Life as a new mum
Becoming a mother is arguably the most major life-changing event in a woman’s life; few events are so irreversible and complete. The early weeks and months of parenthood are usually an exciting, happy, and rewarding time, as you and your partner get to know your new baby. However, this period can also be a time of letting go as you say goodbye to perhaps formerly more carefree and spontaneous lifestyles, which were free of responsibilities, for another tiny person. Understandably, this time can be very hard for many couples as they start adjusting to parenthood and the demands of their newborn. You might have had a clear idea of what you thought life would be like with your new baby and may now have discovered that the reality is very different to what you’d anticipated. This mismatch between what you were expecting and the reality of motherhood has been found to affect how well you adjust to being a new mum. In addition, extreme tiredness can make coping more difficult and you may not be able to be the mother that you think you should be. However, you can take reassurance from the knowledge that these are normal feelings and your midwife, health visitor and GP will willingly discuss any concerns that you might have, to support you and help put your mind at rest.
For women in particular, the major life changes and responsibilities that motherhood brings will affect how they feel both physically and emotionally. Alongside the exultant and often overwhelming feelings of happiness associated with being a new mum, the demands of caring for your newborn 24-hours a day can be a real challenge – not to mention totally exhausting. You may find your emotions shifting from highs to lows as you get to grips with being a new mum. Getting to know your baby is likely to bring precious, fulfilling times, as well as emotionally demanding and stressful times. Most mums will doubt their parenting abilities and, because their relationship with friends and social contacts shift, may also feel very isolated. However, you’re not alone – the vast majority of new mums find the early weeks of motherhood just as joyful and every bit as tough!
Talk to your partner, family and friends and let them know how you’re feeling; don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice whether from family members, your midwife, health visitor or GP. Parenthood is a steep and progressive learning curve. As you get to know your baby and become more adept at recognising their needs, you will feel a lot more confident about being competent to care for them. Going along to your local postnatal group, postnatal exercise classes and/or a breastfeeding support group are all great ways to meet other new mums. It can also be very reassuring to know that others are experiencing the same challenges as you and you’ll probably make some good friends along the way.
Depending on the type of labour and birth that you had, you are likely to be feeling physically exhausted during the first few postnatal days. Everybody – friends, neighbours and family, will probably be eager to visit you and welcome your new addition. However, in all the excitement and jubilation, they often forget that you have recently been through one of the most physically gruelling experiences in a woman’s life. You may also be getting to grips with breastfeeding, as well as coping with the hormonal changes that take place as your body starts to return to its non-pregnant state. These hormonal changes can leave you feeling emotional, bewildered and tearful, and are often referred to as the ‘Baby Blues’. However, they’re usually short-lived and you should start feeling a lot brighter within a few days. If this isn’t the case, it is important that you talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP to let them know how you are feeling. For further information, read our article on ‘Mood changes after childbirth’.
Caring for your newborn baby is a full-time ‘around the clock’ responsibility, meaning significant sleep deprivation, so don’t be afraid to limit visitors in the early weeks, or tell them when it’s time they should be leaving. You need to get as much sleep and rest as you can, so when your baby is asleep you should try to seize the opportunity to get some shut-eye yourself. This may only be for a few minutes at a time, but they all add up and everyone recognises the importance of ‘power-naps’. Help and support around the house can also be invaluable at this time, whether your mum is staying with you, or you have friends and family popping in regularly to help with grocery shops, the cooking and/or general household chores. If they want to ‘mother’ you, let them; by relinquishing the usual household responsibilities, you’ll be able to focus solely on your baby’s care needs and give yourself the time you need to recover from the birth. This recovery time usually takes around six to eight weeks, which coincides with the six-week postnatal check, normally done by your GP. Maintaining a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water will help with the healing process, particularly if you’ve had a caesarean or a tear or cut (episiotomy) at the birth. A well-balanced diet will also ensure that you have the stamina to cope with the added demands of your young baby.
Where you have any concerns whatsoever about how you’re feeling, contact your midwife or doctor immediately for their advice. They can check you over to make sure that your body is healing and recovering as it should be.
While some women may have previously worked in a high-flying job or established career, the transition from familiar and organised work routines and intellectual stimulation to the disordered and randomised chaos of the early weeks of becoming a mum can be rather a shock. Some mums appear to breeze through the early weeks of parenthood but others may struggle to adapt to the disturbed nights, what can feel like an endless routine of nappy changes and feeding, and their lost social life. Not surprisingly, at some point, all mums will find that being a parent is actually pretty tough. As such, it is important to take things at your own pace. Try and get outdoors for a few minutes each day, whether this is sitting in the garden, or taking your baby for a walk in their pram. Listen to your body and do activities that are comfortable. Involve your partner – where you are breastfeeding your baby, there are still plenty of things that your partner can do to get involved with baby care; nappy changes, bathing, play time, or generally keeping an eye and ear open while you enjoy a well-earned nap.
As you and your partner get to know your new baby, so you will both gain confidence in caring for them and will start to settle into your own familiar routines. After this time, both of you may feel more confident to make time to pursue the activities and interests that were an important part of your life before you became parents. One idea is for each of you to reserve one evening a week, so that while one has time for themselves, the other can babysit. This might mean just being able to enjoy a long, leisurely, uninterrupted soak in the bath! It is also important to make time for each other. Adult conversation, listening, responding to, and supporting each other, and generally keeping the romance alive in your relationship, can be easily eclipsed by the demands of a young baby. Good communication is important in any healthy relationship and as you will both be feeling over-tired, patience and sensitivity is vital at this time. Maintaining an intimate relationship can also be difficult, but it’s worth looking at how you can remain intimate with each other until you’re ready to think about sex again.
Getting used to life as a new mum can be a long and challenging process; however, time with your young baby will pass incredibly quickly so it is important that you take the time to enjoy them. While grandparents, friends and family are likely to offer well-intentioned advice or have their own expectations, what is most important is that you and your partner decide what both of you want for your new family!