Be prepared, and hopefully prevent mental illnesses that affect 1 in 5 mothers.
Not enough people talk about the mental health issues new moms face.
As a new mom, you have no idea what to expect once your baby is born, and you have a skewed view of what your life will be like.
I get it. I was there.
You’re excited about the birth of your baby, and you don’t want to think of all the things that can go wrong.
Society also plays a part in downplaying how difficult life is as a first-time mom.
Social media, TV shows, and movies all have you thinking you will “bounce back” after having your baby. Your life just goes on, right? With a baby, sure, but nothing else much changes. Right?
Wrong. The reality is that taking care of a newborn is hard, hard work.
It’s an adjustment after each baby, but a first-time mom is especially vulnerable to mental health issues because she is not prepared for just how tough it will be.
I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety most of my adult life. So when I fell pregnant, it was a priority for me to prevent further mental health issues once my baby was born.
Even so, the reality of dealing with sleep deprivation and a newborn, and the effects of that on my mental health, was something I was utterly unprepared for.
I love my son with all my heart, but I never want to repeat that phase of my life.
Mental health issues such as postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in almost one out of every five new mothers.
Postpartum anxiety (PPA) is also prevalent but does not receive nearly as much attention, mainly because it is difficult to diagnose.
And the mental health issues of a mom also affects their infant, which can result in long-term health problems for the child.
A 2021 study found that when you treat a mom with PPD or PPA, there is a correlating, positive effect on the newborn:
“More specifically, after the mothers’ treatment, their infants showed healthy changes in their nervous and cardiovascular systems, and they were observed to regulate their behaviours and emotions better.”
So, how can you prevent mental health issues as a new mom?
Know The Warning Signs
Look out for some or all of these signs that could indicate you need to take action:
- You feel extreme sadness or anger.
- You struggle to sleep.
- You experience scary and upsetting thoughts that won’t go away.
- You worry and obsess over every little thing.
- You “put on a mask” and pretend that everything is ok around other people.
- You feel guilt and like a failure as a mother.
Have A Support Network In Place – And Talk To Them
Identify people in your life that you can be honest with and know will support you. Your partner, best friend, sister, mother – talk to them ahead of the birth of your baby and ask them to keep an eye on you.
And after the birth, talk to them. Don’t feel shy or like you don’t want to burden them with your thoughts.
Having someone listen to you and validate your feelings can make a world of difference to your mental state. And they know you best and should be able to identify – better than yourself – whether you need additional help.
Adjust Your Expectations
Realise that being a new mom is tough.
You deal with severe sleep deprivation, you question everything you do, and somehow you have to keep a newborn alive.
Mama, it gets better. But make peace with the fact that you won’t do much else except survive from day to day for the first few months after your baby’s birth.
If you are not expecting to get much else done, you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t feel like such a failure.
So, focus on yourself and your baby. Feed, change diapers, clothe your newborn, grab a shower and something to eat now and then, and call it a win.
Anything else is a bonus.
Avoid Social Media
Social media gives the – false – impression that everyone is living their best lives. It seems as if every other mom is coping, has everything under control, is back to pre-pregnancy weight and gets 8 hours of sleep every night.
It’s lies, mama. It’s all lies.
And even though, logically, you know it’s all fake, subconsciously, you’re still comparing yourself to others.
So rather avoid social media, and save yourself the mental anguish of wondering what’s wrong with you for being normal.
Ask For Help
Ask your partner for help.
And – this is important – trust them to do it their way.
They might not do it your way, but that’s ok. Try to let it go. If you want help, you can’t micromanage. Otherwise, you may as well do it yourself.
And when you show a lack of trust, your partner won’t want to offer help for fear of criticism. It’s a vicious cycle.
You need help, mama. You need to shower and eat at some point.
Seek Professional Help
I’m a big believer in getting professional help for mental illnesses.
Speaking to a trained psychologist can prevent mental illness from rearing its ugly head in the first place.
And it is much easier to cope when you know you have a safe place to vent and talk about what you’re going through, without fear of judgement or repercussions.
To get professional help is nothing to be ashamed of – actually, being emotionally mature enough to recognise you need help is something to be proud of, mama.
Even if you don’t make an appointment, at least get the contact details of a psychologist in your area. That way, you are prepared when you feel the need.
Take steps to protect your mental health, mama.
And if things do spiral out of control for you, just know that there is help available. Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are illnesses that can be treated. It’s not in your head, and you can’t just “walk it off”.
Take care of yourself. You owe it to yourself and your baby.
How did you prevent or cope with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety? Your story may help another mama in need.