No two people's experience as a new parent is going to look exactly the same, but one thing is for certain: it's going to be stressful. From financial circumstances to where a new family lives, navigating changing family dynamics can be difficult in a variety of ways. That's why people supporting new parents, especially cis partners, should be aware of the signs of stress in a new mom. If it truly does "take a village to raise a baby," then that village should be informed, engaged, and ready to help when necessary.
It can be hard for new moms to admit when they’re exhausted, overwhelmed, or stressed out. There are stigmas associated with postpartum stress and mood disorders that can make it difficult for moms to speak out and ask for the help they need, and since our nation has a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of a mentality, a new mom is likely to associate "help" with a sign of "weakness." That's why it’s important for people who aren't moms to stay aware, be patient, and remain understanding. And while there are different types of stress that can be signs of more serious issues that would require the help of a mental health professional or other postpartum expert, there are also different ways partners can offer the mom in their lives help and comfort.
So with that in mind, here are the five signs of stress in a new mom that partners should look out for:
1. Extreme Lack Of Sleep
We all know that sleepless nights are often synonymous with new mom life. We also know that sometimes it’s nearly impossible to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” like so many people often suggest. But there comes a time when a new mom’s lack of sleep becomes a symptom of something more serious.
Lack of sleep and fatigue are common in new moms, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), so it's only time to worry when that lack of sleep is becoming detrimental. Extreme sleep deprivation can lead to symptoms like dizziness, headaches, and other issues that impact one's ability to parent. If you notice that a new mom is regularly or suddenly unable to complete tasks that they normally could handle, consider finding ways to make sure mom can get a few more hours of sleep, like taking on more parenting responsibilities or chores around the house.
2. Feelings Of Shame & Guilt
Eilis Katherine, postpartum doula and evidence-based birth advocate, tells Romper that new moms "may experience intrusive, repetitive, or troubling thoughts."
"This is especially true if the mother has experienced a traumatic birth," she says.
"Mothers may also experience feelings of hopelessness, they may doubt their abilities as a parent, have trouble bonding with their child, or even regret giving having their child," Katherine says. While these are issues that impact the lives of many new moms, it's something to be on the look out for if those symptoms are getting in the way of mom's ability to care for herself or the baby.
3. When Mom Repeatedly Says She's "Worthless"
'Postpartum isn't forever," Katherine tells me. "So there is no magic number to look for to determine if a mother is out of the woods when it comes to postpartum mood disorders." When a new mom expresses feelings of worthlessness accompanied by "irritability, mood swings, and rage," it's a good idea to be proactive about making sure mom has the resources necessary to heal and recover, Katherine says.
Baby blues, which can last during the first two postpartum weeks, according to researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, include feelings of sadness and tearfulness. So if mom expresses those feelings months after delivery, or they steadily increase instead of decrease, consider helping mom find help.
4. Trouble Concentrating
"Some of the signs and symptoms can be subtle and easy to miss," Katherine tells me. One of those symptoms has to do with concentration. If a new mom's lack of concentration leads to to significant distress or impairment, it's time to find out some ways to help.
"These symptoms are something to worry about anytime they are effecting the mothers' happiness," Katherine says. It's important to remember that many of these symptoms are common amongst new moms, but the time to worry is when there is a deep impact on a mom's daily life. Being forgetful and unable to concentrate on a task happens. We've all been there. But if that inability to concentrate puts mom or baby in danger, it's time to find help.
5. Scary Thoughts About the Baby
Katherine says that feelings of hopelessness, doubting your abilities as a parent, difficulty bonding with your baby, or even feeling some regret about your decision to have a child are typical... but they're fleeting. When these same feelings become intrusive and interfere with a mom's ability to parent or take care of herself, there may be cause for concern.
Postpartum psychosis, a rare postpartum mood disorder that happen to four new mothers out of every 1,000 births, according to the Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women's Health, usually begins in the first two weeks postpartum and can include mom seeing things that aren't there, hearing voices, feeling disoriented or confused, experiencing mood swings, trying to harm herself or her baby, and acting erratically. Again, this is an extremely rare postpartum mood disorder, but it's important to know what to look out for.
"Hiring a postpartum doula is an excellent way to make sure a new mother has the support she needs. As an outsider, the doula can provide an impartial ear and offer evidence-based help and knowledge to the family," Katherine tells me. "Many cook for mother and family, or help with the house work that piles up in those early weeks. If you can’t afford a doula, contact a local doula collective to see if a student doula may be available to support your family at little to no cost."
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.