Baby’s on the way -- or soon will be -- and you’re full of feelings. It’s hard to know what to expect if you’ve never been pregnant before. And even if you have, it may be completely different this time around. But even though you may not be able to predict your emotional future, you can put a plan in place to help guide you along the way.
Build Your Team
Even if you’re not pregnant yet, it’s never too early to pin down a support system. “Once you have a newborn, it can be very challenging to find the time and energy to research and connect with sources of help,” says Janet Scarborough Civitelli, PhD, a psychologist in Austin, TX.
Identify people in your life you can lean on during pregnancy and after the baby is born. If you don’t have extended family nearby, Civitelli recommends building a “family of choice” with friends. “You can share knowledge and help each other manage the demands of parenting,” she says. As an example, she says you can set up a babysitting co-op with other parents you trust.
Krystal Kavita Jagoo, a registered social worker who provides mental health therapy services in Toronto, says support systems aren’t -- and shouldn’t be -- one-size-fits-all. She explains that parenthood often comes with a lot of expectations from society, so it helps to think about what you actually need, as opposed to what others think you need.
You may have to try a few options before you find the resources that serve you best, and that’s OK.
Manage Your Mental Health
If you deal with emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, or anger management, it’s not uncommon for them to get worse when you’re expecting. Touch base with your counselor or doctor as early as possible to talk about ways to boost your mental health during pregnancy and beyond. Talk to your doctor before you make any decisions about any medications you take. It’s not a given that you’ll have to stop treatment.
When you’re dealing with an emotional crisis, it can be hard to ask for help, but the first step is to reach out. “There’s never a downside to asking for help,” says Alexandra Sacks, MD. She’s a reproductive psychiatrist, the author of What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood, and host of the podcast “Motherhood Sessions.” “It’s always safer to reach out and deepen your support system. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”
Civitelli says a there’s a growing trend for mental health professionals to work with clients on video. She points out that this is a much more convenient and accessible way for a parent without access to child care to get help face-to-face. Whether in person, by phone, or online, you can find a provider in your state’s Postpartum Support International directory (postpartum.net).
Prepare Your Partnership
If you plan to share parent duties with another person, no matter what your relationship is, the key is to talk about who will do what once the baby arrives. Do this early and often, so you’re clear before go-time.
“Make a list of tasks, soup to nuts, with your parenting partner,” Sacks says. Next, identify the ones you don’t mind doing, and ones you don’t want to do. Agree on a list for each partner. If there’s a task you’d both rather avoid, split the work so you both get breaks from it. Be sure to include mental tasks like keeping up with doctor appointments on the list.
Give yourself (and your co-parent) grace as you wade into this new territory. Practice the things you can before Baby comes, like changing a diaper. And give your partner space to do things in their own style.
“Your partner isn’t going to do things how you would do, so have some tolerance for that,” Sacks says. If it’s your partner’s night to cook, she says, you may have to accept that takeout is their definition of dinner. Try to keep the big picture in mind.
“Your partner can’t read your mind,” Sacks explains. “They may not be aware of some of the things that are obvious to you. If there’s something you want done a certain way, ask for it. And be specific!”
Find Healthy Outlets
It’s normal to feel like you’re losing touch with yourself throughout pregnancy and beyond. This is a good time to set good self-care routines. Make a list of practices that feel most helpful for you. Write them down so you have a visible prompt.
“It may seem weird or obvious to make a list, but things change so much once the baby arrives, it’s easy for your needs to slip away,” Sacks says.
If you’ve learned healthy ways to deal with stress that work for you, Jagoo suggests that you lean on those methods now.
Your self-care may include activities such as journaling, time with friends, or creating art or music. It may also mean stepping away from unhelpful relationships. Jagoo says that if you’re worried about meeting your family’s expectations, it may be a good idea to set healthy boundaries now to head off issues later.
And don’t forget: Emotional health and physical health are closely linked. As pregnancy slows you down, find fun and safe ways to stay active. Swimming is a great cardio choice that boosts your mood and energy while it relieves your joints of the extra weight you’re carrying. Yoga and walking are other gentle ways you can move your body and raise your spirits.