As a mother, your life will change after you give birth to your baby, but there are ways to adjust while maintaining your identity.
Bringing a new life into the world is an exciting and rewarding experience, and as a mother, you’re likely to be feeling a whole range of different emotions all at once. The postpartum period lasts for about six to eight weeks, and in this time, it’s not uncommon for new mothers to feel disorientated, anxious and a bit uncertain.
Research shows that nearly half of new mothers feel anxious, and it’s understandable why. The new baby in your life, while a little bundle of joy, is also likely to keep you awake at night, demand most of your attention, and have lots of needs that need to be met. This can take a toll on a new mother, and many find adjusting to this big life change can be challenging.
At Hiccups & Buttercups, we understand that life after the birth of your baby can be overwhelming at times, and in this article, we’ll walk you through:
- Adjusting to life after giving birth
- Common challenges new mothers encounter
- Guidance on maintaining your identity in the light of new motherhood
Adjusting to life after your baby and unhelpful mother myths
While in popular media, many mothers are depicted as transitioning into motherhood with ease, for the most part, that’s not reality, and as a new mother, it’s important to remember that.
When bombarded with unrealistic images and messages around motherhood, it’s easy to feel down or disappointed, and you’re not alone in feeling that way.
A study by Liechty et al. found that 46% feel that “exposure to unrealistic images and messages” led them to experience a “host of negative emotions”, which included:
- self-consciousness about their bodies
- feelings of depression
- frustration and hopelessness when they're unable to lose ‘baby weight' rapidly
It may also be helpful to learn that most mother’s take a while to adjust to their new role as a mother. According to a study by Munchkin, on average, mothers take about four months and 23 days to “adjust to motherhood.” That said, every mother is different, and there is no pressure to conform or try to accelerate this.
Common challenges faced by new mothers
The path of a new mother is not plain-sailing, and it’s likely that with the changes that come with motherhood, you’ll face some challenges, too.
Most parents encounter sleep deprivation during the early stages of their child’s life. Research shows that, on average, new mothers lose an average of 109 minutes of sleep each night. That said, making sure you adhere to good sleep hygiene is a great way to counteract this. Napping when your baby naps, creating a good bedtime routine, and starting sleep training at around six months, can help you overcome your tiredness. Equally, asking for help when you need it will ensure you’re looking after yourself as best you can.
Another challenge of new motherhood can be isolation. Research from Action for Children found that 68% of parents felt “cut off” from friends, colleagues, and family after the birth of their baby. Of course, with shifting from being at work to being at home, changing friend circles, and being too tired to socialise, it can feel lonely. However, talking to someone about your feelings, joining a new mum group, and prioritizing socialisation can help you get out of the cycle of loneliness. Redefining your expectations and being easy on yourself can be really helpful here, too.
Many new mothers struggle with body-image issues following the birth of their baby, too. Stretch marks and extra weight can leave new mothers feeling like they don’t recognise themselves. A study from the Mental Health Foundation found 41% of women felt negative about their post-pregnancy body. It’s important not to feel the pressure to get your pre-baby body back after your pregnancy; after all, you’re going to be busy! Take things slowly; exercise should make you feel better, not more stressed. Wear what makes you feel comfortable, and try not to compare yourself to others. Remember you just gave birth, and that’s incredible. Try learn to love your ‘battle scars.’
At Hiccups & Buttercups, we spoke to Clinical Psychologist Dr Claire Plumbly to get her insight into the challenge of transitioning into motherhood. She said: “All transitions in life have the potential to challenge our pre-existing ways of getting by in the world. We then have to find a modified strategy that feels comfortable and supports our wellbeing. So, for example, a mother with a pre-existing belief such as "if I try hard, I tend to succeed", having a baby who struggles to sleep or eat might make her feel guilty for not trying hard enough (no matter how hard she's tried!). This is a time to consider more flexible beliefs, such as "I can try my best, but the outcome isn't fully within my control.”
Adding: “Having a baby means not only the initial transition to the newborn stage but constant transitions following this as the baby goes through their developmental stages. This means parents have to rethink strategies that worked at previous stages.”
Your identity post-pregnancy
One's identity is made up of a whole range of factors; careers, skills, lifestyle, and relationships, for example. Of course, all of these factors will be thrown into disarray after giving birth as you take on your new identity as a mother. This can leave many mothers feeling a bit lost and as though they’ve lost their identity.
During this time, it’s important to dedicate time for yourself and the relationships in your life, whether romantic or platonic. One purported myth of motherhood is that after having your baby, you have to set aside all your own needs; this isn’t true and is actually harmful.
Break free from this cultural expectation, and make time for yourself. Whether that’s painting, exercising, having a relaxing bath, or meeting friends - set time aside, and have time away from your baby, too.
Embarking on the journey of motherhood can be a special and wonderful time, but it’s important to bear in mind that there will be challenging periods, too. Every mother’s experience is different, and it is of utmost importance that you take care of yourself.
Rest, make sure you’re consuming a nutritious diet, take time for yourself to try to ignore mother myths and societal pressures; you’re amazing, and if you’re feeling challenged by this transition, you will get through it.