navigate this transformative period with greater ease and well-being. Remember, mental health is as important as physical health, and taking care of it is a fundamental part of prenatal care.

(Responses by Shruti Padhye, Senior psychologist and Outreach Associate, Mpower)



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