Mental Health For New Parents: Caring for Yourself In The “Fourth Trimester”

Mental Health For New Parents: Caring for Yourself In The “Fourth Trimester”

This is a guest post from Zencare, a website that helps people find their ideal talk therapist.

You’ve heard of adolescence, but what about matresence? A growing body of anthropological research is pointing to the period after birth as a time of profound neurobiological changes – on par with those big changes you remember from early teenage years. [1] [2]

Mommy brain, hormonal fluctuation, baby drain brain – whatever you want to call it, this is a time of intense transition. And no matter how prepared are for baby’s arrival, there are always curveballs – think late night feedings, bouts of colic, and unexpected fevers. These stressors can take a toll on an already (happily!) hectic time. You can’t stop life, but you can take care of yourself to make sure you’re ready to handle what life throws you.  

Here are some ways to make sure you stay on top of your mental health in the postpartum period – especially those first few months after birth, known as the “fourth trimester”!

Before baby is born:

1. Learn about postpartum mental health disorders

Knowing what to look for before you give birth can help you get treatment as soon as you experience symptoms.

Common postpartum mental health challenges include:

  • Baby blues: Highly common, affecting approximately 60-80% of new moms. Symptoms of baby blues are relatively mild and may include crying, feelings of overwhelm, fatigue, and emotional lability.
  • Postpartum depression (PPD): Less common, postpartum depression is estimated to affect between 14-21% of new moms. Women with postpartum depression present with symptoms like depressed moods, weight changes, suicidal and/or harmful thoughts, and intense feelings of worthlessness or guilt. (Learn more about baby blues vs. postpartum depression here.)
  • Postpartum anxiety: Postpartum anxiety is characterized as excessive, uncontrollable, and irrational anxiety in the months after giving birth. Symptoms include racing thoughts, living in a state of perpetual worry, dizzy spells, and highly frequent, seemingly unfounded concerns. About 10% of women develop anxiety in the postpartum period, though the intensity of symptoms will vary.

  • Educate your partner and/or primary support systems as well, so they know what to look for, too!

    2. Figure out your go-to's and support system

    Figuring out your support system before your baby arrives is vital for peace of mind and for navigating the early stages of motherhood. Take this time to begin interviewing potential babysitters, and reach out to friends and family and ask them for help.

    Here are some tips to lay the groundwork:

    • Have a list of  friends, family members, and babysitters at the ready to call when you need a break from baby so you can nap, go to a doctor’s appointment, or get work done
    • Make a calendar to plan monthly date nights with your partner

    Have a list of therapists handy (if you’re not already seeing someone). Just having a name and number can be empowering if you need some mental health support.

    After baby is born:

    3. Take breaks, however, and whenever, you can

    Dr. Terri Bacow, a clinical psychologist in NYC, recommends any type of break – even if it’s just for a few minutes. She suggests sneaking the following moments of respite into recharge:

    • Go into your room, close the door, and watch a bit of your favorite show.
    • Take a shower!
    • Eat a snack – try mindful eating to connect in the moment.
    • Get some fresh air! Go for a short walk (with or without your baby in tow).
    • Take some deep breaths.
    • Listen to a short podcast or brief meditation, such as those on the Sanity & Self app.

    4. Consider joining a new parents group

    “Doing so can stop you from accidentally isolating yourself,” says Dr. Bacow. After all, as relaxing as alone time with your infant can be, it’s also relentless. “Being social is a great way to take care of yourself and make new friends who can provide invaluable social support,” she adds.

    5. Not seeing a therapist? Now’s a great time to start!  

    The postpartum disorders mentioned above in #1 are highly treatable with talk therapy. That said, you don’t need to be experiencing all the symptoms of a postpartum disorder in order to consider seeing a therapist.

    You can see a therapist for:

    • Navigating the life change inherent to new motherhood/parenthood
    • Connecting with your infant
    • Rekindling your romance and/or give new energy to your relationship with your partner
    • Counseling for back-to-work after giving birth

    To make it easier, you can find someone right in your vicinity, or even connect with a therapist who provides remote sessions.

    Prioritize seeing a clinician whom you trust – a critical factor, known as the therapeutic alliance – and who has experience with perinatal conditions similar to yours.

    As they say on airplanes, you must put an oxygen mask on yourself before putting one on your child. Doing so allows you to conserve energy and resources that you can use for parenting for work, other relationships, and – of course – yourself!

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