Understanding the Baby Blues
The transition into parenthood can be a time full of tender and beautiful moments, and it can also be a time of immense difficulty. On social media, we see a lot of those beautiful moments, but we don’t typically see the difficult ones. Many parents are then caught off guard and may even feel isolated and ashamed for the difficulties and alterations in their own mental health that can come with childbirth. While conversations about the beauty are important, it’s also crucial to talk about the difficulties.
About 85% of mothers experience the Baby Blues, which is a period after giving birth where mothers and some fathers experience profound sadness and anxiety. Baby Blues typically lasts 2 weeks to one month as women’s hormone levels slowly return to their baseline. These perinatal hormonal imbalances can often affect a woman’s ability to respond to stress for a variety of biological reasons. On top of the physiological changes, there’s also an unimaginable number of new stressors that new parents may have never dealt with before.
Imagine if you were a lawyer for several decades, you were great at your job and thought of yourself as competent. All of a sudden, you were then thrown into a job as a chef at a high-level restaurant and everyone immediately expected you to know exactly what you were doing and to perform perfectly and instinctually. You may have read some books on cooking, but you find the high paced kitchen overwhelming and can’t always remember what you read when stressful situations arise, yet you feel ashamed for not immediately knowing how to adjust to this completely new career. That seems like a pretty unreasonable expectation for others to put on you and for you to put on yourself. Presumably, you would need a period of someone showing you how to do the job, you’d need support from your partner and friends with the stress of taking on a new career and you’d need time to eventually allow your own personality and creativity to catch up with the learning curve.
It’s not difficult to understand the need for a time of transition in a drastic career change, and yet, we as a society ignore this need for most parents new, especially women; we assume that parenthood and bonding with a new baby just come naturally and easily. In reality, new parents are often overwhelmed by the anxiety of not knowing what their baby needs at first and they need time to learn. Breastfeeding may be incredibly difficult and your baby might never take to it. Contrary to popular opinion on social media, that is okay! Fed is best, any way you can make that happen makes you a superhero whether it’s breastfeeding or formula.
During this transition, relationships may also become strained. Partners often need to re-establish new roles now as co-parents which can take time and can be challenging at first. Some co-parents may find themselves pulling away from each other due to the stress of not sleeping, having less alone time and trying to figure out this new role. This relationship strain can be a particularly harmful consequence because new parents really need support, especially during the period of baby blues.
How can counselling help the Baby Blues?
Relationship counselling can be really helpful during the perinatal period. During pregnancy, new parents can prepare for their shifting roles through the counselling process and determine how to best support each other when their new family member comes along. It can also be helpful to seek/continue relationship counselling after the baby is born for the same reasons.
Similarly, mothers and fathers can also benefit from individual counselling, where they can learn to draw on their personal strengths to develop coping methods and better understand what their emotions are telling them. These skills derived in counselling can help new parents to best support themselves, their partners and their new baby as they embark on this new life transition that is both wonderful and stressful.
It is important to remember the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child.” You don’t have to do all of this on your own and there is so much strength in reaching for help.
This post has been about the Baby Blues, which is different from postpartum depression in terms of length and severity. My next post will address postpartum depression, what to look for and how to find help.
Marcia Moitoso is the one of two new interns at Alongside You. Studying at Adler University she has a keen interest in reproductive mental health and we’re excited to have her on board!