Written by Dr Meghna Singhal and published on 07 January 2022.
A mother’s mental health has implications for not only her own well-being but that of her child’s. Read on to see how you can take care of your mental health as a returning-to-work mom
Research has shown that it takes women a full year to recover psychologically from the upheaval of childbirth.
A full year! Let that sink in.
Fortunately for us Indian women, under the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, we are now offered up to six months paid maternity leave to adjust to this life transition.
This is good news for everyone. We know that women who return to work prior to six months after giving birth are at a greater risk of postpartum depression. We also know that a mother’s mental health has implications for not only her own well-being but that of her child’s. Specifically, better maternal mental health contributes to a better mother-baby relationship, which in turn predicts better long-term outcomes for the child.
Considering how important is sound mental health for the new mother, how do we learn to prioritize our mental health as returning-to-work mothers? How do we learn to work through our unpleasant emotional states?
You will no longer be able to see every minute of the day the tiny human being you’ve been with 24/7 up until now. While you pick up your office bag and step out of the door, handing over your baby to the caretaker may feel like a stab in the heart. Separation anxiety is real, and you will feel it much more acutely in the first few days (and weeks) after returning to work.
If your baby starts to wail when you say goodbye or drop him off at a daycare, it’s a good sign. It means that your baby understands you and feels connected to you. It shows that your baby is growing and understanding the world around her.
Here’s how you can make this separation easier for yourself and the baby:
Mommy guilt is real, especially if you’re new at working motherhood. You might feel that you’re unable to do the most important job you’ve ever had, or you might compare yourself to other moms who seem to have it all together, while you’re struggling to get even the most basic things done.
Here’s how you can reserve self-judgment and banish mommy guilt:
Oh, the sheer exhaustion of juggling work, a tiny person, and a household! Fatigue is one of the most common outcomes of new motherhood. Your brain is foggy, you haven’t slept a full night in months, and you constantly feel the pressure to do more. Pressure to get more done -- keep the house clean, feed your family healthy meals, breastfeed your baby and introduce solids successfully, and be a pro at work.
Here’s what you can do to ease off the pressure and beat the fatigue (or at least reduce it):
Spousal support: How your partner can pitch in
Here are some ways in which your partner’s involvement can help support your mental health:
If you’re doing the middle-of-the-night wakeups to feed and burp the baby, enlist your partner’s support to wake up in the morning and handle the baby from 6 am onwards so you can get some extra sleep. Your partner may have a full day of work ahead of him but there is no reason why he can’t take care of the baby for an hour, while he eats breakfast and gets dressed (and enjoy that special one-on-one time with the baby as a bonus).
Share the load with your partner. Discuss with your partner what part of the load he can take; even seemingly small tasks can take up a lot of mental space. Then put up a whiteboard in which each person writes their chores for the week (or day) and ticks them off as they complete it. Or put it on your and your partner’s online calendars as a reminder.
Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Talk to your partner about your feelings and thoughts -- not just stuff about the baby. Tell him that all you’re doing is unloading and are not expecting any solutions or advice from him (unless you are!).
In the first few weeks of childbirth, most new moms feel sad, anxious, tired, and overwhelmed. Called ‘baby blues’, these feelings get better within a few weeks. However, for some women, they don’t get better. Crying spells, mood fluctuating between sadness and irritability, low energy levels that make it difficult to perform day-to-day activities, poor self-confidence and changes in appetite leading to changes in body weight — if these symptoms don’t go away after two weeks or make it hard for you to take care of your baby, it’s called postpartum depression. It is a serious condition and should not be ignored.
It is important to reach out to a mental health practitioner (psychiatrist or psychotherapist) at the earliest if sadness persists for more than two weeks. Over and above that, here are some ways you can navigate your way through PPD:
|Your Action Plan|
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