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Emotional wellbeing while planning a family

Planning for a baby is often an exciting and momentous time, whether for a first child or another addition to the family. 

For first-time parents – both couples and sole parents – thinking about values, expectations and visions for parenthood can be useful, along with discussions about each person’s own childhood experiences. Possible topics include:

  • Roles and responsibilities at home
  • Leisure time
  • Social changes
  • Finances
  • Problem solving and coping strategies
  • Communication styles

For people who are single and starting a path to parenthood, this is a good time to start building a support team – a network of trusted, reliable people and groups who can help with practical and emotional support.

Mixed feelings are normal during the preparation for parenthood. Many positive feelings are experienced as well as some of the below: 

They can include:

  • Fears about what you are eating 
  • Anxiety about how long it will take to conceive
  • Money and career-related worries 
  • Concerns about physical changes and sickness
  • Worry about being a “good enough” or capable parent
  • Concern about sleep deprivation
  • Fears around labour and childbirth
  • Concerns about whether a partner is ready 
  • Concerns about how much support is available
  • Many other experiences of excitement and anticipation

Some unexpected triggers may emerge during this time. For instance, people may struggle if other friends or family members get pregnant before them. For some people, the worry or stress may start to take up more space or pre-occupy their thoughts. People who notice this more may include:

  • Those who have pre-existing mental health issues
  • Those who have a history of significant trauma or loss
  • Those who have high expectations and standards for themselves
  • Those who need a strong sense of control in their lives

Accepting that some stress or anxiety is normal during this time can help people adjust. Some strategies to enhance wellbeing include:

  • Getting outside in fresh air and sunshine
  • Exercise – walking or stretching is enough for some, while others need more vigorous activities. Check with a GP or midwife before starting any new exercise routine
  • Regular sleep and wake up times
  • Finding a GP with an interest and experience in caring for parents during the perinatal period
  • Social connection
  • Practising self-compassion 
  • Enjoying time with a partner aside from baby planning and preparation 
  • Having supportive people to share thoughts and feelings with
  • Managing exposure to unhelpful social media and other forums that may increase anxiety
  • Healthy eating
  • Planning your departure from work
  • Enhancing flexibility in routines

During this transition, look out for periods of anxiety or low mood that last longer than two weeks, become overwhelming, and start to interrupt daily life and usual activities. If periods of low mood or anxiety continue, and the feelings don’t ease, speak with your GP or another trusted health professional. Relationship tensions or conflicts sometimes emerge during this time too as partners start to explore their views and experience of family, so it is worth seeking couples counselling if these tensions do not ease.

 

References:

Tommy’s website (UK research organisation) www.tommys.org

Eight Tips for Coping with the Stress of Trying to Conceive. Psychology Today (2015)

Mental Health Care in the Perinatal Period, Australian Clinical Practice Guideline, October 2017. Australia: Published by COPE

Towards Parenthood (2014) J Milgrom et al

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