Q: I’m 2 months pregnant and feeling tearful all the time. What’s wrong with me?
A: Having a baby is a huge life change, so it’s not surprising you feel overwhelmed. Add all those pregnancy hormones, and mood swings are inevitable – just remember PMT! Mervi Jokinen of the Royal College of Midwives explains: “There’s an awful lot of development going on with your baby, and it’s a cocktail of hormones that allows this to happen. They’re vital in maintaining the normal development of your baby, but they can also make you feel quite different from normal. The best remedy is to listen to your body and slow down a little bit to allow all these energies to concentrate.
You may need to endure it for a few weeks yet, but the good news is that as you enter the second trimester, you fluctuating hormone levels should begin to settle, leaving you feeling more serene.”
Q: Lack of sleep is making me snappy. What can I do to relax and get some shuteye?
A: “Sleeplessness during pregnancy is extremely common and it can be triggered by different things at different stages,” says Mervi. “One school of thought is that it’s down to those hormones again. In pregnancy, production of melatonin, which gives us our skin colour, changes. Unfortunately, melatonin also helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, so some women can end up with a totally changed pattern. If that happens to you, it can be helpful just to accept that your sleep pattern has changed and adapt as much as you can. For example, think about having a nap in the afternoon. If you can’t sleep because you’re simply big and uncomfortable, meanwhile, use pillows to support your bump.”
“Sleeplessness can also be caused by anxiety about the big life change in becoming a parent,” adds Gail Werkmeister of the NCT. “Try some relaxation techniques, such as pregnancy yoga or Natal Hypnotherapy CD’s. And above all, share your fears with your partner or a friend.”
Q: I’ve just had a baby but I am feeling more down than elated. Is it the ‘baby blues’?
“There’s usually a hormonal ‘come-down’ after the real high of giving birth,” reassures Mervi. “Typically, it comes 5 to 7 days after you gave birth and can last up to 2 weeks. This is what is known as the ‘baby blues’ and it’s very natural. Go easy on yourself: leave the housework and rest as much as you can to give yourself time to re-charge.”
“You are also learning to look after a new baby – with the broken nights that this entails – plus a lot of women suffer from the worry of being totally responsible for a new life, so it’s quite normal to be up and down,” encourages Gail. “Get as much support as possible. Join a postnatal group to meet other mums at the same stage as you, and tell your partner how you are feeling.”
Could it be more serious?
“The baby blues normally disappear after a few days or a couple of weeks. But if the feeling of being tired, anxious and not coping goes on after this, it could be a sign that you are developing postnatal depression,” warns Mervi. “If this happens, it’s really important that you talk to your midwife or health visitor about how you are feeling. She will be able to assess if it’s more than the baby blues, and make sure you get the help you need. In a lot of cases, that’s simply extra support.”
“All women have days when they maybe don’t feel well, are tired and don’t feel all that bonded to their baby. But if you never have some ‘up’ days that make you think things are going to be ok then you need to talk to your GP and partner,” adds Gail.
Karen Archer, 36 weeks pregnant, knew things weren’t right when her first baby, Elsbeth, was 5 months old.
“I was just going through the motions. I was looking after Elsbeth and being a wife, but not really living it: I felt numb. I wasn’t willing to compromise how I felt as a mum, so I knew I had to get help. I was prescribed mild anti-depressants, and referred to a community psychiatric nurse.
The turning point came when I went to a talk by a local support group: sitting in a room of women who totally knew where I was coming from was such a relief that it kick-started my recovery. I would say that if you have the slightest inkling that something may not be right, as hard as it may be to say the words, you have to find the strength to take the first step. If possible, try and find a support group in your area, so you can share your experience with women who have been through it.”