Transition to New Parenthood

Becoming a new parent can bring tremendous joy; at the same time, the transition to parenthood is a particularly vulnerable time, given the many changes to activities, sleep, work, behavior, finances, and roles.

Understandably, most new parents will experience some degree of stress and difficulty as they adjust to this major change. This is completely normal. For other new parents, the role transition comes with more serious challenges and distress, and an increased vulnerability to mental illness. Difficult birth experiences, having an unsettled baby, or difficulty feeding can compound the issue.

It’s important to be aware of the potential effects on mental health that can accompany the transition to parenthood. If you do have any concerns, therapy and other supports can help you to care for your wellbeing, for you and your baby.

New parenthood: Effects on mental health

Becoming a parent for the first time is one of life’s major transitions and, unsurprisingly, can cause our mental health to be more vulnerable than usual. Some challenges associated with the transition to new motherhood include:

Some parents have more serious symptoms indicative of a mental health condition, such as:

Indications of challenges adjusting to new motherhood

Difficulties transitioning to parenthood may cause symptoms similar to other life transitions and stressful experiences, such as:

Many parents encounter some of these symptoms during the transition to new motherhood, though they tend to resolve without therapy within a couple of weeks. However, if symptoms interfere with your daily activities and last longer than two weeks, it’s important to seek help. You may be experiencing a form of postpartum mental health condition.

Prevalence of mental health challenges for new mothers

It’s very common for new mothers to encounter challenges as they navigate the transition to motherhood. The American Psychiatric Association reports that up to 70% of new mothers experience the baby blues (1).

Postpartum depressive or anxiety disorders are serious mental health conditions, affecting 1 in 5-8 women, while 1 in 1000 new mothers develop a psychotic disorder (2).

Treatment options for transitions to new parenthood

The challenges encountered during the transition to parenthood are usually temporary; new parents adjust and learn to cope with their new situation over time. However, many helpful strategies and supports can improve this process:

Therapy for transitions to new parenthood

Whether you think you may be experiencing a mental health condition, or just need some extra support, working with a therapist can be a great help. Many effective types of therapy can help new mothers navigate this life transition. Common modalities include:

What to look for in a therapist for transitions to new parenthood

There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a postpartum therapist, including:

Specialization: Look for a therapist who has experience and specialized training in perinatal mental health or the type of therapy that resonates with you. Many therapists have a particular interest in postpartum mental health. They often include this information on their website or online profile.

Qualifications: With so many different provider types available, it can be difficult to decide which type of mental health professional to see. The most important thing is to look for a currently licensed therapist. That said, if you think medication might be needed, make sure you see a psychiatrist. This particular type of mental health professional is able to prescribe.

Personal fit: In addition to training and qualifications, look for a therapist you feel comfortable with. The trusting relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy.

The best way to judge how you might feel about a therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. This also enables you to ask about their experience and what therapy with them will be like. Try to speak to a few different therapists before deciding on a provider.

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