This post was written by Holly Ashby. She works for Beeja Meditation, who provide courses on Vedic Meditation, an easier and more effective alternative to Mindfulness Meditation, in central London.
The baby blues are incredibly common. Buffeted by storms of hormones, shell-shocked from the birth and facing the enormous responsibility of looking after an entirely helpless human being, it’s not surprising that we might not feel at our best in the weeks and months after bringing new life into the world. And even though dads don’t have to deal with the hormones and birth in quite the same way, (although anxiety and seeing their partner in such distress must have an impact) this is something men have to deal with too.
Usually the weepy and irritable feelings that characterise baby blues will clear within a week or so, but sometimes the baby blues can take a bigger hold, often developing into postnatal stress. Dealing with this as well as the chaos a new baby can have on your schedule is a challenge, but with a bit of self care it is possible.
What’s the difference between baby blues, postnatal stress and postnatal depression?
The Baby Blues
The Baby Blues are a natural response to hormonal changes experienced by 70-80 percent of new mums. Women’s levels of oestrogen and progesterone are the highest they’ll ever be during pregnancy, dropping dramatically after the birth. This change triggers a neurobiological process which results in irritability, weepiness, and feeling profoundly vulnerable – like the worst PMS you’ve ever had. This feeling should clear after a couple of weeks.
Postnatal stress, on the other hand, isn’t solely due to hormone changes and is a response to the various pressures of looking after a baby – something experienced by lots of new parents. A baby, and especially a first baby, ushers in such a huge life change that can cause quite a lot of strain. Relationship dynamics shift, your whole life is absorbed into looking after the baby, and (most of all) you barely ever sleep. It’s enough to stress anyone out, and you can find yourself experiencing snappiness, anxiety and low moods.
Postnatal stress isn’t pleasant, but it is fairly common and usually temporary, like having a particularly stressful few months at work. Postnatal depression on the other hand, which affects 10 – 20 % of women, involves much more intense, disturbing and debilitating symptoms. It interferes with your daily functioning, and can appear months after delivery. If you think you may be experiencing postnatal depression, professional support is a must.
How to cope with the baby blues and postnatal stress
In the haze after the birth, remembering to look after yourself as well as your baby probably won’t come naturally, but it is important. Share chores and duties with your partner. For example, if you’ve chosen to breastfeed and are therefore more tied to the baby, receiving support from your partner with day to day chores and housework can help to reduce some of the pressure. Bring in friends and family members to help, and generally get as much support as possible.
Talking with other mothers can also provide a sense of reassurance as they will often understand how you feel. They may have experienced the baby blues themselves, and hearing that it can pass with time can help to give you a much needed psychological boost. The good news is that the baby blues should ease off after a couple of weeks, but if you’re still finding things difficult a little later on, there are ways to cope.
Don’t Berate Yourself
Firstly, you need to let yourself off. If you’ve found breastfeeding difficult, or even can’t do it, that’s ok and doesn’t reflect negatively on your abilities as a mother. Struggling with your new responsibilities and occasionally feeling as though every other mum is coping far better than you is completely normal – you shouldn’t put yourself under the pressure of expecting to feel blissful and happy all the time. Sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture for a reason, and no one functions at their best during extended periods of interrupted sleep.
Find a Habit That’s Just For You
New parents need to keep a sense of themselves. This is especially true of mothers, who through a variety of biological (like breastfeeding and pregnancy) and societal reasons tend to get more subsumed in parenthood. Almost by accident mums can find themselves being the primary carer, and if one parent gets to carry on with their social life and hobbies while the other feels like they can’t, it can lead to frustration and resentment.
It could be an exercise class, making a point of scheduling baby-free time with friends or an evening every week spent devoted to a favourite hobby, like painting or practising the guitar. Keeping hold of key parts of your identity will make you feel more balanced, and give you a release from the challenges of looking after a baby – especially boredom and loneliness.
When you’re losing sleep, short of time and constantly on edge, staying healthy is hard work. It’s often the first thing to stop when you’re run down, and while the occasion chocolate isn’t going to hurt, opting for the healthy choices and eating wholesome foods can have a positive impact on both your physical and psychological wellbeing. But equally important is to not put undue pressure on yourself, striving to get back your pre-baby body immediately could make you feel worse, so don’t think about appearances, just eat healthily and go out for walks when you can – it will make you feel much better.
Meditation is another form of self-care that will help you keep an emotional balance. At a time where sleep is scarce, it offers a form of rest that’s actually deeper than sleep – a kind of concentrated relaxation which keeps tiredness at bay. It can also has a positive effect on your hormonal system, by calming the mind the body can synthesise and distribute the correct amounts of dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline, essentially reverting our hormones back to what nature intended.
Meditation is also something you can easily do while nursing, which means you won’t necessarily have to find extra time to take up this habit.
Whether it’s heading to a family member’s house and crashing out on the sofa while they mind the baby, or getting your friends to visit when the baby’s a bit sniffly and you’re going stir crazy, seek out help when you need it. If you choose to return to work these support networks will become even more vital, juggling motherhood and a career is even harder if you aren’t willing to ask for help.
This applies to fathers as well. Struggling to work on no sleep and wishing you could see your kids more is no joke in the early months, and stay-at-home dads can arguably get even more lonely because there are few other men with their lifestyle.
Most of all, if your unhappiness is something more than a simple lack of sleep and change of lifestyle, and you are beginning to feel hopeless more often than not, talk to a doctor right away.