How to Help a New Mama: Understanding the Psychological Changes that Come with Motherhood

Becoming a mother is a unique experience that can be both fascinating and daunting. It is a transition that brings a variety of psychological changes, transforming the identity, priorities, relationships and emotional landscape of a woman. The process of giving birth and caring for a newborn can be a roller coaster of emotions, filled with joy, fear, excitement, and exhaustion in equal measures. This Mother’s Day, we explore the psychological transition of becoming a mother and its impact on a woman’s life, in order to help her navigate motherhood. 

Identity changes

The process of becoming a mother is often accompanied by a significant transformation of identity, which starts during pregnancy and continues after childbirth. During pregnancy, a woman starts to envision herself as a mother and to adjust to the idea. After childbirth, the transformation of identity intensifies, as the woman takes on the role of caregiver and nurturer. For many women, the role of mother becomes a fundamental part of their sense of self. This new identity can be overwhelming, as the new mom becomes responsible for the physical, emotional, and cognitive development of her child, which requires a huge amount of emotional and physical energy. Many women may feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles of being the primary caregiver and may struggle with balancing the demands of motherhood with other aspects of their lives, such as their careers or personal goals.

The transformation of identity can be both empowering and disorienting. On one hand, becoming a mother can bring about a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. On the other hand, it can be challenging to adjust to the new role of caregiver and to reconcile this new identity with other aspects of one’s self. Mothers may struggle with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or loss of autonomy as they adjust to the demands of motherhood. This can have a profound impact on a woman’s self-esteem, confidence, and resilience.

Shift in priorities

As mentioned earlier, the changes in identity that a new mom faces often lead to a shift in her priorities in a number of ways – from sacrificing her personal time to modifying lifestyle choices.

One of the most common ways this shift in priorities is experienced is through meeting her child’s needs to the detriment of her own. This may involve giving up hobbies, social events, or other activities that were once important to the mother in order to care for her child. For example, a mother who once enjoyed spending her free time reading or practicing yoga may find that she no longer has the time to do so due to the demands of caring for her child. Sometimes, especially in the early days of motherhood, even finding time to take a shower can be challenging.

Additionally, the shift in priorities can result in significant lifestyle changes, such as adjusting work schedules or moving to a more family-friendly environment. A mother may choose to reduce her work hours or take a break from her career to focus on caring for her child. Alternatively, she may need to adjust her work schedule to accommodate child-care needs or even move to a new location with better access to childcare services or family support. 

Relationship changes

Becoming a mother comes with important changes in a woman’s relationships, including those with her partner, family members, and friends. These changes may be positive and negative all at the same time.

Relationship with partner:
The arrival of a new baby has a major impact on a couple’s relationship. The demands of caring for a newborn can lead to feelings of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety and frustration. It then becomes easy to have conflicts and disagreements and the couple needs to make adjustments to ensure that both partners feel supported and valued. This involves redefining roles and responsibilities, such as dividing household chores or caring for the baby. It also involves finding ways to prioritize time together and maintain intimacy despite the demands of parenthood.

Relationship with family members:
The arrival of a new baby can also change a woman’s relationship with her family members. Family members may be excited to help and support the new mother, but they may also have different ideas about how to care for the baby. This can lead to disagreements and conflicts that may need to be resolved through open communication and compromise. Additionally, a new mother may find that she needs to establish boundaries with family members to ensure that she is able to care for her child in the way she sees fit. Lastly, sometimes a woman’s relationship with her own mother may change – experiencing first hand and understanding the difficulties of motherhood can bring the two closer.

Relationship with friends:
Becoming a mother often impacts a new mom’s relationship with her friends. She may find that her social life changes as she prioritises her child. This can lead to feelings of isolation or loneliness, especially if her friends do not have children or are unable to relate to the demands of motherhood. On the other hand, a new mother may also find new friends within parenting communities or through shared experiences of motherhood.

Emotional changes

Becoming a mother is an emotional experience that comes with a range of feelings, from joy and excitement to anxiety and overwhelm. These emotional changes can be intense and long-lasting, and can impact a woman’s mental health and well-being both positively and negatively. 

The arrival of a new baby brings about intense feelings of joy and love. This can be a powerful and transformative experience, as a woman becomes deeply connected to her child and experiences the fulfilment of caring for another life. The process of bonding starts during pregnancy and continues after childbirth. The mother-child bond is essential for the child’s emotional and cognitive development, and it also provides a source of comfort and support for the mother.

However, becoming a mother can also be overwhelming, and many women experience feelings of anxiety and stress as they navigate the demands of a newborn, especially for new mothers who may feel unprepared for motherhood. Many women also experience feelings of self-doubt and guilt when becoming a mother. They may worry about whether they are doing a good job or whether they are meeting their child’s needs. These feelings can be compounded by societal pressures and expectations about what it means to be a “good” mother. Lastly, the surge of hormones during pregnancy and after birth can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression. After childbirth, many women experience the “baby blues,” a period of emotional low. These feelings usually subside within a few weeks, but sometimes they may persist and develop into postpartum depression – a condition that affects around one in seven new mothers and requires treatment.

How to support a new Mama?

Understanding what this transition means for a new mom allows for better supporting her through this journey. Here are some ways to help her:

  1. Encourage her to trust her instincts and decisions

Being a new mom can be overwhelming and it is easy to feel unsure about your abilities. Encourage the new mom to trust her instincts and make decisions based on what feels right for her and her baby. A mother needs the time to get to know her child and understand their needs, which is where instincts come into use. If, however, your voice is too loud she may not be able to hear her own instincts. This can delay the connection a mother would make with her infant and make her feel powerless, lost and incompetent.

  1. If you want to share your experience, don’t tell, ask instead

While it’s natural to want to share your own experiences, it’s important to be mindful of how you offer advice. Instead of telling the new mom what she should do, ask her if she would like to hear about your experience or advice. Give her the space to make her own decisions.

  1. Take care of mom too

While the focus is often on the new baby, it is important to remember that the new mom needs care and support too. Offer to bring her food, help her with self-care activities like taking a shower or going for a walk, or offer to take care of the baby so she can get some rest.

  1. Be kind and understanding 

Hormones, emotions, fears, and anxieties can all be heightened in the postpartum period. Be patient, kind, and understanding with the new mom as she adjusts to the changes in her life.

  1. Talk about her emotions and help her understand them 

The postpartum period can be an emotional rollercoaster for many women. Encourage the new mom to talk about her emotions and help her understand that what she is feeling is normal. Offer a listening ear and help her find resources if she needs additional support.

In conclusion, becoming a new mom is a major life transition that can be challenging and overwhelming. By offering support and encouragement, and being mindful of the new mom’s needs, you can help her adjust to her new role and navigate the ups and downs of motherhood.

By Violeta Tsolova

To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us