Some parents have told us that they have struggled with a loss of identity after having a baby. If this is how you feel, don’t worry. Many other parents feel the same way. There are things you can do to help you adjust.
We know it can be difficult having a baby during the pandemic. We have more information about bringing your baby home during the pandemic and staying connected when you have a newborn.
What causes loss of identity after having a baby?
Our sense of identity comes from the choices we make about things like relationships, career, hobbies, friendships and lifestyle. These choices often reflect who we are and what we value in life.
When you have a baby, these choices can change. This doesn’t mean that you’re no longer in control of who you are. But you are responsible for someone else – someone else whose needs come first – and this can change your priorities, your values and sometimes your sense of self.
New parents can sometimes feel they have lost their:
- value as a working professional
- financial independence
- social life
- time for hobbies
- time for self-care
- time for family, friends and partner
- sex appeal.
This can lead to some new parents feeling sad, lost or even guilty, whether their baby was planned or not. Even if you were aware of the changes that a new baby may bring, this shift into a new identity as a parent can still take you by surprise.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t love your baby or that you aren’t doing a good job as a parent. It just means that you may need some time to rediscover yourself.
What can I do about loss of identity after having a baby?
There are many positive things you can do to help you remember who you are and embrace the changes in your life.
Think about all the positive ways your baby has changed you
Having a baby changes you, but try not to see this as a negative thing. You may not be as spontaneous, social or as care-free as you once were. But you’re probably becoming more patient, understanding and selfless.
You may even find an inner strength and confidence that you didn’t even know you had. Try to focus on spending time with your baby and bonding with them, rather than thinking about how things may be different from your life before you became a parent.
Make sure to have a break every now and then
It’s ok to want a break. This may seem obvious, but it can be difficult for some new parents to have a break. Especially if you don’t have a support system in place, you’re breastfeeding or you’re worried about being away from the baby.
You may find it difficult to have a long weekend away, but even going out for a coffee or having an afternoon walk can help. Having a break doesn’t always have to be about doing something other than looking after your baby. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit down and do absolutely nothing.
“I remember having an overwhelming feeling that I should be ‘doing’ something all the time. Having a break shouldn’t just mean another form of ‘doing’.”
Make time for self-care
When you’re caring for a baby, it’s easy to forget about caring for yourself. So many parents neglect themselves in favour of what their baby needs.
Self-care doesn’t mean focusing on your appearance (especially if this was never that important to you anyway). It means making time for anything that improves your physical and mental wellbeing. This could be cooking yourself a meal, going for a brisk walk or having a nice, long bath.
Don’t compare yourself to other parents
It can be very easy to compare yourself to other parents and feel envious or inferior – especially if it seems like their lives have easily gone back to ‘normal’ after having a baby.
Everyone is different and so are their choices and opportunities. Also, remember that you’re looking at things from the outside, where things always seem simpler than they are. Other parents are probably having very similar feelings to you, despite what it might look like.
It can also be very easy to sit and scroll through people’s social media pages and assume that everyone is living their best life except for you. But try to remember that most people will only present their best self or favourite moments on social media. You may not see images of new parents trying to soothe a crying baby at 3am or sitting in their dirty pyjamas mid-afternoon because they haven’t had time to shower. But every parent still has these moments.
And stop comparing yourself to… yourself
It’s completely normal to miss some of the things you did before you had a baby. But try not to spend too much time looking back on what your life used to be like.
Of course, parenthood doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to enjoy some freedom – you’re still allowed to have fun! But things have changed and so will your lifestyle. This isn’t a negative thing – being a parent is a whole new adventure in life for a lot of people.
“I remember feeling very guilty about missing my old lifestyle. How dare I? I had a beautiful, healthy and much-wanted baby - I should be overjoyed with my new normal. Looking back, I just wish I’d given myself a break! Motherhood is a wonderful experience of course, but sometimes the days (and nights) with a young baby can also be lonely, exhausting, stressful and very, very long! It’s OK to miss your old life. But although things will never be the same as before, as time goes on and your baby becomes more independent, it does get easier to find the time you need to regain a sense of self.”
Remember it took 9 months to grow your baby. You’re not going to just return to your old self straightway. It will take time and you and your body need to adjust, so try to be kind to yourself.
Give yourself a new goal
Think about something you’d like to do and make a plan for how you’re going to achieve it. This doesn’t have to be anything big, like running a marathon. It could be something as simple as reading a book or talking a walk. You may not have the time to sit for hours reading something from cover to cover, but you may be able to achieve a chapter a night before going to bed and you don’t have to walk for miles.
Reconnect with your partner
If you have a partner, things may change. When a baby arrives, you’ll now have another person to think about. Date nights, sex and even conversations may be difficult, at least in the beginning, as you both focus on feeding, nappy changes and trying to get some sleep.
You may both sometimes feel that your role as a parent has taken away your identity as partner. As well as making time to bond with your baby, try to make time to bond with your partner. This may be as simple as watching a film together on a Saturday night or eating dinner together.
Explore going back to work
Going back to work may be a way of feeling like yourself again, if this is what you want or need to do. Take some time if you can, to think about the logistics. Do you want to go back full-time or part time? Is flexible working a possibility? What are your childcare options?
Going back to work after having a baby is a personal choice. If going back to work is not an option for you right now (maybe because you don’t want to or it’s not worth it financially), don’t worry. You’ll be able to focus more on your career later, if that is important to you. In the meantime, perhaps you can organise some keeping in touch days with your employer, to help keep you in the loop.
Rediscover old friendships or make new ones
Sometimes it can really help to spend some time with the people who know you best. Try meeting up with friends every now and again. Even a Facetime call with a good friend can help lift your spirits. Try to be honest about how you’re feeling.
If you’re the only one in your friendship group with a baby, you may feel a little out of sync. If so, now’s the time to reach out to other new parents, either online or in-person. There are lots of parent-and-baby groups, which is a great way to meet people. See what’s available at your local library, children’s centre or leisure centre. There are also apps you can use, such as Peanut or Mush. Your health visitor may also be able to help signpost you to groups in your area. You’ll probably find that lots of other new parents feel the same as you.
“I struggled for a long time after my son was born with my identity. I was the only person in my original friendship circle to have a baby. I started going to a baby group when my son was 8 weeks old and this opened a whole new social circle. I made some good friends who I could be honest about the hard times with a baby but also enjoy some of the best moments with too (birthday’s, play dates, coffees etc). I have learnt that I am still myself at my core with the same values about work and relationships, but I have gone on a journey and I have evolved. I think into a better person now overall.”
Remember that identity is never fixed
Try to remember that everyone constantly changing throughout their lives. You’re probably not the same person as you were 5 years ago and you probably won’t be the same person in 5 years from now.
After having a baby, it may feel for a while that parenting is all you do and all you must talk about. But you probably won’t always feel this way. Try to give yourself time – for now, everything is all about your baby and their needs, but as they grow they will become more independent, and it will be easier for you to find time for yourself. Most people manage to find a way to be a parent and reconnect with who they are as an individual sooner or later.
Do I have postnatal depression or anxiety?
Many people struggle with their emotions for a while after having a baby. These should pass, but if your feelings are not improving or you do not feel able to cope this may be a sign that you need extra support. 1 in 5 women will develop mental health problems such as anxiety or depression in the time from being pregnant and after they have had their baby.
Postnatal depression and anxiety can start any time in the first year after giving birth. It can affect dads and partners, as well as mums. Speak to your GP or health visitor if you’re concerned that you or your partner have postnatal depression or anxiety.
We asked our PregnancyHub Instagram followers what helped them feel more like themselves again after having a baby. Here are some of their suggestions:
- making time to watch my favourite TV show
- taking time for myself
- making sure I took 10 minutes every day to put a tiny bit of make up on – game changer!
- cooking – this is my passion and helps me focus
- getting out for an hour and talking to friends about anything unrelated to pregnancy
- just trying to get dressed every morning, which helped me feel ready for the day
- going to work, even though it was hard – I love my job and it helped me so much
- reconnecting with friends – in any way I can right now
- making sure I do something for myself every day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes
- having a long, hot shower!
More information and support
Mothers Uncovered is a project for registered charity, Livestock. They host creative support groups focused on the mother, rather than the baby. Groups are available online or in person within the Sussex area, and are run by previous participants.