For new moms, there’s a certain level of expectation about the things you’ll be saying goodbye to for a while: sleeping, exercising, eating warm meals, and showering round out the list. But the social media reels of moms sleepily sipping cold coffee, groaning over leaky boobs, and stumbling through interrupted workouts are just the tip of the iceberg. A masked glimpse into motherhood that doesn’t share the real state of mental health for moms, especially in the first year.
According to the creators of the PUSH Revolution podcast, Courtney Amerin and Katie Danielson, a doctor and certified nurse midwife team, an expectant mama should be prepping for the postpartum period the same way they do their birth plan. “We see pregnant women and their partners focusing most of their attention on their plan for birth, when in fact, the birth spans just a 24-48 hour period. The postpartum period spans the entire first year,” explains Amerin. It isn’t enough to perfectly design your baby’s nursery and pre-pay for that post-pregnancy gym membership—there’s a whole other level of support needed for the postpartum body and mind.
Soon-to-be parents leaf through pamphlets about the symptoms of postpartum depression, and women are dutifully screened for a predisposition to mental health challenges. But once you’re thrown into the fourth trimester—the three months following birth—recognizing the signs isn’t always black and white. “It isn’t a one-size fits all,” remarks Danielson. “Postpartum mental health challenges don’t just include depression, they also include anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and in rare cases, postpartum psychosis.” Most women feel a shift in their mood one to three days after giving birth. This is commonly referred to as the “baby blues” and typically dissipates after two weeks. In some cases, the feelings of sadness and depression persist for a prolonged period, which is widely known as postpartum depression. According to BetterHelp.com, “One in eight women experience depression within the first six months after delivery.” If we zoom out, it’s undeniable that every woman who becomes a mother will face some degree of mental health challenge. The hormonal changes, identity shift, lack of sleep, and adjustment to caring for a baby provide more than enough reasons to find yourself struggling.
So, let’s focus on filling mama’s cup first. Here is your guide for preparing for your postpartum journey, both in body and mind.
Line Up Talk Therapy
The postpartum experience is often such a trip because two opposing truths exist within the journey. One is that having your new baby earthside is an explosion of love and excitement, while simultaneously, the experience of caring for that baby and the adjustment to motherhood is grueling. There’s never been a better time to talk it out. This invaluable tool can be considered the cornerstone of your postpartum healing process. Making space to have conversations about how you’re feeling can help you process your emotions, navigate birth trauma, and hold you accountable for looking after yourself. Leaning on a reliable and understanding therapist can be a positive outlet for healing. Take it one step further by looping your partner into the therapy mix. Working together with a therapist can give you tools for navigating this new chapter in your lives.
Cultivate Your Circle of Support
This is like building your postpartum A-team. Make a list of the professionals who will carry you through the first year and do the research ahead of time to align tedious details like insurance coverage and contact information. “We suggest posting this list of contacts on your fridge,” says Amerin. “The more readily available they are, the more likely you are to tap into them.” Think therapist, pelvic floor physio, massage therapist, pediatrician, personal trainer, and lactation consultant.
"...remind yourself that getting back on the horse will be gradual."
Heal Your Body, Heal Your Mind
Pregnancy and childbirth are no small feat for the human body, and these experiences are part of an evolution that doesn’t exactly allow for a full return to the body you knew pre-babe. But this doesn't mean you can’t get your mojo back and feel strong again. A hot tip for your mental health when it comes to working out postpartum is to manage your expectations. If you were running marathons and competing at high levels before getting pregnant, remind yourself that getting back on the horse will be gradual. Look into postpartum-specific workouts either in your community or online. Apps like Juna offer workouts designed by postnatal experts and pelvic floor specialists for a safe and healthy recovery after childbirth.
Broach the Big Stuff with Your Partner
No matter how well you know each other, meeting your significant other as a new parent can feel like meeting them for the first time. Get intentional about important conversations before having your baby. Discuss things like sleep deprivation and how you plan to split and share responsibilities. Connect on other important logistics like what each of you needs when it comes to self-care, how you’ll make time for it, and how other responsibilities like cooking and cleaning will be managed when you’re both in a total new-baby fog.
"Becoming a mother is an entire identity shift... Feeling that discomfort or sense of grief over losing your former self is a normal part of the transition."
Make Space for You
Let’s just say it: Caring for a newborn is hard. Becoming a mother is an entire identity shift, and one that you can’t fully prepare yourself for. Feeling that discomfort or sense of grief over losing your former self is a normal part of the transition. Going from a fully autonomous adult who does what they want when they want, to being bound to a baby schedule and looking after a tiny, often unreasonable human, is not always easy to accept. Alexandra Sacks, MD, speaks to this life shift in her TED Talk on matrescence, the transition to motherhood. She goes as far as to liken the transition to puberty and encourages women to treat it as such within their own lives. Making space for that processing and giving yourself time to journal, meditate, and reflect on what these changes mean to you can help you accept the changes.
Build Your Mama Tribe
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But where’s the village that will hold the baby while you shower, nap, or take a yoga class? “Our communities aren’t designed like they used to be,” explain Amerin and Danielson. “We live separately instead of within multi-generational homes, and in these siloed lives, we have less help and experience more isolation.” The good news is that your community can be cultivated. The ability to reach out to a fellow mom who’s going through the exact same thing as you is validating and grounding.
With the supermom stereotype framed as the ultimate goal, we are hardwired to believe that doing things on our own is better and that being exhausted and overwhelmed is a badge of honor instead of a warning sign. For a new mom’s mental health, this couldn’t be more damaging. Instead, rally the troops and relish in leaning on one another as you make your way through the mayhem of new motherhood. Apps like Peanut give women the ability to virtually match with fellow moms in their neighborhoods, and local community spaces often offer play groups and song circles that will connect you with the mom down the street who also can’t get her baby to sleep through the night. Camaraderie has never been sweeter.