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In this guest blog written for Maternal Mental Health month, Dr Louise Dalton and Dr Elizabeth Rapa from the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University share their insights into why it’s important for mums to look after their wellbeing.

Being a mum is a privilege and a joy. But it can also come with an ongoing anxiety about whether you’re getting it right, whether you’re a good enough mum and if you’re the only one who feels the way you do.

The responsibilities and practical demands of being a parent can often feel like a rollercoaster of highs and lows. But for some, feeling low, anxious or completely overwhelmed can become more persistent and intense, making it feel almost impossible to cope with day-to-day activities and tasks. The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology report that up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Unfortunately there is also a poor understanding about the different types of mental health conditions mothers can experience, as well as a sense of shame and fear about what seeking help will mean for them and their family.

Pregnancy and parenting have been even harder during the pandemic. Expectant mums have had to face antenatal scans alone, while coping with ongoing uncertainty about who will be able to support them during the birth of their baby.

Social distancing rules have made it difficult to celebrate the arrival of a new member of the family with friends and family. This has also meant that new parents have not had the same level of practical and emotional support they may want and need.

For parents of older children, it has been hard work to keep children busy and entertained when so many activities or opportunities for new experiences have been closed and informal childcare networks disrupted. This has been especially difficult when mothers have been expected to work from home at the same time as taking on home schooling responsibilities. Research shows that women have most frequently shouldered the burden of the pandemic in terms of juggling childcare and work responsibilities. For many families these stresses have been exacerbated by worries about money or losing a job, which can add pressure on relationships and increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

The challenges of parenting during the pandemic are reflected in the high levels of parents who have reported being concerned about their own mental health. The recent Royal Foundation report found that over two thirds of parents described feeling lonely and isolated, and most felt worried about being judged by other people about their parenting or child’s behaviour. This can make it harder for mothers to ask for help and support, especially if they are worried about their mental health.

We need to work together to speak up and tackle the stigma around talking about mental health difficulties, so that every mum can feel able to get the help she needs.