Emotional health and wellbeing
Having a baby can be one of life's most exciting and challenging experiences. It can also be a bit of a roller coaster – you'll feel joy, happiness and delight at times, but there may be others when you feel stressed, frustrated, overwhelmed and confused. It's important to keep your emotional health in check throughout the journey.
What is emotional health?
Emotional health is a state of wellbeing. Just as there are many benefits from being physically healthy, you, your partner and your baby can all benefit from being emotionally healthy.
When you feel well and content, you're better able to manage stress, maintain happy relationships, communicate your feelings and really enjoy life with your new baby.
Looking after yourself during pregnancy
Here are some tips to help you look after yourself and your emotions when you’re expecting a baby.
- Don’t expect too much of yourself – make time to slow down, rest and relax.
- If you have a partner, talk about the difference a baby will make to your lives.
- Arrange as much time as you can for both you and your partner to be at home after the baby is born. Government-funded Dad and Partner Pay provides up to two weeks paid leave, and you may be able to negotiate additional time off with your employer. Find out more about eligibility
- Set up extra support for the first few weeks after the baby’s birth – longer if you‘re expecting more than one baby, or if there are other things going on in your life that may make this a difficult adjustment.
- Talk to someone you trust about your feelings. Sharing your concerns can be really helpful.
- Extend your support network – other expectant parents can be a valuable resource.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you visit your GP, obstetrician or midwife.
- Be careful what you read – some websites and articles might make you feel worse. Look at who is writing it. Can you trust the source of the information?
- Be aware of any changes from how you normally feel. If your emotions are starting to interrupt your day-to-day life, talk to your GP, obstetrician or midwife – the earlier the better.
- If you’ve experienced mental health conditions in the past, discuss this with your health professional. This can help you identify and respond early if symptoms return.
Why are emotional problems common during pregnancy?
The combination of physical, social and emotional changes in pregnancy may, for some people, lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
You’re at greater risk if you’ve experienced mental health conditions before, if you don’t have enough support, are a young or single parent, or have been through a tough time. This might include relationship difficulties, problems with conception, abuse or loss.
But mental health conditions can happen to anyone — just like any physical health condition. It’s important to look after yourself and keep an eye out for any changes in your mood, or if you’re finding it difficult to cope with daily life. While ups and downs are part of pregnancy, if you’ve been feeling sad, down, worried or anxious for two weeks or more, it’s time to seek support.
Miscarriage is traumatic for everyone, including parents, family and friends. Some people feel a deep sense of shame, and it’s easy to become isolated if you feel like you can’t talk about your experience with your loved ones. It’s very important to remain connected with your family and community during this especially difficult time. If you were expecting more than one baby, a miscarriage can also complicate the grieving process, particularly if one or more babies survive. The process of grieving may contribute to, or mask, signs of depression.
If you’ve lost a baby, it’s important to keep in touch with health professionals and organisations that provide support for families at this time. Joining a support group of people who’ve been through the same thing can often be a helpful step.
Looking after yourself during early parenthood
Feeling happy, content and well supported means you’re in the best possible position to be responsive and available to your baby. This helps to develop a strong, secure bond that will ensure your baby continues to develop physically, mentally and emotionally. Good emotional health and communication strengthens your relationships with any older kids and other family members. Focusing on these can also help couples through the challenges of adjusting to a new baby together.
Tips for looking after yourself
There are many ways of preparing for and managing early parenthood so that you can make the most of it and minimise stress. We've put together some tips to help you:
- Being a parent means always considering the needs of your baby. It’s important to remember your own needs as well – looking after yourself is looking after your baby!
- While you may receive a lot of advice from books or other people about how to care for your baby, be open to just working out what suits you and is best for your family.
- Ask for and accept help — even before you really need it. Planning to have additional support in the first few months by asking your partner, family members or friends to be on hand to help can make the transition to parenthood less stressful.
- Think about what you can do day-to-day to make yourself feel good. For some new parents, staying in their pyjamas all day only makes them feel worse, while others find that chilling out and not worrying about their appearance frees them up to put energy into other things. It’s different for everyone, so figure out what works for you – and ignore helpful ‘feedback’ about your choices.
- When possible, try not to make major life changes like moving house or changing jobs late in pregnancy or in the first few months after you have your baby.
- If you’ve experienced mental health problems before, discuss this with your health professional. This can help you identify and respond early if symptoms return.
Tips for getting support
- Develop a support system of friends, family and/or health professionals, including parent groups and local resources, like crèches and playgroups.
- Share the household chores as much as possible between you and your partner. Prioritise what really needs to be done and be prepared to let some stuff go.
- We all have our own personal standards and ways we like things done, but trying to maintain these can be stressful when you’ve got a new baby. Think about what you’re doing day to day and see if there’s anything you could leave for now, or just do ‘well enough’ to get by. This might also mean lowering your expectations a bit.
- Make the most of help when it’s offered. Remember, babies adapt to different ways of doing things (as it stimulates them) so it’s okay if your partner and helpers do things differently from you and alter the routine. Parents will naturally think that their way is the best and won’t like to alter their routine once it’s in place, but it’s okay to accept other ideas and change the way you do things.
Tips for staying healthy and managing stress
- Eat regular, healthy meals, exercise regularly and avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Sleep is important – take every available opportunity to rest (e.g. when your baby is asleep).
- Take time to do things that you find relaxing — even if it is taking ten minutes to listen to music or read. Some people find deep breathing, yoga and relaxation techniques helpful.
- Socialise – even though it can take a lot of effort.
- Exercise is a great stress-buster. Try taking the baby out for a walk every day – it’s good for both of you.
- There will be times when you feel overwhelmed. You may feel like you’re at breaking point or that things are getting out of control. If this happens, put the baby in a safe place – such as their bassinette or cot – and have a few minutes to yourself, or ring a friend, neighbour or family member.
- If you’re having regular or reoccurring negative thoughts that are beginning to affect your feelings towards yourself or your baby, it’s important to seek advice early and talk to your health professional.
- Be aware of any changes from how you normally feel or behave. If you notice any major or long-term changes, seek help from a GP or your maternal and child health nurse.
Remember, if family and friends are unable to help, it's time to talk to a health professional. There are a range of services available specifically for new parents.
Find out more about support services