I was so excited to become a mummy. My little girl arrived after what felt like the longest labour (nineteen hours is enough right?!) and cuddling her for the first time was an indescribable joy. She was my little lady and I couldn’t wait to spend a lifetime loving her and helping her learn anything she wanted to know.
In the first conversation with my midwife after her birth she asked me how I was and I gushed about being great.
“Just be aware that on day three, you will probably start crying”, she said.
Eh? Why? My baby made me so happy, why would I cry?
Hormones of course!! And she wasn’t wrong.
Day three post-birth hit and I found myself crying for no reason. We had so many family visitors and I cried on the shoulder of anyone who’d let me. I had had anxiety in the past and reverted to the nauseous feeling where food was a no go, and my emotions had me thinking all sorts. Could I be a good mother? Could I really do this? It was horrid and I feared feeling like that forever. How could I feel anything but elation? What sort of person was I?
I was experiencing baby blues and, although I knew they existed, I had no idea they would take hold the way they did. I was unprepared and it was frightening.
So where did it come from?
Baby blues affect around 70% of all postnatal women and tend to occur around three to four days after you’ve given birth. You’re coming down from a massive hormonal high and you’re going to be super tired. Throw in the fact that your milk is about to arrive throwing your hormone levels all over the place, and you can well see why your brain starts to think this wasn’t all you had planned it to be! Baby blues are your body’s way of dealing with the shock of a situation you’ve not been in before.
Do they last? No, not always. I found that my baby blues cleared off after about four days. With my first littl’un, I spent those four days wondering if I would ever feel myself again and, with my second, I spent the time willing for those four days to be over! I still cried the second time round (there is no way of getting round the exhaustion, I miss sleep so much!) but because I knew I’d probably get the blues, I was ready to push on through it and welcome the sunnier feelings on the other side.
What are the symptoms?
Crying is an obvious response to feeling a bit off, and you may also feel exhausted, a little lost, overwhelmed and unsure of what you’re doing. You might go off your food and sleep may become even harder as your mind overthinks things. You may even feel a little underwhelmed too because pregnancy is over and this scary situation is what you’re left with. All of this is to be expected really – you’ve just taken charge of a tiny little human who can’t do anything for themselves! There’s no manual and no let up, and so at some point you just have way too much to comprehend at once.
How will I cope?
Baby blues are manageable, even if they may not feel it at the time. Accept that those low moments are going to happen and try a few of these things that can help you get through:
Don’t keep it a secret:
This is so important. You might think you are being silly and bothering people, but the more people you tell the easier it is to cope with. Those people then know you may just need an extra hug, or a cup of tea, or half an hour of babysitting so you can have a shower and freshen up. And if you can’t tell a number of close family or friends then pick someone who can then coordinate the rest.
Talk it through:
Every time I felt particularly low I told my husband. I might have just had a fantastic day but still felt off and it was important to me to tell him that that was how I felt so he didn’t think it was anything else. It was as simple as saying ‘I’m feeling low right now’ – acknowledging it helped me get through it and helped him support me.
Cry it out:
Cry hard if it helps! The feelings baby blues conjure up aren’t fun and crying will release stress hormones so they are removed from your body. I cried every day of having baby blues (and plenty after as well!) and in hindsight I found it helped me to realign my thoughts and get on with things. I’d cry it out and move on. So if you feel teary, grab a tissue and let the tears flow.
Remind yourself how great you are:
You just grew and gave birth to a baby – you are amazing! Your body just performed remarkably under strange new circumstances and you are handling it. Remind yourself how impressive that is, because there are few situations which compare.
Cuddle that baby!
Like you need an excuse! Cuddling releases oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone, and when all of your hormone levels are a little haywire it sounds like a winner to flood your body with the good kind. Your little person will thrive with lots of love and cuddles and the warmth and calm those cuddles bring will make you feel a little better to.
Say yes to help:
When people ask (and they will) ‘can I help at all?’ have a list ready! Can they get you some milk and bread in? Can they just hold your baby for a moment so you can stick the washing on? My midwife once said that when people asked she would cheekily tell them to bring round a takeaway! So if people are asking if they can help, let them. Share the burdens of the day and halve the stresses they create.
What if these feelings don’t go away?
For some, baby blues may only happen on one day, or they may last a week. If they go past this and you feel yourself unable to feel anything but low then you need to seek help. You may be suffering from postnatal depression and your GP or health visitor will want to help you get through it. You are not failing as a parent if you seek help – around 1 in 10 women suffer with postnatal depression in the first year after birth, so it is common and a doctor will know how best to help you through it.
Have a look on the NHS website if you need more information.
And for the partners?
Although not spoken about openly, it is common for partners to have just the same feelings. They may have just seen their loved one give birth, or had to deal with complications or changes they weren’t expecting during the birth. Such traumas can be hard to get over in the early days of a new born when there is little time to sit and digest it all. In fact, the same number of men suffer from postnatal depression as women, so the struggles are just as real for them. If this is you then make sure you seek the same help any mum would. You are entitled to it, so speak to your GP or the health visitor when you see them.
So if you feel a little low in the first few weeks after giving birth, take a moment to realise that it is normal, and that you can get help if you need it. Baby blues are often only temporary and looking after yourself as best you can, with help if you can get it, is important. Do not suffer on your own – talk to your health visitor, a GP, or a friend or relative as soon as you can.