Inside this article: Having a baby is an extremely huge transition for any new mom, and it’s important to prioritize your mental health in the fourth trimester as your whole world changes. Learn how to ride the emotional waves of the postpartum period and accept your new role as a mom.
It’s so common to read all kinds of articles on the things you need for postpartum care: kits to help you with pain management and healing, breastfeeding guides, and the perfect newborn schedules.
All of that is amazing, but girl, let’s talk about postpartum mental health!
Gosh, where to even begin. Birthing a baby is one of the biggest transitions I personally have ever endured, and I’m sure many of you mamas can relate. Many transitions in life allow a person to ease in, but not motherhood. One day you’re pregnant, and the next you’re a mom.
In just a matter of 24 hours, I went from watching hours of Netflix on the couch & taking solid daily naps to being awakened every 2 hours at night & crying in pain from the healing process.
While this is beautiful and wonderful in so many ways, it unfortunately takes a toll on your emotions and mental health. Let’s talk about some areas of focus to help you embrace the transition and take care of your mental health in the fourth trimester.
Learn about: your emotional health, handling the new responsibility of having a baby, learning all about motherhood, exhaustion, and body image.
All I would have to do is look at my baby, and I would burst into tears.
Don’t be fooled. I am not typically a crier. But I suddenly found myself sobbing at just the thought of my sweet new baby boy. I was so in love!
This emotional response is totally normal. It’s called the baby blues. Your hormones are all kinds of wacky after you have a baby, and they need some time to level out. However, if you have this same weepiness for more than two weeks postpartum, you might have postpartum depression (PPD; check out this handy resource for help determining). For me, the sobbing subsided after about 7 days.
If you think you might have PPD, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to get help. Here are some helpful resources.
Try some of these ways to take care of your emotional health during the first six weeks postpartum.
- Connect with people who will just listen. Not all of your friends will have gone through postpartum, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be there to listen. If you’re lucky enough to have some “mommy friends,” they are a great option to vent to or just talk about the crazy transition. Just make sure you’re not bottling up your emotions.
- Be patient with yourself. Your emotions might be a little all over the place right now. That’s ok. Remind yourself that you just went through a huge life change, and that having some pretty strong feelings about it is not only ok, but expected! Give yourself space to just be.
- Get outside. There is truly very little that can’t be improved by some good old Vitamin D (aka the sun) and some endorphins. Take that sweet new baby on a walk around the neighborhood or employ your partner to be on baby-duty while you just sit on the porch. I find when I’m in an emotional rut, simply getting in the fresh air can turn my mood around and fast!
*There are many postpartum mental health disorders that are not discussed in this article. If you want more information, visit Postpartum Support International.
One of the most immediate changes I experienced in the first six weeks postpartum was the switch from “me” to “we.”
Suddenly, my entire day revolved around this little baby. Every two hours, I was needed to breastfeed. My son became my morning alarm clock, dictated when I could put him down, and demanded kisses, comfort, and snuggles (ok, not really, but how can you not?)
There is something mentally exhausting about suddenly being “on” all of the time. There were times I would just want to shut myself in my room and tell everyone to leave me alone. Let me tell you: it’s hard to suddenly be caring for two people.
When you’re having trouble handling your new role as a mama, try a few of these ideas:
- Schedule me time. While before baby you could just sneak off to do your own thing on a whim, baby schedules makes that a bit more challenging. I’m serious – schedule yourself an hour on your calendar. Find someone to watch your baby, and do whatever you want to do during your scheduled time. Get out of the house if you want, or just put on some music and take a nap. The key is to do what you want to do, and reconnect with yourself. If you don’t have any ideas, try reading this post about self-care for moms.
- Accept help or don’t be afraid to ask. This one was quite possibly the hardest for me. I wanted to figure out mommyhood on my own, and was afraid of burdening people in asking for help. However, this wears on you and eventually you crash and burn. If someone offers to watch your baby for you, they mean it. Let them help you!
- Start health habits early. One thing I vowed before my son was born was not losing myself entirely. I knew it could happen in some capacity; after all, I am now a mom, which is inherently different! But, one thing I did from the get-go was continue prioritizing the things that bring me joy and happiness. I love to shop, so now, my son goes along for the ride. I still schedule time with friends, it just might look different. Remember, you are still an individual with needs that deserve to be met!
Frustrating Learning Curve.
So much about motherhood is brand new. I’m pretty certain my son’s diaper was the first baby diaper I ever changed. I knew absolutely nothing about calming a crying infant. Anyone ever have someone sucking on their boob at all hours of the day? …don’t answer that.
In all seriousness, learning how to do all of the things it takes to keep that little one happy and healthy takes time and a lot of trial and error. And with that comes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Lots of tears.
The most tears I shed in the fourth trimester was over breastfeeding. Not only did my son have a little trouble latching, it hurt. I don’t care what people tell you, the pain is unavoidable until you’ve toughened your girls up until they’re numb forever *sigh*.
Embrace the new information and follow some of these ideas to help keep the frustration at bay:
- Pick one thing at a time to master. There are so many topics in motherhood that it can be hard to know where to begin. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, pick 1 or 2 topics to focus in on. I’m talking ask others for advice or check out a few blogs about other moms’ experiences. Take sleep, for example; maybe you spend the next few days looking at sample newborn schedules or reading up on sleep cues. Then, you can move on to the next topic when you feel comfortable.
- You will learn at your own pace. Nothing is more frustrating than asking the age-old “does he sleep?” only to be told “yup, 13 hours a night!” when your baby is eeking out 2 at best. Thoughts of inadequacy and “I must be doing it wrong” creep into your head. Just remember, mama, every baby is different and you are doing the very best for that baby. You guys are learning together, and doing a great job!
- Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Remember when I said trial and error? if that isn’t the theme of motherhood, I don’t know what is. When I would troubleshoot a problem, like short naps or an eczema flare, I would try changing all kinds of things to know the root of the problem. Oftentimes, I was wrong. For example, I thought our son had a reaction to apples for the longest time, only to realize later that it was to the cinnamon in the applesauce I gave him. *Facepalm*
A Whole New World: Exhaustion.
On the first night we had our son home with us, I think my husband and I collectively got an hour and a half of sleep. For me, it was a combination of separation anxiety and adrenaline. I’d been with this little guy for nearly 10 months! You’re telling me I have to put him in his crib and walk away? My heart broke thinking about it. Not to mention he was so snuggly and sweet! (Honestly, no regrets.)
On night two, however, my severe lack of rest finally caught up with me. All nights following, my husband, Zach, and I made serious attempts to put Finn down to sleep instead of succumbing to being a much warmer, yet painfully permanent snooze spot for our son. And when I say serious attempts, I mean there were still many all-night (safe) snuggles for that little boy.
I tell this to illustrate this new level of exhaustion. I am someone who is territorial over my sleep, and suddenly it was not only being interrupted but stolen. It’s not like I could physically sleep through my baby crying even if I wanted to (which I very much didn’t!). I had to get used to these sleep interruptions and sleep when I could with the knowledge… no expectation that I wouldn’t get a full nights sleep for a while.
Good news: it does return! I promise.
Here are some of my best tips on exhaustion and how to prioritize this piece of your mental health in the fourth trimester:
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. I laugh even writing this because I cursed this phrase during my postpartum experience. “How do you sleep when the baby sleeps when the baby only sleeps on you?” I would say in retort. Seriously, though, if the baby goes down early, take advantage and catch up on your z’s. Too many times, I decided to embrace my night-owl self and stay up late into the evening just to get some adult time. While I preach balance, that also means sometimes you take the sleep option. Try it!
- Exercise. Hah. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Exercise is wonderful in so many ways. It gets your blood pumping and wakes you up in the morning, and helps you sleep more soundly later in the night. All of this leads to better rest when all is said and done. Getting off the couch is the first step. Try just stretching or test out a few yoga poses. You’ll thank me later!
- Tag team. My husband and I had these beautiful dreams to take “shifts” in the middle of the night, forgetting that unfortunately my husband doesn’t also produce breastmilk. Even if I pumped him a bottle, I still would wake up crazy engorged (ouch!!), and it ended up not being worth it. This doesn’t mean you can’t still tag-team. For example, my husband would wake up with our son, change his diaper, and bring him to be to eat. When he was done, my husband would (sometimes) put him back down and be in charge from then on. There is something mentally relieving about passing off the duty of primary parent to the other!
If you’ve read my story, you’d know that the first thought in my head when I found out I was pregnant was “omg, my body.” I was arguably in the best shape I’d ever been, and the thought of my body changing not only in the foreseeable future but likely forever was all consuming.
Unlike what others might try to tell you, your body doesn’t just bounce back right away. Or even for a while. For me, with my normal diet (which is moderately health conscious, but I also love cookies) and light exercise, it took me nearly 9 months to get back to pre-baby weight. I also attribute this to my age and genetically my metabolism.
It is neither expected nor typical to “get back to pre-baby weight.”
Regardless of my ability to get my body healthy, I am still left with quite a few stretch marks and some extra skin, as well as saggier and deflated boobs and a scar on my breast from an abscess (thanks, mastitis). My body is permanently changed, and I’m ok with that.
Try these ways to feel more confident about your body:
- Clothing overhaul. Depending on your situation, revamping your wardrobe can help you feel more confident. Whether you want to clear out old clothes that don’t fit or take yourself on a much deserved shopping spree (or both!), setting yourself up for success from the beginning of the day is key. For me, it was putting away all of my maternity clothes and purchasing a few “in-limbo” pieces. These included a lot of breastfeeding-friendly items and comfy loungewear.
- Positive affirmations. I can really easily find myself going down the negative self-talk route. Big no-no! As much as I don’t love my stretch marks or my wider hips, my body made a freaking human. Find some positive things to replace those negative thoughts, like “my stripes mean I’m strong” or “I’m learning to love my new body.” Find more information on negative self-talk here.
Mental Health in the Fourth Trimester
Good luck to you, mama! Not that you need it. You’re going to be great, and with this guide, you’ll be unstoppable.
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