Becoming a parent can include a variety of challenges and distress. It’s so important that we take care of ourselves, but often we don’t even know where to start.
Here’s an overview of the symptoms and distress that moms and dads may experience during and after pregnancy.
- Burnout – changes in your normal mood and behaviors due to limited energy, time, and resources. Examples include increased irritability and conflict, short fuse, lack of humor, increased tension in relationships, zoning out on phone or tv, apathy.
- “Mom Guilt” – Worry that you are failing, not meeting expectations, or “not doing enough.”
- “Mom Anxiety”– Fears about your child’s safety.
- Intrusive Thoughts – unwanted thoughts and images of harm that lead to feelings of distress. About 90% of moms and dads experience intrusive thoughts.
- Adjustment Disorders – Emotions of anxiety and depression that result from a stressor or transition and interfere with our normal level of functioning
- Baby Blues – moments of sadness, moodiness, irritability and crying mixed with other moments of relief. Baby Blues impacts the first fourteen days after baby’s birth.
- Depression – a cluster of symptoms that interfere with your functioning. Including symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of energy, loss of motivation to do enjoyable interests, insomnia or excessive sleeping, significant increase or decrease in appetite, restlessness or sluggishness, difficulty concentrating, and may include thoughts of death or the desire to run away. Affects about 15-20% of postpartum moms and 10% of postpartum dads.
- Anxiety – excessive anxiety or worry that is difficult to control, occurs most days, and disrupts your functioning personally, socially, or vocationally. Including symptoms of restlessness, fatigued easily, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and/or disrupted sleep.
- Panic attacks include at least four somatic symptoms of: racing heart, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, chills, numbness, feelings of detachment or unreality, fear of losing control, and/or fear of dying
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – habits, behaviors, and rituals that you do to soothe fear related anxieties
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – traumatic pregnancy or birthing experience that leads to changes in your functioning, memories, thinking and concentration, energy, self-worth, emotions, and sleep
- Bipolar Disorder – experience of depressive and manic episodes. Mania includes heightened levels of energy, activity, and ideas.
- Psychosis – beliefs or perceptions that other people do not experience. This is the most lethal and deadly of all postpartum disorders, potentially leading to suicide or homicide. Affects about .1 % of postpartum moms. Bipolar Disorder is the leading predisposition to postpartum psychosis. Get help immediately if you experience any postpartum psychosis.
Find ways to take care of yourself during this transition (and the rest of life). All transitions require more energy from us. Here are some ideas of ways that you can take care of yourself and restore your energy. Find 1 or 2 that you want to focus on. It works better if it’s a skill that you are familiar with and you know has worked well for you in the past.
Ways we can take care of ourselves
- Acknowledge your predispositions, life changes, and stressors (Life Change Index Scale – http://www.dartmouth.edu/eap/library/lifechangestresstest.pdf)
- Personal or family history of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or trauma
- History of postpartum depression, mood disorders, or hormonal sensitivity
- Increased transitions – new baby, relocation, job changes, death, illness
- Tendency to worry or ruminate; Perfectionism
- Limited support network; Single Parent; Difficult romantic relationship
- HALT – Assess your basic needs before reacting
- Hungry – Eating regular meals. Drink water
- Angry – Address anger and other emotions
- Lonely – Interacting in meaningful relationships
- Tired – Resting and sleeping. Aiming for several hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Trust yourself – listen to your body and stop pushing yourself when you are depleted
- Give yourself permission to slow down and do less; to share the burden with others
- Set limits. Say no or yes, depending upon your needs and self-awareness.
- Ask specifically for what you need – People want to love and support you; they cannot read your mind.
- Take a time out – take a spontaneous or scheduled alone time
- Plan fun activities – calendaring activities gives us something to look forward to
- Exercise – Moving your body relieves stress, improves memory, and helps sleep
- Practice healthy self-talk
- I’m doing the best I can
- It’s ok to make mistakes
- It’s ok to ask for help
- It’s ok to feel this way
- This phase won’t last forever
- Partnership – Reconnect with your spouse and other close friends. Emotional support creates better resiliency and physical recovery.
- Laugh or smile – Laughter decreases stress hormones.
- Regular doctor appointments – Take care of your physical health and screen for hormonal imbalances
- Start counseling
- Address your expectations, guilt, and shame
- Heal your past wounds, trauma, and abuse
- Create your sense of self, identity, confidence
- Schedule time to reflect, breathe, and be intentional
- Allow room for Dad to parent – A supportive husband/father is key to mom’s well-being, and mom’s response is key to dad’s involvement. Allow space for dad to parent differently and make mistakes. https://www.gottman.com/blog/parenting-avoiding-relationship-meltdowns/
- Allow child boredom – Boredom leads to imagination and creativity, develops problem-solving skills, builds confidence, and helps foster new friendships. “Mom Guilt” about not doing enough interferes with this.
- Find your “Optimal level of functioning” and your “Window of Tolerance” – you will be most satisfied in life when you find the right balance in the amount of challenges and boredom that you experience
- Assess and Reassess – Values, commitments, activity, lifestyle. Tools:
- Values Card Sort – http://www.motivationalinterviewing.org/sites/default/files/valuescardsort_0.pdf
- SMART Goals – https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm
- One Page Miracle – https://mybrainfitlife.com/create-focused-written-goals/?utm_content=buffercefad&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Pinterest&utm_campaign=CV_BFL_5_2_15
Investing in your well-being does not mean that you are neglecting your other priorities and responsibilities. Seek a healthy balance in investing in yourself so that you have the energy to invest in others. Parents are better able to manage the challenges with children when they are feeling more rested and balanced.
Remember that your kids will be healthy when you are healthy.