Congratulations! When your first little bundle arrives, there are two births to celebrate: the baby’s, of course, and yours as a brand-new mom. Few things in this life are more exciting and rewarding than welcoming a precious little addition to your family. What nobody really warns you about, however, is that the period of new motherhood is often fraught with emotion, and not all of it is positive. In the postpartum period (and even long after that), you may experience depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and even symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The good news is that you can heal from whatever mental health issues you’re experiencing and feel happy again. To get there, it’s important that you learn to take good care of yourself and learn to be your own best advocate. Here, I’ll tell you a little bit more about how to take care of your mental and emotional health as a new mother so that you can enjoy this special time.
- Life as a New Mom: Why Self-Care is So Important
- Healthy Habits for Emotional Wellness
- Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Life as a New Mom: Why Self-Care is So Important
When I welcomed my first baby, I felt so completely overwhelmed by my feelings, and they were terrifying. Before I met my firstborn, I was totally unprepared for how much I would love him, and that love made me cry constantly. I kept joking that I loved him so much that my heart didn’t have room for it all, and my feelings were coming out of my eyes. I also felt incredibly intimidated by the awesome responsibility of caring for this helpless and needy little creature. I was extremely fearful that I would do something terribly wrong and hurt my baby, whether by accident or on purpose.
Hold up: why would a loving mother intentionally harm her child? The truth is that I wouldn’t, of course, but that didn’t stop me from worrying about it. Every time I touched the little guy, I was plagued by unwanted thoughts of hurting him, and then I was horrified that I was having those thoughts. I was afraid to tell my husband or my mom or my OB/GYN about them for fear that they would think I was a monster. I had thoughts of running away from home so that my baby wouldn’t have to grow up around me.
What I didn’t know back then was that intrusive thoughts are an extremely common symptom of postpartum mood disorders. Scientists believe these unwanted thoughts happen because you’re on high alert for anything that could present a threat to your new baby. They don’t mean that you’re a bad mother. The fact that they cause you distress means you’re a good, loving mother.
When I found some reading material about new moms and intrusive thoughts, I laughed and cried with relief to learn that they were so common. Once I understood that I was dealing with a postpartum mood disorder, I was able to help myself heal. That’s why it’s so important for expecting mothers, new moms, and even the most experienced parents to be aware of their mental health. Let’s look at a few ways you can address the issues you might be experiencing as a new mother.
Healthy Habits for Emotional Wellness
These habits are key for living a healthy and happy life, whether you’re pregnant, recently postpartum, or the mom of older kids. No matter what stage of parenting you’re in, it’s always important to take good care of yourself. There’s a popular saying that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else with theirs. That means that to be the good, attentive, engaged parent, you want to be for your kids, you need to make sure you’re in a happy place yourself.
Be Your Own Biggest Cheerleader
Even when you chase the unwanted postpartum thoughts away, you may continue to experience a very negative and harmful inner monologue that can drag you down. That’s why it’s important to engage in positive self-talk to counteract it. When you hear the voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, stop and tell yourself some positive affirmations.
Take Some Time for You
Becoming a busy mom means losing a whole lot of your alone time. While it’s not easy, carve out some room in your schedule for time just for you. Whether you go for a walk, take a bubble bath, or spend time with a friend, time away will do you a world of good. You’ll come back to your new mom duties feeling calmer and more focused and enthusiastic.
Work it Out
Speaking of taking a walk, you’ll also want to clear time in your schedule for regular exercise (ideally thirty minutes five days per week). When you’re healing from childbirth, take it easy with gentle postpartum exercises before jumping back into your regular fitness routine. Later, when you’re feeling more like your old self, you can work back up to your pre-pregnancy workouts. Stay committed to doing it as often as you feel up to it, as regular exercise can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Practice Setting Boundaries
I haven’t met your baby, but I can promise you that in a few years, one of his or her first words is going to be “No.” Kids are really good at saying no to stuff—much better than most adults are. Take a cue from your little one and learn to set healthy boundaries for yourself. If you’re not up to having your in-laws over for a visit, it’s okay to tell them you’d like to reschedule. If you feel like you need a breather from being available to friends 24/7, take a social media break and put your text alerts on silent. And if you lack the time and energy to bake yet another batch of cookies for a school fundraiser, say “Not this time.” Give yourself permission to not say yes to everything. Remember where your priorities are, and focus on those things, not the extraneous noise.
Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Here is something I want to emphasize for new moms above all else: you are not alone in this. Please ask for help when you need it, whether it’s from your partner, your parents, your friends, or a professional. If you need some time to yourself, ask your partner or one of your parents to spend some time with the baby (Thank goodness for grandparents, right?). If you desperately need a nap or a good night of sleep, get someone close to you to take night feedings so you can rest.
And, most importantly, if you feel like you might harm yourself or someone else, please reach out and talk to a professional about your thoughts. If you don’t know where to start, your general practitioner or OB/GYN can point you in the right direction. Your mental health is so important at every stage of your life as a mom. You owe it to yourself to take good care of it so that you can enjoy life with that sweet new baby.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.): (800) 273-8255
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