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Having a baby creates a lot of upheaval and change – in your life, and also inside your body and mind. For women, there’s a big hormonal shift first of all, with a sharp fall in the pregnancy hormones that have increased gradually over nine months. The birth itself may also have taken its toll on you physically and mentally.
Becoming a parent brings huge changes to your lifestyle and routine, too, which nobody can ever be completely prepared for! Even if it’s not your first time, every baby is different.
“Babies don’t come with instructions,” says Daniella Doon-Joseph, a cognitive behaviour therapist with ieso. “There are manuals and classes that can tell you what to expect – like how to change nappies and bath the baby – but they don’t cover everything. It’s always a big adjustment.”
Lots of new parents have the ‘baby blues’ following the birth, as a result of all these changes. It’s common to feel tearful, low, on edge and a bit overwhelmed. Many parents find they have difficulty concentrating, or are more irritable than normal. Lack of sleep, or interrupted sleep, can also affect your mood and how well you’re able to function.
“There’s a great deal of pressure on new parents as well, which can lead to worry and uncertainty about whether you’re ‘doing a good enough job’,” continues Daniella Doon-Joseph. “If your baby is crying a lot and not settling, for example, and a friend keeps telling you how quiet and calm hers is this could make you wonder whether you’re doing something wrong.”
It's normal to have the ‘baby blues’ for a couple of weeks after the birth of the baby. If the symptoms persist, however, you could be experiencing postnatal depression, and this can last for a year or more. As well as feeling down, parents with postnatal depression can experience symptoms such as anxiety, a lack of interest in things they used to enjoy, and excessive guilt or self-blame.
If you’re experiencing postnatal depression, it’s important that you visit your GP as soon as possible to talk through the treatment options that are best for you. Any thoughts you might be having about harming yourself or the baby need to be addressed urgently – so please contact your GP, health visitor or the Samaritans straight away.
Here are some tips for looking after your mental health if you’re a new parent.
Build a support system around yourself. Make the most of whatever help is available in your local area – for example health visitors, children’s centres or the NCT.
Connect with other parents. Getting together to talk – whether it’s in real life or online – gives you the chance to share experiences of parenting with all its ups and downs, and seek advice and ideas from each other.
Take time for yourself too. With a new baby you’re always ‘on demand’, which can be extremely draining. If you can, schedule in some time each day to do something for you, without the baby, and get a change of environment – even if it’s just a five minute walk around the block. Even the smallest changes can make a difference.
Remember social media only shows the best bits. If you see photos or videos of yummy mummies and daddies who seem blissed out and serene when you’re feeling shattered and stressed, you can bet that’s how they feel much of the time when they’re ‘off camera’ too!
Don’t get hung up on milestones. All babies develop at different rates, so if you find yourself worrying ‘they’re a month old, so they should be doing this by now!’ try to hold these thoughts and expectations lightly.
Challenge your idea of ‘perfection’. Our minds can be our worst critics. Write down what a ‘great parent’ looks like to you. How does she behave? How does she show up for her child? For work? For herself? Do you do any of these things?
Whilst having a baby can bring so much joy in your life, it can bring about so many changes. If you feel that you are struggling with feelings or anxiety, CBT can be effective with helping you to learn to manage the symptoms of depression and negative thoughts. Find out more about online CBT from ieso here – there are no waiting times and you can access therapy from your home at a time to suit you.
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