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New mum, feeling overwhelmed

Whether it's your first or fifth, the arrival of a baby usually heralds a settling in period where priorities and expectations are adjusted to your new reality


Posted: 21 June 2007
by Maria Muennich

Mum looking stressed and tired with a baby
Get help to stop yourself getting overwhelmed when you've got a baby

It's very common for new mums to feel overwhelmed, low and even a bit weepy in the first couple of weeks after birth. So common, in fact, that there's actually a name for it, the baby blues. And it's not surprising: You're knackered, you're sore, you're bleeding (whether you had a caesarean or not) and, instead of being able to sleep it all off, you're faced with the 24-hour responsibility of caring for a whole new - and right now very needy - person. While the weepiness and blues should be quite short-lived, it may take a while longer before you can ditch the overwhelmed bit.

Part of the problem for many new mums is the pressure they feel to be the perfect mother who can juggle new baby, household and the rest of the family all with apparent ease: You want to look like a natural. A few mums with 'easy babies' may indeed find that they can manage all-round, but be reassured that most mums find it difficult, if not downright impossible, to meet all their new baby's needs as well as those of the rest of the household. If you're in the majority camp, there are three main things you need to remember to help you pick up your frazzled old self and feel like you can cope again.

It's ok to ask for help

In fact it's not just ok, it's really important that you ask friends and family to muck in. Your first port of call is your partner - he'll need to take on a fair share of the new workload in whatever way makes most sense for you both and there are lots of ways you can make him feel part of the new team. Beyond that there's plenty your family and friends can do besides cooing over your gorgeous baby. See whether you can roster some help with household chores, with the baby, and with your other children if this isn't your first. In the first few days and weeks don't hesitate to limit house guests to those you know will be ready to put the kettle on and pick up a duster, rather than those who will perch on the sofa waiting to be handed a steaming cuppa.

It's important to adjust your priorities

Whether this is your first, second or sixth child, the arrival of a new baby will always require you to rethink your priorities as your time is squeezed. As far as the household is concerned, being a good parent has nothing to do with keeping your house spotless and everyone's clothes smartly ironed, and everything to do with providing a supportive and happy environment. Once you have added a baby into the mix, keeping up the household really is an endless task and, if you ever want to get any sleep at all and stay remotely sane, you'll probably need to relax your standards a little.

If you're going back to work soon after the birth then the pressure to be a 'supermum' is likely to be even greater. How you find a balance between competing priorities of career and family is a very personal thing, and you can't expect to get it right straight off. You might also find that the plans you made before the birth no longer feel right when baby is there: To find the solution that's right for you try to focus on the wants and needs of yourself and your family and, as far as possible, close your mind to what you think others expect of you.

Look after yourself

Being a good parent doesn't mean subordinating all your needs to everyone else's: To be able to look after your baby well you also need to look after yourself. Put getting regular rest ahead of chores like cleaning and ironing, eat well (particularly if you're breastfeeding) and get out of the house for some fresh air and gentle exercise. Why not try taking your baby swimming or even try working out with your baby? Also helpful is to try to give yourself at least one baby-free slot a week where someone else looks after baby, even if only for a short while, while you have some time to yourself. There's research to show that babies help you make new friends, so make a coffee date with other mums.

Once you have adjusted  your own expectations to something more realistic in your new situation, and learnt to disregard any expectations you think outsiders may have, you should begin to feel,  if not on top of things, then able to cope. Of course even the most in-control of parents will probably have spells when they feel overwhelmed and overtired. If you're feeling really very low, to the point where you can't function normally, and it doesn't clear up within a couple of weeks, then you may be suffering from the more serious (and less common) post-natal depression, in which case you need to seek medical support as soon as possible.

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