After nine months of expectation, finally having a new bundle of joy is far from plain sailing for many new mums.
Exhausted and not at their best physically, new research shows more than two in three (68%) mothers have experienced some form of negative feeling in the first month after the arrival of their new baby.
Nearly half said they felt lonely, while 41% believed they’d lost their identity, and 20% said they felt ‘abandoned’.
It’s hardly surprising, says Sarah McMullen, head of knowledge at the NCT parents’ support charity.
“We know isolation is a real problem for many new mums – they’ve left work and might not be able to see their friends, and they’re stuck in the house in those early weeks.
“It’s such a huge adjustment going from a vibrant work and/or social life to suddenly being at home on your own and having a new baby to look after.”
While most women – 80% – want to breastfeed, many struggle for reasons including pain, infection, and perceived poor milk production.
McMullen says many women don’t get the support they need for breastfeeding, “so many stop before eight weeks, which is before they want to. That causes a lot of anguish for new mums”.
She says the right support means many women can successfully work through their breastfeeding issues, but often such support isn’t forthcoming.
“As a result, they end up feeling awful about the whole thing,” she warns.
Around one in 10 women experiences mental health problems during pregnancy or after the birth, and more than half (51%) of new mums said they weren’t emotionally prepared for the impact of parenthood.
“It’s really hard for new mums,” says McMullen.
“Many say they’re worried about their mental health, or they’re feeling isolated, down or anxious,”
She says it’s hard for mums to recognise whether what they’re feeling is a normal part of having a baby, or whether they need to talk to somebody about it.
“One of the messages we really want to get across is that if these feelings start to interfere with daily life, it’s really important that mums talk to somebody – be that a friend or family member, a health visitor or their doctor.”
She explains that often mums don’t seek the help they need because they’re worried what people might think.
“A lot of mums don’t dare admit that they’re struggling. They may feel terrible, but they think they’re uniquely failing as a mum, and they don’t want to be open because they’re worried their baby’s going to be taken away.
“So they don’t access the help they need until they reach crisis point.”
McMullen advises new mums to go to antenatal groups to meet other mums at the same stage, and talk about the challenges they’re facing.
But she points out that for some, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“For women who are really struggling and may have mental health issues, turning up to some groups can be really daunting – they think all the other mums look like they’re coping beautifully. It can be a real challenge.”
The research, which was carried out by the makers of the nappy care ointment Bepanthen to mark the launch of its new mum support website www.10thmonth.co.uk, found half of new mums felt the need to “bounce back” within just two months of giving birth.
Almost one in 10 (9%) felt the pressure to be physically fit in just a couple of days post-birth.
“A lot of women expect to get back to feeling how they did before pregnancy quite quickly, and feel bad they don’t,” says McMullen.
“They compare themselves to other women they see, perhaps not realising how many of those women might be feeling exactly like they are inside, and finding new motherhood really challenging.
“Perhaps if people were a bit more open about the challenges, mums could stop feeling like they’re the only ones who feel that way.”
McMullen stresses mums should make sure they get as much help as possible, generally from family and friends.
Indeed, the research found more than a third of new mums (34%) said they appreciated their friends and family popping over to see how they were doing.
“Be realistic about what to expect in this period, which we call the adjustment and investment period,” says McMullen.
“It’s very challenging and can seem all-consuming, but be open about how you’re finding it, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.”
Q: “My two-year-old daughter is a real cry-baby. What’s the best way to deal with her tears?”
A: Kate Orson, author of Tears Heal: How To Listen To Our Children, says: “Frequent crying can be related to a difficult start in life, or present-day challenges like transitioning to daycare. Your daughter may just be more sensitive than other children. The fact that she feels safe to cry with you is actually a backhanded compliment. She trusts you with her feelings.
“Our most common impulse is to stop crying as quickly as possible. However, crying is a healing process; a natural way to release stress and tension. When we distract or stop our child from crying, they may keep trying repeatedly to find reasons to cry. Upsets might also come out in indirect ways such as whining or aggression.
“The best approach is to simply be there, and stay close, offer hugs and a few reassuring words. It’s best not to talk too much when your child is in the middle of an upset. They simply need to let go of their feelings, and soak up your love.
“If you listen when you have the patience, you will find your daughter will be able to regulate her emotions much better. There may be some long cries at home, but less unexpected ones in the checkout queue.
“With this listening approach, meltdowns will become less frequent over time. You should also notice other positive changes, like improved behaviour and a deeper connection between the two of you.”