Two Things That Have Helped my Mental Health as a New Parent

September 25, 2023, sierraharlan

Mental health is discussed more openly in many communities than in the past. Friends and relatives have asked about my mental health as a new parent, and I have appreciated these direct questions. So much focus is put on the baby (as it should be), and an undertone of sacrifice is placed on parental well-being. Finding the time to rest and recover from birth while caring for a newborn can be challenging. We must find a balance between caring for our little ones and caring for ourselves. Making time for connection, allowing myself to decline social gatherings without guilt, and practicing effective communication with my partner have all been important factors in supporting my mental health.

Being social as a new parent

Group of young mothers and their babies doing yoga exercises on rugs at fitness studio.

Spending time with friends, especially other folks with babies and young children who get it, has been so helpful as a new parent. When I was pregnant, I met a group of women through a prenatal yoga class at the Corvallis Birth Center. I learned about this yoga class through a local Facebook group. Local parent groups on social media can be a good way to meet other people. I have continued to get together with this group, and it has been so valuable to share our similar experiences as parents.

As I’ve reentered the social world as a new mother, I’ve realized that it doesn’t take much for me to become exhausted. Before accepting social invitations, I check in with myself, remember all the steps involved if I accept (going out with a baby is no simple task), and imagine how I will feel afterward. It’s equally important for me to listen to my body and know when I need to stay home versus when I should push myself to get together with friends.


Effectively communicate your needs.

Tired young parents with their baby sleeping on floor in children's roomUnderstanding my feelings and needs has also been important for my mental health. Thoughtful communication becomes extra tricky when we are tired. It’s harder to access the “thinking” part of our brain when we are tired, so we are more likely to be emotionally reactive. My husband and I have had to apologize to each other multiple times for insensitive things we have said when we’ve been exhausted. As a school counselor, I spend a lot of time helping children identify their feelings, the needs behind those feelings, and how they can talk about that need. I am getting to put this into practice more as a sleepy adult.

The more we practice pausing to identify our feelings before reacting, the easier it becomes. For example, if you experience an uncomfortable emotion, pause, try to name the emotion/feeling, and be curious about why you feel that way. You might say to yourself, “I am feeling overwhelmed because I was alone with the baby all day and haven’t had any breaks. I need my partner to tell me they see how hard I am working and that I am doing a good job.” Then, if it’s a discussion you feel you need to have with the other person, think of what you want to communicate. If I am not in a headspace to have a productive conversation or am unsure why I am having a particular emotional reaction, I will tell my husband something like, “I am feeling _____, but I am not ready to talk about it. I want some space.”

Putting it all together

Happy mother hugging her little daughter, baby, newborn, tenderness and love, indoorBeing a new parent is hard work, and it is so important to remember to take care of ourselves. Spending time with others and allowing ourselves to say no (without guilt!) is essential for our well-being. I’ve also found that focusing on communicating my feelings and needs to my partner greatly impacts my mental health. Practicing pausing before responding to social invitations and reacting when we have an emotional response is an excellent skill to learn. To take care of our baby/children, we have to take care of ourselves!