What mums want you to know about maternal mental health

Saying becoming a new mum is a tricky experience is a massive understatement.

It’s a life-changer. You’re struck with this new, giant responsibility, and have to attempt to juggle this while navigating all the changes to your life and self – plus the hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth.

All this can have a serious effect on new mums’ mental health.

New parents need our help and support – but it can be difficult to know exactly what that looks like.

So, as part of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked mums exactly what they needed from loved ones when their babies arrived – and what they wish people knew about maternal mental health.

Here’s what they said.

Haddy, mum to a 13-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son

‘When I was a new mum, I had a lot of support from my mum, but I still felt ill prepared.

‘The biggest shock was feeling like I had to do it all. At the time, I was worrying about finances, tired from breastfeeding and trying to keep the house tidy constantly.

‘I put way too much pressure on myself to try and get it all done – an impossible task. I was also terrible at asking for help.

‘When I had my son in 2013, because I was self employed, I did not really have a maternity leave, which was another big mistake. I wish I had the opportunity to just rest, and took time off for a couple of months.

‘As a new mum, your hormones are all over the place, and it is a big adjustment from just looking after yourself. So hormonally, I was challenged. My mental health dipped because I would be worrying so much.

‘One moment, I would be ok, the next I would be very, very quiet and go within myself. It felt like a constant battle, but it did not last long, because I have a great support system of family and friends.

‘I wish new mums understand that your life is going to change forever, and you need to give yourself grace. You need to give yourself time and space to adjust and don’t expect to do it all – it’s impossible. Take the time to nurture yourself holistically – emotionally, practically and spiritually.

‘It is not the end of the world if the house is a mess. Rest. And tackle housework one room at a time.

‘I’d also encourage new mums to talk to other new mums – join groups online, go to mother and baby groups and get out of the house if you can. You will find that most new mums are in the same boat, and this in itself can make you feel good.

‘Asking for help is key. It can be the most difficult thing to do, but ask for help, and be specific. “Can you help me to collect some food shopping? Can you help me with a hospital appointment? etc.” Most people are willing to help, but they don’t know how to help.’

Daisy, mum to a four-year-old daughter

‘Reflecting now on my first year of being a new mum – it was hard, and I wish I had asked for help when I was mentally struggling, instead of just putting on a brave face in public and then crying behind closed doors when times got tough.

‘I really struggled for the first 12 months of being a mum. My daughter suffered from really bad colic, and sometimes the tears would go on and on all day until my partner came home.

‘We used to take her for drives in the evening, sometimes for over two hours. It was the only time the crying would stop, and I could catch a breather. We would pull up on the drive sometimes, and the crying would begin all over again.

‘I also put a lot of pressure on myself to breastfeed, and keep up with the “other mums”. I breastfed for three months, and I look back and realise that I felt a lot of failures when I stopped breastfeeding, this was a really difficult turning point that I now wish I hadn’t punished myself for so much. You have to do what is right for you and your baby at the end of the day.

‘It’s only now, three years later, that I look back, and realise that I was struggling mentally with becoming a mummy for the first time, and a lot of that struggling was down to me putting too much pressure on myself, doubting my abilities and trying to keep face.

‘I think more people need to be aware of how sensitive new Mums are to words, and often that is all it is – words. Whether it’s a judgement on social media, at your local playgroup or sometimes from family or friends. It’s best to remember that not all words are helpful.

‘When you become a Mum for the first time, the pressure really is on and it’s all light, cameras and action. It’s okay to offer helpful advice, tips and support – but it is not okay to question a mum’s personal choice/decision.

‘We are all very different people, and that’s what makes the world an interesting place. Karen from the playgroup may bring her children up on a vegan diet, whereas I may just stick a pizza in the oven for my daughter, and that is okay.

‘We don’t have to conform to any particular rules, we just have to shower our little ones with love, security and kindness. We are all really winging it at the end of the day – somebody’s good day is somebody’s bad day.

‘I think people just need to remember that they are only seeing you and your child for one hour out of 24-hour, normally very long, sleep-deprived day.’

Daisy shares her experiences of motherhood on Instagram and through a blog.

Amber*, mum to a two-year-old son

‘I had my son very unexpectedly at age 26 after my copper coil failed. I wasn’t planning on having a baby for a fair while. I was really lonely in the first few months of being a new mum.

‘I wish that people had been more direct with their support. I wish that people would have asked me more about my birth and tried to understand why I might have felt disappointed I hadn’t had the birth I planned for.

‘The main thing I struggled with was loneliness so I wish that people had popped in more for quick visits while respecting the boundaries that I was super tired.

‘I wish I had been able to communicate better that I needed more support – but I felt so much pressure to prove to everyone that I could do it and that I was capable.

‘I think people don’t understand how hard the long days can be on your own. I wish people knew how physically and mentally exhausting it can be – as well as incredibly lonely.’

Laura, mum to three sons aged eight, 11, and 14

‘I wasn’t ready for the overwhelm and the sleep deprivation. I wish someone could have prepared me for that.

‘The loveliest thing anyone ever did for me as a new mum happened when my youngest was born. My friend Eve came to the door with a huge apple cake that she had baked for me, it was still warm. She took a quick peek at the baby and left — she didn’t come inside — so I didn’t have to worry about how messy my house was. I was breastfeeding, and felt hungry all the time. Being nourished in that way meant a lot – making food of any kind for a new mum is a really supportive thing to do.

‘My mental health was definitely more fragile after the birth of each of my babies than at any other time in my life.

‘I found it difficult to remember who I had been, and what I had felt like before the baby arrived.

‘I experienced new motherhood with often wildly contrasting emotions: veering from elated to crushed, energised to exhausted, calm to frantic.

‘When I took my baby out in the sling, I often felt self-conscious, as if everyone was looking at me, but also invisible, as if my strange new role as mother meant I had somehow disappeared.

‘I wish people knew how transformative and all-encompassing motherhood can be. It’s wonderful and joyous and thrilling, but it can also be isolating and confusing.

‘I was lucky enough to build some amazing friendships with other mothers who also had new babies, and there is such solace in knowing that you’re not alone in how you feel.’

Laura’s book, Little Stories Of Your Life, is out now.

Emma, mum to three daughters aged nine, 11, and 13

‘All three of my daughters arrived by C-section so I couldn’t drive anywhere for 6 weeks all three times. I wish, once my husband had returned back to work after paternity leave, that more friends/family checked in with me or asked if I wanted to go somewhere… anywhere!

‘I remember feeling isolated and because I couldn’t drive anywhere, I built up a fear of going out with my baby. I was exhausted and constantly worried so I had no motivation to go out for a walk – I needed some support and encouragement that was judgement-free!

‘I wish people understood that new mums do worry that they are going to get it wrong, that they are going to feel like a failure and that new mums don’t stop thinking five steps ahead.

‘The tiredness is a whole new level – like nothing I had experienced before. Anxiety creeps in and sometimes, we don’t understand that feeling.

‘Most new mums don’t speak up because they are worried what other people will think. It’s all internal overthinking that builds up and up to a point where we believe what our minds tell us. We are good at not showing the worry, exhaustion, feelings because we worry what other people will think of us.’

Emma works as a life coach for mums and a brand and visibility expert for female entrepreneurs.

Corinne, mum to three children aged one, eight, and 11

‘Looking back, I think I would have benefited from being told: “Your baby is going to be fine. But make sure you look after your own health and wellbeing, too. Be exceptionally kind to yourself and do anything you can to make your own life easier in those first few months.”

‘For example, with baby number three, I booked a postnatal massage in advance of giving birth. I knew that kind of investment in my health would be worthwhile. But with baby number one it didn’t occur to me that I should plan my own recovery or invest in myself in that way, it would have seemed extravagant.

‘New mums may be struggling in all kinds of ways and I think it is the job of people in society to make their lives easier. For example, if a new mum is breastfeeding, nobody should ever ever ask her to move. It’s against the law to do this but also extremely upsetting for the mum.

‘When you feel uncomfortable feeding your baby in public, you’re less likely to go out. And when new mums are isolated they’re more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

‘It makes me so angry when people make a silly fuss about breastfeeding in public, which is a perfectly normal and natural thing to do. Newborns can be hungry at any time so mums have to feel comfortable feeding them anywhere, any time, and not feel intimidated or uncomfortable doing so.

‘I wish people understood how important job security is for a new mum who’s chosen to go back to work. Finances can be hard when you’ve had a baby and employers should make sure new mums feel safe and secure in going back to work, if and when they choose to do so.’

Corinne is a company director and author of Parenting Tips Your Mother Didn’t Tell You, out in June this year.

Twin sisters Claire and Laura, mums to a baby each, each 15 months old (born three days apart)

‘We wish people had ignored our polite refusals for help and turned up anyway to do the dishes, hold the baby, cook and clean.

‘What we’ve realised now is the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is not only true, but imperative. We wish someone had said: “To be a good Mum you don’t need to be a martyr or do it all yourself”. If you look at other cultures, women aren’t expected to do it all alone and are instead given time and help to heal and transition into their new identity as a Mum.

‘Despite being identical twins, we had differing experiences of newborn. Laura remained on antidepressants throughout pregnancy, which definitely helped, although she suffered with postpartum rage (which is rarely talked about).

‘Whereas, I (Claire) wasn’t on antidepressants and really suffered with PND. I sought help at four months postpartum and started therapy and antidepressants. This changed everything for me and allowed me to enjoy motherhood much, much more.

‘This is the most vulnerable a woman will ever be and the stresses of newborn can be the perfect storm for mental health issues. “Baby blues” is a reductive and slightly patronising term to use for women who’s world’s have turned upside down in a matter of hours.

‘We need to give women space and support to feel comfortable in voicing the negative as well as the positive emotions that come with having a baby.

‘Yes, it is a wonderful experience and we don’t regret a second of having our babies but it’s also one of life’s biggest challenges. If women were given the postnatal support they deserved, this experience could be a much easier one.’

Claire and Laura write about their lives as new mums on their blog, Twin Perspectives.

Hope, mum-to-be, due in June

‘Being in recovery from an eating disorder, my pregnancy certainly posed challenges. From navigating the foods you can and can’t eat, to my changing body, sitting with this heightened level of uncertainty and at the same time feeling this intense guilt that I was finding things hard.

‘While my eating disorder wasn’t about my body I spent nights lying awake at, feeling my bump grow, ruminating over food, my future, finding myself down a social media rabbit hole at 2am comparing my bump to the bumps of others, with mine never sitting or looking quite right.

‘I think so much of the messaging around pregnancy unintentionally normalises eating disorders.

‘Emotionally what will help me is having space to talk, checking in with me directly, reminding me of my motivations whilst creating a space where I feel safe.

‘Helpful things to say: “I am so proud of you as I know this isn’t easy”, “I am not going anywhere”, “I know it’s hard, but you don’t need everyone to understand how you are feeling”, “how are you feeling about recovery?”

‘Practically it will be about setting boundaries with visits and conversations especially if people start talking about dieting or post-baby bodies. It will be about offering to get food that works for me and respecting what that looks like.’

Hope Virgo is a mental health campaigner and author. Her latest book, You Are Free (Even If You Don’t Feel Like It) is now available for pre-order.

Sebina, mum two three boys aged six months, two, and four

‘I struggled hugely during my pregnancies. I suffered from nausea and fatigue, which just made me so miserable and shifted my moods.

‘I suffered in silence for about six months during my first pregnancy but thankfully my parents are so amazing when it comes to being open and mental health so they were able to work out what was going on and step in to support me.

‘As a result I have been very vocal about my mental health difficulties during my second and third pregnancies across my social media platforms, in particular, with my Instagram and YouTube communities.

‘There were so many times I wished I was dead and I never want any other woman to feel like that and think it’s not normal to be feeling down during pregnancy or post-pregnancy. No one should feel like they’re the only one feeling that way.

‘Motherhood is hard, especially when you’re dealing with social and work pressures, and I think the vast majority of women struggle mentally.

‘There are moments where you wonder why you had kids or wish you could go back to the days where you didn’t have the responsibilities of a family.

‘In our society we are told we should be so grateful that we can have kids and that is a blessing and whilst that is 100% true, that doesn’t mean we should share the reality of how rough it can feel.

‘If you have friends with a new baby, go round and check on them – take them food; watch the baby so they can shower or eat their lunch in peace.

‘Don’t ask them to come and meet you for lunch, go to them and see what you can do to help.’

Sebina is the founder of Irum Atlas and shares her experiences of motherhood on Instagram.

Rebecca, mum to four children aged four, five, seven, and 10

‘It used to upset me when people would turn up unannounced to see the new baby, never seemed interested in me, and were happy to wake the baby.

‘I wish they had made arrangements to come round and offered to do some housework, watch the baby/children so I could have a bath or a nap or cooked dinner, something useful rather than just outfits for the baby or flowers.

‘After my eldest was born, I cried non stop for about six hours because she cried when she was handed to me and I was convinced she hated me.

‘I think it’s really important to ask what new parents want rather than just assume.

‘Being a parent is hard and I think we all need to find our way without judgement and people constantly giving advice on everything we do, because it makes parents feel worse.

‘There’s a lot of stigma still around mental health and parents need to feel like they are being supported and not like they are doing everything wrong just because it’s different to how other people choose to do it.’

Rebecca is a family reconnection specialist and will soon be launching subscription boxes for busy mums.

Kirsty, mum to a son, five, and a daughter, nine

‘Both my children were premature – Ella was born at 32 weeks and Leo at 36 weeks. Ella spent her first month in Special Care and Leo 10 days, so I didn’t have a “normal” experience of new motherhood.

‘With Ella, people were generally very supportive practically- making meals for instance, but were less supportive emotionally. Everyone would ask how the baby was, but seldom asked how I really was.

‘My mental health suffered. I had extreme feelings of guilt for giving birth too early and I felt a huge failure – like I had fallen at the first post of motherhood – keeping my baby safe for nine months.

‘I also felt jealous of other mums at baby groups whose baby’s were all hitting their milestones, so I shunned a lot of them. I eventually spoke to my GP when I started getting really anxious and having panic attacks and was diagnosed with Postnatal depression and PTSD.

‘After Leo, people were much more supportive emotionally as after he was home I was back in ICU with sepsis and then two weeks later I had further postpartum complications, so I barely saw the kids for six weeks.

‘I think it is so important that people understand that postnatal depression is not just the “baby blues”. It is an illness and it needs to be treated. It is important that new mums feel able to talk about how they are feeling and not feel embarrassed or worried about reaching out for help.

‘I feel strongly that the possibility of a premature birth should be discussed at antenatal classes, so that if it happens, mums are better prepared.’

Kirsty is an early years and parenting consultant.

Sarah, mum to two girls aged six and eight

‘I hadn’t really been around many children before I had my girls. It was all very alien to me especially with my first.

‘I think the biggest thing I wish someone had said to me, “it is all normal what you are feeling; be kind to yourself – put your needs first; and then just listen and trust that you know what is best for your child”.

‘I got a lot of advice at the time; I got so much advice I didn’t know what the right thing was half the time.

‘I never felt understood or truly heard. It felt a little bit like lip service.

‘I had gone to NCT classes to get a better understanding of what it was like to be a parent; and while I met some lovely people, I always felt like they had it together (my kids sleeping through the night – mine wasn’t etc) and I was the one who seemed to be struggling.

‘What I also realised is NCT really only teaches you how to give birth; it doesn’t really prepare you for the truth of parenting – which is learning to juggle your needs and their needs, and having infinite patience!

‘I had postnatal depression. I didn’t know it at the time. It was extremely difficult to be this brand new person – a mum! – while looking after a new born.

‘After a traumatic birth, C-section; injections in the legs for a week and trying to feed her without making her cry it was hard at first. But then you watched them sleeping and it all melted away.

‘I remember just beating myself up constantly that I wasn’t doing something right; I just wasn’t very confident and felt surrounded by people who could change a nappy with one hand; who knew exactly what the cries meant; and the type of hold required to soothe her. I felt hugely judged, and I hated when someone else seemed to parent my baby better than me.

‘I look back now; and I know I put too much pressure on myself to do everything perfectly. I put so much pressure on myself to hold down my job and be a good mummy to my girls. I cracked under the strain I put myself under.

‘I wish people would keep it real. It is hard becoming a whole new person – becoming mummy. The support is hugely lacking from traditional healthcare settings for new mums;

‘I think I got asked “are you thinking of harming yourself or the baby” in the first few days of giving birth and that was the extent of the support I received. It was only when I was on the floor having panic attacks that someone helped me.

‘I think new mums would appreciate being asked what they need. Is it someone to look after the baby while we shower and go for a walk? Is it having someone show up and tell you that all the dark thoughts will pass? Is it literally just sleep and nourishing food that you need?

‘Finding a support network would be hugely beneficial; someone to talk through all the questions; to support you through the transition from pregnant person to mummy.’

Natalie, mum to two sons aged 12 and 15

‘Thinking back to when my first son was born, I felt totally out of my depth and while I was used to running massive teams with big budgets, being responsible for a tiny life was overwhelming.

‘I think that someone saying, “you can do this but take it one step at a time” would have helped. Putting too much pressure on yourself isn’t going to help your mental wellbeing and it can take away some of the joy of what is such a special time.

‘To be honest, my experience of new motherhood wasn’t great. In the time between finding out I was pregnant and having my first son we got married, moved out of London, decorated a whole house and left my TV job.

‘While I read all the books and went to classes, nothing really prepared me for being a mum and before long I was feeling exhausted and anxious.

‘At four months I was diagnosed with PND and finally admitted that I needed to slow down – not my strong point. I started to take medication, my GP was amazing, as was my husband, and as I made new friends and relaxed, things got better.

‘I think that, as with so many things, we think we have to do it all, and I know I have a tendency to do that, but sometimes you have to stop and look at what’s important.

‘It is ok not to be ok! Life is busy, there is massive pressure on us all and the idea that you have a baby and all is well, just isn’t realistic. I love my sons and we have the most amazing bond but I am the first to admit that I needed support at the start to find my feet and feel confident.

‘I want to say to other new mums: Don’t believe the squares of IG, those are the highlights and not the moments when you are so tired you want to cry, have sick on your shirt and the baby won’t stop crying.

‘You can do this – you really can.’

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