There’s a lot of talk about what can be done to help new mums who are struggling with their mental health – but what can women and their partners do ahead of their baby being born?

BACP counsellor Sarah Wheatley, who runs Birth and Beyond, based in Edinburgh, spoke to us during UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 29 April until 5 May.

“There are really useful things to think about during pregnancy that can help reduce the likelihood of struggling with mental health when the baby arrives,” said Sarah.

“They really can have an impact. They are things I often talk to my clients about.”

Practical support

“The big one is practical support. Having this in place is really important,” said Sarah.

“There’s a statistic I heard that it takes 16 to 20 hours a day to look after a new born baby. Even if you have a partner and there are two of you, it still doesn’t allow you much time for yourself; to eat, sleep etc.

“Sometimes people feel ashamed about asking for help after they’ve had a baby. But it really is key to ensure you have support in place before you give birth.

“It’s worth having a post-birth plan in place until the baby’s four months old to show where different support might be coming from. It can be really helpful to know who is bringing meals on particular weeks, who might help look after the baby on certain days, who might come and help out with a bit of housework,” she added.

Partners' expectations

Sarah also said it’s important for partners to talk to each other about what their expectations are surrounding parenthood ahead of the birth.

“There can be a lot of assumptions. People see things their own way. Having a baby sets up a massive gender difference between you. Only one of you can give birth or breastfeed. These differences need to be acknowledged and respected. The partner may need to find other ways of bonding with the baby.

“A new baby can trigger a lot of emotions that affect a relationship.”

Potential anxieties and stresses

“Anxiety is much bigger than people realise,” said Sarah.

“It’s really helpful to talk about this if you are feeling anxious about the pregnancy or birth. Speak to your GP. The NHS can be good on this front; they can provide extra scans, you can discuss elective caesareans.  It is better to talk about this anxiety so it doesn’t get out of control.”

She added: “It can be good to think of things that will help reduce anxiety and stresses. There are good things to do that can help calm you down if you are stressed.

“I think of it along the lines of giving you space to be with your baby; giving you time to build that relationship. It may be chatting to the baby; this can be good for mindfulness. Or it can be going for a swim, giving yourself time to think,” said Sarah.

Counselling in pregnancy

 “Talking to a therapist can help you manage these stresses, cope with what’s going on and look after yourself and your baby.

“Counselling during pregnancy can really help you think of why you wanted a baby in the first place. It can give you that specific extra time to think about what is happening and can help identify any issues before the baby is born. But it can also help you if you are struggling to conceptualise the baby before it is born.”

Conceptualising the baby

“Some women find it difficult with the mentalisation that there is a person inside of them when they are pregnant. It may be because of their history, physical health problems, having had many miscarriages. If this happens during pregnancy, it can make it harder to bond once the baby is born,” said Sarah.

“Bonding is the bit that makes everything else worthwhile. It can be very difficult when it doesn’t happen.

She added: “It can be really useful to have this time and space with a counsellor during pregnancy to identify any niggles or issues, such as this.  It can really help once the baby is born.”

If you want to speak to a counsellor or psychotherapist about pregnancy-related issues, visit our Therapist Directory.