What pressures are new mums facing?
Having a baby involves lots of changes and is a really tough job! Everyone needs support, yet we each need different kinds (and amounts) of support, as our needs are all different too. Asking for help can be difficult, so communication is a very important skill for new mummies to have – yet most struggle with.
Now, even more so, almost a year on from our first COVID-19 lockdown, and there are mums in the UK who have either been on maternity leave, been pregnant, given birth or are currently pregnant, and are feeling the strain and extra pressure.
Common complaints from new mummies include a feeling of total overwhelm – how you must be seen as the best mummy, wife, friend, glam, fit – and all in similar quantities. There is a notion of ‘failing at motherhood’ if you’re not successfully keeping your Instagram up to date with your daily makeup and hair routines, latest matching mama and baby outfits, creative displays of baby led weaning photos, or tidy house hacks…
Unfortunately, so many millennial mums (born between 1980 – 2000), ‘think’ that being a mum is what they see in the ‘perfect pictures’ posted on Instagram. Yet the reality they may face away from Instagram, leads them to feel lost, isolated, uneducated in the fourth trimester period and, unsure who they are anymore. If only they could see the new mama pictures not taken for Instagram… mums with no makeup, no bra, bags under the eyes from no sleep, wet t-shirts because they forgot to put in breast pads, and hair tied up in the ‘messy mum bun’ – unwashed and stinking of baby sick, but practical as it keeps away the little hands that like to pull on it. THIS is reality!
For some, motherhood can be daunting and isn’t perhaps as new mummies expected. Maybe the immediate feeling of love for their baby didn’t hit them as they were told it would? Or, as is the case for SO many in this pandemic, perhaps they haven’t had the support they were wanting (and needing) from healthcare professionals, family and friends, so have been left feeling totally alone?
Or, some who experienced a difficult journey to becoming pregnant, perhaps they thought that once the baby arrives safely, that their worries were over and life would suddenly become all rosy with a new baby… However, somehow motherhood is not what they expected it would be and now feel tremendous guilt for not enjoying being a new mummy – despite having wished for this moment for so very long.
Understanding depression and low mood
“Perinatal mummies are often functioning at a high level in order to care for the baby and so may not appreciate that their health and wellbeing has been compromised.”
– Dr Heather O’Mahen, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, University of Exeter
When you think about the key symptoms associated with depression (tiredness and fatigue, increase / decrease in appetite, physical pain, tearfulness, personal neglect and thirst) and then put them into the context of being a new mummy, it’s no wonder there’s so many cases of Postnatal Depression (PND) that go undiagnosed. For example, over tiredness could be due to night feeds, or constant nappy changes. However, excessive worrying about the baby at night or not being able to fall back to sleep once the baby is asleep, can contribute to tiredness but is not considered a normal part of being a new mum.
When thinking about how you may be feeling as a new mummy, it’s important to always put symptoms into context – is there a physical reason caused by the pregnancy or postnatal recovery as to why you are feeling the way you are? Or, is there a psychological component in the mix (what are your emotions telling you?). For example; Has life lost its lustre?... Is life a perceptual cycle of menial jobs from which you receive no satisfaction?... Does baby bring occasional satisfaction?... Or, do you struggle to find meaning and closeness with your baby?
All of which, point to low mood and depression.
3 Steps to help boost your low mood
STEP #1. Create a mood diary
Sometimes, it’s easy to get into patterns of behaviour which keep depression going. So, we need to tune into our needs and try to understand the cycle of depression. Try to put time aside each day and start to keep a mood diary - identifying patterns of low mood, feelings and emotions.
There’s plenty of mood diary free Apps you can download to your phone such as Catch It - making it easier than ever to track your mood. Or, if you’re more old school like me, a physical diary might work best – noting down the date, time of day, whether you felt good or bad, what was happening, how did that make you feel, how did you respond and what was the outcome?
STEP #2. Practise self-care
Taking care of yourself and doing things that are good for your physical and emotional health, is an essential part of being a good mum. Just like being on a plane and having to put on your own oxygen mask before you put one on the baby - a healthy and happy mum, leads to a healthy and happy baby.
As a new mum, self-care may have to be done within the context of caring for others (baby, children etc.), so you need to get creative. For example, every Wednesday, let daddy give the baby a bottle before bedtime so that you can use that hour to take a relaxing bath and finally read that book you were given at Christmas. Or, perhaps meet a friend for a take away coffee and walk around the local park once a week. Always have a contingency plan in place for when things don’t work out the way you had planned – perhaps another evening in the week as back-up etc.
STEP #3. Start acting outside-in
When we feel low, we can act according to how we are feeling. Sometimes, we know that going out and getting fresh air will help us feel better, but we lack the energy to do it. This is known as acting ‘inside-out’ - based on how we feel inside.
However, it’s easier to ‘act’ our way out of depression, than to ‘think’ our way out. Doing things that give us a sense of reward or achievement (even if it’s something really small) can start to help us feel better about ourselves. So, we need to turn things outside-in and start to do things that we had planned, despite maybe not wanting to. Also, breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks really helps to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
For example, “I feel too tired to do the washing up and laundry. It all just feels so overwhelming”, becomes; “I have a lot of washing up and laundry to do, but if I just put one washing load in now to start with and maybe ask my partner to load the dishwasher for me, when the baby wakes up I can sit and have a brew whilst feeding her”.
Will low mood impact my baby?
I also want to acknowledge that some mummies worry that their low mood may be having a negative impact on the baby. Although PND may increase the risk of a child developing emotional or behavioural difficulties later in life, this is not a sure thing as not all babies will. It is important to build a healthy relationship with your baby, even if you suffer from low mood, to ensure happy and healthy growth and development. Your low mood should not have a lasting impact.
Where to find professional support
It's important to ask for help or support if you need it. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. We all need help occasionally. You're likely to find that many new mothers are feeling the same way and seeking support is a really positive first step to feeling better.
Find a qualified perinatal mental health therapist who can offer you the support to help you work on your low mood and build a strong and healthy relationship with your new baby. If you feel this is something you’d like to explore more with me, please get in touch and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, there is also lots of great free resources about postnatal depression at Pandas. Or, if there are significant problems with the relationship between mummy and baby, then you should ask your GP or Health Visitor to refer you for specific mother and infant treatment via your local Trust’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services or the children and young people’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.