'A totally different person': How motherhood changes you and how to navigate it

Signs to differentiate postpartum depression from baby blues, and self-care tips for new mums from a registered counsellor

Midsection of pregnant woman (left) and young mother with daughter (Photo: Getty Images)
Midsection of pregnant woman (left) and young mother with daughter (Photo: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Motherhood can sometimes be daunting and scary. As Ria, a 28-year-old mother of a three-month-old daughter, said, "I became a totally different person after giving birth.

"I wasn't mentally prepared for the sleepless nights which meant waking up every two hours for feeding. I wasn’t prepared for my baby to be fussy and demanding."

From physical and mental fatigue to mood swings and guilt from not feeling like you are good enough, the journey of young motherhood can be challenging.

Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke with Wellness Journey's registered counsellor Lilian Ong, who is also a mother of a teenage daughter, about navigating young motherhood and effective ways of dealing with hormonal changes in a very volatile phase in a woman's life.

The difference between baby blues and postpartum depression

The key difference between baby blues and postpartum depression is that baby blues usually lasts for a short period of one to two weeks. It typically goes off without medical intervention.

"There are huge hormonal changes during pregnancy and the baby's growth. After delivery, there's a huge drop in those hormones. A sign that a woman might be more sensitive to hormonal changes during pregnancy is when they know they have pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) in usual menstrual cycles," said Ong.

Another way to determine if someone is undergoing the blues or depression is to rate the intensity of mood swings. Other signs that clinicians look out for include losing interest in things she used to enjoy doing, inability to sleep and loss in appetite.

As a mother herself, Ong recalled that she suffered from sleep deprivation in the early stages of motherhood, and later realised that caring for her baby had taken a toll on her mental health and relationships.

Refocusing on self-care and family support

Family members may sometimes pay more attention to the newborn than on the new mother, which could lead to mothers feeling left out in social settings. As such, self-care and greater family awareness can help to alleviate feelings of anxiety and gloom.

"A lot of times, people focus on the newborn baby. The mother then feels like 'nobody cares about me anymore after I gave birth'. That can be a real emotional experience that moms have, when all the attention is on baby and nobody bothers about how you're feeling," shared Ong.

Ong also shared that baby blues usually hits once the baby is brought home. Having to deal with everything on their own and trying to adjust to new changes can influence one's state of mind.

Lack of emotional support and understanding during this adjustment period may lead to more lasting mood conditions such as depression and anxiety. Early signs include low mood and having a lot more worries and tension.

Getting the right support and being kind to oneself can help new mother's deal with the stress of pregnancy. Stress can also be eased off by removing expectations that a mother must know everything to be the perfect parent.

"I'm very grateful and lucky to have a solid support system. I really wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for my family's support and encouragement. I think this really helped me to heal and prevented me from having Postpartum depression," said Ria.

Positive affirmation and refrain from social comparison

Ria further shared that stress can also derive from information overload on social media. The tendency for mums to post rosy and beautiful pictures may make other mums feel guilty for complaining about how tiring caring for their newborn is instead of constant overflowing love for the baby.

Comments from relatives also play a part in the mental wellbeing of a new mum. Negative words can influence the mental health of new mums who may perceive that they are not good mothers.

"I didn't expect comments from relatives to have such a huge impact on my feelings, especially negative ones. I know I should take it with a pinch of salt, but it did affect me. I became emotionally distant with those relatives whom have had so much to say," said Ria.

Accept the lack of control and learn from the process

Ong pointed out that it takes time for a new mother to build an understanding of a baby's temperament through observation.

"Each baby is unique. As the baby grows from month to month, what used to work may not work with the passing of time. There's a lot of on the job learning," said Ong.

"Being able to control the outcomes of what we do is totally not applicable when it comes to raising a child, especially in the early stages of their life."

Whilst acknowledging mistakes is important, it does not mean one should bash yourself up when mistakes are made.

"Through parenthood, I learned a lot about how we need to go with the flow. We cannot expect things to turn out the way we want to, that will just give us more stress. We need to ask ourselves: What can we learn from this? How can we grow from it?"

Ong recommends finding a safe space where you can talk about emotions without feeling judged. She also notes the importance of holding on to parts of your identity before birth to keep sane.

Here are three closing tips from Ong on steering young motherhood with a more balanced perspective:

1. Be aware of what helps you to feel better;

2. Know who are your sources of support;

3. Reach out for professional support if you need.