Childbirth brings with it a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Physical exhaustion is inevitable due to round-the-clock infant care, on-demand breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, etc.. Emotional draining happens due to sudden and 180-degree change in life, lack of time for self, managing childcare & professional responsibilities, etc.. Add to that, resetting of hormones postpartum or delivery related complications. A newborn can leave a mother quite overwhelmed, especially emotionally :-|. Baby blues are not that uncommon.
This post is about how a new mother’s emotional health is affected postpartum. Also, how a new mother can take care of emotional upheavals to focus on her and the baby’s well-being.
The emotional health of a new mother
Various factors contribute to the emotional upheaval postpartum. Hormones may play a big part in it. During pregnancy, hormones like Estrogen and Progesterone are at elevated levels, and their levels drop immediately after delivery. Such a sudden drop can lead to hormonal imbalance.
Also, challenges of infant-care, sleep deprivation, can take a toll on mother’s physical health. These and many other factors can affect her emotional well-being.
What is ‘baby blues’ postpartum?
Some women experience a mild form of emotional distress after childbirth manifesting in mood swings, irritability, insomnia etc.. Termed ‘baby blues’ or ‘maternity blues’ , it can be caused due to hormonal changes or childcare related stress. Baby blues typically goes away in a few weeks. But few moms can undergo substantial emotional/behavioural changes in the first year of motherhood. Also, such a persistent emotional torment can lead to Postpartum depression (PPD) .
Few of the common factors that affect the emotional state of a mother postpartum are:
- Hormonal levels restoring/changing after delivery 
- Round-the-clock childcare demands, especially with a cranky/sick baby
- Breastfeeding challenges: Improper latching, supply issues, exhaustion from feeding on demand, physical soreness due to cracked nipples/blocked milk duct/mastitis
- Frequent sleep deprivation
- Uncertainty in day-to-day activities around childcare
- Lack of personal time to: pursue exercise, interests, or even unwind
- Unsolicited social scrutiny on postpartum appearance & parenting skills
- Prospect of possible career disruption or professional setbacks
- Unwanted/unplanned/poorly timed pregnancy
- Medical history of depression
Tackle ‘baby blues’ or emotional stress postpartum
Motherhood brings a whole lot of emotional changes in a woman. She has a new life to nurture. It’s a rich reward indeed. The excitement of a new child is almost unparalleled. However, motherhood also brings unique challenges and physiological changes for a new mother.
Hormones and postpartum emotional distress
Before pregnancy, the ovaries are responsible for the production of hormones like Estrogen and Progesterone. These hormones are vital for the functioning of female reproductive, cardiovascular, nervous system etc. . Estrogen is especially vital for the mental health of a female.
During pregnancy, the placenta has endocrine functions (a.k.a. hormone factory), producing Progesterone and Estrogen amongst other hormones. Their levels are elevated compared to pre-pregnancy. After delivery, once the placenta is delivered, its “endocrine function” ceases immediately. Hence, there is a sudden fall in the Progesterone and Estrogen levels (which also promotes lactation). The ovaries which primarily produced these hormones pre-pregnancy, and were virtually inactive for the last 6 month of pregnancy, may typically take few weeks to go back to producing pre-pregnancy hormones .
Such radical change in hormones, coupled with physical and mental challenges of infant-care, sleep deprivation can take a massive toll on the emotional health of a mother.
Tackling physiological changes postpartum
A mother has no control over the hormonal and other physiological changes happening postpartum. But while waiting for the hormones and physiological changes to settle, a mother can invest to circumvent its effects by taking care of her emotional health. Every experienced mother will advise you to work on your emotional health! It is as important as nutrition and fitness.
Maintaining your emotional health during childcare
Meryl Streep (really?) has said that “Motherhood has a very humanising effect; everything gets reduced to essentials”. A wise mantra to give your best for childcare responsibilities without losing your sanity. But to achieve that, it is very beneficial to prioritise. Also vital to seek help. Please remember, it does take a village to raise a child. Also, train your help when necessary and learn to ignore harmless mistakes.
Babies are a reflection of their mother. Only a happy mother can raise a happy child. Following are a few of the ways, a new mother can do to maintain her emotional-health postpartum:
- Set reasonable goals for childcare/domestic chores
- Ask family members to help with household/childcare chores
- Hire a Help for childcare if no help from family
- Rest when possible; sleep when the child sleeps
- Exercise regularly ; eat a balanced diet*
- Set a daily schedule for you & baby; do not be too strict about it
- Carve out “Me time”; even a few minutes every day is okay
- Recharge yourself: do things you like & can manage around childcare schedule
- Join online/offline mom groups; fellow moms are a great support
- Accept motherhood challenges; don’t take successes & failures too personally
- Ignore social scrutiny if it’s attacking/vicious
- Note: *If possible include Omega-3 sources in your diet 
Childcare gets less overwhelming with time. Or you develop the patience and tricks for it :-). But only a happy and emotionally stable mother can raise a happy and a nurtured child. So it’s important to identify if you are facing ‘baby blues’. And find practical ways to help you restore your emotional health so that you give your best to your child.
Red flags for emotional distress postpartum
Mood swings, feeling anxious/irritated is normal postpartum. However, if you always feel a mix of anxiety, irritation, hopelessness, loneliness, sadness you might be at risk for PPD. Please consult your GYN immediately for advice/treatment.
Tip from moms who have faced emotional distress/PPD: Please talk to close confidantes if you continuously feel low. Talking about your problems won’t make you weak. But, untreated symptoms of emotional distress can lead to PPD/psychosis.
Motherhood, they say, is the most difficult and yet the most rewarding experience of a woman’s life :-). Emotional distress postpartum impacts many mothers. Physiological changes postpartum & various challenges of childcare can affect a new mother’s emotional state. But, such emotional distress is common & treatable; in some cases even preventable.
However, if you’re continually feeling low, tired & depressed, seek medical attention.
It is crucial for a new mother to pay attention to her physical and emotional health. Also, employ ways to make childcare less overwhelming. A mother’s emotional & physical well-being is critical for her baby to thrive.
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