Having your first baby and the subsequent adjustment to parenting roles is a major transitional period. Although very rewarding, many will find the initial adjustment period, and particularly the first year to be difficult. The birth of your first child is likely to result in major lifestyle and emotional changes, including lack of sleep, changes to your values, identities and how you relate to each other due to the new roles and responsibilities. Other changes may include financial and work related changes, potential loss of recreation time, ‘me time’ (well that is well and truly gone), and overall changes to mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes these changes can be made worse by expectations and myths that you (or others around you) may have about the pregnancy, birth, and expectations around the parental roles (who does what), and what motherhood in general ‘should’ look like. For example, if breast feeding is important to you and for whatever reason, you experience difficulty breastfeeding or are unable to breastfeed, this may lead to disappointment and unpleasant negative feelings.
All of these changes can then potentially lead to reduced relationship satisfaction, exhaustion, frustration and increased conflict with your partner as you try to juggle all the new responsibilities and demands of the new role. In Australia, there is data suggesting that almost a quarter of women will experience post natal depression (PND) in the 12 month period following birth (Buist & Bilszta, 2006; Yelland, Sutherland, & Brown, 2010) and it’s not just women!! The incidence of dads getting depressed in the first year following child birth may be as high as 50%, particularly for those whose partners have had PND (Goodman, 2004). Anxiety can also be a problem with about 10% of women experiencing anxiety after giving birth or a combination of anxiety and depression (Austin, Hadzi Pavlovic, Priest, Reilly, Wilhelm et al.,2010). Sometimes this will be the first time you may experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
So what can you do about it? Well the first thing is to talk your partner, your family and/or friends - tell them how you feel and what is going on for you. Sometimes it can help just to talk and at other times you may need to ask for extra help. Many mums will say that they don’t want to inconvenience their friends but sometimes it might just be that you want a friendly ear, you would listen to them if they asked wouldn’t you? Also, if they are offering it usually means that want to help you so why not take them up on it? If on the other hand, you think you may be feeling low or anxious then perhaps it might be good to have a chat to your GP or Child Health Nurse. You may also want to talk to someone about what is happening for you, to get help for you and/or your partner or to get help with overwhelming feelings, sadness or anxiety. As well as talking to your GP, you might also benefit from a visit to a psychologist. I have worked with many women either on their own or with their partners about related parenting issues –helping them navigate the joys and difficulties of the adjustment to parenting. The main thing is to get help.
It’s important to connect and seek help when you are feeling down, alone, overwhelmed, confused and/or frustrated with your new role, so that you can have a more rewarding relationship with your partner and baby. There are also quite a few community organisations that offer support, friendships (e.g., through meeting other mums who are in the same boat), playgroups, education programs, home visiting, family support, parenting programs (for e.g., the Benevolent Society ‘s Early Years Centres on the Gold coast). You can also visit your local Community Child Health clinics where you can drop into various baby clinics or make an appt to see one of the child health nurses to talk about issues you are having with your child (e.g. sleep, breastfeeding). They have wonderful caring child health nurses there that can provide you with support and information about your baby’s development and needs. If you are interested, I’ve listed the phone numbers and websites of the above organisations in case you would like to contact them.
The Benevolent’s Society Early Years Centre, phone number: (07) 56449400
Community Child Health, Child Health Clinic – to make an appointment: (07) 5687 9183 or (07) 5680 9540