Taking Care of Your Mental Health During Pregnancy

Getting pregnant, pregnancy, and postpartum—the time after your baby is born—can be a real challenge physically and emotionally. In this post, we’ll demystify some of the challenges you might face and discuss the best ways to take care of your mental health during and after pregnancy.

Many people face mental health challenges like mood and anxiety disorders during and after pregnancy. You might be particularly prone to these challenges if you’ve been trying to conceive for a while, and even more so if you’ve experienced challenges related to infertility. Not being pregnant when you’d really like to be and then all of a sudden being pregnant can give you emotional whiplash. And if you don’t feel 100 percent thrilled to be pregnant or have doubts, worries, or anxieties around your pregnancy, these can magnify the issue.

Take comfort that most people are not happy to be pregnant absolutely all the time. Pregnancy can be hard with a new physical discomfort every day and can magnify already existing stressors and lead to new forms of stress that make relaxing and coping even tougher. Plus your hormones change rapidly almost the minute you conceive, which can be a real challenge to your emotional state. Think about it as having the rapid changes associated with the time right before you get your period, but on an even larger scale. These shifts can lead to sadness, irritability, and feelings of elation—sometimes within the same short time period. If you are prone to anxiety and depression already, these challenges are more likely to happen for you during pregnancy and postpartum.

A certain level of these feelings is completely normal, but if you start to feel overwhelmed or unable to go about your normal life based on the feelings, it’s a good idea to talk to someone: your care provider, a trusted friend, or a mental health professional.

So if you’re pregnant and you’ve noticed that your mental health might be taking a turn for the worse or if you’d like to do your best to prevent possible challenges, what can you do? The good news is that there are plenty of evidence-based things to try. Read on for some ideas.

Exercise can be a great way to support your mental health. It can certainly be tough to exercise if you’re experiencing physical discomfort—particularly if you have a disability that already causes pain or makes getting around tough—so this might not be for you. If you can manage any exercise at all, though, it’s a good place to start. Consider yoga, maybe even a yoga class specific for pregnant folks, swimming, or walking. Just 15 minutes per day can improve your mood and often moving can help with physical discomfort, which may also help improve your emotional health.

Mindfulness meditation is an evidence-based way to decrease stress and anxiety. It focuses on non-judgmental noticing of your physical and emotional experience and can help you be less reactive and irritable. Practicing mindfulness formally with a daily meditation of five to ten minutes and informally as you move throughout your day might help bolster your mental health. If you want to learn more, this The Pulse blog post is a deeper dive into the benefits of mindfulness meditation for anxiety and depression during pregnancy.

Eating well is another thing that can help support your mood. It’s easier said than done—particularly if you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting during your pregnancy. Instead of trying to get a certain number grams of protein or servings of vegetables, try to eat food that sounds reasonably good and makes your body feel strong. Maybe that’s French fries one day and a bowl of veggie soup the next.

See a therapist. This suggestion might seem extreme, but therapy is a great resource. Having somewhere to go every so often where you can just break down, feel all your feelings, and then get strategies to help you cope maybe be really valuable for you during and after pregnancy. You don’t have to be sick to get better.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can occur during pregnancy or any time in your baby’s first few years. If you have concerns, it is always a good idea to talk them over with your care provider, a mental health professional, and your partner. The crucial thing to remember is that mental health challenges are temporary and treatable. You don’t have to suffer.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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