Maintaining your Mental Health as a New Parent
Whether you have just given birth to a new little family member, you are a partner to someone who has, you’ve adopted, or you’re fostering, being a new parent/guardian can be all kinds of stressful, intimidating, beautiful, and chaotic.
As you learn how to take care of the needs of a little human for the first time, it can be easy to think of your own mental health as the least of your concerns.
Mental health concerns or new mental illness symptoms are common in new parents, especially if they have just given birth. Postpartum Depression is not something that new parents should have to experience alone. Similarly, partners of someone who has given birth are also not exempt from experiencing depression or other mental health concerns.
Below, we’ve listed some tips for how you can be mindful about mental wellness as you continue this journey of parenthood.
Remind yourself who you are
New parents can often feel like they have lost their identity or a part of themselves once they have had their baby. This is a common feeling, and it does not mean that you are a bad parent if you feel this way! Just as your baby will one day be their own person, you are your own person, too. Not every part of a parent’s previous life experience can be regained after having a baby, but some parts of it can certainly be maintained. If you are feeling like you miss a part of your previous life, think back on what it is that you miss most. How many of those things could you re-incorporate, perhaps even in a new way? Is it spending time with friends? Is it having time to do a personal hobby (reading, painting, running, etc.)? Ask yourself which of these activities you miss doing could still be present in your life. Which of them could you still do with your little one by your side, and which you would like to do, but can’t do with your baby? Talk to your partner or other members of your social support system about if they would be willing to help you form a plan to have time to yourself to do the things that feel like they remind you who you are.
In the meantime, short activities that don’t require much preparation like meditation, reading, breathing exercises, and listening to your favorite music can help you feel connected to who you are without the long time commitment.
Finding community for yourself
Social ties have been shown to be extremely important for parents feeling a sense of support/community, especially new parents. While it is important to spend time with your family and the ones you love, it is also completely valid to recognize your needs for socialization outside of your immediate family. If possible, consider scheduling a short time you can get together with a friend for a cup of coffee or lunch. Seek out groups of people with similar identities or interests to you (these can, but do not have to be, groups related to your identity as a new parent). Meetup.com is a common website people use to discover all kinds of local groups/events that are focused on a specialized interest. Super interested in chess, historical paintings, video games, baking, screenwriting, or the latest tech? There’s probably a group for that! Meetup is not a place where you must commit to one group for a long period of time. Some groups just have single events that do not repeat. Consider searching for groups that focus on some of your personal interests. If you don’t enjoy your first time, there’s no need to keep attending. Dedicate your energy to finding a group of people that feel good to you. Some of these events may even be things that you can bring your little one along to.
Finding community with your baby and partner
It is okay to miss the things you did before you were a parent. It is okay to feel like you have lost a part of your life, and it is okay to feel a sense of grief about that loss. However, it can also be beneficial to embrace the new identity you have as new parents. Connect with your partner. You are the only ones going through this together. Just as you may feel a sense of loss about your previous self, you will also have many unexpected joys and discoveries as a parent that you had no idea about before this baby came into your life. Embracing this new part of you that is a parent could look like:
- Attending a social group for parents with their new babies
- Taking your baby (once they are several months old) to socialize with other babies
- Attending an event for new parents with just you, or for you and your partner
- Seeking out community ties in your local support resources like religious organizations (if that applies to you), parks, community centers, libraries, and more
Explore evidence-based treatment with a professional
While all of the tips above may help you improve or maintain your mental health as a new parent, it is normal to still need more support. Parents, especially the parents who have just given birth (as opposed to adoptive, foster, or non-birthing parents), are at risk for postpartum depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns specifically in the weeks or months after birth. However, even parents who did not give birth can experience postpartum depression. Whether you gave birth to the little one or not, postpartum depression is a possible risk. It is okay and normal to need extra support. If you are feeling concerned about your mental health, and especially if you feel like you or your family members are at risk, it is important to reach out to a professional that can help. For non-urgent concerns, you can contact a medical professional like your OB/GYN, family doctor, nurse practitioner, midwife, or even your child’s pediatrician to discuss what might be the best plan to improve your mental health. Your medical provider will have knowledge (or be able to direct you to someone who has the knowledge) about what the best treatment, backed by evidence and research, is best for you in terms of improving your mental health. For urgent concerns, hotlines like https://mentalhealthhotline.org and https://988lifeline.org/ are available to connect you with resources for immediate response. If you are able and comfortable, emergency rooms or calling 911 may also be an option for you or your family members if they/you seem to be at risk.
Feeling like your mental health has declined or feeling a sense of lost identity as a parent is common, and you are not alone. While it might be tempting to put your own needs “on the back burner” so that you can dedicate all of your energy to your new baby, taking care of your mind and body can help you be a better parent. Show yourself the love and care that you deserve by being intentional and proactive about your mental health as you explore new parenthood.