In speaking about motherhood, the term “adjustment-period” is almost always used. But, what does that even mean? Or look like? Statistics tell us that approximately 80% of women experience “the baby blues” (also known as postpartum blues) during the adjustment period and that 15-20% of women go on to develop something longer lasting, known as a postpartum syndrome. But, how can we tell where we land with our adjustment to motherhood and if we should be seeking additional support?
A useful tip to help guide us, is to start by looking at the DURATION, FREQUENCY and INTENSITY of some of the changes or feelings we are experiencing. How often are we experiencing the feelings? How long are the feelings lasting? And on a scale of 1-10, how strong are we feeling them? This is useful since so many signs and symptoms of the “baby blues” (postpartum blues) and postpartum syndromes (conditions like depression, anxiety, OCD etc.) can look similar on the surface.
The following are some common changes that we can experience during the "adjustment period" of motherhood. Looking at some of these through the duration, frequency and intensity lens is helpful in understanding the “adjustment period” better and educating ourselves as to when we would need to ask for additional support. The list below includes some changes that could be experienced during this phase of life, along with an example of what a healthy adjustment looks like and an example of a red flag to look out for.
Feeling Overwhelmed / Desire to Run and Escape
Healthy: having this feeling sometimes - maybe the baby has been crying non-stop for the day, but once he’s settled, you are able to regain some calmness and no longer feel like running away.
Red Flag: feeling overwhelmed, like it’s never going to get better, and thinking about escaping on more days than not.
Worry and Fear – “Why isn’t he latching?” “Is she breathing?”
Healthy: occasional worry that is temporary, doesn’t last and you are able to control.
Red Flag: repetitive thoughts and worry about how your baby can be harmed, sometimes causing excessive behaviors, like sanitizing bottles or cleaning, on more days than not.
Sleeplessness and Fatigue
Healthy: able to sleep when given the chance. Feeling rested and less tired after having a chance to sleep.
Red Flag: inability to sleep when given the chance and fatigue that doesn’t go away, even when you have rested. Feeling like this most often than not.
Rollercoaster of Emotions (anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, uncertainty)
Healthy: still being able to experience joy and happiness while negative emotions are experienced only moments in the day.
Red Flag: negative feelings that are long-lasting and feel like they’ll never get better, lasting more often than not.
Feelings of Loneliness and Isolation
Healthy: feeling lonely and isolated due to the additional needs of the baby, but still feeling like you want to connect with others.
Red Flag: pulling away from your support system, no longer connecting with people or feeling motivated to do so, on more days than not.
The changes mentioned above are only a few of the many things that a mother could be going through after having a child. The one take away from this information is DURATION, FREQUENCY and INTENSITY. Adjusting to any change can be challenging, but when we no longer feel like ourselves and are experiencing the effects of the stress due to the change more often than not, that is a red flag. I encourage you to listen to that. In the mist of creating a new normal to the changes that can come due to a baby, we can slowly begin to disregard our needs. We can easily rationalize that many other things come before taking care of ourselves. The reality is, that if we do not take care of ourselves and are experiencing a postpartum syndrome that is unresolved, it will, catch up with us and our family – that same family we’ve worked so hard to maintain safe and secure. The good thing is that with additional support, a postpartum syndrome can be overcome. With help, it can get better.