When a new baby isn’t entirely that bundle of joy you’d expected

We’re sometimes reluctant to talk about what it’s really like to bring a new baby into a family – apart from the acceptance that we’re likely to get a lot less sleep.

Expectations run high and anything that contradicts them can be difficult to process.

As a new parent, you’re letting go of one life and discovering another. This process can take time.

It’s a period of intense change for you, your partner, and your new baby. You learn together what that new ‘normal’ looks like but, meanwhile, it’s important not to judge yourself, nor your partner, if things feel uncomfortable. Be gentle with each other.

One of the biggest changes will be how little time you now have to be a couple. It’s important that you make extra effort to find that time, even if it feels unnecessary or artificial.

The biggest challenge for couples is knowing that what they’re feeling is normal and incredibly common. Try to let go of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ – they’re not helpful. There is no how you should feel, only how you do feel.

For example:

  • A new mum might find herself feeling resentful at her partner’s comparative freedom, especially in those early days and especially if she’s breastfeeding
  • You might resent the attention the new baby is getting and, in turn, feel guilty
  • You might feel confused or fearful that you’re not taking to parenthood as well as you’d expect
  • Instead of feeling supported, you might feel judged by grandparents, other family members or friends
  • Sometimes you might feel incompetent and overwhelmed by all the things you’re expected to know.

What you’re feeling is valid and you should tell your partner. You will probably find that they understand and may even feel the same as you.

What if I think it’s more serious?

Research shows that women in particular experience some form of mental illness post childbirth – 50% of those women have no previous history of mental illness.

You may be tempted to blame yourself and feel guilty for not experiencing the euphoria everyone told you to expect. It isn’t your fault and, with support, you can process your feelings and move forward.

What are the signs we should look out for?

If you’re suffering from postnatal depression, you might relate to the following:

  • Feeling indifferent to your partner and your new baby
  • Feeling irritable or angry for no obvious reason
  • Unable to sleep, even when you have the opportunity
  • Sleeping too much and unable to leave your bed
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or unable to cope
  • Lack of interest in your partner and/or in having sex.

Some of these symptoms, like tiredness, are natural after childbirth. However, if you’re feeling a number of these things, do seek advice from your health visitor or GP.

It’s also important to recognise that if you’re feeling low, you might downplay these feelings or think you aren’t worthy of help. Try to counter this by talking about your concerns with a health professional, even if you think it’s not serious. This way you can be reassured or get the support you need. Remember, too, that people who love you may notice things that you can’t see, so do take notice of friends and family who express their worries.

Keeping a mood diary is a helpful way to track how you feel. Noting things like how much sleep you’ve had, or particular challenges you’re facing, and matching them to your own moods will help you to make sense of your emotions instead of feeling like they’re coming out of nowhere.

Being a new parent can be a wonderful experience. Part of that experience is living through challenges and learning about yourself and your partner – as well as the new life you’ve brought into the world!

If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors about the effects on your relationship from having a new baby, why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.

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