Pregnancy and Mental Health

Recently I was interviewed by Kelowna Now regarding information on pregnancy and mental health. I felt so privileged to be approached on this topic as its something that I feel is not spoken about often. Women really are viewed as these powerhouse figures, able to work, grow babies, parent, lead, and truly shine!! And its true, we do, but there is also science occurring underneath our exteriors. Hormones, neurocognitive and emotional processing, nervous system responses… Sometimes we don’t have control over all that we wish we did. Sometimes we choose not to listen to what may be truly going on…

I wanted to put a few questions out there based on this interview tooffer some insight and encouragement to support women on their journey togrowing beautiful babies and bringing life into this world while supporting andthriving in one’s own life.


Why do you think pregnancy can be a trigger for mental health issues?

  • physiological changes – Pregnancy creates physiological changes to our bodies which causes us to contemplate who we were, who we are becoming, and who we want to be. This self-reflection occurs for women because we are changing our identity by becoming mothers. This contemplation can manifest itself in reigniting past anxiety, but on a subclinical or subconscious level. It can simply cause us to question whether we are strongenough, calm enough, secure enough to be mothers. *And yes we truly,innately are 😉
  • Pre-ExistingMental Health Conditions – For those with pre existing mental health problems, we sometimes have to go off ourmedication or we haven’t completed managed our historical concerns, which canre-trigger our mental health issues. As mothers with babies in utero we striveto create a calm environment in which our children can grow, but sometimes thechanges associated with pregnancy as well as the impending changes to our livescan work against that goal rather than for it. 
  • New Stressors – Preparing to have a new baby is not lives can but can be stressful and challenging. Pregnancy can generate new stressors, which can trigger mental health issues in some woman. Pregnancy can also create changes in relationships and employment; it can cause challenges to fiances, future childcare, etc etc. Stress impacts the body and the mind andcan trigger mental health concerns.
  • Hormones -Hormonal changes can affect our brain chemistry and lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)panic attacks and BPD bipolar disorder (episodes of low-energy depression and high-energy mania). There are incredible amounts of shifting hormones that take place to create a beautiful baby and at times these influxes can create overwhelming emotions and changes in our thinking patterns which can lead to mental health concerns.
  • Other Major Stressors –  poverty, exposure to violence (domestic, sexual and gender-based), emergency and conflict situations, natural disasters, and low social support generally increase risks for mental health issues

What are some tips for mothers to be to ensure optimal mental health during pregnancy?

I would suggest some basic and attainable concepts that can provide optimal mental health during pregnancy:

  • Downtime – ensuring you are not overbooked with appointments, employment, social gatherings, prenatal yoga, family, shopping etc. etc. Ensuring you book downtime for your mind and body and for alone time to bond with your growing baby.
  • Self care – ensuring you are meeting some basic goals for physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual and familial goals. Self care would likely include:
  • Taking time to relax
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Building a support network
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Seeing your health care provider regularly
  • Self-reflection –taking space to deeply reflect on the changes ahead, to be gentle with yourself and your growing body. To address fears and uncertainties, to admire your body’s mysterious ways. Time to be with just you – as that time will be running out!
  • Treat yourself – Time in each day to do something for oneself (nails, read a book, a tea with a friend)
  • Awareness of time – Make sure that as much time as we put into preparing for our baby – we need to put at least half that amount of time into preparing ourselves too!
  • Seek Support – join a moms group, prenatal class or other social opportunities to meet other soon-to-be moms and families. Explore educational classes around having a new baby with your partner or attend some counselling to ensure you’ve worked through any concerns you may be having.Accept help if it is offered to you, ask for help if you need it!

Are there any tips for partners and other family members to help?

  • Do your best to demonstrate patience and acceptance
  • Support their needs and offer non-judgmental support
  • Identifying strengths in your partner/family member
  • With partners – agreeing on how roles will shift and discuss potential duties before things get overwhelming
  • Accompany Her to Doctor/Midwife Appointments
  • Recognizing when things are going off track or a changeneeds to be made and approaching that with calm heads rather than blame
  • Stay positive about health changes, discussions about labour/childbirth
  • Educate yourself –learn more about pregnancy and what your partner is going through physicallyand emotionally
  • Validate your partners’ feelings – sometimes just getting it all out to a sympathetic ear is just what someone may need to turn their feelings around

What are some of the signs when an expectant mom should see a mental health professional?

Some things to look out for that would encourage seeking some professional support would include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Consistent and overwhelming feelings of sadness or chronic worry (generally for longer than 2 weeks)
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Concerning changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to concentrate
  • Concerning loss of interest in activities you use to enjoy
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Repeated scary thoughts about your baby
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed, concerns that will not be or are not a good parent
  • On set of panic attacks or develop obsessive or compulsive behaviours
  • Mounting stress not relieved by anything
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Substance abuse

It is very important to reach out for support and our community offers many free resources for pregnant women! Should you want specific clinical responses to some of the concerns reviewed above, our clinic offers some wonderful prenatal services including individual counselling for all mental health concerns, couples and family therapy, treatment for birth trauma,parenting consulting and more.

I am the owner of the group clinic, Registered Clinical Counsellor and mom of three beautiful children (one birthed and two inherited), and I would love to connect with you <3

This post was written by: Nicole Ripley 

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