Having a baby is one of those times in your life that is both beautiful and challenging. For some, it can be the single hardest thing they have ever done and although mental health is being talked about more, there can still be a stigma attached and many women will suffer in silence.
There are many aspects of mental health as a new mum that if they were talked about sooner rather than later, we might not feel so alone in our struggles, and we could access the support that we need sooner rather than later.
As a mum of two who has worked with thousands of pregnant and postpartum women in an exercise environment, one thing that I know for sure is that no one pregnancy, birth or postpartum experience is the same. I believe the topic of mental health after giving birth needs to be talked about more openly in as many different environments as possible so let’s start that conversation today.
Here are my top six things that no one tells you about mental health as a new mum.
1. What it looks like
So many women look back in hindsight after struggling for months or even years because no one told them these signs before or immediately after having their baby and realise that they may have suffered undiagnosed postnatal depression.
Being able to identify the signs of a mental health issue is incredibly helpful in getting the support you need. According to COPE, these can include sleep disturbance which seems to be outside of the ‘normal’ effects that early motherhood has on your sleep. Not wanting to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time can be a sign of depression and/or anxiety, changes in appetite, ongoing ups and downs that last for two months or more and ongoing worry about your child and their wellbeing.
2. That you’re not alone
Being a new mum is hard and sometimes keeping up appearances seems like the right thing to do. I know from personal experience that when one mum is brave enough to tell others she is struggling, you can hear a collective sigh of relief because everyone then knows they are not alone.
3. Other people want to help you…
But they don’t know how, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. Accepting help for many women is hard at the best of times and even harder when they are struggling. The truth is that others wouldn’t ask to help you if they didn’t want to and by accepting the help you allow them to feel good in return – it’s a win-win.
4. Just because you were fine the first time doesn’t mean you will be fine the second time around
I am talking to mamas who have more than one child on this one. A second-time mum may find struggling with her mental health even harder if her first motherhood experience seemed “easy” in comparison. There may be an additional layer of “I have done this before so it shouldn’t be so hard.” Just remember that no two babies or experiences are the same and your struggles are still valid.
5. That you WILL get through it
Maybe they do tell you this but when you are in the depths of new motherhood and struggling, it can be really hard to really hear these words and imagine how things could be different. If things are tough right now, just know that it WILL get better. There is support for you and seeking out help is the very best way through.
6. The wonders of moving your body
Moving your body, even when you don’t feel like it, can be so beneficial. But be gentle with yourself! Exercise for your mental health needs to support and nurture you, go easy, listen to what you need on any given day and consider working within a group environment with other mums to offer that extra layer of support.
Don’t be afraid to see support sooner rather than later from credible sources. I am a huge supporter of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), they have incredible resources for the postpartum period as well as pregnancy and your mental health.