Parenting Pressure and Postnatal Depression

Posted April 30, 2024 by Cristina Vrech

Cristina Vrech - Individual and couples therapist

Cristina Vrech

Founder and Director - Individual & Couple Therapist, Corporate Services

Co-founder and director of Leone Centre, Cristina Vrech, has 20+ years of experience in working and supporting people, 14+ years of extensive experience as a therapist and offers valuable knowledge to individuals and couples. Prior to being a therapist, she worked in the financial sector.

Cristina takes a down-to-earth and direct approach across the landscapes of relationships, communication, stress, infidelity, confidence, loneliness, addiction, separation and divorce, IVF, and anxiety.

Offering Online Counselling and in person counselling.

Cristina Vrech can help with...

Parenting Pressure and Postnatal Depression

Throughout the journey of new parenthood, every parent encounters challenges unique to them, their circumstances and their baby. Within the range of experiences, whether joyful, stressful, or educational, some are more openly discussed than others. Postnatal depression, despite being the most common complication for women who have just given birth, is often glossed over or avoided. In reality, this experience is widespread, perfectly natural, and must be addressed, the same as any other post-birth complication. Postnatal depression is sometimes incorrectly conflated with “baby blues”, a term for feelings of sadness many new mothers experience after having a baby (between 2 and 35 days post-birth) that can last up to two weeks.

Increased understanding of parenting techniques, spread through word-of-mouth, the internet and social media, has equipped new parents with abundant information. However, the wish to provide the best for their child can sometimes lead parents to set the bar overly high for themselves, burdening themselves with unrealistic expectations. These can then become a source of pressure and feelings of inadequacy, which profoundly affect parents’ mental and emotional well-being.

Postnatal Depression. A tired concerned mother rocking her sleeping baby.

Although parents’ struggles can sometimes be dismissed or minimalised, they are significant and matter. Your mental well-being, as a person and a parent, is essential.

If you are struggling with mood changes, motivation or feelings of failure, it is essential to take these seriously. Unaddressed postnatal depression can lead to long-term impacts on your mental health and your baby’s development. Reaching out for support is beneficial—it’s a profound act of care for yourself and your little one.

Therapy and counselling can provide real, tangible support when addressing postnatal depression. Individual therapy can provide a confidential, nonjudgmental space to discuss your thoughts and emotions and help you find strategies to rebuild your resilience. Couples and family therapy can also support you and your partner or other family members in communicating your feelings in a way that promotes empathy and healing.


What is postnatal depression? 

Postnatal depression is the most common complication for new mothers. It affects up to 1 in 7 women and manifests differently between individuals. Researchers have found a wide variety of signs, onset times and durations. Sometimes, it can occur up to 18 months after delivery and develop gradually. Although it is more common in women, men can also develop postnatal depression, and it is equally important to address this with a healthcare professional.

Experiencing postnatal depression does not diminish your worth or your abilities as a parent. Societal stigma faced by parents who are struggling can sometimes lead people to attempt to mask or hide it, but this could exacerbate the issues. It’s vital to understand that postnatal depression is not something you can help, and it is not an indicator of your parenting skills or capabilities.

Sometimes, postnatal depression is incorrectly used as a synonym for “baby blues”. Baby blues occur within 35 days post-birth and can last up to two weeks. If feelings of sadness, anxiety or unusual mood last longer than two weeks, you must contact your GP, a therapist or another relevant health professional. You should urgently contact a healthcare professional if your feelings intensify, make it difficult to care for your baby or complete everyday tasks, or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Signs of postnatal depression include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the time
  • Feeling panicked, scared or worried a lot of the time
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, inadequacy, failure or shame
  • Severe mood swings
  • Having little interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Feeling tired all the time, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Significant changes to eating patterns and weight
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Having difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
  • Thinking about suicide (killing yourself)
  • Frequently crying
  • Withdrawing from contact with other people
  • Having doubts about your ability to parent, regardless of reassurance

Postnatal depression can make it much harder to look after your baby. While you may be managing the practical elements of parenthood, addressing this condition is essential for thoroughly enjoying and appreciating your experience as a new parent.

Postnatal depression. A sad young woman sat at home on sofa holding cushion.

The impact of parenting myths on postnatal depression

The constant influx of new parenting philosophies and the pressure to adhere to the “ideal” way of raising a child can be a source of stress. While aiming to do the best for your baby is natural, striving for perfection during a whirlwind of sleepless nights, bottle sterilisation, and spit-up can escalate stress levels and feelings of inadequacy.

Many parents (and non-parents) buy various myths and theories about parenthood. Although these can be well-intentioned and sometimes based on substantial developmental theories, they are often merely idealised advice. Understandably, one-size-fits-all guidance aimed at millions of individual parents could inadvertently instill a sense of failure when it doesn’t align with their experiences, parenting styles, or practical realities.

Some parenting pressures and myths include:

  • ‘I should be joyful and ecstatic all the time.’
  • Loving a child too much will spoil them
  • Parenting comes naturally to good parents
  • Parenting will give you all of the fulfilment you need
  • Children’s needs should always come first
  • Perfect parents exist

Pursuing flawless parenting could significantly contribute to the many people struggling to acknowledge their difficulties openly. Social media, marketing, books and TV often fuel these myths. It’s important to remember that the myth of perfect parenthood is unattainable and incredibly lucrative. Embracing flexibility, versatility and adaptability with your baby’s best interests at heart can offer the freedom to evolve and flourish as a parent in tandem with your child’s growth. Discussing your thoughts around parenthood and whether they align with your reality with a therapist can help you adopt a more adjustable approach.


The impact of changing roles on postnatal depression

Going from being a couple to becoming new parents may feel like entering a new relationship dynamic. Suddenly, your established routines are upended, and the time you spend alone or together is significantly restricted. Parents may feel resentful of perceived inequalities between responsibilities or feel left out and helpless for not being able to do more.

Portrait of young African American parents sitting with crying baby son on sofa at home, hugging and calming soothing small baby, man in eyeglasses trying to comfort baby

Suppose you and your partner struggle to settle into your new parental roles. In that case, relationship counselling can provide real, tangible support in addressing communication issues, promoting self-care and shared support, and building positive parenting strategies. A trained integrative therapist can also support you in addressing past experiences and core beliefs which may be contributing to stress and anxiety.

How to address postnatal depression 

Coping with the complexities of postnatal depression often calls for the support and understanding of others. The adage “it takes a village to raise a child” reflects the courage and resilience it takes to reach out. Some things which may help include:

  • Attending support groups, online or in-person, can be very effective in addressing postnatal depression. Although it can feel challenging to admit postnatal struggles to others, by sharing your feelings in a safe, confidential space, you can normalise your experience and begin to find ways to heal alongside others with similar experiences.
  • Exercise and diet also play a huge role in mood. Even if you eat a piece of fruit every day, stretch, or go for a short walk, these can significantly positively impact how you feel.
  • Seeing a counsellor can play a huge role in developing healthy parenting and communication styles, exploring challenges and creating strategies to address them. A skilled therapist can help parents explore emotional well-being and sources of external and internal pressure, leading to increased resilience in the face of parenting. Online couples and online family therapy can also be precious for improving communication, discussing needs and creating strategies for the future.
  • Accepting and asking for help is vital. You may be surprised by how many other parents can relate to your experience and how willing others are to help. Just asking a friend or family member to look after your baby while you bathe or go out for a coffee can help you feel more like yourself.
  • Revisit relaxing activities you enjoyed before giving birth. Do what made you feel good before becoming a parent – hobbies or classes, reading books and watching TV, chatting with friends, cooking, whatever makes you feel good and connected to yourself outside of your new role.
  • Avoid stressful situations and big decisions. Moving house, changing jobs and starting or ending relationships are all examples of decisions that should be left until you feel mentally and emotionally resilient.

Concerned new parents holding and rocking crying baby.

New parenthood is a transformative process, bringing about significant changes to lifestyle, routine, self-perception, perception from others and roles in life. It is entirely natural for such a profound change to impact how you feel about and within yourself. When experiencing postnatal depression, it is essential to seek support, address your concerns, and prioritise self-compassion.