Postpartum: Is What I'm Feeling "Normal?"

Kendra Olson, MSW, LICSW, PMH-C on Feb 22, 2023 in Mood and Feelings

Have you asked yourself this question since having a baby? I know I did after having my first child, and I have heard it asked many times in my office as a therapist supporting new moms. It can be really hard to know if what you are experiencing is “normal,” especially if you had certain expectations of how your journey into motherhood would go. And let’s not forget the multitude of societal messages and expectations that contribute to creating these expectations for ourselves.

So let’s first start with allowing any and all feelings you might be having — feelings are separate from how much we love our children or how “good” of a mother we are. Let’s also normalize the following feelings: sadness, grief, loss, anger, rage, overwhelm. Maybe you’re also happy, elated, or over-joyed at times. Worry is also a common emotion in new motherhood, as it’s a new job and most of us want to do it really well.

We can start to separate what is “typical" from what might be concerning about your experience. One question to ask yourself is: “How am I functioning in each of my roles?” If your mood or emotions are affecting HOW you are doing in your roles or jobs, then we should take a closer look at what is happening. For example, if you are worrying so much about your baby that you are not sleeping, you might be having anxiety that is beyond typical worry. If you’ve gone back to work after having your baby and are unable to consistently focus on your job or perform to expectations because of your mood or worry, we should consider if you are having true anxiety or depressive symptoms.

Below are a few red flags to pay attention to if you are wondering if what you are feeling is “normal.”

  • You are more than two weeks postpartum and are easily tearful and feeling down multiple days a week.
  • You have little energy or motivation.
  • You are struggling with sleeping beyond the challenges of having a newborn (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep).
  • You notice frequent self-critical thoughts or feel “bad” about yourself.
  • You are constantly worrying, overly-concerned with “something bad happening.”
  • You experience racing thoughts.
  • You have trouble sitting still or relaxing.

This is by no means a complete list of the symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, AND you do not have to check off any of those to validate needing support or help.

Kendra Olson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Minneapolis, MN.

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