I am pregnant or a new parent
Pregnancy and having a new baby is generally seen as a time of happiness and excitement. In reality, it is very common to feel low or anxious and experience problems with your emotional health during this time.
Many women feel guilty or embarrassed about these feelings and end up not seeking the support that they need. And some new dads or partners can experience difficulties, as well, but may find it hard to open up or ask for support.
It's often thought that health professionals are just there to look after your physical health, but they are there to offer support for your emotional health as well.
If you feel that you are struggling then speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP as the sooner you seek help the quicker you will find a way to feel better.
What you will learn in this section:
- How can I look after my emotional health during pregnancy?
- Can some women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy?
- How will being pregnant affect me if I already have mental health difficulties?
- What can I do to keep myself feeling well after the birth?
- What are the ‘baby blues’ and when should I ask for help?
- How can depression and anxiety affect new mums?
- What can I do to feel better if I am experiencing depression or anxiety?
- What is postpartum psychosis?
- Can dads/partners experience emotional difficulties too?
- What support is available in Leeds for pregnant women and new parents?
- What should I do if I need help immediately?
- Where can I find support following the loss of my baby?
How can I look after my emotional health during pregnancy?
During pregnancy your body goes through many changes in a fairly short space of time. As your baby grows it takes minerals and vitamins from your own body and your hormone balance changes, which can affect your mood.
It can also take time to adjust to the big life changes about to happen, or, perhaps, come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy. It's quite normal to feel a bit worried or anxious about these changes and new pressures and many other women will experience similar feelings.
- You can talk to your midwife about how you are feeling at any point. All pregnant women in Leeds are asked some questions about their emotional health by their midwife at their first appointment – this is a really good opportunity to discuss any concerns that you may have. You are also encouraged to talk about any issues throughout your pregnancy as your midwife understands that emotional health problems are very common. There is no need to be worried that your midwife will judge you for feeling down or anxious.
- It's a good idea to attend Preparation for Birth and Beyond (PBB) - Leeds' antenatal education course. As well as preparing for the arrival of your baby, it is also a great way to meet parents in your area. The courses are held in local Children's Centres, which also run other groups and activities for pregnant women and young families. Find your local Children's Centre here
- Download the free Baby Buddy app - health professionals in Leeds use a range of tools including a free app called Baby Buddy. The app was developed by a charity called Best Beginnings which supports parents in giving their children the best start in life. The app acts as your personal baby 'bubby' which can guide you through your pregnancy and the first six months of your baby's life. It was developed with mums, midwives and GPs and was created to be used by all families in the UK (particularly younger parents). The app gives you lots of information and resources including films of parents talking about their experiences of emotional health in pregnancy and after having the baby. It also has films of health professionals giving tips about managing mental health difficulties.
- Download the app free from Google Play or from the App Store. There is also a web version of Baby Buddy.
- Try to look after your general health - keeping active and taking some gentle exercise during your pregnancy can really boost your wellbeing. You can find your local leisure centre here on the Leeds City Council website. Exercise like swimming, yoga (remember to tell your teacher that you are pregnant) or walking can all be great forms of exercise. Leeds Let's Get Active is a city-wide programme which encourages people in Leeds to get more active.If you have any concerns, talk to your GP, before you start to exercise.
- Information about how to eat well is available here.
- If you are a smoker - One You Leeds offers non-judgmental support to help pregnant women stop smoking.
- You can find local advice and support about alcohol and pregnancy here. The Department of Health has published new guidelines for pregnant women in advising that no level of alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy.
Can some women experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy?
While most people have heard of postnatal depression, some women can experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy too.
Watch this animation - new mums from Leeds talk about how they struggled with their emotions during pregnancy and after the birth
Although it's normal to have periods of worry and stress when you're pregnant, if these feelings don't go away and are beginning to affect your day-to-day activities it's important to ask for help from your midwife or GP. Some signs that you may be experiencing anxiety or depression can include:
- Feeling over-anxious, sad, tearful, guilty or down most of the time.
- Worrying a lot about your baby or the birth.
- Withdrawing from contact with other people.
- Loss of interest in activities or things that they used to enjoy or take pleasure in.
- Feeling irritable.
- Loss of self-confidence.
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
- Changes in appetite - eating more or less.
- Feeling tired or restless.
- Lack of energy and sleeping problems.
- Tense muscles.
- Feeling panicky or experiencing panic attacks.
Many women hold back on asking for help because they feel that their problems aren't serious enough to bother a health professional or they are worried about feeling embarrassed or being judged. All health professionals in the city are trained to support women with their feelings. The earlier you can talk about how you are feeling and get support, the less likely it is to turn into a more serious problem.
Any health professional you speak to should treat you with respect and understanding. However, if you speak to someone and don't feel that they understand, it is OK to try speaking to another professional that you feel more comfortable talking to.
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or taking your own life, it is very important that you arrange an urgent appointment with a health professional such as your GP so they can put the right support in place for you.
Further information is available about support in a crisis here
How will being pregnant affect me if I already have mental health difficulties?
If you are taking medication for your mental health (such as antidepressants) and find out you are pregnant (or think that you might be) it's important to talk to your GP as soon as possible. Some women panic that their medication might hurt their baby and stop taking it, without talking to their GP, and this can have a negative effect on their mental health. Your GP can support you to make a decision about your medication that's right for your health and the health of your baby.
If you have experienced issues with your mental health in the past, or are currently experiencing difficulties, it's important to talk openly about this with your GP, midwife or health visitor so that you can get the right help in place to support you. You may be offered an assessment by the Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Midwifery team to plan for your mental health support needs throughout your pregnancy and after the baby is born.
It is also important to talk to your GP if you are taking medication for your mental health and are hoping to conceive so that you can plan, in advance, what medication and emotional support will be right for you during pregnancy.
What can I do to keep myself feeling well after the birth?
It is very normal to feel overwhelmed when your baby arrives, particularly as you are very likely to be getting less sleep. You may feel other pressures and stresses as well. This can include new feelings of responsibility for your new baby, new money worries and changes to your relationship with your partner, family, friends and other children (if you already have any).
Here are some tips to help keep you feeling well:
- Keep talking to your family and friends - be open about how you are feeling rather than keeping it inside.
- Remember most new parents feel very tired and need support - if, however, you are also feeling low or anxious lack of sleep can make everything seem worse and more difficult to cope with. Can you think of someone you could ask for help so that you can get more rest? Or, could you try to rest when your baby naps? It can help to talk to your partner or family members about how you feel (you could show them this website) and discuss with them how they can support you to catch up on sleep.
- It is normal for babies to keep waking for feeds and cuddles; they love to be near you. This means most news mums will experience tiredness. Wearing your baby in a sling and sleeping with them in the same room can help to make them feel more secure and comforted and therefore more settled. You can find more info about sleep and tiredness here.
- Be social - some new mums can feel isolated or lonely so try to keep in touch with other parents that you have met at groups like Preparation for Birth and Beyond, or join a new group at your local Children's Centre. Sharing experiences with other people who are going through the same thing can make a huge difference.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help with breastfeeding - keeping up with your baby's needs can feel demanding and sometimes overwhelming. All babies, whether breast or formula-fed, need to be fed when they need it (sometimes called 'fed responsively' or 'on-demand') which can be quite often. If you are breastfeeding and would like extra support there are groups and specialist support available for you. Find out more here
- Try not to put too much pressure on yourself - some new mums feel like they are failing if they struggle to keep on top of everything in the house. Being a new mum with new responsibilities will mean that you won't be able to do everything, though some women find this difficult to adjust to. Try to accept help from others with things like cooking and washing if possible.
- Try to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of water and cut down on caffeine.
- Avoid smoking and drinking - there is support to stop smoking available from One You Leeds and help with alcohol difficulties at Forward Leeds
- Try to get outside for a change of scene and do some gentle exercise as often as you can - this is helpful for your own wellbeing and good for your baby. Join a social walking group like Ready Steady Mums.
What are the ‘baby blues’ and when should I ask for help?
Being a new mum is often thought of as a joyful state and many women feel a lot of pressure to appear happy during this time. The reality is that up to 70% of new mums experience the 'baby blues' in the first week or so after the birth. A drop in hormones, the exhaustion of giving birth, lack of sleep and the sudden responsibility of looking after a new born baby can all have a big effect on your mood.
You might feel upset, a little down, irritable or just feel like crying for no obvious reason. Many women often laugh and cry at the same time! These are completely normal feelings and usually only last for a few days and not longer than two weeks after giving birth. If, however, these feelings continue or get worse and start to affect day-to-day life it may be a sign of postnatal depression or another mental health problem.
Unfortunately, new mums sometimes dismiss a more serious problem as 'just the baby blues' and this stops them from seeking help and getting the extra support that they need.
If you are struggling with your emotional health it is important to talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor, even if you don't think that you have a specific mental health problem.
How can depression and anxiety affect new mums?
Many women find that the first months after giving birth is not the perfect, magical time that they expected and hold back on asking for help because they are worried about being judged as a 'bad parent'. They may even fear that their baby will be taken away from them if they admit to feeling low or anxious and will spend a lot of effort trying to do what they think is expected of them to make it appear that nothing is wrong.
These fears can stop some women getting the support that they need to feel well and bond with their baby. All women who are struggling with their emotions, in whatever way, should feel able to be open with their midwife, GP or health visitor. They will ask you some questions to help them understand a bit more about what you have been experiencing and discuss with you what support is available to help you feel better.
Watch this animation - new mums from Leeds talk about how they struggled with their emotions during pregnancy and after the birth
Postnatal depression is a type of depression which affects women after having a baby. It is fairly common - affecting one in 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect dads and partners although this is less common (see section Can dads/partners experience emotional difficulties too?)
Some signs of postnatal depression can include:
- Feeling sad, low, tearful or guilty most of the time.
- Worrying a lot about your baby and their wellbeing.
- Withdrawing from contact with other people.
- Difficulty bonding with your baby.
- Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
- Feeling irritable.
- Loss of self-confidence.
- Problems concentrating and making decisions.
- Changes in appetite - eating more or less.
- Feeling restless and lacking energy.
- Less interest in sex.
- Problems sleeping at night and feeling tired during the day.
- Tense muscles.
- Feeling panicky or experiencing panic attacks.
- Frightening thoughts - for example, about hurting your baby.
Many women also experience anxiety after having a baby. Being responsible for a new life can feel overwhelming at times and it is natural to experience worries about looking after your baby, however, if these feelings continue or are affecting your day-to-day life, talk to your health visitor or GP.
Some women experience obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) which can focus on distressing thoughts and images such as harming the baby. This can be really scary, but does not mean that you will act on these thoughts. Speak to a health worker about support for the anxiety.
It's also possible to experience health anxiety which may focus on extreme worries that there is something wrong with the baby and repeated health checks that don't help to reduce the anxiety.
Some factors that may make it more likely for someone to experience mental health difficulties after having a baby include:
- A difficult or traumatic birth, a premature or early birth, a stillbirth or the death of a baby.
- Problems getting enough sleep.
- Lacking a social network and support at home.
- Experiencing other stresses and life events at the same time, such as bereavement or money worries.
- Relationship problems or domestic abuse.
- Previous experience of depression.
- Being a younger mum.
However, any woman who has given birth could experience mental health difficulties.
What can I do to feel better if I am experiencing depression or anxiety?
Practise self-help - find some helpful strategies to improve your wellbeing during pregnancy and after the birth.
What is postpartum psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis is a very serious and rare mental health condition which affects around one in every 1000 women who give birth. It can also be called puerperal psychosis or post-natal psychosis.
Women experiencing this condition have hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing things that aren't real) and/or delusional thoughts (thoughts that are unlikely to be true).
They may also experience:
- Mania – appearing in a high mood, talking too much and thinking too quickly.
- Feeling very low or depressed.
- Mood swings between feeling high and low.
- Loss of inhibitions.
- Feeling paranoid, scared or suspicious of other people.
- Feeling restless, tearful, withdrawn or irritable.
- Problems sleeping and lack of energy.
Often women experiencing this condition do not realise themselves that they are unwell, so it is important for a partner, friend or family member to get help urgently if they suspect something is wrong.
Some women who experience postpartum psychosis can get worse and be in danger of hurting themselves or their baby. In that case you should see your GP urgently (the same day) or attend your local A&E department. See section below 'What should I do if I need help immediately' for more information.
Can dads/partners experience emotional difficulties too?
Postnatal depression affects as many as one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, but it can also affect dads and partners as well with up to one in 25 new dads experiencing depression after having a baby. The responsibility of having a new child, feeling anxious about being a good parent, lack of sleep and other stresses like money worries can affect dads/partners as much as mums. Some people may find themselves under even more pressure if are they supporting a partner who is experiencing postnatal depression or who is recovering from a difficult birth.
Postnatal depression is more common for men/partners, if:
- You are a first-time parent.
- Your partner experienced a premature or difficult birth.
- You have experienced depression or lows moods before.
- Your partner is experiencing depression.
Signs that you may be experiencing depression, include:
- Feeling low, sad, guilty, irritable or hopeless.
- Low self-esteem and loss of confidence.
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy.
- Feeling negative about the future.
- Feeling overwhelmed by problems and struggling to cope.
From Dads to Dads - is a website especially for dads, featuring real life experiences, useful facts and information laid out simply by experts in the field. It also has information about dads' mental health, how to support a partner with postnatal depression and the effects of a traumatic birth on both mum and dad.
You can find out more about low moods and depression and when to speak to your GP here.
What support is available in Leeds for pregnant women and new parents?
There is a lot of support available, however, many women worry that they will be judged as a 'bad parent' which can stop them getting the support that they need to feel well and bond with their baby.
Talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor, at any stage, about how you are feeling. They will ask you some questions to help them understand a bit more about what you have been experiencing and discuss what support is available to help you feel better.
Any health professional you speak to should treat you with respect and understanding. However, if you speak to someone and don't feel that they understand, it is OK to try speaking to another professional that you feel more comfortable talking to. The information below also includes services that you can refer yourself to.
Dads/partners and other family members can also access support from their GP. Partners are encouraged to attend many of the groups and some of the one-to-one services are also available to dads and partners as well as mums (see individual descriptions below for more information).
During pregnancy there are a variety of groups that you can attend which offer support and an opportunity to meet other parents:
- Preparation for Birth and Beyond (PBB) is Leeds' antenatal education course. It has been designed to support parents-to-be during pregnancy and the early days of their baby's lives. It is run by health visitors and local Children's Centre staff. The programme involves six sessions before the birth and one after the baby is born. The course is delivered in local Children's Centres so that parents have a chance to find out about local services and groups before their baby is born and to meet other parents who live in their area. Sometimes it is necessary to travel to another children's centre if your local one is fully booked. Ask your midwife about how you can attend. More info here
- Baby Steps is a group-based support service for families who need some extra support on top of the Preparation for Birth and Beyond course. Baby Steps helps mums-to-be and their partners prepare for being a parent. Most antenatal programmes tell you about the medical aspects of birth. Baby Steps goes much further and will help you get ready for your new life with your baby. Welcoming your baby into the world can be very exciting, but it also has its challenges and can leave some people feeling worried. Baby Steps aims to help you cope with all the new experiences that will come your way. A health worker can refer you to this.
- Pregnancy in Mind is a four-week group for parents-to-be who are feeling depressed or anxious, or worried that they might develop emotional health problems, for example, people who have experienced mental health problems before or maybe having an unplanned pregnancy. It covers skills like mindfulness, relaxation and how to 'tune-in' to your baby. You will also be offered support from volunteers during pregnancy and over the first year after birth. You can attend this NSPCC group during the middle three months of pregnancy (middle trimester). Ask a health professional to refer you or you can refer yourself by calling 0113 2172200.
- Best Start Peer Support Project is offering a free course (with creche) to help people manage better when pregnant or if they are a parent/carers of children under two years old. It's open to people who live in South or East Leeds, and involves a course running for two hours per week for six weeks. At the end of the course there are opportunities to join in with future Best Start Peer Support groups, events and new projects. You can find out where and when courses will be running and complete a referral form on the website. You can also ring either of the organisations who run the project to find out more: Touchstone 0113 271 8277 or Women's Health Matters 0113 276 2851.
- Children's Centres run groups which are open to pregnant women as well as people who have had their baby. They are a great place to meet other parents and share experiences. They also run groups for after the baby is born including Incredible Babies (a six session course to support parents learn to understand their baby's needs), Baby Massage and Stay and Play sessions. If you are feeling low you may feel anxious about going to a group. You can ring the Children's Centre and explain your worries so they can support you. Click here to find your nearest Children's Centre.
- Gingerbread provides expert advice and practical support to single parents. Call the free helpline on 0808 802 0925 or join a friendship group.
- Home-Start is a family support charity that helps families with young children deal with the challenges they face. Home-Start volunteers support families struggling with post-natal depression, isolation, physical health problems, bereavement and many other issues. Homes-Start also run groups for friendship and support - find out more about Home-Start Leeds or call 0113 244 2419.
- Women from different ethnic communities and vulnerable women such as new migrants, asylum seekers and refugees can access group work via the Haamla service. A health worker can refer you or contact the service on 0113 2065477.
- Yums is group support for young mothers (under 25 years old) in South Leeds run by Women's Health Matters.
- Join a social walking group like Ready Steady Mums.
One-to-one support is also available during pregnancy and after you have had your baby:
- Arrange a visit in your home from a Home-Start volunteer who offers their time to support other parents with friendship and practical help (such as support to attend appointments or do the shopping) and can also listen and encourage. Some of the volunteers have personal experience of mental health difficulties. You can phone Home-Start to find out more at 0113 244 2419, or find more info here.
- Leeds Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) provides talking therapies to help people who are stressed, experiencing low mood or depression or feeling very anxious. The service gives priority to women who are pregnant or in the first year after the birth of their baby. This means that you don't have to join the general waiting list, however, as this is not a crisis service there is usually a short wait. This service is open to anyone over 17 years old in Leeds so it is also available for partners or other family members. You can refer online here or contact the service on 0113 843 4388.
- Parent one-to-one counselling (run by the charity Northpoint) is free for anyone who lives or works in Leeds and who is pregnant or whose partner is pregnant. Appointments are held in local Children's Centres. You can ask a health professional to refer you or refer yourself here.
- The Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust run a Birth Matters Clinic which offers pre-birth planning to women who have anxiety about giving birth (this may be related to a previous traumatic birth). Speak to your midwife for more information.
- If you are struggling with breastfeeding there is support available either in groups or you could get support from a breastfeeding counsellor (someone who has breastfed themselves and had training to support others). More info here.
- The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Team offers one-to-one support to help young people develop as parents.
Support for more serious mental health difficulties
If you experience more serious mental health problems during your pregnancy or after you have had your baby your midwife, health visitor and GP will work with you to decide which service is best placed to support you.
If you are diagnosed with an issue like postnatal depression or any other mental health problem, it does not mean that your baby will be taken into care, in fact, health professionals will do everything they can to support you to get better and to bond with your baby if that is something that you are struggling with.
- The Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Midwifery Service provides midwife support to women experiencing serious mental health issues. This means that women can be supported by the same midwife, who has extra training and experience in supporting people with mental health difficulties, through-out their pregnancy. They can also visit women experiencing moderate or severe mental health difficulties in the first month after baby is born.
- Women's Counselling and Therapy Service (WCTS) offer counselling services for women including one-to-one and group therapy as well as a range of groups and support. This includes specialist services for pregnant women and new mothers:
- A service for women who are pregnant to support them in developing a relationship with their baby (this work can include fathers).
- Another service, in partnership with Home-Start, for women (and their partners) who have had more than one child taken into care.
- MumsTalk, which helps mothers and female carers dealing with current or long-standing difficulties in looking after themselves or their children.
- The Leeds Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Team is a mental health service that supports some women with serious mental health problems in late pregnancy and in the baby's first year. They provide intensive care and support through a team of mental health nurses, psychiatrists and support workers. They run the Yorkshire and Humber Mother and Baby Unit at the The Mount, 44 Hyde Terrace, for women with more serious problems who need 24 hour care and support. This is different from a general mental health ward as it means that the baby can stay on the ward with the mother rather than being separated.
- If you are struggling to bond with your baby then you may be referred to the Infant Mental Health Team. This service offers a variety of support to families around building a bond with the baby.
- If you are under 18 and have serious mental health difficulties, you may be referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). More information about emotional health support for young people is available at MindMate
What should I do if I need help immediately?
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or taking your own life, it is very important that you arrange an urgent appointment with a health professional such as your GP so they can put in place support for you and your family.
If you feel you cannot wait to see your GP, you could contact the Crisis Assessment Service which is part of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
This is an assessment service for people who are experiencing mental health problems which might cause them to hurt themselves or someone else. It is open 24 hours, seven days a week. 'An assessment service' means that a health worker will talk to you about your mental health crisis and discuss what may be available to help you. They will initially offer telephone advice and support but will meet you for a face-to-face assessment if necessary.
- Call 0300 300 1485.
- If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can text 07983 323867.
If you feel that you or someone else is in immediate danger, you should call 999 immediately.
Further information is available about support in a crisis here.
Where can I find support following the loss of my baby?
Leeds has a Bereavement Midwife who is trained to care for and support women and families who suffer the loss of a baby in pregnancy or the first week of life. She is responsible for offering emotional support, information and practical guidance to women who:
- Experience miscarriage from 14 weeks.
- Experience stillbirth or neonatal death (this means in the first week of life).
- Have an on-going pregnancy but the baby is expected to die.
- Choose to have a termination of pregnancy because of abnormalities.
- Have another pregnancy following the loss of a baby.
A Specialist Bereavement Midwife is someone who understands that the parents of a baby who has died will be faced with many difficult decisions and emotions. She can explain all the different options and choices at a time of great difficulty and sadness. This means that families have a dedicated person to contact whenever they have questions or requests, or simply want to talk.
You can find out more and self-refer by calling 07920029180. Find more information here
If you have lost a baby or child but you do not fit the criteria above, you can find out more information about bereavement support for parents in Leeds Bereavement Forum Directory here. This includes local services, national helplines and useful websites.
Women (and their partners) who have experienced the loss of a baby through an Ectopic pregnancy can find information and support through The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust.
Tools and apps
Download the free Baby Buddy app - health professionals in Leeds use a range of tools including a free app called Baby Buddy. The app was developed by a charity called Best Beginnings which supports parents in giving their children the best start in life. The app acts as your personal baby 'bubby' which can guide you through your pregnancy and the first six months of your baby's life. It was developed with mums, midwives and GPs and was created to be used by all families in the UK (particularly younger parents). The app gives you lots of information and resources including films of parents talking about their experiences of emotional health in pregnancy and after having the baby. It also has films of health professionals giving tips about managing mental health difficulties.
No thanks I'm pregnant- Leeds pregnancy and alcohol campaign (Forward Leeds)
From Dads to Dads - is a website especially for dads, featuring real life experiences, useful facts and information laid out simply by experts in the field.
The Pandas Foundation is an organisation which helps individuals and their families with pre- and post-natal depression advice and support. They also offer support to families in the antenatal period. The Pandas Foundation helpline is open 9am to 8pm on 0843 2898401.
Tommy's is the UK's largest charity which funds research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. It also provides an information service for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby - Call Tommy's Pregnancy Line on 0800 0147 800.