So, you just had a baby. How are you feeling? Like a serene earth mama … Or like a ghoulish caricature of the former you who slept and took showers?
Chances are, you’re feeling a little bit of both — and a lot more besides. Having a baby is a big deal — it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
While there isn’t a single magic trick or quick hack that can make new momhood less intense, there are certain practices that can keep you feeling as good as you can in this “new normal.” Keep reading to learn more about mental health and wellness for moms — we’ll start with a brief education on how and why having a baby impacts your mental health, then progress into tips that can help you find (and maintain) your equilibrium.
Why Does Having a Baby Impact Your Mental Health?
If having a baby feels like a rollercoaster ride, that’s because it is. Raging hormones, lifestyle changes, and a body that feels a little different than before — it can all have an effect on your emotional well-being. Let’s explore:
Myriad physical factors related to having a baby can have a direct impact on your mental health, such as…
Sleep (Or Lack Thereof)
Sleeplessness is probably the most famous new-parent woe — with good reason. Night feedings are a thing, and if you’ve chosen to breastfeed, then you might be shouldering the lion’s share of nighttime duty.
Even if you are getting some sleep, the frequent wake-ups and overall stress could be impacting the quality of your sleep.
A lack of sleep is proven to impact your mental health. According to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, poor sleep can increase negative emotional responses, making you more susceptible and less able to deal with stress. It can also impair your judgment and decrease positive emotions.
💡 Is this ringing a bell? Are you feeling the effects of poor sleep? You don’t have to shoulder it alone. Reach out here to book an individual therapy session.
Your Body is Whack
All sorts of crazy stuff happens to your body during and after pregnancy.
Hormones are a major player — the hormones that surged to support you and your baby during pregnancy are now crashing hard.
Hackensack Meridian Health reports that different hormonal changes after birth can result in all sorts of ways that can affect your mental state:
- The so-called “baby blues” may owe partially to a big estrogen and progesterone.
- Oxytocin (also called the “happy hormone”) increases, which can help out with bonding with your baby.
- Prolactin increases (this is the hormone responsible for lactation).
But there’s also your physical body. The hormone switcheroo could be contributing to things like hair loss (from your head) and hair growth (on your face and/or places you might not want it). You might also still be recovering from the physical process of giving birth. You might also be struggling with your body image or just feel disconnected from your body.
Issues of Identity
Another big thing that can factor into your mental health postpartum? The massive change you’ve just made in your life.
Not only is having a baby a big stressor, but it puts your own identity into question. You’ve gone this far in life without a baby — who are you with one?
You may also be struggling with the changes in your schedule, the sudden responsibility/lack of freedom of movement, and if you’ve taken leave from work, you might be struggling to find a sense of identity in your current situation.
Shifts in Your Relationships
Baby makes three — as a result, your relationship is probably feeling a little different these days.
Even if it’s not bad different, it’s still different. Adjusting to the “new normal” of your growing family can present a challenge to your emotional state by challenging your sense of security.
Now that you have a baby, there’s all sorts of stuff you have to worry about. Do they have insurance? Will I drop them? How much did we spend on diapers this month?
You get the point — a new baby brings all sorts of new considerations and stresses into your life.
The Bottom Line: While any one of the above factors would be a challenge in and of itself, all of them at once can be a big whammy. In short — it’s normal for having a baby to have an impact on your overall well-being and mental health.
But that doesn’t mean you need to grit your teeth and endure it. There are things you can do to lessen the emotional load! Keep reading for some actionable tips to help smooth the transition to motherhood and hopefully give you a mental wellness boost.
💡 Stress can wreak havoc on your body and mind. Need support? Reach out here to book an individual therapy session.
How To Deal With New Mom Stress
Sleep (As Much as You Can)
Duh, right? You already know that you need sleep. You know that a lack of sleep can affect your mental state. But there’s this tiny human that needs you at all hours — what can be done?
First off, remember that it’s temporary. The hourly wake-ups won’t last forever. It might seem like they will, but they won’t. With that in mind, try some of these tips:
Try alternating wake-ups with a partner. You don’t have to shoulder it all alone. If you have a partner or someone else living in the house, arrange a sleep schedule that allows you to alternate who gets up to feed or change the baby. If you work in shifts, you can give one another longer stretches of sleep.
Sleep when the baby sleeps. This is a tough one, because the moment your baby goes to sleep, you might feel like you need to catch up on a zillion things. But seriously — if and when at all possible, take a little snooze when the baby does. It might feel like you’re not “doing” anything, but actually, you’re doing yourself (and your baby) a great favor by building up your reserves.
Pay Attention to Personal Hygiene
When you have a baby, it can feel like you don’t have time to care for yourself. Make time. Even a short shower or bath can work wonders on your emotional wellness — it might be just that little nudge you need to feel human again after a bad night of sleep.
Move Your Body
You might not have as much time to exercise at the gym right now, but there are still ways to move your body.
- If the weather is good, pop your baby in a carrier or the stroller and take a nice brisk walk.
- While your baby is lying on a play mat, do some gentle yoga moves — you can even include a few “baby lifts” in your routine.
- Slow-dance with your baby in your arms.
Not only does moving your body help increase your feel-good hormones, but it can help counteract the neck and back stiffness that comes with carrying and bending over your baby all the time. Plus, movement can help you get back in touch with a body that may have started to feel foreign to you.
You know how to breathe, right? You’re probably doing it right now. But when’s the last time you took a really long, slow, inhale-exhale?
When you’re stressed out, you tend to breathe shallowly, which can exacerbate stress. On the flip side, studies have shown that deep breathing exercises can lower resting blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety.
Try taking five deep breaths right now. See how it makes you feel. Like the results? Try doing it a few times a day. You can even do it while holding your baby!
You created a human — you deserve a treat! Following the advice of agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.”
It doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming. Maybe it’s a takeout coffee, or maybe it’s just giving yourself the luxury of an extended Instagram scroll session while the baby’s napping. No matter what form it takes, try to treat yourself in some small way every day.
Time can feel constricted when you have a baby. It’s tempting to do stuff all the time — fold laundry while they’re having tummy time. Answer emails while you’re breastfeeding.
As much as you can, try to avoid multitasking. Give yourself time to just be with and appreciate your baby. Being present can help slow down the nonstop action in your head and help you feel more calm.
Seek out Professional Help
You’ve heard that it “takes a village” to raise a child, right? Why not include professionals who can help shoulder the burden or help you parent better in your village?
If you’re struggling or could just use a little help in any area, seek it out. Maybe it’s finding a breastfeeding coach. Or maybe it’s seeking out a therapist. Maybe it’s locking in a great babysitter.
The point is that you don’t need to do everything yourself. If and when possible, accept the help and services of those who can help improve your quality of life!
💡 Hey — ready to build up your emotional wellness team? Reach out here to book an individual therapy session.
The Bottom Line: Dealing With New Mom Stress
Having a baby is a major life change. It can be wonderful, but it can also be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing. It can also be all of those things and more at the same time.
While it’s completely normal to experience emotional fluctuations during this intense time, you don’t need to white-knuckle the journey. By seeking out help and putting some of the practices mentioned in this post to work, you can empower yourself and create space to enjoy the journey even more.