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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Maternal Mental Health: How counselling can help during pregnancy, birth and beyond

When we talk about Maternal Mental Health we are generally looking at what’s referred to as the ‘perinatal period’.  This encompasses the whole stretch from pregnancy, to birth, and into the first year of our baby’s life.  This can be a time of enormous excitement and joy.  But there are many other sides to this period that we don’t always talk about.  As a Counsellor who specialises in working with women, I believe that it’s enormously important to talk about our mental health during the perinatal period.  To embrace all our thoughts and feelings, not just the ones that we feel that we ‘should’ be feeling about ourselves and becoming a parent.  So here are some ways in which counselling can help us during pregnancy, birth and beyond. 


A space free of judgement.  There are many ways in which counselling is different from the conversations that we have in everyday life, even those with our most trusted friends and family.  One of the most important aspects of this, is that we are free to voice our thoughts and feelings without worrying about the other person’s agenda.  This is often particularly relevant when it comes to how we are feeling about our pregnancy, our birth and looking after our baby.  The other people in our lives want to help us and support us.  The feedback or advice that we receive is likely to be imbued with their own experiences and agenda, and a sense of what might be socially acceptable.  With a counsellor, you are free to explore what’s going on for you.  Without fear of being judged or dismissed or criticised. 


Understanding what’s happening within the context of our own lives.  The perinatal period is often seen as a separate journey from everyday life.  An interlude from our usual routine and relationships.  But in counselling, we are not ‘just’ someone who is pregnant, or giving birth, or who has just had a baby.  We are ourselves.  So if we have come to counselling to explore how we are feeling during the perinatal period, this doesn’t need to be considered in isolation from the rest of our lives.  It can be helpful to have a space where we can also consider our relationships, our personal history, our upbringing, our hopes for the future.  And this can help us to understand how we are feeling during the perinatal period. 


Voicing feelings that might seem uncomfortable.  When it comes to pregnancy, birth and beyond, there’s a sense that we should be delighted, excited and grateful.  Especially when we consider stories of loss and fertility challenges, which we may have experienced personally.  But this can sometimes leave us feeling as if we are not allowed to express other feelings.  Fears, worries, sadness, anger and anxiety.  The difficulty is that if we don’t have an outlet for some of these feelings, then they can fester inside us.  Leaving us feeling numb or stressed or anxious.  So if we are able to explore them in a trusted and confidential setting, it gives us a chance to name and understand our feelings.  Even the ones that society might deem less acceptable.   


Coping with being ‘public property’.  When we are growing up, we are taught about consent, safeguarding, and privacy.  But something changes during the perinatal period.  All of our sudden, our bodies become ‘public property’.  We are measured and poked and prodded, all for good reason of course.  But our growing bodies are noticeable, and remarked on by friends and strangers alike.  We are asked increasingly personal questions.  We might feel totally comfortable with this.  But for some of us, it can be hard to cope with, and it can be challenging for our sense of self-esteem.  It can feel frustrating or invasive.  To be coming to terms with the changing sensations and shape of our body, while also feeling that we are under the microscope of everyone who we meet. 


Understanding our shifting identity.  Motherhood brings a whole new sense of identity.  How we spend our time, how we see ourselves, how the world sees us, our self-esteem.  We might feel fully ready to embrace it, or we might struggle with this change, or we might be somewhere in between.  But with this shift in identity, there often comes a sense of grief or loss for the person we were before we became a mother.  Counselling can give us an opportunity to explore this openly and honestly and reflect on the changes that we are going through. 


Self-care.  During the perinatal period we are thrust into a world where we have someone else to look after and nurture.  And once our baby has arrived, we can be physically and emotionally overwhelmed by the needs of our new baby.  It’s during this period that it’s common for mothers to put their own needs on the back burner.  Counselling offers us an opportunity to remind ourselves of what we really need in our lives in order to stay healthy and well.  In order to nurture ourselves as well as our baby. 


So what’s the most important message here?  That the perinatal period can be a time of changing identity.  That we might be experiencing all kinds of different feelings, and that all of these are valid.   And if this resonates with you, or with someone in your life, then it might be a good idea to seek support from a trained Counsellor to help you during this time. 


Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at how you feel about yourself. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.

A version of this article was originally published here on Counselling Directory on 15th May 2024








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