6 ways to boost your emotional well-being as a new mum
Becoming a new mum can be rewarding and challenging in equal measures. This is a huge transition in which we see our lives totally change overnight. COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions have led to many new mums suffering, as they receive less support than ever before.
Unsurprisingly, mothers are experiencing high levels of postnatal depression and anxiety. A recent study published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research found that 61% of new mothers indicated clinical levels of anxiety and 43% of depression. Mothers described social distancing as one of the biggest contributing factors to their emotional distress. New mums are currently in need of more support than ever.
How can cognitive behavioural therapy help?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that is recommended in supporting mums experiencing mood difficulties through the postnatal period. CBT helps to provide mothers with coping strategies and an ‘emotional toolkit’ to navigate through this tricky time.
Based on my working practice as a perinatal cognitive behavioural therapist, and my experiences as a first time mum during the pandemic, I have compiled six ways to support your emotional well-being as a new mum during these difficult times.
1. Prioritise getting outside
A recent Harvard study showed that 15 minutes of running or one hour of walking decreases the risk of depression by 26%. This means that getting outside and moving is a great investment of your time.
In those early days, it can be hard to get out and about. Try to set yourself a target to leave the house once a day, even if it is just to walk around the block. Meeting a friend can help you combine this with that much needed social support. Alternatively, this is a great time to listen to a podcast or some music to help you connect with your other interests and help nourish your mind.
2. Challenge your 'mum guilt'
Mum guilt is a term used to describe the guilty feeling that mothers experience over anything to do with parenting. This may include believing that you are not giving your baby enough attention, your house is not clean enough or doubting your choice of feeding method and everything in between.
Next time you are feeling guilty, identify what exactly it is that you are feeling guilty for. Then, ask yourself “Would I judge someone else in the same way for this?” Remember that there is no perfect way of parenting.
3. Avoid comparison
Comparing yourself to others can often lead to negative thinking. It can make us believe that we are not doing as good of a job at parenting as other mums are. With so many 'parenting experts' providing conflicting views, along with social media showing the highlights of other mothers' journeys, it is easy to hold yourself up to an idea of perfection that doesn’t exist.
Next time you feel yourself comparing yourself to others, think about what it is that your baby needs. Then, ask yourself what you can do to meet that need. An additional practical strategy to manage this comparison is to limit your social media intake. This may involve editing your feed to ensure that you only follow accounts that make you feel good.
4. Schedule activities that you enjoy and provide a sense of achievement
It is easy to feel totally overwhelmed by the needs of caring for a newborn baby. The postpartum period should be one of rest and recuperation. However, it can help to improve your mood to complete some essential tasks to gain a sense of achievement and make time for activities that you enjoy.
In the morning, try scheduling just one or two items per day of tasks that you need to get done. This might include paying the gas bill or making that phone call to the bank.
Also, don’t forget to schedule a pleasurable activity. This may be an act of self-care, phoning a friend or taking 20 minutes to read a book. Then, let everything else go and lose the guilt. (Side note: It is OK for our homes not to be perfectly clean during this time).
As well as reducing our high standards, this is the time to delegate, which isn’t always easy. This brings us on to the next point.
5. Learn to communicate your needs
Pregnancy and becoming a mum can make us feel vulnerable and increase the emotional and practical needs that we have. It can be tough asking for help when you are used to being independent. This is the time to practice communicating what it is that you need.
Firstly, check-in with yourself and identify what support would help you. Then, practice asking for this. Try to keep your communication without blame and be specific as much as possible. For example, an alternative to “I’m fed up of doing everything alone” could be, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. Please could you bath the baby tonight?”
Try to plan what you need ahead of time when you and the other person are feeling calm. This can include planning for the overwhelming emotions that are common during the postpartum period.
It can be helpful to consider what will help you whilst away from this time. An example of this may be, “When I am crying, it does not mean that you have done anything wrong. I just need to take five minutes away and gather my thoughts”. This can help both you and the other person to avoid confrontation when emotions are heightened.
6. Be kind to yourself!
Remember this is a life-changing journey like no other. Be patient with yourself as you learn to adapt to being a mother. This includes evolving alongside all of the body, hormonal, relationship and life circumstance changes happening during this time.
It can be really hard transitioning from spending the majority of your time with other adults or in a professional environment to spending all of your time caring for a newborn baby. It is OK to grieve aspects of your old life. Practice being compassionate with yourself like you would to your child. Give yourself space to cry when needed. You are going through so much change and growth and at times this will feel messy.
Finally, we were not meant to raise babies without support, which is exactly what this pandemic has forced us to do. Take some time to recognise and celebrate all that you have achieved during this time.