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9 Very Real Struggles That Your New Mum Friend Might Be Experiencing (And How You Can Help)

Motherhood is a spectrum of emotions. It’s time that we all stood up to help.

We’ve partnered with Maltesers and Comic Relief to support more mums with their mental health. If you or anyone you know needs help you can find support here.

We know it can sometimes be hard to know how to best support a new mum who might be struggling so we spoke to two experts in the field, Julianne Boutaleb and Dr Chetna Kang, to find out how friends and family can build that all-important support system.

Julianne Boutaleb is a BPS-registered perinatal psychologist and the founder and clinical director of Parenthood in Mind.

Dr Chetna Kang is a consultant psychiatrist at Nightingale Hospital, London.

1. Many new mums find themselves in a constant state of anxiety.

A woman holding a baby has her hand to her head. She appears tired and worried.
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Julianne Boutaleb: Because of hormonal shifts in pregnancy and birth, and changes in the parts of the brain to do with assessing and responding to risk (in the limbic system), we normally feel more anxious as new mothers. For women with a previous history of anxiety or with experience of miscarriage or birth trauma, the levels and rates of anxiety may be higher. Add to these experiences the shock of new motherhood and its responsibilities, and it's no surprise that new mums may feel anxious at times.

Dr Kang: Worry can be a useful emotion... However, when that worry turns to anxiety and particularly anxiety that tends to be increasing to an intensity and occurring so frequently that it is interfering with functioning and quality of life, then it's time to get help from outside.

Encourage your new mum friend to check in with her health visitor or GP, who will be able to support her through those periods of anxiety.

Two people's hands clasped together.
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Dr Kang: You may notice when it's time for your friend to get help before she does. But with gentle loving encouragement, you can support her to find the help that she needs. The health visitor or GP is a good place to start.

Julianne Boutaleb: It is important to know when normal levels of anxiety may need specialist attention. Perinatal obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may include repetitive thoughts about the baby's well-being, as well as compulsive behaviours such as repeatedly cleaning surfaces to avoid the baby becoming ill. Other related forms of anxiety may manifest as perinatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with flashbacks to a traumatic birth or dissociation.

If your friend tells you she may be suffering from these symptoms, you can download helpful information sheets from the MaternalOCD.org and MakeBirthBetter.org websites on next steps. If the symptoms don't lessen, please help her to access specialist support via her GP or other supportive health professional. You can also access perinatal psychotherapists or psychologists via the BACP or BPS websites.

2. Their family and friends are supportive and have been helping out, but they are still struggling.

The silhouette of a woman who is looking down.
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Dr Kang: Postnatal depression can affect new mums anytime from a few weeks after giving birth right up until the child is 18 months old.

Some of the contributing factors include postnatal hormonal changes, a lack of supportive relationships, inadequate rest and/or nutrition, and lack of practical help, as well as any preexisting mental health conditions.

The signs of depression include sadness, worry, feeling overwhelmed, low self-esteem, poor concentration, and difficulties with sleep and appetite to name a few. It can be harder to detect challenges with sleep as these are expected when children are young so you may have to be more vigilant to symptoms. Of particular concern might be if your friend is also struggling to bond with her baby, struggling to care for the baby and/or herself.

Supporting them in finding the help they need is the most powerful thing you can do.

Two people sit opposite one another talking.
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Julianne Boutaleb: Can you spend time to support your friend's partner or family? Have they noticed changes too? Understand how difficult it is for your friend to reach out.

There are different types of help. Perhaps your friend would rather speak to someone on a helpline than their GP. If so, visit the Maternal Mental Health Alliance for more information on the support available.

They may be nervous about talking to a mental health professional but perhaps you can do some research on their behalf. They can be referred by their GP to a perinatal specialist or you can help them to find a psychologist or psychotherapist.

The relationship with a professional is key so ideally encourage your friend to ask for a chat before they commit to therapy. Offer practical help, such as looking after their baby, so they can attend regular sessions. For some mums, medication might also help.

Dr Kang: The health visitor and GP can be your first port of call; however, if your friend needs urgent help either visit your local A&E or every area has a mental health crisis team that you can reach out to.

Your friend may struggle to recognise that she needs help and gently exploring where she might need support can be a good way to introduce the subject. For many new mums, there can be a lot of guilt associated with asking for help, especially professional help. Please remind them that mental illness is not a reflection of their ability or character and can happen to anyone, but it can also be treated and recovered from.

3. New mums often feel like they need to be "perfect", like some of the mums they see on social media who seem to have everything together effortlessly.

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Julianne Boutaleb: With the rise of social media, new mothers are bombarded by images and expectations of perfection which start in pregnancy. Not only are they expected to have a completely stress-free pregnancy and almost mystical birth experience but they're also expected to throw glamorous gender reveal and baby shower parties, and sport a full face of makeup and a flat, toned stomach within days of giving birth.

And the experts agree that everyone needs a reminder every so often that social media isn't real life.

Two variations of the same photo: On the left, a smiling baby with its mother kissing its cheek with the words "social media" above. On the right, the word "reality" is above the same baby looking upset while its mother kisses its cheek.
Tuan Tran / Getty Images

Dr Kang: Social media can also be a helpful source for parenting tips but if your friend sees something on social media that feels unachievable, remind them that it is only a snapshot of that person’s life and it would have taken a lot of hard work to achieve that "feedworthy" image.

Julianne Boutaleb: Steer her towards accounts that show a more realistic view of motherhood and talk about struggles with mental health and motherhood.

Even better if you're a mum yourself, share with her what you found difficult about becoming a mum. Mums being honest about the struggles of motherhood can be really reassuring and normalising for a new mum.

4. Your friend is struggling with the transition to becoming a mum and feels like everything in her life has completely changed.

On the left, there is a photo of a toast with drinks, with the words "from drinks..." on top. On the right, there is a photo of a drawer of nappies with the words "...to nappies" on top.
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Julianne Boutaleb: Becoming a mother is a big transition for many women. And it's not just her body or relationships that will go through seismic changes. Recent research by a team in the Netherlands (Hoekzema et al., 2020) has shown that the female brain goes through changes that can be picked up on MRI scans and help with attuning to her baby's emotional needs. And we now have a word to describe this transitional period for new mothers: matresence (Athan, 2016). And like adolescence (with which it rhymes), the two-year period from pregnancy up to one year after birth comes with its own form of angst. Am I good enough? What do others think? Am I cut out for this?!

And while everything might have changed, all transitions take time to get used to and you can help her to make a success of this one, too.

A photo of moving boxes sits on the left, a desk chair is in the middle, and on the right there is a photo of baby feet. All the photos have a "win" badge on them.
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Julianne Boutalebb: Remind her of the successful changes she's gone through in the past, like moving away or starting a new job, and how she got through those transitions. Assure her that she's that same person and it will take time to find her feet.

Dr Kang: It can be helpful to remind friends that many of the changes will become second nature and other changes are just there for the time being. By getting them to reflect on distinguishing the two types of changes, you can help them to identify where they might be in need of more support.

5. Your new mum friend doesn't feel like anything is going right with their baby.

A mother holds an upset baby.
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Julianne Boutaleb: Mothers are bombarded by conflicting advice on all aspects of motherhood from the start. They also expect that their "maternal instincts" will kick in and they'll know instinctively how to breastfeed, how to soothe their baby, and so on. The truth is that you have to learn to be a mother. And as with all new tasks that takes time, effort, and patience, it really helps to have supportive, more experienced people around us to help too. It may take a bit of "trial and error" to find what's right for you and your baby!

You can help them to recognise the moments that they've already mastered and help them to seek professional support if they need it.

A happy mum clasps her baby at a party.
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Julianne Boutaleb: Point out early and often what they're doing well with their baby. New mums often overfocus on what they're struggling with rather than what's going well — they need to have their successes mirrored back to them. Again, if you're a mum too, sharing your own struggles and what was helpful for you may help normalise these feelings. If your friend or family member is really struggling, you could also seek out professional support, like breastfeeding support, or point her to useful online resources.

Dr Kang: Some level of assessing whether we're doing things the right way is helpful. But when it starts to preoccupy your thoughts and leave you in a situation where you're finding it difficult to make decisions, then some practical things initially may help. These could be getting more rest or having a discussion with other mums who might be able to acknowledge those things that you are doing well. But if these things aren't helping, it's important that your friend sees if they may need to talk to a professional as very strong feelings of feeling judged can leave people isolated.

6. Since becoming a mum, they feel like they've started to lose their identity.

Above a photo of a happy woman we see the words "post-baby life". Around the woman are the labels: incredible manager, gym-goer, best friend, party planner.
Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Dr Kang: A lot of our identity is rooted in the roles and occupation we have in the big wide world, which significantly changes once you have a baby; for some, this is a more longer-term change than for others. This can leave new mums feeling as if they're not the same person as they are not receiving validation in the same way they previously did.

But you can remind them of who they are beyond being a mother and of the new things they're going to discover in themselves as a mum.

Above a photo of a happy woman we see the words "post-baby life". Around the woman are the labels: the best mum, incredible manager, gym-goer, best friend, party planner.
Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Julianne Boutaleb: New mums are often guilty of neglecting themselves and self-care can go on the back burner. Can you offer to have the baby so she can have a soak or even a massage or go to the hairdressers? Simple acts of self-care can go a long way to helping mums feel good about themselves again.

Assure her that it will take time to find her stride as a new mum. If you're a mum, you can share what works for you. Encourage her to hold onto aspects of her pre-baby life that are important to her: for instance, going to the gym or having nights out with friends. Whatever it is that makes her feel good about herself.

7. They're finding it hard to bond with their baby.

A woman holds her newborn baby in a hospital bed.
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Julianne Boutaleb: So many mums expect to feel a rush of love when their baby is born and may feel guilty if they've had a difficult birth and don't feel that instant bond. But the reality is (as with all relationships) it takes time to get to know your baby and their unique ways of communicating. Mums who perhaps haven't spent a lot of time with babies may be struggling with understanding their babies' different needs and sometimes get bogged down in doing things for the baby rather than enjoying being with them, which is the essence of bonding and attachment.

As a friend, family member, or partner, you can help facilitate bonding moments.

A small child puts a colourful building block on top of another.
Koh Sze Kiat / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Julianne Boutaleb: Take little videos or photos of times when your friend is enjoying their babies as proof that they are bonding. New mums can get so caught up with how much the baby has slept or fed that they miss the lovely moments of bonding, too.

Dr Kang: New mums are usually allocated a health visitor. It is important that concerns like this are raised with them. It can be challenging to bond with a new baby in their early weeks; if new mums are finding it difficult to find that connection, the health visitor can be very helpful with identifying reasons that may have been overlooked, such as depression.

8. They've started to feel isolated and forgotten.

We see a woman sat in the dark staring out of a window.
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Julianne Boutaleb: Maternity leave loneliness is real. And across the pandemic, average levels of parental isolation doubled with over 63% of new parents admitting to feeling lonely (Royal Foundation Report, 2020). For women who are among the first in their peer group to become mums, these feelings can be particularly pronounced.

Research shows that a lack of social support is a key variable in postnatal depression so it is really crucial that new mums can find support networks. Finding your tribe, as I call it, can be a huge boost to a new mum's sense of well-being and identity. Being able to share openly and honestly with like-minded mums can be transformative.

Help your friend to start "mum dating" so she can support and be supported by other new mums.

A group of happy mums and their children walk in the park together.
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Julianne Boutaleb: While it may have been difficult to find social support across the pandemic, thankfully there are some great apps that can help new mums to find like-minded others to meet up with.

If your friend is a bit shy or anxious, perhaps a local mum and baby group might be an easier way into "mum dating". Or if you already have a group of mum friends you think she might gel with, invite her into your tribe!

Dr Kang: Due to having different schedules, you may not be able to see each other or meet each other the same as you used to. It can be helpful if you can support your friend by going to visit them as they may not be able to get out as much to meet you. You may be also able to support them by helping them to find local mother and baby groups so that your friend can make more friends.

9. They feel overwhelmed with how much there is to do and sometimes they feel guilt for struggling.

An overwhelmed mum sits on her bed surrounded by children and mess.
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Julianne Boutaleb: There is so much invisible work with babies, as well as the ordinary worries about how well (or not) they're sleeping or eating or developing. In contrast to your pre-baby life, it may feel very hard to feel on top of things as a new mum.

Babies don't follow schedules and it can be tempting to imagine you'll get things done when the baby naps. On top of that, the repetitive nature of mothering tasks may make a mum feel she's got nothing to show for all of her efforts. Tiredness may make that sense of being overwhelmed feel worse.

Kind words and lending a helping hand can really help support them.

A woman with two babies in her lap is looking on her phone. She is reading a text which says, "I'm just texting you to say that even though I know it's tough, you're doing amazingly. I'm so proud of you xxxx"
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Dr Kang: Remind your friend that much of the struggle is because many of the things she's doing are new and babies don't come with a manual. Remind her that she will find her way and that you trust her and believe in her. Kind words go a long way in building people’s confidence.

Julianne Boutaleb: Can you offer to take on some of the "juggle struggle"? Like, doing a weekly shop for your friend or helping to delegate some of her tasks. Remind your friend that the most important thing is what she's doing for the baby and that being a mum is not about household chores or keeping up impossible standards. It may be reassuring for her to hear about your experience, too. If you're a mum, what have you done that's helped with your mother load?

We’ve partnered with Maltesers and Comic Relief, to support more mums with their mental health. If you or anyone you know needs help, you can find support here.

Comic Relief is the operating name of Charity Projects, a registered charity in England and Wales (326568), and Scotland (SC039730).