Stress and Adjustment

By NCT Doula Beverley Hinton

The process of birth and the transformation of becoming a mother involves monumental psychological and physical upheaval. This is generally experienced as both more joyous and more complicated and overwhelming than the parent imagined, expected or could possibly have anticipated. The most intense experience of their lifetime might be encompassed in caring for their new baby (1). This results in profound alterations in brain function, changing the way the woman thinks and feels. This, along with the fact that mothers are bombarded on social media, newspapers and TV by images of toned, happy women coping marvellously with their baby. Going out, dressing well and meeting good friends, puts a huge amount of stress on the new mother.

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to positive or negative situations in life. It isn’t abnormal or bad, in fact it is a very normal response to the life changing event of having a baby.

The NHS website shows that the symptoms of stress are:-

How you may feel emotionally

How you may feel mentally

  • racing thoughts
  • constant worrying
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions

How you may feel physically

The most important thing to remember is that having a baby is a monumental, life changing event, and stress is almost inevitable – in fact it is normal. When you have your baby, even if it is your fourth, the changes you need to adjust to, both in everyday life, your body and your brain, will make you feel stressed.

The second most important thing is that adjusting to your new life as mum (or mum of more) takes time. In fact, everything involved in having a new baby takes time. Breastfeeding can take time to become established. You might need to get support from a lactation consultant and spend time trying to get breastfeeding right. This is hard and can be stressful. Baby’s don’t sleep at first. It will be some time before you feel you are able to catch up on sleep. This is normal, but again can be very stressful.

As time goes on, the stress of having a new baby will naturally subside as you adjust to your new way of life. However, there are things that you can do to help yourself and encourage adjustment. Some ideas include: –

Get Help – You’re not meant to do this alone. The saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is true. Ask for and accept help and support from family and friends. You could also think of hiring a postnatal doula to come to you two or three times a week to support you with your transition to motherhood. Having someone you trust to talk to and share worries with can really help you feel better.

You Time – Your baby is important, but not more important than you. The job you have just done growing her, birthing her and now caring for her is important and doing it at the same time as adjusting to motherhood is really hard. It is easy to feel like your needs are being pushed into the background, but to help yourself adjust and adapt you need to take time to care for yourself. It is hard to be away from a new baby, so maybe just taking a short nap, or a relaxing bath while someone holds her. Listening to the radio or a podcast while you feed her, or watching a box set as you walk to and fro.

Exercise – Try to get out for a walk once a day at least. Take your baby in a buggy or baby carrier, or leave her at home with someone, its up to you. Maybe you could meet with your antenatal class for a walk, or if you have enjoyed yoga, why not try mum and baby yoga.  Research shows that physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress and depression (NHS website).

Meeting other Mothers – Meeting people who are at a similar point of life with their baby can be really helpful. It’s so reassuring to hear that others haven’t slept, have painful nipples and feel like crying. Social support can normalise the experiences you are having and as they say ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.

Adjustment to any new situation takes a number of weeks to months, and having a baby is no different. Be kind to yourself and make sure you look after yourself while you are travelling through this special and transformative time.

A final note is that if you are feeling overwhelmed with a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood, you can’t find joy in anything you used to enjoy, or have feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or your baby, you might be suffering from postnatal depression. If you are worried about yourself, please phone your midwife or health visitor. Postnatal depression is experienced by 1 in 10 women and as with stress, it is something that given time and support you will be able to work through.

(1) Watson-Genna, C. (2017) Supporting Suckling Skills in Breastfeeding Infants 3rd Ed