Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health

Explains postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health issues, including possible causes, sources of treatment and support, and advice for friends and family.

How can I look after myself?

Becoming a new parent can be one of the most stressful experiences in life. Finding ways to look after yourself that fit in with your lifestyle and needs can make a big difference to your mental health. Here are some ideas:

Talking to other new mothers and fathers, and finding that other new parents share the anxieties and frustrations you are experiencing, can be very reassuring. It can also give you a chance to share skills and experiences, to realise that you are not alone and, above all, to get some emotional and practical support. It can help to affirm you in your new role.

You could:

  • Go to local parent-and-baby groups – if you're feeling nervous try something based around an activity, music for example, which might make it easier to start talking to other parents.
  • Contact specialist organisations. Organisations like Home-Start and NCT help new parents to develop their support networks and look after their mental health.
  • Access online support. There are lots of online communities for parents, people experiencing mental health problems and specifically parents experiencing mental health problems. Websites like netmums and mumsnet have forums where you can talk to other parents. Mind runs an online peer support community called Elefriends for anyone who wants support for their mental health. PND & Me connects people with experience of perinatal mental health problems primarily through twitter. See our pages on seeking support online for more information.
  • Try peer support. Contact your local Mind to see if they offer any peer support groups. Many organisations run peer support programmes for specific diagnoses. For example, Action on Postpartum Psychosis runs a peer support network, and PANDAS runs support groups for perinatal mental health problems. See our pages on specific mental health problems for more information.

"I finally found the strength to open up and share my experience with others. I was so surprised to find I was not unique, and found comfort knowing others had been through the same. We found ways to help each other and overcome difficult times."

Coping with household tasks as well as looking after a new baby is a challenge for anyone. Finding some ways to manage them day-to-day can help take the pressure off and help you feel more able to cope with the symptoms of your mental health problem.

  • Accept help. If your friends or family members offer to do the shopping, help cook meals or do some cleaning, say yes! There's nothing wrong with needing some support, and your loved ones will probably want to do something practical to help you.
  • Cook meals in advance. If you don't have anyone around who can come and help, you can make planning food easier by batch cooking meals in advance and freezing them. Take advantage of times when you have more energy to cook, so you can have access to fast and healthy meals when you're feeling worse.
  • Take it slowly. It's easy to start to feel overwhelmed when you're looking after a new baby on top of your regular life. Try setting yourself 20 minutes to do what you can of a task, whether that's throwing things in the washing machine or sorting through your paperwork. Taking things 20 minutes at a time can make tasks feel more manageable and you can take advantage of getting a little bit done whenever you feel able.
  • Don't pressure yourself. You might want to keep up with all the things you used to do around the house – but looking after a new baby is a full time job, as well as affecting how much sleep you get. Try not to set unrealistic standards for yourself or get frustrated if you don't do the things you planned to.

Read Selina's blog about her own experience of postnatal depression.

Finding time to think about yourself while looking after your baby may feel like a challenge, but making small changes can help you look after your mental health.

  • Keep active. This could be going for a walk with the pram, dancing to music at home or gentle yoga. Physical activity can boost your mood, and help you feel like you're getting to do some things just for yourself. See our pages on physical activity and mental health for more information.
  • Try to get some sleep. Getting good sleep with a new baby might sound impossible, but finding time to rest can make a big difference to your mental health. Try sleeping whenever your baby sleeps or, if you can, ask your partner to help with night feeds.
  • Take time to relax. You might feel like you have no time for yourself, or that all you do is sit around at home, but actively taking time to relax can mean more than just watching the TV. Think about what really helps you unwind, whether it's reading a book, doing some gardening or doing crafts, and try to make a bit of time – even just five minutes – to do something that makes you feel good. See our pages on relaxation for more ideas.

This information was published in July 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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