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New parenthood is often lovely, sometimes lonely

By The Health News Team | June 10, 2024
Sad woman with sleeping baby.

Although motherhood can bring immense joy, a child’s birth can also bring stress and intense feelings of overwhelm and detachment. The period after having a baby, known as the postnatal period, can be very isolating.

According to the American Medical Association, 51% of mothers in the U.S. with young children feel serious loneliness, which is increasingly seen as a risk factor for depression. For some women, these feelings contribute to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).

Pregnancy and the postnatal period constitute major life changes that can impact all aspects of a woman’s life,” says Sandra Reynaga, a Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital licensed marriage and family therapist with Sharp’s Maternal Mental Health Program. “Loneliness plays a primary role in perinatal depression, as does feeling disconnected or unsupported.”

There are many reasons why the time period after having a baby can feel isolating:

Perceived or actual lack of support.

Some women lack child care or general support due to their partner working full time or not having a partner. Many women also feel like they are left to care for their babies alone since they are often viewed as the primary caregiver. There may also be a lack of perceived and actual emotional support due to physical, cultural or geographic (where they live) isolation.

Changes in relationships, both with a partner and themselves.

Everyone takes time to adjust. A woman’s relationships, especially with her partner, undergo a transition in the perinatal period, which may result in conflict or a breakdown in the relationship. Many women also feel disconnected from their former self, which can cause difficulties in family relationships and bonds with others.

Changes in social networks.

Typically, there is reduced social connection or perceived limited social contact in the perinatal period, which can cause loneliness and also lead women to make comparisons between themselves and how they think — or have been led to think — mothers should look, act and feel. Feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm can also make it difficult to find energy to socialize.

Feelings of loss related to their pre-child identity.

Mothers are often confined to their homes with their babies, isolated both physically and mentally from the wider world and disconnected from their past lives and social networks. They may also feel that their role is changing in the workforce.

Pressure to “do it all.”

In addition to many mothers feeling like they cannot be away from their child, it’s common to undergo constant comparisons with other moms. This pressure to do everything can come from themselves, partners, other mothers or the greater expectations and examples of motherhood.

Differences in social circumstances.

Experiences of new mothers may also be affected by imbalances in social, economic and health status. Additionally, the wider stigma — a negative and inaccurate belief about something — around mental health difficulties in some cultures could increase isolation and cause further withdrawal.

How to cope

There are ways that new parents can cope with loneliness, Reynaga says. Asking a loved one to help you try these suggestions — and make time for them — can make a difference.

To cope with loneliness, make an effort to:

  • Connect with friends and family.

  • Seek out other people going through similar experiences, such as through joining a support group.

  • Prioritize self-care.

  • Follow a routine.

“We have seen that the parents who were able to make meaningful connections with those who they perceived to struggle similarly to them can be very reassuring,” Reynaga says. “Parents with supported networks were able to lessen distress and feelings of isolation.”

What’s more, Reynaga says that taking care of your own needs, such as eating regular meals or going for a short walk each day, can contribute to overall positive feelings and well-being.

If you or a loved one are experiencing moderate to severe mental health conditions in the postpartum period, support from health care professionals can help reduce the burden. Talk with your primary care provider or OBGYN about treatment options.

Learn more about Sharp HealthCare’s Maternal Mental Health Program; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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Sandra Reynaga

Contributor

Sandra Reynaga is a licensed marriage and family therapist with the maternal mental health program at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns and Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.

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