Caring for a New Baby Includes Caring for Your Own Mental Well-being

Mother sitting on couch in nursery feeling postpartum depression with baby in her arms.

As a new mom caring for your baby, you may face exhaustion, hormonal challenges and a busy schedule.

Still, it’s important to prioritize your mental health.

While some physical and emotional challenges can be expected after childbirth, conditions such as anxiety, depression and psychosis can be serious. If undiagnosed or untreated, they can lead to heart and other health problems for you and your baby. They may also affect your baby’s sleeping, eating and behavior.

But you can overcome these issues by focusing on your mental well-being.

For one, mental health conditions are often treatable. That’s why regular checkups with your health care professionals are essential. Your provider will screen you for postpartum depression shortly after giving birth, but you can bring it up at any time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. These appointments are a time to discuss concerns and monitor overall wellness.

Additionally, having a network of people in your life such as your partner, family members, friends and other mothers that know the signs of mental health problems is important so that they can support you.

Working together, you — and your baby — can thrive.

What is postpartum depression?

It’s a mood disorder or a type of depression that occurs in moms after childbirth. The condition is common and usually short term. Symptoms are more intense and last longer than just “having a bad day.”

The type and duration of symptoms vary for each woman. They may include:

  • Crying a lot
  • Feeling angry
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in the baby
  • Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
  • Feeling guilt or doubting you can care for your baby

What is postpartum anxiety?

It’s an irrational fear or exaggerated worry that something is wrong after having a baby and becoming a mom. Risk factors include a personal or family history of anxiety, previous pregnancy loss, or other medical or mental health conditions.

Symptoms of anxiety during or after pregnancy include:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that dangerous or bad things will happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness

What is postpartum psychosis?

The condition may involve symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. It occurs in up to 4 new mothers out of every 1,000 births. Though rare, it’s a serious mental illness that usually starts in the first two weeks after having a baby.

Women with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of postpartum psychosis. Symptoms may include:

  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Constant confusion Rapid mood swings (such as hysterically crying, extreme laughter, then sadness)
  • Trying to self-harm or hurt the baby
  • Thinking others will harm you
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Behaving in a reckless or unusual way

More maternal mental health tips

In addition to having professional treatment and a support network, you can:

  • Seek and accept help caring for the baby, doing daily errands or making meals.
  • Maintain overall wellness by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and starting exercise as soon your health care professional approves it.
  • Join a virtual or in-person support group. And check out the American Heart Association’s Maternal Health Support Network. Day or night, this forum is available for moms-to-be and new moms dealing with a pregnancy-related heart condition or stroke. Ask questions, get support and share your journey with other women.
  • Use free resources, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ confidential hotline. It’s accessible by phone or text at 833-9-HELP4MOMS (833-943-5746) in English and Spanish. The hotline isn’t an emergency response line. For a behavioral health crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).

And remember, don’t feel embarrassed or guilty. Mental health conditions can affect any woman. You are not alone – recognizing how you feel, educating yourself and finding the right support can be critical for your overall health and wellbeing.