I’ve often said that becoming a mother is the biggest, most life-changing transition most women will ever encounter. It turns your entire life upside-down, and not always “in the best way possible,” as we tend to communicate on social media.
Even if you’re truly elated to be a mother and incredibly grateful for your new baby (which, let’s be honest, most of us are, despite the upheaval), you might feel sad, anxious, exhausted in a way you didn’t know was possible, physically sore, irrationally angry at your partner, or all of the above.
You might have thoughts that scare you: What if I drop the baby down the stairs? What if the baby flies out of his car seat? You might miss your old life. You might be struggling to breastfeed.
For up to two weeks after your baby’s born, all of this is completely normal. And most of us don’t share this side of new motherhood. We share the sweet baby pictures and Facebook statuses about how wonderful life is with our new addition — and while those happy moments are absolutely part of the reality of new motherhood for many of us, it’s still really, really hard.
So if you just had a baby and you’re struggling more than you thought you would, take a deep breath and try these tips for feeling a little better right now:
Don’t expect the world from yourself.
In fact, maybe don’t expect anything at all right now. If this is your first baby, you’ve literally never done any of this before. It’s all new. And if this isn’t your first rodeo, you’ve got a whole new set of challenges as you add a new child to your family.
Be easy on yourself. Most of us have so many expectations of motherhood and of ourselves as mothers; we picture breastfeeding effortlessly, never getting angry at our children, walking through the park in a cute outfit pushing baby in a stroller while we sip a latte.
The reality is that when you bring a new baby home, you’re in survival mode. Make sure you eat enough, sleep as much as you can, and take care of baby’s needs, but really, let everything else go.
Move your body.
I’m not talking about running a marathon— you just had a baby. But go for a walk. If baby doesn’t like the stroller, try using a wear carrier, or let one of the many adoring friends and relatives who come to visit hold baby while you take a stroll.
Get outside if you can — fresh air does wonders for the soul (and as a bonus, it often works magic on a fussy baby).
Seriously, even (and maybe especially) if you don’t feel like it, do it anyway, and do it daily. The endorphins you’ll get from moving will lift your mood, and the change of scenery can help shift negative thought patterns. And speaking of negative thought patterns ….
Don’t give your negative thoughts power.
You’re going to have them. They’re going to range in intensity from “I miss my old life” to “I’ll never feel like myself again” to “What if the baby stops breathing in her sleep?”
But they’re just thoughts — thinking them doesn’t make them any more true or any more likely to happen. Remind yourself that they’re just thoughts, and know that you’re not alone in having them. Tell another mom about them — my bet is she’ll be able to relate.
Take someone up on their offer to help.
Lots of people will offer to lend a hand, and often we’re so overwhelmed with our new normal — or too stuck on thinking that we have to do it all ourselves — to take them up on it.
Let your neighbor bring you dinner. Let your aunt hold baby while you nap. Let your friend vacuum your house.
Seriously. You’ll have a chance to do this for someone else someday; right now, it’s your season to receive.
Be with people.
I remember very clearly sitting on my couch after I had my first baby while my family sat outside around our fire pit. I sat, watching them through the window, struggling to breastfeed, and feeling incredibly alone. I probably should have just taken my little one outside and joined them, but it felt impossible then, like way too much work.
When I had my second baby, my mom asked how she could help, and I requested that she just sit with me and watch Gilmore Girls reruns. It turns out that was exactly what I needed. I didn’t have the energy to carry on much conversation, but having someone just sit with me was helpful.
If you’re breastfeeding, don’t feel like you have to go nurse in your room alone with baby; be where your family and friends are. Ask a friend to come over and hang out with you.
Even if you’re not feeling particularly social, just being with others can give you a little normalcy, which is good when your whole life’s been turned upside-down.
Know that you’re not always going to feel like this.
Think back even to the last time you were really sick — wasn’t it hard to imagine feeling good again, even if you knew better rationally? It’s the same way after you have a baby. It might be hard to imagine ever feeling like your old self again, but you will. You have to trust that and consciously remind yourself of that in the more difficult moments.
Your baby won’t always be this little, and I promise you that someday he will sleep all night. The first few months with a new baby seem to drag on forever, but just know that you will feel better someday soon.
I hope these tips help you navigate the monumental transition that is new motherhood with a bit more ease.
And it’s important to know that while the “baby blues” are normal for up to two weeks after giving birth, these difficulties persist for roughly fifteen percent of new moms. If you’re still feeling off — sad, anxious, mired by scary thoughts, overwhelmed by your new life, irritable or angry, or as if you’ve made a mistake in becoming a mother — after two weeks, there’s a good chance you’re struggling with a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), like Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety.
Please know that you’re not alone, that there IS help, and that you CAN feel better — check out Postpartum Support International to find a therapist near you. And if you’re in or near Cary, NC, click here for a free 15-minute phone consultation where we can talk about how I might be able to help you.
Dr. Hilary Mandzik is a Licensed Psychologist serving Cary, NC and the Triangle area. She specializes in perinatal mental health and offers individual therapy for new moms who are struggling. Call 919-344-1296 or click here to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.