Many women find it hard to talk about any negative feelings after having a baby because they feel under pressure to be happy. We are constantly bombarded with perfect images of life with a newborn in nappy adverts, on Instagram and in glossy magazines all the time. This can make new mums feel quite guilty and ashamed about feeling anxious or unhappy.
“From Facebook you’d think everything was fantastic with my sister-in-law, but my mother-in-law said she’s really struggling. Women feel the need to keep up an act I think, it’s terrible!"
Dana, mum of one
Knowing more about some of the things that new mums can struggle with may help you feel more prepared.
Remember that you're not alone if you are feeling low. Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems such as depression or anxiety during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Find out more about mental health during and after pregnancy.
The ‘baby blues’
Having the ‘baby blues’ after giving birth is very common. It usually starts in the week after birth and stops by the time your baby is around ten days old.
Symptoms can include:
- feeling emotional and irrational
- bursting into tears for no apparent reason
- feeling irritable or touchy
- feeling depressed or anxious.
Although feeling low may come as a shock, especially if you haven't felt this down before, these are all normal post-pregnancy feelings caused by hormone changes as your body gets used to not being pregnant anymore. You’ll probably be very tired too, which may make you feel worse.
The ‘baby blues' is not the same as postnatal depression or anxiety.
If your symptoms aren’t improving after a couple of weeks, talk to your health visitor or GP. You may need more support.
Real life with a baby
You’ll have many happy moments with your baby. But life with even the easiest of babies can be exhausting and messy. The baby may want to be with you all the time and may cry if you put them down even for a second. It can be very stressful if your baby cries all the time, doesn’t sleep much at night, or spits up milk after every feed.
It can also be really upsetting if you want to breastfeed but find it painful or difficult.
You can get lots of information and ideas about real life with a baby and dealing with problems in our after the birth section.
"I was setting myself up for failure: because I want to be the best mother I can, so I’ve read all these books and sometimes they aren’t very helpful. When I can’t stop my baby crying I feel like a bit of a failure.”
Ellie, mum to an 8 week old baby. Read more...
Planning for visitors
It can be lovely to celebrate your new baby with family and friends who come to visit, but it can be tiring too. There’s nothing wrong with saying no if it gets too much or if you feel you have to be a ‘hostess’ for them.
If you are trying to get used to breastfeeding, remember you’ll be doing it constantly in the early days. It may not bother you at all or it may take a while before you are comfortable breastfeeding in front of other people.
If you do want company, there are things you can do to make things easier.
- Don’t feel that your house needs to look it’s best. Friends and family will understand how difficult it can be to tidy the house with a new baby.
- Ask visitors to bring food with them to eat or make their own tea and coffee. They could even bring something you can freeze and have later.
- Let people know if you only want them to stay for a short time and don’t be afraid to ask people to leave if you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed.
- You don’t need to have everyone visit at once. Many people will be happy to wait a few weeks until you’ve settled as a family.
“Having babies is wonderful. Washing-up? Housework? Leave it. Leave it all. It can be done any time. You will not get back that time of just sitting there and taking it all in, looking at your new baby.”
Sarah, mum of two
Asking friends and family for support
Looking after a new baby is a 24 hour a day job. You may want to do everything yourself but asking for help can really make a difference to your and your baby’s wellbeing. You could ask family and friends to:
- look after the baby while you have a nap or a shower
- take the baby for a walk
- do a few chores around the house, such as cooking or cleaning
- be your shoulder to cry on if you’re feeling low.
Asking for help doesn’t mean you aren’t coping with being a mother. All new mothers need care and support. You could use the Wellbeing Plan to help you plan.
A new role and identity for you
Becoming a mother for the first time can have a massive impact on how you feel about yourself. You may love your new role straight away or you may struggle to adjust to the changes. If you were working before and enjoyed your job, it can be hard to lose that identity and become what some people call “just a mum”. For others, being a mum is really satisfying because it feels like the most important job in the world. It’s OK to have a mix of these feelings.
“I got really annoyed about having this baby attached to me all the time and a little girl running around, clinging to my legs. I felt very trapped by motherhood, which I’d never felt before, so I was really sad about it.”
Laura, mum of one
Loving your baby
Some women fall in love with their babies from the moment they find out they're pregnant, or when the baby's born, and some women find that their love grows slowly over the first few weeks as they get to know and care for their baby. All are normal.
If you don’t feel anything at all for your baby, it could be a sign of postnatal depression. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP about how you feel and your support network of friends and family. You are not alone and you don't have to suffer in silence.
“I loved my children so much, but there were times when I felt I could have easily walked away and left the job of raising them to others who I felt were way more capable than me. It felt hugely overwhelming at times and I truly started to understand the meaning of the phrase, ‘it takes a village’. I now know it was my depression and anxiety talking, and reaching out for support made all the difference.”
Frankie, mum of three
Living on less money
Most women who have been working face a drop in income when they go on maternity leave (or stop work completely). This can be very stressful. There are lots of different maternity and parenting benefits and tax credits available. You can find out about them at Maternity Action or Gov.uk.
Changes to your relationship with your partner
Many couples find that their relationship changes a lot after having a baby. Going from a couple to a family is a huge change and this can put a lot of strain on a relationship. Looking after the baby means you have much less time for each other. There can be arguments over money and who does what in the house. Some women find they lose interest in sex for a long time after having a baby, which can also put pressure on your relationship.
Both of you have a new role to get used to, and it’s easy to lose patience with each other when both of you are exhausted. If you are at home with your baby your partner may be jealous of you having all that time together and see you as ‘doing nothing’ all day. You may be jealous of him going out and getting a break from the baby.
It’s a good idea to talk to each other about your hopes, fears and expectations about life with your baby, what kind of parents you want to be, and how you can support each other. There’s lots of good relationship advice and support at the Couple Connection.
Coping as a single parent
If you are a single parent, it’s very important to think about who you can ask for emotional and practical support in the months after your baby’s born. You may also need to sort out financial support and contact arrangements with the baby's father, and work out your own options for the future. You can get information and support from single parents charity Gingerbread.
Making new friends
Being at home with a new baby can be lonely if you’re by yourself with no adult company all day. Many women find that their pre-baby friends are not available during the day or are not on the same wavelength any more. It can make a big difference to how you feel if you meet other parents by going to local groups or activities for parents and children in your area. You can find out about groups from your health visitor or children’s centre, or there may be exercise classes or even parent-and-baby cinema screenings. There are also lots of internet forums for new mums.
“I've discovered this whole world that I didn't know existed. I used to go to work in the week and now we're going to antenatal classes and groups …It's been so reassuring, being able to talk things through is really helpful.”
Edie, mum of one
Depression and anxiety
Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth. Low mood, anxiety and depression are common.
It’s very helpful if you, your partner and your family read about the symptoms so that if you do become unwell, you realise what’s happening. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you’ll recover and can fully enjoy the early months with your baby.
Find out more about specific mental health conditions in pregnancy and after the birth.
What if my baby goes into special care?
If your baby is born early or poorly it can be a huge shock and you may feel that you’re being asked to make big decisions while you’re in a daze. You may find it hard to bond with your baby if you are frightened about whether he or she will be OK. You can be more prepared for what happens if a baby needs to go into the hospital’s special care unit by reading about premature birth.
What if my baby has a disability?
If your baby is born with a physical disability, learning disability or health condition, it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that he or she is different from the baby you may have imagined when you were pregnant. There are many specialist charities who can advise and support you as the parent of a disabled child and who help parents to share experiences and support each other.
You can find out more at Contact-a-Family and you can find out about government support here.