Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Updated December 2015
Photo: Angela Anderson Photography
Mother’s situation: Baby blues
I was really looking forward to having my baby and being able to be home with him. I expected there to be a period of adjustment, of course, but now four months after my son’s birth, I am still feeling blue. I have no good reason to feel this way because I have a lovely baby, a supportive family and network of friends but I am finding every day a struggle even if I have a good night’s sleep. I often find myself in tears, for instance, if I hear a sad story on the news. Have other new mothers had these prolonged baby blues and how have you coped?
When my first baby was born I literally cried every day for about the first six months. Like you, I felt that I had “nothing to be upset about” and I know that others suspected I had postnatal depression.
It was only when I looked back that I understood that this might have been quite a reasonable response to the huge changes in my life. It was the first time I had ever had responsibility for a baby, I had stopped work, had no family nearby, had had to find a whole new circle of friends as none of mine had babies and were at work all day. Not to mention the completely different pace and demands of being a mother compared to my previous life. I felt wholly out of control.
I spent many months trying to work out what my mothering style was. There was so much advice out there, much of it conflicting, and it took me a long time to give up on being some sort of perfect mother. Years later I met two mothers who had gone to the same baby yoga class as me and we found out that we had all gone home each week and cried because we thought everyone was coping apart from us. So I would encourage you to find, if you can, a supportive group where you can talk about how you are feeling and understand that feeling like this can be normal. I wish I had found La Leche League earlier, as it would have been a great place to share my anxieties and get warm, wise support. Things did get better for me, little by little, and I really hope they will for you too.
Gillian Baxendine, Edinburgh, Scotland
It sounds as if you may be suffering from postnatal depression, which affects many new mothers. Perhaps just knowing this will help you feel less alone. You mention that you have a supportive family and network of friends. Now is the time to call on their support. Confide in them how you are feeling and let them help you seek treatment.
Some people do need drug therapy, but don’t let this put you off seeking treatment because these days most anti-depressants are compatible with breastfeeding. Many mothers are helped by complementary therapies (such as nutritional supplements, exercise, bright light therapy and/or herbs), so you might like to bear that in mind too. Other moms find that psychotherapy is the most helpful treatment.
Although I have not personally experienced the postnatal version, I did suffer two episodes of depression when I was younger, before I had children. On both occasions I found alternatives to drugs most helpful and the second time around, required no drug therapy at all. That was over 15 years ago and I have had no depression since. I hope you, too, will soon be able to put this behind you and feel able to enjoy your life again to the full with your precious baby.
Gwyneth Little, East Lothian, Scotland ￼￼
Like you I struggled. I had a rough pregnancy and had been looking forward to having a baby in my arms at last. I remembered other moms talking about the joy they felt holding their baby for the first time and how they would spend hours just gazing at their newborn. I just wondered what it was all about. I loved my daughter but I never felt that sudden rush of love for her in those early days that many describe.
The days seemed endless and I would literally count down the hours until my husband came home. In fact he didn’t do a full week at work until my daughter was ten weeks old. But I kept going knowing that the tough times would eventually pass.
I was classed as an “at risk” mother. I had a history of depression and anxiety and my mother had suffered with postpartum depression. For me it was about avoiding heading into a deep depression for which I knew medication would be the only answer. So as soon as I recognized that I wasn’t doing too well, I started self-help measures. These were things that had worked before. Not all of them were new mom friendly or practical with a baby in the house.
For me, lots of positive self-talk, or as my grandma used to call it, ”giving herself a talking-to.” When I was struggling, rather than concentrating on everything that was going wrong, I’d tell myself I was doing really well and that this moment would not last forever. I’d leave myself notes on the fridge, “I am getting through this,” “I can cope with today,” “Just take one step at a time.”
I had previously learned to find enjoyment and reward in even the most simple of tasks. People suffering from depression will often talk about how difficult it is even to get out of bed in the morning, let alone get dressed. I would always make myself get up and dressed, putting on some nice clothes.
Say “Well done” to yourself for achieving even the smallest things each day and reward yourself every once in a while with something that you enjoy, such as a bath, some chocolate, a feel-good movie, whatever works for you. I also found exercise really helpful. Just getting out every day and going for a walk really helped, no matter what the weather and it’s child friendly too.
With the arrival of my second daughter, I have found popping my baby in a sling as often as is practical really helpful. It allows me to feel close to her even on the most trying of days.
I don’t know when I started feeling better or when the struggle ended but I do know that it did. The self-help steps aren’t an instant cure but they are lots of little steps along the route to recovery and for me they have always led to a longer lasting recovery.
There seems to be a fine line between feeling low and as if you can’t cope and depression and it also varies from one person to the next. You can try talking to your health care providers about groups for moms like you who are finding things just that little bit too tough. You may find they have other resources on offer. My local team used to come out on home visits just to chat. I hope this might be of some help on your difficult journey.
Louise Bibbings, Shropshire, UK
My heart went out to you when I read your letter. How brave of you to ask for help. I really wish I could help, but all I can do is remind you that you are not alone in your feelings. When we become mothers, all the sad stories on the news become so much more “real.” Suddenly it’s not just a tragic story, but rather a terrible event that is happening to someone else’s child. Would it help if you just congratulated yourself on feeling sad when you hear these stories? It’s a sign that you are much more connected to all of humanity now. All the disasters in the world touch us more now because we don’t just hear the news, but we imagine these events as if they could happen to us.
￼￼I asked my mother recently if she could finally worry about me less now that I’m married with two children and happily settled in my role as a mother. But, no, she told me that she worries more. Now she worries about me as her child and me as a mother.
Perhaps in time you will grow to see these blues as part of what will make you a caring and empathic mum. Our lives change completely when we have our children and they will never change back. You are being very honest about your feelings and perhaps just this simple act of asking other moms for help will put you on the right track. Perhaps a chat with someone qualified in this area, a trained counselor or hypnotherapist might also be an idea?
Siobhan Molloy, Isle of Man, UK
Mother’s new situation: Should I night wean?
My son is 18 months old and still wakes regularly every few hours throughout the night. He is settled, very quickly, by breastfeeding. It is not a huge problem for me when I am in bed, but I would like to have more time in the evening to spend with my husband, to go out occasionally and, most importantly, to get a bit of work done (I am a working mom and work from home). My friends have suggested night weaning but this sounds a bit drastic, especially as I intend to let my son self-wean. I am worried that night weaning would result in his stopping breastfeeding altogether. Has anyone a similar experience or tips to offer? How have other mothers coped?
Please comment below or send your responses and new situations to Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org