Emotional changes after having a baby
The birth of a first child will probably be the biggest change you will undergo in your life. It involves more changes than emigrating to another country – everything changes – your body, your mind, your relationships, your career, your financial status, your responsibilities. It can be quite overwhelming initially to know that you are responsible for a helpless little baby 24 hours a day. At the beginning, nothing is automatic – one has to think about each moment – the feeding, sleeping, burping, changing. If you are feeling exhausted and confused – it’s no wonder. All these changes would be stressful – even if you were getting 8 hours sleep a night – and that is most unlikely at this stage! It is important to remember that “The Birth of a Mother” may not happen at the same time as the birth of the baby! That may sound strange, but many first-time mothers do not feel like mothers immediately. All they know is that they feel very different – almost like a new person, and that is true. This is a new you, and it may take time to adjust to your new life.
Coping with all the Changes
The first two months are nearly always the most difficult – things do get easier and more familiar as you get to know the baby and the baby gets to know you. It is easier to deal with all the hard work that is involved once they start smiling and responding at about 2 months, and once one is getting more sleep. One way of getting through this very early time is seeing it as a very demanding project – one puts one’s head down and gets through it. Knowing that the intensity will not continue for ever and that it’s worth making the effort to give one’s child a good beginning. The baby cannot say thank you for all you do for it – but your reward will be to see it develop and grow. There is nothing more important in life than enabling children to grow up healthy, happy and secure. It’s much more important in the long-term than career promotions and even financial security.
Exploding the Myths
In 1998 a research project was undertaken in England to identify women’s expectations of birth and the period following. They discovered that there were five myths that were commonly held:
1. That bonding is automatic
Most mothers before birth felt that they would feel a surge of maternal feeling the moment they saw their babies. This is the exception rather than the rule. Most women get to know their babies and to fall in love with them, as they care for them and as each gets to know the other. Many mothers feel awkward in the first weeks caring for their babies. Some mothers enjoy the new baby stage and other mothers enjoy the later stages more. Each of us has a different personality and preference.
2. That they would feel happy all the time
The birth of a baby is very stressful for the mother and there are many times when she feels exhausted, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated with the baby when he or she will not feed or sleep – especially in the middle of the night!
3. That breast feeding would be natural and easy
Once the baby is born there are some mothers who feel that they do not want to breast-feed. Some babies are very easy to feed – but very often in the beginning there are various hiccups until a routine gets established – eg. sore breasts, a lazy feeder, etc. These are temporary problems that can be solved with appropriate guidance from a breast-feeding counsellor. What is surprising is how emotional one feels about everything to do with the baby, including feeding, especially when there are important decisions to be taken, e.g. whether or not one should continue breast-feeding. There are times at this stage when one’s peace of mind seems to revolve around how many grams one’s baby has gained or whether one has managed successfully to burp the baby.
4. That one would be able to manage the baby on one’s own – a one woman show
This is not possible or wise. For the first two months one really just needs to concentrate on getting to know the baby, establishing its feeding and sleeping routine, and getting rest for oneself. Ideally, one’s partner, mother, domestic or whoever else, should be doing cleaning, shopping, cooking, visitors, repairs, washing. It’s best to get help with housework and not the baby. Whatever one’s financial situation, it is enormously helpful to get the help you need over this initial period. For the last few months of pregnancy and the first few months after birth one usually feels vulnerable, dispersed and not at all able to deal with tasks that require concentration and assertiveness. It is probably part of the process of getting in tune with the baby’s needs. At this time one needs practical and emotional support from one’s partner, mother, etc.
5. That after six weeks your sex life will return to normal
Most new mothers take much longer than six weeks before they feel ready to return to a normal sexual relationship. Apart from feeling exhausted, the baby’s demands may take all your energy, and your partner needs to understand that your possible lack of libido does not mean that you no longer love him. You and he may need to explore other ways of showing your tenderness and love for each other. (This was not reported in the research mentioned above, but it is such an important issue that it must be mentioned.)
Taking Care of Yourself
In order to do this very important job – you need to have regular and dependable breaks from the baby – to sleep, to have time to yourself, to visit a friend, to go to gym, to go for a walk, to do whatever is nurturing to you. In order to nurture the baby, you need to see that you are nurtured and happy.
Caring for a baby is incredibly physically and emotionally demanding. It also takes time to get used to yourself as a mother and to combine that with the non-mother side of yourself, the lover, the friend, the person in the workplace, whatever. In the early months you will be mostly conscious of the mother side of yourself – but you need to keep a balance and remember the other sides of yourself.
Developing your Relationship with your Child
Even if you feel incompetent sometimes during these early months – there is no one that your baby needs more than you. He or she has been inside you for the past nine months and the two of you have been exchanging thousands of non-verbal messages – so on one level no-one knows better what one’s baby needs than you. Sometimes it takes a while to trust this intuitive knowledge, but don’t underestimate it.
Babies need to sense from you that they are doing OK, even when they cry and wake at inconvenient times. They need you to look into their eyes and say “Hello – I see your unique little spirit there and we’re going to do fine together.” Everyone needs to be affirmed in this way, by his or her parents, even from early on. When they are tiny, babies really respond if you copy what they do, so that they know that you have noticed them and their actions. Sometimes they don’t need to feed or sleep – but just need to be cuddled and smell and feel your skin. Each mother-child relationship is unique and you need to discover what feels right for you.
Taking Care of your Relationship with your Partner
You need to have time alone with your partner (without the baby) on a regular basis so that you can keep in touch with each other. Breakfast or a walk at the weekend is good, as it is hopefully at a time when you are not too tired. Both of your lives have changed drastically, but in different ways. You have the intense responsibility and connection to the baby night and day. Your husband’s work-world has stayed the same, but his emotional life has changed completely. He was probably made a fuss of by you and cared for night and day. Now you are totally focussed on the baby and he has to learn to get used to that – its necessary for the baby’s survival – but not easy to be on the outside. It is not easy for you if he does not understand about the baby absorbing all your time and energy 24 hours a day. You need to be cared for, encouraged and supported by him – rather than the other way round – a complete reversal of roles. All these changes need working through. You are now a family and that is a wonder and a miracle that is difficult to describe, but wonderful to share.
Am I suffering from Post-Natal Depression?
Having a baby is exhausting and disorientating, but you may have PND if you feel that things are getting worse rather than better, or if you are feeling very anxious, panicky, irritable, angry, withdrawn, forgetful, tearful, if you are feeling that the baby would do better without you. Get help immediately by phoning PNDSA. They will be able to help you.
Having a baby is a basic human experience, and as such is shared across cultures and centuries. It makes one feel a part of the world in a way that nothing else does. Each mother and baby is unique and each one of us needs to find her own style of mothering. You will discover what special gifts you and your partner have to give to your baby. Each stage has its own blessings and pressures – but a baby can help us to love unconditionally and spontaneously, if we just follows the cues. It is a huge growth experience that changes your life and your values forever.
It makes it easier to go through this period if one has the support of other mothers. If there is a mother’s group in your area, try to join it. Explore with your partner ways of getting more help for yourself.