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First Time Mum How to Safeguard Your Mental Health

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute medical advice. If you are struggling with any aspect of your mental health, talk to your Health Visitor or GP.

Guest post by Dr Carla Runchman

One in five new mums experience mental health problems, commonly with low mood and anxiety.

Becoming a mum for the first time is a big transition and can present significant challenges to your emotional well-being. You may find it difficult to adjust to your new identity, to the new social elements of motherhood, or experience challenges in your relationships. Your body is recovering, and you are psychologically and neurologically adjusting to becoming a parent and responding to your baby’s needs. Add in a heavy dose of sleep deprivation and it’s no wonder that it can be a vulnerable time.

ANXIETY

Anxiety in early motherhood can manifest in different ways: frequent upsetting thoughts that your baby will be injured; overwhelming urges to clean or perform other ritualistic behaviours; a physical, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding feeling of dread that something is wrong, or that something terrible is about to happen, when actually, things are OK. These often come together with physical symptoms, including sweating, shaking and dizziness.

DEPRESSION

Depression in new mums could mean struggling to muster the motivation to get out of bed, to get washed, dressed, or to go anywhere outside your home. It can, however, be invisible to others; a happy, ‘normal’ version of you on the surface with the darkness hidden inside. You may feel numb, a lack of joy in your new baby, and little interest in doing the things your normally enjoy. You may struggle to sleep, even when you have the opportunity.

If any of this is familiar, and persists beyond the first couple of weeks, then it’s important to seek support. Talk to your Health Visitor or your GP. If you find it difficult to explain how you feel, take your partner or a friend with you for support.

STEPS TO TAKE

Here are 3 key steps you can take to help safeguard your mental health as a new mum:

1. Don’t believe everything you think: thoughts are not facts! Our minds are complex and incredible, and can just as easily imagine a terrible accident as they can a pink elephant dancing on the moon playing a violin. Thank your mind for ensuring you are doing a good job of keeping your baby safe, then move on.

2. Make sure your expectations are realistic We are bombarded by images of beautiful babies and serene mothers, and well-intentioned comments like ‘cherish every moment’. These can undermine the struggles that new mums face, and leave you feeling as though you aren’t doing a good enough job. It’s time to recognise these unrealistic pressures and remember all the things you are doing well.

3. Get practical help It’s helpful to remember that, evolutionarily speaking, humans are designed to raise children in large family units, so if you feel like you are struggling without much help, this is totally normal. It’s not you, it’s society! Consider having a checklist of things that regularly need doing (e.g. put a load of washing on) so when people ask if they can do anything to help, you can say yes!

Dr Carla Runchman is a mum of two, clinical psychologist and author of ‘Mama Notes’, a notebook for the first 12 weeks of motherhood to help mums focus on their emotional wellbeing. www.mamadiary.co.uk

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute medical advice. If you are struggling with any aspect of your mental health, talk to your Health Visitor or GP.