As a Licensed Professional Counselor and mom to a very active two year old, I know firsthand how rewarding, yet all-consuming, and quite frankly challenging, parenthood can be. My primary goal when working with new moms is to normalize and validate the postpartum experience. Raising tiny humans is hard and it can bring up feelings that are joyful and also confusing. I believe knowledge is power and the more awareness and insight we can have into our feelings and what they might mean is invaluable.
What are some of the signs that a mom might be struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety? Many people are familiar with the term “Baby Blues,” which is usually a period lasting no longer than two weeks where a new mom might experience increased tearfulness for no reason, heightened anxiety, changes in mood, difficulty sleeping and irritability after giving birth. According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to 80% of all new mothers will experience some type of change in their mood following the birth of a child. It is important to recognize that if symptoms of heightened anxiety, crying, intrusive or scary thoughts, constant worrying, feelings of hopelessness or mood swings last longer than two weeks, one might be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Many women will recognize something feels “off” or a partner might point out their concerns, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t know there is help, they are not alone and they can feel better. I have put together a list of seven tips to help support postpartum mental health while navigating new parenthood.
- First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. This is a big transition. Educate yourself on postpartum mental health and mood disorders. Those who have struggled with anxiety or depression in the past might be at a higher risk of developing these mood disorders postpartum. Awareness of risk factors can make a big difference.
- Is there something you can take off of your plate? Yes, a clean house and folded laundry sound lovely but some of the best advice I got as a new mom was that it is okay to live out of the laundry basket. Repeat after me, “Raising tiny humans is hard.” Your kids will remember you for the loving parent you are not how clean the kitchen is.
- Sleep: One essential point that I stress to new moms is the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation can have a severe impact on one’s postpartum mental health and can exacerbate symptoms of a mood disorder. If nothing else, try to REST when the baby sleeps.
- Having a new baby can put a strain on relationships. Prioritize working toward effective communication with your partner or support person. There are some really great resources out there to support healthy communication, specifically when a couple is new to parenthood. Dr. Daniel Singley works with families navigating new parenthood and has some really great tools and resources on his website.
- Quiet the background noise and work toward fine tuning your mom intuition. People on the outside will be giving you advice (ALL.THE.TIME). We all know this is usually well-intentioned but not always helpful. I have so new moms tell me all the time that they knew something to be true that was in the back of their mind but struggled to trust that new feeling. Start paying attention to that little voice - it’s your mom intuition.
- Having a baby can bring up feelings of being out of control when there is actually quite a bit within your control. If something isn’t serving you and there are other mentally healthy options for you and your family, know that it is okay to set boundaries, say no and prioritize your needs. I am giving you permission, take it.
- This too shall pass. And no I don’t mean “Enjoy it while it lasts because it goes by fast.” Okay, yes, it goes by fast and you can still enjoy it AND remember that these tough and challenging stages are just that…stages. A lot of the frustration that comes with new motherhood is temporary, give yourself time because it does get easier as you get more comfortable in this new role.
If you or someone you know might be struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, there is help. I encourage you to check out Postpartum Support International or call their helpline at 1-800-944-4773. You don’t have to go through this alone.