How to Manage your Mental Health as a First-time Parent

Being a first-time parent can be one of the most challenging experiences in our lifetime – I can completely agree with this, and I am a GP! As a new mother, I experienced a range of emotions that I was ashamed of. I felt guilty for feeling anxious, scared, unhappy, unprepared, and overwhelmed by having a new baby, especially since I was a first-time mother in my forties.

On top of that, there was this overwhelming pressure to have the ‘perfect birth’, manage all the ‘firsts’ such as navigating breastfeeding, bonding with your baby, reconfiguring your new ‘family’, understanding the changes and needs of your new baby whilst appearing to be happy- an expectation and assumption that social media and celebrities may project. 

Some mums may experience ‘baby blues’ that is very common, starting in the week after birth and usually stopping by the time your baby is around two weeks old. You may experience symptoms such as feeling emotional and irrational, bursting into tears for no apparent reason, feeling irritable or ‘moody’, and feeling depressed or anxious. I always share with patients that these are all normal post-pregnancy feelings caused by hormone changes as your body gets used to not being pregnant anymore. This can include tiredness which may make these symptoms feel worse. If your symptoms are not improving after a couple of weeks, I would recommend making an appointment with your GP as you may need more support and may be suffering from post-natal depression. 

Tips for managing your mental health after your baby’s arrival

Open up to loved ones and ask for help

Try to be open and honest about how you feel, and ask for help. If you have a partner supporting you, loved ones, family or friends, arrange for help, especially in the first few weeks after the baby is born. With a new baby, parents will have less social time and cannot just pop out to the shops and see friends or family without arranging child care. Your schedule might be busy with breastfeeding in the first few weeks of postpartum, or you may just feel tired. Before the baby arrives, I would recommend trying to arrange some support and adult company. Perhaps explore local baby groups, which can also provide social contact with other parents and much-appreciated ‘adult conversation’!

Get the helping hand of a friend or grandparent the time to get a good night’s sleep

As all parents will tell you, ‘You will never have the same quality and depth of sleep again’! However, I would encourage parents to try and get a good night’s sleep if possible. You can do this by sharing night feeds with your partner, a grandparent, a relative or a friend to stay overnight and help you.

Free yourself from parental guilt

Another important factor we rarely discuss in managing your mental health after having a new baby is parental guilt! It is imperative to believe in yourself as a parent. Be mindful of the things you’re good at and remember that being a good parent doesn’t mean being perfect. Having a break or focusing on yourself by doing things you enjoy will help you feel good, and more able to manage looking after your baby. Most new parents enjoy the new love of being out of the house and being active. So, consider taking the baby out in the buggy, as it great way of lifting your mood. 

This is a new experience for everyone, partners especially have a big part to play (as my husband kept reminding me, and they often get forgotten as most of the focus and wellbeing advice tends to be focused on mum). For partners, I would recommend talking to your partner about any worries, as they may be feeling the same way. If possible try and share the care, as a parent will only know by experiencing staying at home with a baby. This can be just as exhausting as a day at work. To help with bonding and getting to know your new baby, I would encourage some protected time to spend with your partner and your baby – think about what works best for your family. Finally, I cannot emphasise enough, think about ‘me’ time for you and your partner, accept help when offered, and make sure you both get enough breaks as a couple. 

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