How To Support Maternal Mental Health

How To Support Maternal Mental Health

Jun 22, 2023Nicole Saliba

May is Maternal Mental Health Month

Women undergo huge emotional, hormonal and physical changes throughout pregnancy and in the period after which make them more vulnerable when it comes to their mental health. In fact according to Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA), postnatal depression affects more than 1 in 7 new mums each year in Australia.In light of May being Maternal Mental Health month our resident dietitian and new mother Nicole Saliba unpacks how new mums can optimise their diet and lifestyle to support their mental health.

  1. Get moving: Exercise is a form of medicine, and we know it can help improve your mood, reduce anxiety, assist with sleep quality and energy levels, as well as support the physical recovery from pregnancy and delivery. Be sure to get clearance from a women’s health physio first. Look out for some mums and bubs classes or catch up with a friend for a walk.
  2. Get your bloods done and correct any nutrient deficiencies: It is extremely common for women to come out the other side of their pregnancy with nutrient deficiencies, especially if they have experienced changes in appetite, nausea or vomiting. Certain nutrient deficiencies can impact your energy levels and mood during the post-partum period  and have been associated with an increased risk of post-natal depression including iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and B vitamins including folate. For example, iron deficiency is estimated to affect approximately 50% of pregnant women and is associated with an increased risk of depression. Be sure to book in with your GP and get some postnatal bloods. Nutrients to be aware of include iron, vitamin D, B12 and folate. 
  3. Increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids: Some research suggests that higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids helps protect against post-natal depression. Include oily fish two to three times per week such as salmon, trout and sardines and include plant-based sources of omega-3’s such as flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. It may also be worth investing in a good quality fish oil supplement. Chat to your doctor or dietitian first. Not confident cooking fish? Why not try Activate Foods yellow fish curry or barramundi and wedges?
  4. Consume a healthy, minimally processed diet: Sadly, the majority of women are currently failing to meet the recommended nutrient requirements when planning to become pregnant or during pregnancy.Dietary patterns associated with healthy outcomes in pregnant women generally include high intakes of fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, fish, seafood, lean meats, low-fat dairy and water. These dietary patterns are associated with a reduced risk of depression. For example in the ALSPAC study, a healthy diet at 32 weeks pregnant was significantly associated with decreased depressive symptoms between 8 weeks and 33 months postpartum, while an unhealthy diet at 32 weeks gestation was significantly associated with increased depressive symptoms. Another study found significantly higher anxiety is associated with diets high in fats, oils, sweets and snacks and a healthy diet helped reduce the risk. Struggling to find healthy snacks? Why not try Activate Foods bliss balls or paleo banana bread?


My top tips for optimising your diet during the postnatal period in order to support your recovery and mental health;

  1. Book in with a women’s health physio around 4-6 weeks after birth to get clearance to exercise and some recommendations for gentle movement.
  2. Join a mother’s group or reach out to a group of mum friends in order to stay socially connected.
  3. Book in with your doctor and get some post-natal bloods done. If you are deficient in something, be sure to take a supplement to help replenish your stores. If you are exclusively breastfeeding remember to continue your prenatal supplement.
  4. Plan your meals for the week ahead and order some healthy meals and snacks from Activate Foods as there will be days where there is no time to prepare food. Set alarms on your phone to remind you to eat.
  5. Keep highly processed foods high in fats and or added sugars to a minimum. This does not include your afternoon biccie or chocolate with your cup of tea but rather if you are frequently consuming soft drinks and takeaway foods.
  6. Try your best to eat a whole-foods plant-based diet rich in wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, oily fish, lean meat and dairy.

Looking for some more personalised advice? Book in with an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Eatsense.

Nicole Saliba

Accredited Practicing Dietitian 

More articles