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How do expectations impact my postnatal mental health?

If you’ve had a baby and you’re struggling with a range of emotions, random thoughts or generally feeling low, it could (in part) be influenced by the expectations you (and often society) hold regarding this pivotal phase of life. In this blog post, we'll delve into how post-birth expectations can profoundly impact postnatal mental health and offer insights into how to navigate this delicate period.


The Perfect Mother Myth:

Mum and baby doing yoga: perfect mother myth  and postnatal mental health

Society often paints an unrealistic picture of motherhood, portraying it as a seamless journey filled with moments of bliss and perfection. This myth can lead you to set impossibly high standards for yourself, believing that you should effortlessly juggle your new roles while maintaining a spotless home, physical appearance, and a perpetually content baby. When reality doesn't match these expectations, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and anxiety can arise.


Pressure to "Bounce Back":


The pressure to regain pre-pregnancy physical appearance soon after childbirth is a significant stressor for many new mums. The expectation to quickly lose weight and return to a certain level of fitness can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and body image issues. This pressure can be particularly harmful as the body needs time to heal and recover post-birth and the differences in birthing experience, bodies and circumstances are often overlooked in this ‘bounce back culture.


Woman scrolling on phone: impact of social media on postnatal mental health

Comparisons


Social media platforms inundate us with carefully curated images of seemingly "perfect" motherhood which can contribute to both points above. You may find yourself scrolling through feeds filled with smiling babies, immaculate homes, and seemingly energetic mothers already i the gym, leading to self-comparisons and self-doubt. These comparisons can erode self-esteem and create a distorted perception of reality, ultimately taking a toll on mental health.



Unrealistic Timeframes:


Expecting immediate adjustments and smooth sailing in the postnatal period is unrealistic. If you search on google most information says the postnatal period is 6 weeks which of course is in line with the GP checks. I’m here to say ‘what a load of rubbish’, your body and mind are undergoing the most intense shift they’re likely to ever experience and it absolutely will take you a lot longer than this to recover and adjust. The expectation that you should be ‘back to normal’, ‘having sex’, whatever the focus is on, completely underestimates the time required for physical recovery and emotional adaptation. When reality clashes with these expectations, it can lead to frustration, disappointment, and a sense of failure.


Overall Impact on Postnatal Mental Health:


The cumulative effect of these unrealistic expectations can have a significant impact on postnatal mental health. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation may arise as you struggle to meet unattainable standards. The constant striving for perfection can lead to burnout, exacerbating feelings of overwhelm and helplessness and you might feel it’s hindering the bond between you and your baby which of course is likely to trigger feelings of guilt.


How to navigate these postnatal expectations

Sign with different directions

1. Shift Your Expectations: Try to let go of the "perfect mother" image and embrace imperfection as a part of the journey. Avoid listening to anyone who dictates timelines or makes you feel less than.


2. Practice Self-Compassion: Speak to yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would to a friend. This can be so hard to start and if you imagine that it's someone else saying the kind things to you, it can make it easier


3. Take Control of Your Social Media Exposure: You can control and curate your social media feeds to include authentic and relatable content. This can reduce the negative impact of comparison and help you embrace your own unique journey. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel inadequate.


4. Build a Support Network: More of a long term plan but one you can start at any time and it is certainly never too late. Surround yourself with those who you feel comfortable with, those who build you up, listen to you and support you. It might be family members, friends or professionals. Once you identify your go to people, be as open as you can be with conversations about struggles and emotions.


5. Focus on Self-Care: This is both about your physical and emotional well-being and it could range from giving you body time to recover before starting exercise, to going for a walk so you can feel the sun on your face or wind in your hair. Taking care of yourself is essential for taking care of your baby.


This is just a snapshot of how expectations can impact our motherhood journey. Everyone is unique and so the areas that impact you might be different from someone else. If anything in this blog particularly resonates or you’d like to know more about a certain element, get in touch, I’m always so happy to give further information.




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Claire Judd Postnatal Mental Health Counsellor

Counsellor in Harrogate and Online

Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with new mums and their postnatal mental health. If you’re struggling, get in touch for a free 15 min call to find out how we can work together. You can book online here: https://www.clairejudd.co.uk/contact and can find out more about counselling for postnatal mental health here: www.clairejudd.co.uk.


Follow @therapy.for.mums on Instagram for information, tips and advice.


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