Many women find it hard to talk about their negative feelings after birth because they feel such social pressure to be happy with a new baby. They feel guilty and ashamed about being 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 in advance how hard life can be with a newborn baby can be helpful, so that women can be prepared. It may lead to less disappointment and less guilt when real life turned out to be very different from the idealised images of nappy ads and celebrity mothers.
You can plan ahead for your own emotional well-being after birth by being prepared for some of the things many new mums struggle with, and thinking about how you will manage.
"We went into hospital at noon and we were home by 7pm. It was really surreal. They just let you leave with a tiny person who’s completely dependent on you. There’s no preparation for that.”Lisa, mum of two
1 in 10 women suffer from mental health issues in pregnancy and parenthood. Find out more about your mental wellbeing in pregnancy and after the birth.
The ‘baby blues’
Over half of new mothers experience the ‘baby blues’, which is a short period of feeling low, anxious, and irritable. You may have mood swings, overreact to things and burst into tears easily. It usually starts in the week after birth and usually stops by the time your baby is around ten days old. These are normal feelings as your hormones adjust to not being pregnant. The ‘baby blues’ aren’t the same as postnatal depression or anxiety, and getting the baby blues doesn’t mean it’s more likely that you’ll get depression or anxiety.
Real life with a baby.
Babies are small and cute and, without any experience, it’s easy to assume that they will not be difficult to care for. In actual fact, life with even the ‘easiest’ of babies is 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 hugely 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 very mentally distressing if you want to breastfeed but find it painful or difficult at first.
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, especially if you feel you have to be a ‘hostess’ for them. There’s nothing wrong with deciding how many visitors you want to have and saying ‘no’ to people if it’s too much.
If you are coming to terms with breastfeeding, remember the feeding will fairly constant in the early days and it may take a while before you are comfortable breastfeeding in front of others. Visitors can make this more awkward than it needs to be.
Here are some things to think about:
- Do I feel I have to clean the house for visitors?
- Can I ask visitors to bring a meal with them and help wash the dishes afterwards?
- Can I tell some visitors I would prefer to have their visit to look forward to after a few weeks, rather than have everyone come in the first few days?
- Do I want to have some days without visitors, that are just for me, my baby and my partner to get to know each other?
“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. Think about who you can ask to look after the baby while you catch up on sleep or take a little time for yourself. Who can help you with a few chores in the house so you can rest while the baby sleeps? Who will be there for you as a 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 ahead.
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. It may be a role that you love and take pride in, or you may find that you struggle to adjust to the changes. If you were working before and enjoyed the status of 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.
“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 of birth, and some women find that their love grows slowly over the first few weeks as they get to know and care for their baby. Both ways 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.
“I came home on day three or four and the moment I walked in the house, I just burst in to tears. I thought, ‘Oh here we go again’. I got the same feeling of anxiety, that I wasn't going to cope. There was nothing nice about it."Stephanie, mum of one
Living on less money
Most women who have been working face a drop in income when they stop work to go on maternity leave (or stop work completely), which can be very stressful. There are lots of different maternity and parenting benefits and tax credits available, but it can be complicated to work out which ones you can get. You can find out about them at Maternity Action of Gov.uk.
Changes to your relationship with your partner
Many couples find that their relationship changes a lot with the birth of their first child. Having a baby can put a lot of strain on a relationship as it is a big transition to go from a couple to a family. Looking after the baby means you have much less time for each other, and 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, while 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 going to be on your own, 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 your baby’s dad, 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 a lonely time 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 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
About one in every ten new mothers suffers from postnatal depression or anxiety.. It’s very helpful if you, your partner and your family read up on 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 has to go 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 prepared for what happens if a baby needs to go into the hospital’s special care unit by reading up on 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 really hard to come to terms with the fact that he or she is different from the baby you imagined when you were pregnant. There are many specialist charities who will advise and support you as the parent of a disabled child and who help parents to share experiences and support each other.
It’s really hard to stay cheerful if you’re being woken up every couple of hours every night. Try to remember that it won’t last too long.
Feeding your baby can be a lovely time to get to know him and to bond. At the start you’re going to be doing a lot of feeding.
Your body has just been through an incredible experience, and it may take a while to recover. And your feelings may be all over the place!
ℹLast reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.