Whether you’re becoming a mom for the first time or the fourth, the days and weeks immediately following your baby’s birth can be as overwhelming as they are joyful and exciting.
The transition from pregnancy to parenthood is a major life adjustment — both physically and emotionally. During your baby’s first few days of life, it’s normal to feel emotional highs and lows, something commonly referred to as the “baby blues.”
With the baby blues, you might feel happy one minute and tearful or overwhelmed the next. You might find yourself feeling angry, sad, irritable, discouraged or moody. Feeling this way doesn’t mean that you’re a “bad” mother or that you don’t love your baby.
“As pediatricians, we encourage mothers to voice concerns about their mood at their baby’s checkups,” said Dr. Jennifer Burkam, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Green. “While most women follow up with their doctor 1 to 2 months postpartum, the infant has multiple appointments before then. Your pediatrician can provide you with valuable community resources to help you feel better and get help, if necessary.”
According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to 80% of women experience the baby blues.
These mood swings are believed to be caused by hormone changes that happen in a woman’s body after she gives birth. Levels of estrogen and progesterone needed during pregnancy suddenly drop after delivery, causing shifts in mood. These female hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels within a week or so.
Other factors — like fatigue and sleep deprivation, for example — also can contribute to these feelings. A newborn brings special demands on a mother’s time, attention and energy. For first-time mothers, there can be lots to learn about meeting the baby’s most basic needs, like sleeping, feeding, bathing and soothing. There are lots of new routines to establish.
The baby’s sleeping, waking and feeding schedules can make it hard for a new mom to get the sleep and rest required to help handle all these new stresses and responsibilities. And without a good night’s sleep, even small things can seem overwhelming.
Also, a woman’s role and responsibilities may change quite a bit when she becomes a new mother, which can add stress. It can take time to adjust — even if she felt prepared for the change.
Fortunately, the baby blues usually only last for a few days or weeks, and usually stop on their own without medical treatment.
“The best way moms can feel better from postpartum blues is to take care of themselves,” said Dr. Burkam. “A newborn has many demands, but it is important that the mother’s health is a priority, as well.”
Here are some other things that can help you feel better:
- Accept help, especially in the first days and weeks after birth.
- Let family and friends help with errands, food shopping, household chores or entertaining your other children.
- Let someone prepare a meal or watch your baby while you relax with a shower, bath or a nap.
- Get plenty of rest and eat nutritious foods.
- Talk to loved ones or other new mothers who can help you feel supported and remind you that you’re not alone.
“It can be frustrating when those available to help may not be able to do tasks exactly as the mother would like them to be done,” said Dr. Burkam. “However, keep in mind the consequences to an overwhelmed mom’s energy, mood and health can be harmful.”
If the baby blues last longer than a week or two, or if symptoms become worse, talk to your doctor to discuss whether postpartum depression may be the cause of your emotional lows.