Healthy living

Emotional health for parents during pregnancy and after the birth

What is emotional health?

Emotional health is a state of wellbeing. When you feel well and content, you are better able to cope with stress, maintain relationships and enjoy life.

Looking after your emotional health has benefits for both you and your baby.

Being active, feeling a sense of belonging and having a purpose in life are all good for emotional health and wellbeing. You will feel happier and better able to deal with problems and stress.

For more information and tips on how to be emotionally and mentally healthy, visit Act-Belong-Commit (external site).

Benefits of emotional health during pregnancy

When you are pregnant, your baby is exposed to everything you experience. This includes the sounds in the environment, the air you breathe, the food you eat and the emotions you feel.

When you feel happy and calm, it allows your baby to develop in a happy, calm environment. However, emotions like stress and anxiety can increase particular hormones in your body, which can affect your baby’s developing body and brain.

Benefits of emotional health after your baby is born

From birth, the interactions you have with your baby helps to shape the way he or she will think, feel and behave later in life. These interactions also help to form important emotional bonds between you and your child.

Good emotional health also helps to maintain positive relationships with your older children and other family. They can help support you and your partner through the challenges of adjusting to a new baby.

For information about connecting and bonding with your newborn, visit the Raising Children Network (external site).

What if I’m struggling with my emotions?

Often one or both parents experience difficult emotions during pregnancy, or after the birth of a child. You are not alone.

You might be feeling like hiding the fact you are struggling because you feel embarrassed or ashamed.

It is normal to have occasional negative thoughts, dreams or fleeting doubts.

Many things can make you feel this way including:

  • worries about the birth
  • lack of sleep
  • worries about how you’re coping as a parent.

There are things you can do to help yourself get through the more challenging aspects of parenthood. You can read about some common emotional problems in parents with new babies here.

Becoming a mum

Becoming a mum can mean your hopes and dreams have come true. You may love feeling your baby move inside. You may feel a sense of achievement in giving birth. You may love holding, touching, watching, smelling and playing with your baby. Some mums may not feel that overwhelming sense of love they were anticipating straight away.

Sometimes the happy emotions of motherhood are mixed up with feelings of loss, fear, worry, guilt and frustration. You might think:

  • What if I make too many mistakes?
  • Will people think I’m a bad mother?
  • What about my old life?

It is normal to ask yourself lots of questions when you’re going through a major life change, like having a baby.

Big changes in your life can leave you feeling overwhelmed, especially when things don’t happen the way you expected.

Becoming a dad

While women usually start preparing emotionally for parenthood during pregnancy, some fathers begin this process after the birth. As a result, the reality of fatherhood can be quite a shock. Even if you have been preparing throughout the pregnancy, some fathers can feel unprepared for the reality of having a newborn.

Some fathers can feel fierce, protective, overwhelming love for their child straight away, for others it may take a bit longer.

Fatherhood is just as challenging as motherhood, though not always for the same reasons. You might think:

  • I want to help with the baby, but I don’t know how.
  • It’s stressful managing work and family commitments.

You might also notice your relationship with your partner changes a lot too.

It’s normal to feel confused, stressed and out of your comfort zone when you have a new baby.

With any new or difficult situation, sometimes you are able to cope with the challenge, and sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. Fatherhood is no exception.

Just remember – there are plenty of things you can do to support yourself and your partner during this time.

If it is takinf more than a couple of weeks to feel a connection with your baby, you should talk to a health professional. Read more about common emotional problems here

Where to get help

  • See your doctor, obstetrician, child health nurse or midwife
  • Talk to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Phone the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436
  • Phone the Mental Health Emergency Response Line – Perth metro 1300 55 788 or Peel 1800 676 822
  • Phone Rural Link, an after-hours mental health phone service for rural communities, on 1800 552 002
  • Phone the Post and Antenatal Depression Association helpline on 1300 726 306 (9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday)
  • Phone the Parenting Line on 1800 654 432
  • Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222

Women and Newborn Health Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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