Written by: Ashlee Cantrell
Congratulations, parents! You’ve just welcomed a beautiful baby into the world. There are so many exciting things that come with childbirth; getting to hold your baby for the first time, hearing that first cry, and changing their first diaper. Although you may be feeling grateful you may also find yourself feeling exhausted and stressed at the same time. There are so many new emotions and responsibilities that come with having a baby that might start to affect your mental health and you may find yourself thinking “I just need a break!” You are not alone. Let’s talk about what to expect, some ways to cope with how you may be feeling, and when to seek help.
What to Expect
Having a baby is a huge adjustment, especially if it is your first. Sometimes your eating habits, sleeping schedule, and friendships may get placed on the back burner. But how do you know what’s normal and what’s concerning? It’s normal to feel emotional, stressed, and frustrated. It makes perfect sense for you to be feeling these things considering that you may no longer be sleeping eight hours a day, you’re probably not eating as well as you were before, and you might be feeling lonely. It is also normal to be concerned about your baby’s well-being. Although this can cause significant stress, it is completely normal to worry about whether you’re doing things correctly and taking care of your child appropriately. It is challenging to learn new skills, new routines, and a baby’s needs all on your own. With that, it is normal to make mistakes. Making simple mistakes is common, which is why you must have a support system and a primary care physician that you always trust handy to ensure that your baby is taken care of and that there is nothing to stress about. Cut yourself a break. You are doing a great job.
For those who have given birth, let’s talk about hormones. It is super common and understood that many people who give birth experience a shift in hormones before, during, and after birth. Hormones can contribute to emotional changes and can help to make someone feel less than normal. For example, estrogen and progesterone decrease after birth, which may contribute to an increase in feeling a low mood. Another example would be an increase in oxytocin, which helps the uterus to contract, helps with mother-child bonding, and is known to decrease stress and anxiety. Finally, prolactin is a hormone that allows for lactation, which increases after childbirth and may produce an increase in low mood and anxiety. Hormones may cause someone to feel as though they are experiencing mood swings, with frequent up and down in mood whether due to mother-child bonding time and then shifting to breastfeeding, or the increase in estrogen and attempting to play with your child. There are so many cases where hormones may have a say in your mood.
Coping Skills for Parents
Feeling stressed about being a good parent is exhausting. One of the biggest pieces of advice you may hear often is to appreciate your baby while they are young, but how can we appreciate it when we’re so stressed all the time? Let’s work through some coping skills together to help you get healthy and stay connected!
- Social time. Maintaining a healthy support system and good friendships are some of the most important things after having a baby. Getting to see other people helps to relieve stress. Not only are you able to engage in actual conversation with another human (who can also engage in actual conversation and not just stare at you), but you’re able to get out of the house! Bonus points if there is some vitamin D!
- Unwind. Whether during nap time or at the end of the day, regardless of how many chores need to be done, make sure that you schedule at least 30-60 minutes of you time. This time can be dedicated to whatever you want it to be; your favorite TV show, reading a book, yoga, tanning, taking a relaxing bath, and so much more!
- Date night. Ensure that you and your partner, if you have one, are spending quality time together alone. Yes, you read that correctly. That means that you and your partner are planning time for just to two of you. This is super important because, although caring for a baby is crucial, your relationship should also be a priority. This can include going out on dates, or just planning movie nights in the house after the baby is asleep.
- Accept help. No matter how hard you try, you cannot do everything yourself. That’s okay. Take a breather and ask for help or accept the help that is being given. You got this.
When to Seek Help
While it is important to understand what is normal, it is even more important to understand what is NOT normal and when you should seek help. Some parents find that their mood does not lift after birth and rather than feeling a “low mood,” they become anxious or depressed. Mental health issues are very important and may become detrimental to you and your baby. Let’s discuss this in detail.
- Depression. Experiencing symptoms of depression 4-6 weeks after childbirth is called postnatal depression (PND). At times, this condition may transfer into postpartum depression (PPD). Symptoms may appear as feeling excessive sadness, mood swings, and crying spells. These symptoms are more likely to occur in parents who have a history of depression. PND and PPD are equally as scary and exhausting, especially if you’re not sure how to cope.
- Anxiety. Feeling anxious about being a new parent is normal, however, this becomes abnormal if that anxiety takes control and becomes overwhelming. These feelings may be difficult to cope with, especially when you have a screaming baby around.
- OCD. Obsessive-compulsive tendencies appear as a type of anxiety where you may have unwelcomed thoughts that must be followed by a specific behavior. These tendencies may be more likely in individuals who have a history of OCD, but maternal OCD and perinatal OCD can occur in anyone. For example, have you ever found yourself consistently bothered by intrusive thoughts such as “What if I drop my baby?” “what if the bottles aren’t clean enough?” followed by compulsive behaviors that cause overwhelming stress. You might relate.
- Trauma. Depending on what you experience during pregnancy and childbirth, a few traumas may touch your family. You may experience unsettling memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. You may avoid discussing the event with others, or even feeling angry or anxious when others bring it up. If the birth of your child is an unsettling event for you, you are not alone.
Having a baby is a wild and exciting journey, but it may also be overwhelming and stressful. There are so many new things to learn about the baby, about being a parent, and about yourself! Ugh, what do you do? If you find yourself connecting with any of the information above, it may be time to reach out for help. Talking through what you may be feeling is an important first step in getting the help you need. Upstate Restorative Counseling offers help to parents in need. Reach out today!