The Challenge of Adjusting to Motherhood and Postnatal Depression

A baby’s birth should be a time of joy, right?  Sometimes it can be a joyful and wondrous experience, but it can also be a time of exhaustion, overwhelm, confusion, anxiety, financial stress and family conflict.  In short, it is a profound and intense time of change, with many strong and mixed emotions.  Motherhood involves developing a whole new set of skills, a completely different lifestyle and being challenged emotionally and psychologically.  It can put strain on our partner and family relationships.  We can lose our sense of self.

What are the adjustment tasks required as a new mother? 
  • Forming an identity as a mother
  • Developing a new set of skills and competence in caring for your baby - settling, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, soothing and calming when baby is crying/upset, learning how to read and respond to baby’s cues appropriately
  • Forming an emotional bond with the baby
  • Renegotiating the couple relationship
  • Establishing adequate support networks

About 30% of women have significant adjustment difficulties.  Sometimes this can turn into postnatal depression.  Approximately 15% of Australian women are affected by postnatal depression and related conditions, such as anxiety.

What factors might lead women to have significant adjustment difficulties?

Any combination of factors can lead to adjustment difficulties, including:
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Medical problems with mum or baby
  • Difficult pregnancy, preterm delivery or childbirth trauma
  • Breastfeeding difficulties
  • Previous perinatal loss
  • Prior fertility problems
  • Previous episodes of depression
  • Own experience of being mothered was problematic or absent
  • History of abuse or neglect in childhood
  • Difficult or absent partner relationship
  • Difficult or intrusive family relationships
  • Poor social support
  • Lack of knowledge or skills in caring for baby
  • Unrealistic expectations about motherhood which puts too much pressure on mothers, like: “Mothering is instinctive.  You will just know what to do.”  “You should be able to do it all on your own without any help from anyone.” “You fall in love with your baby straight away.”  “A good mother wants to be with her child 24/7.”
  • Perfectionistic, worrier or self-critical personality traits

What is postnatal depression?
Postnatal depression (PND) is more than feeling down or the baby blues, which is experienced during the first week after birth.  PND describes more significant or prolonged symptoms of depression that lasts more than 2 weeks and can interfere with the ability to function on a daily basis with normal routines, including caring for a baby.

Common symptoms include:
  • Feelings of sadness, anxiety, panic, anger or loneliness
  • Inability to enjoy anything, including baby
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, failure or guilt
  • Sleep disturbance, even when baby sleeps
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Exhaustion
  • An inability to cope or make decisions
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Feeling of not bonding with baby
  • Distressing or frightening thoughts

Counselling for adjusting to motherhood and postnatal depression:
The transition to motherhood is such an important time for mum and baby.  It's a time when women often need additional support to talk through difficulties, explore options and receive emotional support and guidance so that they can make the transition successfully and find enjoyment in motherhood.  Counselling is focused on improving your wellbeing, reducing your symptoms, developing new skills, changing unhelpful thinking or behaviour patterns, resolving interpersonal difficulties, strengthening the bond and attachment between you and your baby, and improving your confidence as a mother.  Counselling can be a very transformational experience, leaving you more self-aware, confident and in a stronger emotional state. Contact Jill on 0432 745 253 for a confidential chat to find out more about how counselling can help.  Counselling is available by Skype or face-to-face.