Maternal mental health can be summed up by just a few words. These are the words I have heard in many postnatal groups, baby massage sessions and in online conversations when women share how they are doing in those early days and weeks with their new baby.
Early motherhood can be simple and calm but it can also be emotional and raw, taking women to unknown depths of insecurity and challenges never experienced before. It’s rarely as simple as just looking after a baby.
And here are some of the reasons why maternal mental health can take a bit of a battering…
- isolation – it’s on you to do it, the responsibility is yours. Any concerns or worries you have may be dismissed and you might feel like you can’t talk about how you feel.
- guilt – you might question everything you do and guilt can come as part of reflecting on birth, feeding issues, struggles to adapt to life with a baby, not feeling that initial rush of love that you expected.
- pressure – for perfection, to get it right, to make it work, to find the mythical magic trick for sleep, to look like you are coping, maybe even to look like it is a breeze.
- lost – the learning curve can be steep and there are no clear solutions or answers.
- unable – it’s not always easy to settle a baby and you might feel you are battling with your baby and trying to get them to settle and sleep in a cot when all they want is to be on you.
- mistake – it’s not uncommon to question what you have done having a baby or that it was a mistake to think you could be a parent.
- confused – the amount of conflicting information, comments and experiences is endless in those early days and weeks and it takes time to find your feet and your own way.
- exhausted – a tiredness you may have never felt before which can leave you feeling desperate and like you are doing something wrong.
- overwhelmed – being responsible for another life is enormous and it definitely takes time to adjust to getting to know your baby, meeting their needs and finding what works.
- struggling – because it can feel relentless with no break, no support team and no answers.
- worried & anxious – some of us worry about everything with a new baby, to make sure baby is ok, healthy and safe. Most things cause worry – feeding, weight-gain, sleep, cot death, going down the stairs, strangers getting too close, the pram being hit by a car, baby’s position in the car seat…
- unhappy & upset – life with your new baby might not be as idyllic as you had expected and hoped. There can be interference from well meaning family and you could also feel upset with your partner for not understanding.
- low – with hormone changes, broken sleep, recovery from birth and adjusting to new responsibilities, your mood could plummet. This can come as a shock and it can be frightening when you feel that you should be so happy to have your baby.
- traumatised – this could be related to birth, which might need processing and working through. But it is also possible to feel traumatised by the first few weeks with your new baby, as it can be full of challenges, extreme emotions and feelings of helplessness. All of this can impact your confidence about your ability to be a good mother.
- excluded – there are many reasons for this – your baby could be more unsettled so you might struggle with your NCT group or a baby group. There could be some additional factors going on with reflux, colic or a medical issue which means that you feel that you don’t quite fit in with any group.
- failure – because of the birth, because of the feeding, because it’s hard. You could be feeling like you are getting everything wrong, that you can’t trust your instincts, that this isn’t as natural as you thought it would be.
This can be the reality of maternal mental health
This can seem like a pretty tough list of words, feelings and experiences, it might seem harsh and very doom and gloom but, for many new mothers, this is the reality. This is a reality that isn’t really spoken about and mums can keep much of this to themselves. They don’t want to appear to be unhappy or unable to cope with their baby.
And this is why maternal mental health needs to be a priority and why we need better professional support – new mums need good information, support and reassurance.
As a new mum, you need to be listened to, you need to be heard so you can find your feet and feel supported as you deal with the challenges and get to know your baby. You also need reassurance, to know it will ease and change as your baby gets older, as you become more confident, as you get to know your baby and as you get yourself as a mother.
As a practitioner, I have worked with expectant and new parents for almost 20 years. I think it’s crucial for expectant parents to know more about the reality of the early days and weeks with a baby. It can still be a rite of passage, the challenges can still be there but it may be easier to deal with them because they have been spoken about and prepared for.
In addition to my 1:1 sessions and digital courses, I am writing a series of articles and stories for expectant and new parents to know more and to be better equipped for the 4th trimester.
Pregnancy & Birth Services | Postnatal Services