Mentally Preparing for Pregnancy

5 Steps to Mentally Prepare for a Baby

Pregnant woman holding stomach
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Advice on getting ready for pregnancy typically focuses on the physical aspects—getting the right prenatal vitamins, eating the right foods, and doing the right exercises to prepare your body. But what about mentally preparing for pregnancy? What can you do before you conceive to ensure that your psychological health stays intact during the prenatal period? Are their strategies you can follow to help minimize potential complications such as postpartum depression?

Studies have shown that mental and emotional well-being during pregnancy can have an impact on birth outcomes as well as mental states during the postpartum period. Even if you have a difficult pregnancy or if your experience is not quite what you expected, there are steps that you can take to keep yourself mentally healthy.

Let's take a closer look at some of the different ways you might mentally prepare yourself to have a baby.

Understand Your Risk Factors

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious problem that affects a significant number of new mothers. Among women, depression is the leading cause of non-obstetric hospitalization. Because PPD can have a major impact on the health of mothers and infants, findings ways to both prevent and treat the disorder are essential.

Are there steps you can take before pregnancy to help lower the chances that you might be affected by postpartum depression?

Understanding the risk factors associated with PPD might help. While it is not possible to predict who will and will not be affected, being at least aware of any risk factors you may have might help you watch for the first signs of any symptoms.

Women at a higher risk of developing PPD include:

  • Those with a history of depression and anxiety
  • Past incidence of PPD
  • Marital conflict
  • A family history of PPD
  • A recent history of stressful life events such as pregnancy complications
  • A poor support system

Fortunately, researchers have found that there are steps people can take to prevent or reduce postpartum depression. For example, one study found that women who receive psychosocial or psychological interventions are significantly less likely to experience depression after giving birth. The most effective interventions identified by the study included interpersonal therapy, postpartum home visits, postpartum phone support, and postpartum midwife care. Some evidence suggests that early cognitive behavior therapy can also be helpful in preventing postpartum depression.

Being aware of any risk factors is important, but you should also recognize that anyone can be affected by postpartum depression. Even if you have zero past experience with depression or anxiety, you can still develop symptoms of this condition following the birth of your child. That is why it is so important to be aware of these signs and symptoms so that you can take appropriate actions if you believe you might have PPD.

Depression following the birth of a child can range in terms of severity, but some of the symptoms you should watch for include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Tearfulness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Disinterest in one's baby
  • Anxiety
  • Intrusive thoughts

If you think that you have symptoms of PPD or other feelings that are concerning you, be sure to discuss them with your health care provider. Your doctor may recommend treatment that includes self-care, psychotherapy, medication, support groups, or some combination of treatments.

Being educated about postpartum depression, knowing the symptoms, and recognizing the need to reach out to your doctor if you think you might have symptoms of depression or anxiety at any point during or after your pregnancy can help you feel more mentally prepared to have a baby.

Know What to Expect

It's good to be prepared and have a plan, but pregnancy can be unpredictable and sometimes those plans fly out the window. Being mentally prepared for pregnancy also means building an understanding of what you can anticipate during the prenatal period. Pregnancy can include both the expected (weight gain, weird food cravings, aches and pains) to the unexpected (extreme nausea, pica, and being placed on bed-rest). Before you become pregnant, learn more about some of the common symptoms associated with pregnancy as well as some of the less common complications you might experience.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you can read all the books, websites, blogs, and parenting magazines you can get your hands on and…the unexpected might still happen. You simply cannot predict exactly how your pregnancy experience will be, so you really just have to wait until you are in the thick of it to see. Educating yourself about the ins and outs can be helpful, but you need to accept that you cannot know, predict, or control everything.

Seek Out Social Support

Strong social support during the prenatal period is critical, whether this support comes from a spouse, other family members, parents, or friends. Previous research has shown that social support can have a protective effect against the negative health consequences of life stress. One study found that social support in the time leading up to and following birth had an important positive impact on a mother's postpartum mental health.

Additionally, social support during pregnancy is thought to improve birth outcomes by lowering the risk of preterm birth. How? Social support is believed to both reduce anxiety and stress as well as improve stress coping mechanisms. While one study found that such social support did not have a direct effect on lowering preterm birth, the researchers did believe that such support could act as a sort of buffering mechanism between prenatal stress and premature delivery.

So what can you do to ensure that you have the tangible, emotional, and informational support that you need before, during, and after pregnancy?

  • Communicate with your partner. If you have a spouse or partner who will be part of your life and your child's life, invest time and effort into making sure this relationship is strong. Talk about your concerns and ask for help when you need it.
  • Lean on family and friends. Pregnancy can be challenging, particularly if you are dealing with complications such as severe morning sickness or other medical concerns. Let your loved ones know when you need help.
  • Join a group of expecting parents. It can be helpful to share your experience with other people who are currently going through the same thing. Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and parenting classes can be great places to meet people who can offer informational support through your pregnancy.

Recognize That Your Emotional Health Is Important

Health concerns during pregnancy are often so centered on taking care of a woman's physical health that it is easy to overlook the importance of mental well-being. Pregnancy marks a major life change for most people, and it requires psychological adjustments that can have resounding effects on a woman's emotional health.

Emotional stress during pregnancy has not only been linked to negative outcomes for mothers, but also for newborns as well. Children born to women who report significant stress and anxiety during pregnancy have an increased risk of birth complications including low birth weight, prematurity, low neonatal status, and poor intrauterine growth.

If you have a history of depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor about your concerns before you conceive. This can be an opportunity to address any emotional concerns that you have going in to your pregnancy and set the stage for better mental wellness both before and after birth.

Strategies for taking care of yourself mentally:

  • Make your psychological health a priority.
  • Banish negative self-talk.
  • Take time for yourself.
  • Take a childbirth or parenting class.
  • Talk to your partner about how you plan to parent.
  • Also discuss how you will deal with challenges that might arise.
  • Utilize stress management techniques to combat stress and anxiety.

Mentally Prepare Your Other Children

The mental groundwork for pregnancy can become even more challenging when you also need to psychologically prepare your older children for the arrival of a new sibling. Some kids may eagerly await a younger brother or sister, but emotional responses such as fear, jealousy, and anxiety are also quite common.

You can help your children mentally prepare for your pregnancy by making sure to set aside time and attention for each of your kids. Make them feel that they will have an important part both in your pregnancy and that they can help you get ready for the new baby. Picking out baby items, helping you prepare a space for the baby, and even talking about baby names can help older siblings feel included.

Just be careful not to put too much pressure on your other children and don't make them feel that their emotional responses, even if those reactions might be negative, are wrong or bad. Acceptance, attention, and unconditional positive regard can go a long way toward helping your older kids feel excited about the possibility of another child in the family.

A Word From Verywell

Preparing for pregnancy is about more than just getting your body ready; it also means preparing your mind as well. While it can be very helpful to understand the sort of mental challenges you might face going in to this major life change, it is also impossible to predict exactly the sort of challenges you might face.

Before you conceive, assess your unique situation and needs. Take the time now to ensure that you address stress and anxiety in your life, seek out solid sources of support, and make your mental health a priority. By focusing on taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, you can help ensure that you have a healthy, happy pregnancy.

Sources:

Carta, G et al. How does early cognitive behavioual therapy reduce postpartum depression? Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 2015;42(1):49-52.

Crawford-Faucher, A. Psychosocial and psychological interventions for preventing postpartum depression. American Family Physician. 2014; 89(11):871.

Elsenbruch, S, et al. Social support during pregnancy: Effects on maternal depressive symptoms, smoking and pregnancy outcome. Human Reproduction. 2007;22(3);869-877.

Hetherington, E., et al. Preterm birth and social support during pregnancy: A systemic review and meta-analysis. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology. 2015;29(6); 523-535.

O,Hara, MW. Postpartum depression: What we know. J Clin Psychol. 2009;65(12);1258-1269.

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