Despite media representation, maternity leave isn’t always as positive as it seems, and that’s okay! Find out my top ways to sustain your mental health during maternity leave, right here…
Maternity leave is often seen as a new mother’s golden ticket to take time off work to bond with their child. In a number of cases, it is exactly that; a special and joyful time, albeit a little exhausting.
That said, what goes on behind closed doors isn’t always sunshine and roses. Despite media depictions of the pregnancy “glow”, and the instant connection made between mother and child, for many, the reality is very different.
In today’s post, I’m going to dive into the ins-and-outs of maternity leave, including your maternity rights, and let you in on my top five ways to tackle maternity leave blues. Remember, you’re not alone…
Maternity Leave 2019: The Details
Maternity leave can seem complicated but, in all honesty, your employee rights during maternity are very simple. So, before I delve into the methods for keeping on top of your mental health during maternity leave, here’s all you need to know…
When Does Maternity Leave Start?
Before anything else, you need to establish the key dates involved in your pregnancy, which will make your life a lot easier. The four dates you need to figure out are:
- Estimated Week of Childbirth (EWC)
- Qualifying Week (15th week before the EWC)
- The date you are planning to start your maternity leave
- The date you are planning to end return to work
Unless your baby is born before the expected due date, your maternity leave can only start four weeks after the Qualifying Week; the 11th week before the EWC. As long as you have accrued 26 weeks of continuous employment by the end of your Qualifying Week, you will receive your full statutory maternity pay.
How Long is Maternity Leave?
As you can see, the time you take your maternity leave is flexible. That said, there is a compulsory period of time you have to take off; two weeks from the date you give birth, or four weeks if you work at a factory.
So, what about once you’re off? Well, from the day you leave work, you’re entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. This is split into 26 weeks of ordinary leave, followed by another 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.
How Much Maternity Pay Are You Entitled To?
As long as you follow through with the 26 weeks of continuous employment up until the 15th week before the EWC, your pay is as follows:
- 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay, which will total 90 percent of your average earning for six weeks.
- After this time, you will be paid depending on your employers’ discretion for the remaining leave.
Mental Health vs. Maternity Leave: Your Questions Answered
So, now you know the ins-and-outs of your maternity leave, what you’re entitled to, and how much time off you’ll have. That said, there’s more to the story…
For a number of women, pregnancy and birth is not all it may seem. In fact, there are numerous potential mental health issues women face during and after their pregnancy which can detrimentally affect their mental health. These include:
- Unfavourable treatment in the workplace.
- Antenatal depression, otherwise known as depression during pregnancy.
- Postnatal depression, or depression after birth.
These obstacles are rarely talked about, whether it be in the media, or between family and friends, but they’re more common than you might think! Let’s take a look at the details:
Unfavourable Workplace Treatment
Due to the disadvantages employers face from granting maternity leave, pregnant women may experience unfavourable treatment in the workplace. This can come in the form of bullying or harassment, cutting hours, dismissal or redundancy, changing your role, taking disciplinary action, or refusing you training or promotional opportunities.
Naturally, these experiences can be extremely hostile, causing anxiety, fear, and potentially even depression for the woman involved. That said, you are protected from acts like this under the Equality Act of 2010, so it’s important to take action if this occurs.
Depression during pregnancy is more common than you may think. In fact, around seven percent of women are said to experience these feelings; probably more if we consider the unrecorded cases.
Although this may not seem like a huge percentage, consider the quantity of women this really affects; millions. But how can we tell the difference between a generally low mood and antenatal depression? The following mental health symptoms can be expected:
- Persistent sadness and low mood;
- A lack of interest in the world, and an inability to concentrate or make decisions;
- A lack of energy and enjoyment, and the feeling of being tired all the time;
- Insomnia, and the subsequent need to sleep during the day;
- The feeling of worthlessness and guilt;
- Crying over things that wouldn’t normally make you cry;
- And a withdrawal from friends and family.
Postnatal depression can be recognised via the same symptoms as antenatal depression. The only difference is the additional feelings towards your newborn. These feelings emerge in the form of having trouble bonding with your baby, and sometimes even frightening thoughts of hurting your new child.
Postnatal depression is said to affect 1 in 10 women, and comes in a number of forms. First, there’s the “baby blues”, which usually occurs during the first week after birth. This is characterised by feeling a little teary and anxious, and is so common that it’s deemed normal.
However, if these symptoms continue two weeks after giving birth, this could be a sign of postnatal depression. Considering the isolation many women feel during their maternity leave, alongside feelings of fear and inadequacy, this comes as no surprise.
5 Ways to Deal With Maternity Leave Blues
With these feelings being so common, it’s clear that mental health struggles are more than natural during and after pregnancy. If you are feeling any of the above, seeking mental health help via your GP is a viable option for you. That said, if you don’t feel this is necessary, or you’re waiting for your GP appointment, there are a number of at-home remedies you can have a go at…
1. Exercise Regularly
Moderate exercise, whether it be taking regular walks, attending a yoga class, or going to the gym, has many benefits, both physical and mental. Even just mild exercise, practiced on a regular basis, is proven to improve your mood due to the endorphins it produces.
To add to this, depending on the exercise you choose, the inherent social interaction that comes with it will prove positive. By attending gym or yoga classes, or taking a walk with the local mums and dads, you’ll have an outlet to escape.
2. Embrace Your Hobbies
Spending all day at home with your newborn can be tiring, sapping your energy and self worth, which could ignite feelings of guilt. Here, again, we emphasise the importance of taking time for yourself; this isn’t something to feel guilty about. Ensuring that you maintain your hobbies, whether they be sporting or creative outlets, can be a great relief.
3. Eat a Rainbow
I certainly don’t mean literally, but eating food of an assortment of colours is a fantastic way to ensure you consume healthy and nutritious food. Whether it be fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, beans, or pulses, you’ll be surprised what good food can do for you!
But how can this help?
Well, stress and anxiety is known for restricting blood flow to the brain which, in turn, reduces your ability to handle this stress and anxiety. To help tackle this, healthy food is filled with vitamins and minerals which improves your blood flow, thus reducing anxiety.
Healthy food also has the amazing power of energising and revitalising your body. What’s more, it can help you to sleep better, and to feel more in control, as you’re taking a claim over this element of your wellbeing. All this is a recipe for success.
4. Listen to Music
Studies show that music is a powerful thing, and is actually linked with a healthy mind. This is because it increases the speed that your autonomic nervous system can recover from stress. Many people also see music as a way to express and process their emotions, providing a real outlet for anxious feelings.
5. Consume Herbs and Supplements
Although many of the vital vitamins and minerals can be consumed through a healthy diet and time outside in the sun, sometimes that’s not enough. Some handy supplements or herbs to improve your mental health could include:
- Omega-3: these are the fatty acids you can obtain from oily fish, avocados and seeds. These aid the formation of neural connections within your brain, which ensure the signals within your brain are sent. With healthy neural connections will, naturally, come healthy emotional reactions.
- B Vitamins: this is also key in aiding brain health and function and, thus, maintaining mood regulation.
- Magnesium: studies have shown that taking just one magnesium supplement a day has antidepressant properties.
- Zinc: similarly to magnesium, zinc is also a great supplement choice.
- Herbs: many herbs have antidepressant properties, some more accessible than others. Two which can be obtained in the supermarket are Ashwagandha and Chamomile, so tea blends including these could help.
You’re Not on Your Own…
So, those are my top five ways to deal with your mental health during maternity leave. I hope you now feel a little more equipped, and a little less alone, in dealing with your maternity leave and mental health.
Remember: although many new mothers can feel guilt associated with taking time for themselves, it’s important to look after yourself first. In fact, in order to look after your baby, you need to first take care of YOU.
Have you had any experiences with depression during your maternity leave? I’d love to hear in the comments below how you felt, and how you dealt with it, so we can work together to help other women get through it. We women have to stick together, after all!