Difficulties faced by new mums during the postnatal period
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Lis Starkey-Smets MNCS (Accred) PGDip BSc
17th October, 20170 Comments
Being a new mum is hard. Society and the portrayal of motherhood in the media can lead us to believe that, as a new mum, we should be totally in love with our new bundle of joy and that this period should be one of the happiest times of our lives. However, new mums naturally experience a whole range of emotions.
Just looking after a newborn baby 24/7, and being completely responsible for a tiny helpless human, can feel overwhelming. Add frequent (sometimes endless) crying, and severe lack of sleep, night after night… this is enough to affect anyone’s emotional state.
Experiencing low mood is far from uncommon during the postnatal period, particularly if the reality of motherhood differs radically from the mother’s expectations prior to having a baby. Some mums find themselves becoming extremely anxious, or experience strong feelings of guilt, sometimes linked to failing to meet the unrealistic expectations many mothers set themselves, or related to other emotions (e.g. “I feel guilty for feeling sad when I should be feeling happy…”).
Underlying difficulties can sometimes come to the surface while the mother is feeling particularly vulnerable in the early postnatal period. For example, difficulties trying to conceive, experiencing one or multiple miscarriages or stillbirths, health problems (with mum or baby) during pregnancy, the breakdown of a relationship, or even painful feelings connected to the new mum’s own childhood.
New mums can also find themselves struggling to come to terms with their birth experience. Some women find their birthing experience traumatic, whilst others may experience strong feelings of disappointment because things didn’t go how they’d hoped. Babies born prematurely, or with health problems can also be incredibly stressful for new parents.
Additionally, many new mums struggle with losing aspects of their identity. Being a mother becomes part of a new identity, but other things need to shift around to make way for this, which can leave new mothers wondering what on earth happened to their ‘old self’. There is less time for self-care, and relationships can suffer too.
Everyone’s experience of motherhood is different and unique. But at the same time, there are also many similarities in people’s experiences, and it can be such a relief to share these experiences and struggles with other mums!
Meeting other mums-to-be at an antenatal class can be a great way of having support and feeling less alone in those early weeks and months after your baby is born. Attending a local parent and baby group, or baby class such as baby massage, are also great ways to make friends with other new parents. When you do meet other mums, it can be easy to look at them and think “they’re clearly coping way better than I am”. But chances are, they are themselves finding certain aspects of parenting very challenging and may well be putting on a brave face. If you’re feeling particularly anxious or low, attending groups and classes may feel too difficult and overwhelming. You might find online support groups more accessible for getting help and support.
Some mums who find that they are struggling might benefit from working with a counsellor or psychotherapist on the issues specific to them. Counselling gives these mums an opportunity to talk through and explore their feelings and experiences, without the fear of being judged or worrying about burdening someone they know. It can help them to find a way forward, and most importantly, being able to enjoy the time with their baby and their new role as a mother.
If you are experiencing difficulties during pregnancy or the postnatal period, you are perfectly normal, and this definitely does not make you a bad mother. You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and deserve to be supported and treated with compassion and understanding. Please don’t suffer alone. Talk to someone about how you are feeling, whether that be your husband/partner, a close friend, a family member, your health visitor, GP, or a counsellor or psychotherapist. There is help available to support you through this.
About the author
Lis is an accredited counsellor with extensive experience of supporting parents. As a counsellor with the Parenting Project for 4 years, she worked specifically with parents of new born babies right up to 18 years. She has also provided support to parents as an assistant counselling psychologist for the NHS, and worked as a primary school teacher.
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