In the past, psychologist and co-founder of The Bumpy Road, Belinda Williams has shared her tips for new mums and mums-to-be. This time, she’s got more practical and useful advice for those who are currently navigating their way through motherhood for the first time. Most especially when it comes to dealing with the overwhelming feeling that comes with being a mama and dealing with the reality of what it’s really like to care for a baby day in and day out (spoiler alert: it’s not all sunshine and rainbows like a nappy commercial!). If you’re a new mum read on for your survival guide for the first few months…
What should new mums do if they’re feeling overwhelmed?
It is so important to recognise that you are not alone. Not only do all new mums feel this way, there is most often people in your support network that are very willing to help out. Here are some ways to help manage these challenging feelings:
Set realistic expectations. Things seem to take exponentially longer to complete. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything, instead prioritise what is most important and target your energies here.
Make time for yourself/self care. It’s hard to do but oh-so important! It may be a small activity like an extended bath, body scrub or washing your hair, a coffee up the shops solo or a walk around the block with your partner. Micro moments can be magically restorative.
Avoid isolation. Try to connect with other mums and talk to them about their experience. It can help to see that others are having challenges too and often gives you better perspective on your own experience.
Ask for help. Try to open up to the people close to you and let them know you need help. It is not a time to be a hero and the only person you let down when you push through the pain is yourself.
Often the fantasy of becoming a mum is different to the day to day reality of motherhood and some women may feel a little disillusioned by the experience. What are some ways to deal with this?
Women are often shocked by how consuming and relentless being a parent can be. Each women has a different remedy. This may include:
Look at what it is that you are missing from life before your baby—is it the mental stimulation of work, the relevance beyond the home, the lack of freedom in being able to just walk out the door—maybe all of these? Look for ways that you can reestablish this within your routine as a mother. It may not be in the same form but there is often different opportunities that we have not had to consider before.
Be patient—this adjustment in self concept can take time and is not always pleasant. Try not to make the mistake that challenging feelings mean that things are not going well or that motherhood is not for you. These feelings are common as it is a very stressful and demanding time. If you are worried about how difficult you are finding the transition into motherhood, speak with a professional to navigate these thoughts and feelings.
Make plans—it may be for a holiday, your return to work, a night out with friends. Motherhood is not all or nothing. Eventually you will find a way to weave back in aspects of your life that you enjoyed. Making plans for this can be empowering.
Be selective about what information you are consuming. If you are evaluating your experience of motherhood against Instagram tiles, look elsewhere. This is only a narrow reflection on moments of motherhood and not the gold standard. If it is impacting you negatively then maybe switch off for a while.
Some new mums may miss their old life and the freedom that they had. Is this a normal feeling to have? What are some ways to deal with it? And what should they do if they feel they’re not settling into their new life at all?
I think that this is pretty common. I remember being pretty bewildered when my first child arrived and asking my mum (probably with a few tears running down my face!), “how does anyone get anything done?!”. It is such a sudden and significant shift in pretty much every domain of your life so even if you are ready for it, you want it and it is where you want to be, it is normal to feel very shaken and destabilised by the seismic adjustment that takes place. Talk to others about how you are feeling.
Caring for a newborn is a steep learning curve and some women may start to feel self-doubt about their abilities as as mum at times. What can be done to address this?
I think that all new mothers suffer a crisis in confidence. Firstly everything is new and secondly there is so much conflicting information coming at you even within the hospitals. I think it can be helpful to identify a few trusted people and resources and use that as a starting point. But most commonly women experience the greatest distress when they feel disempowered to trust their own instinct. I am a big advocate of trusting your gut and nowhere seems more natural to do this than when caring for a newborn. If in doubt, then of course, seek advice and do this early. It is often just small adjustments that make the world of difference and help us recover and restore our confidence.
Becoming a new mum often means having to deal with a new identity in some ways as you try and blend the old you and the new you. What can women do if they feel a little lost during this process?
It is exactly that, a process and one that takes time. I think motherhood is a constant time of adjustment and readjustment as our children grow. Very rarely does the learning and changing plateau. This is an experience quite unique to the world of parenthood. There will be parts of your life before children that you no longer connect with and enjoy and there will be parts of life as a mother which you never imagined would bring you joy, but insanely they do. Whilst these changes can be confronting and challenging, it can help to approach it with curiosity rather than judgement. You always have choice even if the options on face value seem more limited to begin with. Try to start out prioritising the things that are most important to you and look at how you can maintain them (perhaps in a different format). Motherhood is a journey not a destination.