Welcoming a new baby can be one of the most exciting times in a person’s life but for some women, struggling with their mental health can mean that it’s not as enjoyable as it could be.
There are a number of different ways pregnancy can affect a woman’s emotional wellbeing including the baby blues.
What are the baby blues?
About 80% of new mums will experience the baby blues. Although it’s not easy, it’s absolutely normal and symptoms usually disappear within 14 days of giving birth. Signs that a new mum is experiencing the baby blues start within the first few days of giving birth, and can include:
- Feeling generally emotional, sad, irrational or overwhelmed
- Impatience and irritability
- Low-level anxiety without a specific trigger
- Unexpected tearfulness without a known reason
- Changes in mood
- Insomnia even when the baby is sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Forgetfulness or ’brain fog’
- Changes in appetite.
Most women who experience the baby blues report that their symptoms don’t occur 24 hours a day, but that they have times when they feel their usual self. The majority of women report feeling ‘back to normal’ within ten days to two weeks postpartum.
What causes the baby blues?
Carrying a baby and giving birth is one of the most demanding physical experiences a human being can go through – not to mention the many emotional changes that occur both during and after pregnancy. Although the exact cause of the baby blues is unknown, it’s thought to be caused by a number of factors, including the hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy and after birth, and the enormous physical and emotional adjustments needed for the new arrival.
As any parent can attest, when a new baby arrives, life as you knew it changes completely. Sleep is often negatively affected, daily routines need to be re-navigated, and worries over money and housing can play a part in feeling overwhelmed. It’s also important to note that some women may not experience the baby blues at all after the arrival of their first or second baby but may find it develops with subsequent births.
What can help if you have the baby blues?
Although not easy, the baby blues don’t last for more than two weeks and are therefore not treated by medication. However, there are things that you can do to help yourself through this difficult time. If after a couple of weeks you still feel low, or are feeling worse, contact your GP who will be able to support you.
- It can be really helpful to speak to other new mums to reassure yourself that the way you’re feeling is a normal reaction to a big change in your life. If you don’t know any new mums, there are a number of social media groups where you can share your thoughts and get support.
- Let your health visitor know if you’re struggling. There is nothing to feel ashamed about – having the baby blues doesn’t mean that you’re not a great mum! It just means that you’re adjusting to a new way of life which can take a little bit of time. Your health visitor or GP will also be able to offer you guidance and advice on how to cope.
- While sleep might be at a premium, make sure that you get enough of it. Napping when the baby is asleep can help you to catch up on much needed rest. If you’re supporting your partner after the birth, aside from offering to help with household chores such as cleaning and cooking, remember that sometimes a new mum just wants someone to ask her show she’s feeling, and a reminder that she’s doing a great job.
- Make sure that you eat well and regularly. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, you still need to eat healthily. Don’t rely on sugar and caffeine to deal with fatigue – it will only make you anxious (and low when the effect wears off). Feeling too tired to cook can also mean that you rely on too many simple carbohydrates, but these can make you feel low, sluggish and moody. Make sure you get your five a day and ask your health visitor if you should consider taking any nutritional supplements.
- Although many new mums feel under pressure to get back to their pre-baby fitness level within days of giving birth, this isn’t possible and it’s certainly not fair! Pressure from the media can cause new mums to worry about our looks and shape, when what we really should be focusing on is looking after ourselves and our baby. Get outside every day – even for a short walk – and feel good about the action you’re taking. You might also want to have a look at the NHS Fitness Studio which offers easy to follow exercise videos you can do at home, at your own pace and in line with your own fitness level.
- Women who have recently given birth as well as those who are breastfeeding require a balanced diet to meet the demands their bodies are facing.
- Men can also feel anxious after the birth of a baby as they too are navigating a new world. They certainly have the right to share their feelings and speak to someone if they feel overwhelmed so it can be helpful for new mums, family and friends to check in on dad to see if he also needs support.
- Above all, don’t expect perfection in the first few weeks. Give yourself time to adjust and be kind to yourself.