The postpartum period can be extremely overwhelming. Overnight we shift into a completely new role, with new responsibilities, new priorities, and new territory we often aren’t equipped to navigate.
It’s also a time that has a big impact on our mental health. Between sleep deprivation, hormonal shifts, physical exhaustion, and emotional and mental overwhelm, new parents are vulnerable to mental health concerns, including postpartum anxiety and depression, overstimulation, overwhelm, and burnout.
While we can’t always predict or prevent postpartum mental health concerns, we can take proactive steps to protect and improve our wellbeing.
Discover 10 actionable ways you can boost your postpartum mental health!
Sleep is a precious commodity for new moms, but it's essential for your mental health. The chances of developing depression are more than three times more likely for moms with poor sleep quality. Getting more quality sleep can help moms reduce irritability, improve their mood, and increase their brain function throughout the day.
We often believe that sleep deprivation is “just part of mom life” and that the only way we can get more sleep is if our baby gets more sleep. But the truth is that maternal sleep matters, separate from baby’s sleep.
Creating a plan to protect at least a consecutive 4-hour stretch of sleep by trading off shifts with your partner or a support person can help protect and improve our mental health. Talk with your partner or family members about sharing night waking and feeds and taking shifts so you can get the rest you need.
(Download our FREE Sleep Plan for Moms–a great place to start prioritizing your sleep!)
We often enter motherhood with very clear expectations of how we will do certain things. One of the first is often how we will feed our baby. More than 80% of moms enter motherhood planning to breastfeed. And if they don’t end up exclusively breastfeeding, they often feel shame and guilt.
When our feeding journey doesn’t go as planned, it can feel like we’re struggling with our first “test” of motherhood. But in reality, feeding doesn’t have to look one specific way, and you should never feel ashamed about the way you feed your baby.
Some families happily breastfeed. Others choose not to breastfeed. Others attempt it but have to stop for a number of reasons. 46% of families end up using a combination feeding approach. But a fed baby is what matters–not the method that you use to get there.
It’s important to stay flexible with our approach to feeding and understand that the reality might not align with our expectations–and that’s okay. If breastfeeding is impacting your mental health, if you are unable to breastfeed, or if you simply don’t want to for any reason, it’s absolutely fine to supplement or formula feed.
This idea of flexibility applies to many parenting decisions, from how many children we want to have to how we will handle childcare. Our plans don’t always end up matching reality. It’s helpful to remember that it’s okay to change our expectations based on our financial circumstances, our mental or physical health, or our current reality.
The postpartum period is demanding–we often feel like we have to give more and more, being and doing all the things. But it’s okay to choose the path of least resistance when needed.
Perhaps your home doesn’t need to be clean, or you don’t need to make a homecooked meal every day. Maybe you don’t need to sign up for that extra baby class or bake cookies from scratch for your older child’s school party.
Simplify your routine, ask a partner or support person to take ownership of some of the labor, and let go of unrealistic expectations. Adjusting your expectations based on your capacity doesn’t mean you are weak or failing–it means you are flexible and compassionate with yourself.
As moms, we are often conditioned to sacrifice ourselves and our needs for everyone else’s. But if our needs are not being met, we can’t show up for our family the way that we need to. Our mental health matters, and we matter–just as much as everyone else.
It can be hard to understand what we really need, let alone to advocate for it. But we are responsible for making sure that our needs get met.
You might need rest, sleep, time for yourself, emotional reassurance, or more help with household tasks. When we can understand what we need, we can put those needs on an equal playing field and advocate for them.
Communicate with your partner or support people in your life about your needs and how they can help you meet them.
Many of us are uncomfortable with setting boundaries. We worry that we will upset people or be seen as rude or selfish. But boundaries are an important part of self-care, providing us with safety and security.
We might find ourselves wanting to set boundaries around who interacts with our baby, unsolicited comments we might get, or how often people visit our home.
Learn to say no when necessary, and communicate your needs to friends and family. This might include setting limits on visitors, saying no to hosting duties like cooking or entertaining, or opting out of family outings and events that add more to your plate.
Moms overwhelmingly report taking on more than their fair share of physical, mental, and emotional labor in the home. We often don’t realize the role that ingrained gender norms or social expectations placed on moms have a role in this labor.
The invisible load of motherhood can have a major impact on our mental health. It leaves us feeling as if we constantly have to be working, managing, or doing more.
But the truth is that we shouldn’t be carrying the bulk of the load just because we are moms. It’s important to question these beliefs and share labor in a way that feels fair to everyone, regardless of gender, working status, or how much money is earned.
Communicate openly with your partner or support system about your needs, share tasks, and work together to ensure a balanced distribution of labor, both in childcare and household duties. Reducing your mental load can give you more time to take care of your mental health and less stress and overwhelm.
For overwhelmed moms, “self-care” can feel like another thing on the to-do list (and can leave us not feeling rested or relaxed at all). That’s because real self-care isn’t a pedicure, a bubble bath, or a few minutes in the shower by yourself.
Real self-care is about creating a life that feels both sustainable and fulfilling. It is a commitment to your needs, and ensuring they get met. In the postpartum period, it can be hard to think about what that might look like. But you deserve time and space to take care of your body, protect your mental health, reset emotionally, and explore interests outside of motherhood.
Remember that you are in a vulnerable season of life. It’s important to regularly check in on your emotional and mental wellbeing. Self-awareness is a vital part of postpartum mental health.
Spend time checking in on yourself. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Anxious or worried? Are you experiencing physical symptoms that might be related to postpartum mental health concerns, like digestive issues, headaches, or a clenched feeling in your stomach? Are your needs being met? And if not, what is it that you need?
Checking in on yourself allows you to address issues proactively and seek support when needed.
Professional support is a valuable resource for postpartum mental health. A mom therapist understands the unique challenges mothers face and can provide tailored guidance and coping strategies.
Maternal mental health therapy isn’t just for postpartum depression or anxiety, and it isn’t just for when you’re in a crisis. Working with a mom therapist throughout the postpartum period can help you learn valuable skills, work through your feelings, and protect your mental health every step of the way.
Ready to find a mom therapist? Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult with one of our qualified maternal mental health specialists today!