Adjusting to the new reality can be tough both emotionally and physically. All of a sudden there’s this new tiny life to look after. There are many new things to learn and get used to. Sleep is inevitably disrupted. As the baby develops, routines change again and then again. Even for those parents who find the transition relatively straightforward, there can still be times of stress and exhaustion.
The impact of this transition on the emotional and mental wellbeing of new parents can lead to postnatal anxiety and depression.
Expectations of early parenthood versus reality
There are many myths about parenthood. Myths like: parenthood is nothing but joyful; you will bond with your baby instantly; or breastfeeding comes naturally. Sometimes these things turn out to be true, but often they don’t. We know the disparity between these expectations of what it will be like to become a parent and the reality once it happens is often a challenge. The reality can be a shock.
We know many parents blame themselves when things don’t turn out the way they expected. So it can be difficult for them to talk with partners, friends and family about how these changes are affecting their emotional and mental health.
Loss and grief
We know that some new parents experience complex feelings of loss and grief. They are leaving one life behind, and moving into another. They might have experienced loss of income, loss of a career, loss of a sense of freedom or loss of social life. Some people lose the sense of being a couple, or even of just feeling capable.
They might be struggling with their new role and their new identity and sense of themselves. Their role as a parent can become very dominant. And when people expect parents to be feeling nothing but joy, some parents will push away these feelings of loss. This can cause problems down the track.
Challenges faced by new parents
There are many challenges faced by new parents that can affect their emotional and mental wellbeing, including:
- Recovery from birth while caring for a newborn
- Lack of confidence in your ability to understand baby’s needs
- Exhaustion while adapting to a demanding sleep/feed schedule
- Physical demands of breastfeeding – pain associated with latching-on, cracked nipples and mastitis
- Inability to breastfeed
- The demands of running a household while managing your own and the baby’s needs
- Navigating the expectations and advice of family and friends.
We know many new parents also struggle with the way the important relationships in their lives can change and evolve – or even drop away. This can include partners, friends, family and work colleagues. If any of these challenges are negatively affecting your day to day life for more than two weeks, then it’s time to seek support.
Talking about your struggles
Many expecting and new parents find it difficult to share with others – including health professionals – that they’re struggling emotionally.
However it is better that you do. Telling others about your struggles, or admitting you need help and seeking treatment or advice is not a sign of weakness. It shows that you want the best for yourself and your family.