Is it normal to be anxious when you have had a baby?

ImageThere’s an article about this going into Mother and Baby magazine soon.  They have asked me to comment. If a new mum was confiding in you, and telling you that she feels really anxious, what would you say to her to reassure her? 

Anxiety is normal after having a baby, don’t worry about it, or fight it.  It’s all part of the crazy but amazing journey that is motherhood. Lots is happening to you physically and emotionally, so it would be strange if you didn’t experience some anxiety along the way.

Physically :  your body has gone through childbirth, and continues to go through dramatic changes, as well as coping with disrupted sleep. It will take some time to adjust, and these adjustments can create anxiety.  Go easy on yourself and grab every opportunity to eat, drink, and rest.

Hormonally : When you have a baby, your levels of prolactin are high – especially if you are breastfeeding.  This is your “mothering” hormone, and is designed to make you more protective of your baby.  As well as making you more loving and putting your baby’s needs first, prolactin can also make you more snappy and anxious.  This anxiety is nature’s way of keeping  you on “look out” and making sure nothing happens to your baby.  It can make you feel like you are going a little crazy, but relax.  It’s only natural!

Emotionally:  You have suddenly taken on a twenty four hour job, with little sleep, no previous experience, and a huge amount of responsibility.  Of course you are more anxious.  Who wouldn’t be? Once again, go easy on yourself, and allow yourself to feel anxious or overwhelmed sometimes. 

Socially:  In some cultures, women are told to rest for 6 weeks after they have had a baby.  She doesn’t do any cooking, cleaning, or exercising.  All food is cooked for her, drinks are brought to her. In our society, it is very different. Women go home after they have had their baby, and are expected to carry on regardless.  The house still needs cleaning, visitors need cups of tea made for them, and you are expected to be up and about quickly, regain your shape, your social life, and your sex life, while looking after a little baby who needs all your time.  This adds pressure to women, and can make it a very anxious time.  Go easy on yourself, and accept every little bit of help that comes your way, or “buy” in help, in the form of a cleaner, a  post natal doula or whatever will take the burden off you.   

How to help yourself: Plan in advance, by getting as much support and help as possible, and ensuring that you have time and space to get used to being a mother.  This isn’t just about you any more, you aren’t resting and eating well for yourself, you are doing so for your baby.  In an airplane, you are told to sort out your own oxygen before helping your children with their oxygen.  It is the same when you are a mother.  Don’t feel guilty for prioritising your needs.  You have to take care of yourself, so that you can then take care of your baby.  A relaxed mum helps to create a relaxed baby. If your needs are to talk to friends, join mother and baby groups.  If your needs are to take a bath alone now and again, ask some-one to have the baby for half an hour.  If your needs are to have a clean house, get a cleaner.  Meet your needs as far as you possibly can. You are much more important now than you were before you had a baby. 

When to see your GP: Anxiety is normal, but it is worth seeking help if you, or some-one else, is worried about you.  If you think you are okay, but others tell you that you are not, then listen to them. Often, we don’t know how bad it is until we are recovered, so it is always worth just talking to some-one. If it is disrupting your life, it is also a good idea to talk to some-one about it.  For example, you are too anxious to leave the house, or you can’t let any-one else hold your baby, or if you are scared that you are going to hurt yourself or the baby, or you are cleaning the house obsessively, or it is affecting your relationships, then talk to your health visitor or GP.  There is nothing to be ashamed of, you are being responsible and taking care of yourself, and others are there to help.

What would you have added, if you had been asked to comment?  Please share.  Sharing always helps. 

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