The first few months of motherhood is a rollercoaster ride which nothing can prepare you for.

For many women it can be challenging, isolating and emotionally complicated.

And it can be hard for women to talk to others if they’re struggling, because of the idea that this should be one of the happiest times of their lives.

As part of Maternal Mental Health Week, which runs until 5 May, some of our members have shared their messages for new mums to help them know they’re not alone and that it’s important to reach out for support if they need it.

Natasha Page, a therapist based in Nottingham, says: “Many new mums struggle with the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a new baby while also trying to manage their own needs and expectations. It's common for them to feel guilt or inadequacy when they can't "do it all," and part of my role is to help them navigate these feelings and find a balance that works for them.”

Separate the relationship with your baby from your relationship with this stage of motherhood

“There’s a societal expectation that women will enjoy early motherhood,” says Sarah Wheatley, an Edinburgh-based therapist.

 “That can make mothers feel guilty or ashamed if that isn’t how they feel (especially if they have had difficulties conceiving or keeping the pregnancy).

“Since we tend to avoid talking to people about how we feel when we’re ashamed, this is a double whammy because it means that new mums are even less likely to talk about how they feel, and increases their isolation.”

She advises: “It can be helpful to separate the relationship with your baby from your relationship with this stage of motherhood – they are not the same! You can love your baby and be grateful for them, without loving being a mother at this stage – the two can be separate. Knowing this can make it easier not to feel ashamed, which can make it easier to talk with people around you.”

Remember the idea that ‘mums just know’ is a lie

“We have this idea that ‘mums just know’, which is a complete lie,” adds Sarah.

Women don’t ‘just know’ any more than men do, it’s just that women are often given more responsibility for knowing what a baby needs.

She says: “This ‘knowing’ is something that is learnt over time – through compassionate support, relevant information, learning from mistakes and observing the baby (all things that men can do as well).

“But because mums have often absorbed this idea that they ‘should know’ how to look after their baby, they can feel as though they are failing if they don’t know what their baby needs at any point.”

Foster a sense of flexibility and lean into the chaos

 “For clients who have spent most of their adult life being able to have a sense of control, the experience of becoming a new mum can completely erode all sense of control,” says Lara Waycot, a therapist and coach based in London.

“If you're washing bottles and the baby suddenly wakes, you stop. If you planned your day meticulously around their nap schedule but the postie wakes them early and disrupts the rest of the day, what do you do?” 

Her top tip is to try and foster a sense of flexibility.

“Lean into the chaos,” she says. “Think of routines as a guide to support you rather than a strict agenda. Flexible thinking can help to reduce the pressure you put on yourself and feelings of anxiety or low mood.”

She also advises mums to think flexibly and avoid words like never, always, should and shouldn’t.  

Wait until you’re less sleep deprived to have constructive conversations

Sarah says: “Babies often have an impact on relationships – not just couple relationships but also relationships within the family, friendships and even work relationships. However, because this often isn’t expected or can’t be predicted, it can be a source of real pain for new mums.”

She recommends that new mums try not to have conversations about these relationships until they’re less sleep deprived “so that they can have the best chance of having constructive conversations if necessary.”

She also adds: “It can also be helpful to gently take a bit of space from some relationships, if they’re feeling hard, to give you both time to adjust to the fact that your baby is now part of things for you.

“Many relationships will change to accommodate the baby, but some won’t, and that can be very upsetting. If that’s the case, it can be helpful to speak with a therapist to help you move through the feelings,” she concludes.

Natasha adds that issues caused by sleep deprivation often come up in the therapy room.

“I often find myself working with these mothers to develop strategies for better sleep hygiene, coping mechanisms for fatigue, and techniques for managing stress and anxiety that can be exacerbated by lack of sleep,” she says.

Know that almost none of the women who have intrusive thoughts about their baby act on them

Some 91% of mothers will have intrusive and upsetting thoughts about their baby during pregnancy or after the birth, according to 2011 research by Kleinman and Wenzel.

But Sarah says because we’re so scared of talking about these thoughts, many women don’t realise how common they are or that almost none of the women who have them act on them.

Sarah says: “These thoughts are deeply distressing and can really interfere with how you feel about yourself as a mum. Knowing that you are not going to act on these thoughts, but that they are part of the experience of being a mother for many people, can help you feel more able to either put them aside, or feel more able to seek help if necessary.”

Bring others into the process of what needs to be done

Lara says that she find women often struggle during this period as there are so many different things to think about and do.

“A common complaint is brain fog due to having so many 'tabs open',” she says.

“The sheer volume of things to consider which vary in importance, size and urgency can create a general sense of overwhelm.”

Lara recommends not just delegating tasks, but fully bringing people in the process of what needs to be done.   


To find a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you visit our Therapy directory.