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  • Frances Bilbao

Practical tools for mental health in pregnancy and early motherhood

Mental health, like physical health, is impacted by a range of different factors. While this includes psychological structures and processes, it also includes our biology and social situation. Sometimes, in the depths of depression, our psychology can be difficult to work on amidst the haze, cloudiness and often high level of distraction with anxious or scary thoughts. Targeting some of the biological and social factors can be an initial step to coming closer to working through other layers.

One of the most pervasive feelings of depression is helplessness. A deep sense that there is nothing you can do to change your situation and no way out. While this can be true in some situations, often depression clouds the ability to see pathways rather than there being a lack of pathways. It is in this spirit that I offer this list of practical tool suggestions for some of those key biological and social aspects that can truly impact on maternal mental health. They are certainly not the be-all and end-all of tools for empowerment but they are things that I myself and my clients have found useful in protecting emotional health. I have not been paid to endorse any of these products!


Getting enough sleep is crucial to staying mentally healthy. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep can start right from pregnancy due to physical discomfort. To alleviate some of this you could try:

This double sided pillow is contoured to a pregnant woman’s body shape so it’s a snug fit to your back and belly when you lie down to sleep. It supports your growing belly and because the two pillows are joined by fabric in the middle you don’t have to adjust the pillows when you change positions.

Prescription Medication for Heartburn

There are a lot of things you aren’t allowed to ingest during pregnancy, but medication to soothe your possibly extreme heartburn isn’t one of them. Ask your obstetrician about safe prescription medications to relieve that sickening acid burn.


It can be hard to know what exercise is safe during pregnancy, but discussing your situation with experts in the area can be useful to find something that suits you. You could try:

Preggi Bellies runs pregnancy aerobics exercise classes on the medi Ball. They are fun and have been developed by Physiotherapists.

Aquamums runs water based aerobics classes run by physiotherapists. Exercising in the pool is ideal during pregnancy and after your baby is born. The buoyancy of water supports your growing body and allows for a low-impact workout without body strain or stress.

Once you've had bub it can be hard to find the time to get to an exercise class on your own. But there are a number of mums and bubs classes around that mean you can incorporate bub into your exercise routine including yoga and outdoor fitness.


In the beginning breastfeeding can be challenging and many women feel insecure and lack self-confidence about doing it in public. To make your experience less daunting you could try:

There are a range of fashionable scarves, covers and shawls out there that are easy to pop on in public and get the privacy you want.

Maternity support singlets allow you to continue to wear more of your normal shirts when breastfeeding. They solve that horrible problem of lifting up your shirt to breastfeed and unintentionally showing everyone your belly too if you’re just wearing a maternity bra. Wearing these singlets under your normal shirts means you can discretely lift your shirt whilst keeping your belly covered.

Practical Support

In this day and age we don’t have as many large families living together and helping each other with child rearing and practical day-to-day activities. If you are feel like you need some help just to mind the kids for an hour while you go to the shops unfettered or wash your hair you could try:

Every local council will allocate you to participate in a group consisting of mothers/primary carers whose babies were born around the same time as yours. While you are not necessarily destined to get along with everyone, this is a useful network of people who are in the same situation you are. They may be the best people to take turns with looking after each others babies while you each have some time for yourselves or tackle a few errands burning to be completed.

A new concept, Street Gangs bring back the crucial village-based support system for mothers. A Street Gang is made up of mothers that live in a street. In a Street Gang, members provide each other with crucial emotional and practical support, such as sharing school runs, cars, cooking, equipment and looking after each other’s children.

Food Services

Many of us are lucky some days just to get changed out of our pyjamas let alone plan, purchase and cook a healthy meal for dinner. There is no shame in using a food service to fill these needs especially in those initial months when simply trying to keep your baby alive is your priority. Nowadays there are several top quality services including:

MyFoodBag: They plan a delicious, healthy menu for each week and deliver fresh ingredients with the recipes to your door. Their nutritionists and chefs use top quality, free-range and locally sourced ingredients. They have options for singles, couples, and families.

Hello Fresh: Again, Everything but the chef! They deliver delicious recipes and the exact required ingredients to your door every week. There are options for couples, families and vegetarians.

Your surroundings

As simple as it sounds, make sure you have enough natural light coming into your home where you are surely spending a lot of time. Sunlight (or bright light, to be more exact) is the most abundant and easiest to absorb anti-depressant you will find. Exposure to sunlight boosts serotonin levels in the brain. It relieves stressful feelings and produces a general sense of well-being. For depression, bright light works faster than medication, usually within a week, and with fewer side effects.

If you are experiencing significant emotional or mental distress, please seek help from a medical or mental health professional. The Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) telephone support line is open Monday – Friday from 10am to 5pm on 1300 726 306.

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