Being pregnant and giving birth to a child is a huge life transition, for mothers and fathers. There are a mountain of changes to adjust to, some that feel harder than others. Changes to your body, sleep patterns, self identity, relationship with your partner and other loved ones, career, daily life, free time and finances.
There can be a strong expectation that this time of life will be happy and although of course it can be, adjusting to the changes of a newborn can also be unsettling, overwhelming and isolating.
Is it normal to feel like this?
When noticing changes in how they feel and deciding whether to seek help, the question many new parents ask is, “is how I feel normal”?
This answer to this question is a complicated one. It’s a cliche but “what is normal anyway”? Being a parent is such an individual experience. Every baby is different and every parent is different.
Thinking about how you feel in terms of what’s normal often isn’t that helpful when it comes to mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Some more useful questions to ask yourself might be:
- How does how I’m feeling compare to my normal self?
- Is my partner or someone else close to me noticing any changes?
- Am I questioning how I feel on a regular basis?
- Regardless of what’s normal (for me or for others), would it help to have extra support or someone to talk to right now?
- Is how I’m feeling getting in the way of everyday life?
- What might be the impact of not seeking help and waiting this out?
- Are my normal ways of coping still working, or making little difference?
It can be tricky to reach out for help and support. Even when we know we need it. And especially when we are emotionally and physically exhausted.
Barriers to seeking help for new parents
Common reasons that new parents put off seeking help include:
- Believing that unless they have a diagnosable condition like depression or anxiety, they shouldn’t seek help
- Not wanting to acknowledge that they’re not coping
- Concerns about how their mental health will affect their baby
- Feeling embarrassed or ashamed
- Feeling like they don’t have time to seek help, or that it would be selfish
Shame about seeking help
Shame gets in the way of many parents seeking help either soon enough, or at all. The pressure to feel, act, think and look a certain way can lead to people to hide or dampen down how they feel in front of others, increasings feelings of loneliness and feeding shame. Acknowledging how you feel and seeking help is not a sign that you’re not cut out for parenting or that you aren’t a good parent. Being pregnant and taking care of a newborn is a huge life adjustment. It’s bloody hard work and you’re doing you’re best.
Well-meaning advice from others
New parents are often told by well-intentioned family or friends that feeling exhausted, flat or overwhelmed is just part of having a newborn. Or there might be reassurances that once this or that milestone passes, you will feel better. In amongst all of the well-meaning advice it can be challenging to decide for yourself if it’s time to seek help. A general rule of thumb is that if you’ve felt this way for two weeks or more, it’s a good idea to seek help. That said, there’s no reason to even wait out two weeks. When things don’t feel right, they don’t feel right, so why wait?
Diagnosable mental health conditions
While as many as 1 in 5 parents experience postnatal depression and anxiety, keep in mind that you don’t need to have a diagnosable condition to seek help. Being a new parent is tough and seeking help is important regardless of whether you have specific symptoms of a mental health issue.
If you’ve experienced mental health issues in the past (or if you have a family history of mental health issues) it is important to get help as soon as you notice signs or symptoms emerging. Ideally, if you can, it’s even a good idea to develop a prevention plan for taking care of your mental health. Then if signs emerge you can refer to your plan and go from there, without having to think too much about how you will get help.
Trust your gut and take care of yourself
Try to trust that you will know when things aren’t “normal” for you. Go with what your gut says. Taking care of yourself is always important, but even moreso when you’re going through the huge life change of being pregnant and taking care of a newborn.
Options for seeking help
The Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) hotline is an excellent starting point for figuring our your options for seeking help. PANDA have a registry of health professionals who specialise in working with new parents. You can visit PANDA’s website by clicking here or call them on 1300 726 306.
We have two psychologists on our team who work specifically with perinatal mental health and wellbeing. Sharon Prendergast and Pamela Pilkington both have extensive expertise helping new mums and dads. To book an appointment with either of them call our friendly support team on (03) 9376 1958 or click here to make an online booking.
You might also find it helpful to have a chat with your GP. Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible for a Medicare referral to see a psychologist, which can reduce the cost of sessions to $55.