December 23, 2021

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Allison Lieberman

Am I Experiencing New Mom Burnout?

New mom burnout causes feelings of overwhelm, physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from children, and a sense of being ineffective as a new mom. We are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that the newborn phase is so rewarding, fulfilling, and wonderful that new baby snuggles will instantly fulfill you, that it is so joyful that the occasional difficulties (diaper blowouts, pumping, washing bottles, 2 AM wakeup calls) are barely noticeable.

It is 3AM on Tuesday morning. Your baby won’t sleep more than 45-minute stretches. You feed them, change their diaper, put them down, and either start your 20 minutes of pumping or cleaning up the formula that spilled on the floor in your sleep-deprived bottle-making state. You finally lay your head down on the pillow. The baby starts crying again. You look over to your partner and they are FAST ASLEEP.

Sound familiar? One of my favorite trending memes on the internet is “I want to sleep on my husband’s side of the bed, apparently you can’t hear the baby crying from over there.” I remember the anger that would bubble up inside me when I saw him snoozing away while I was up multiple times throughout the night.

How did I get to this place?

Well, for starters, I lacked boundaries. As I tell my clients often, the people who benefit from your lack of boundaries will never tell you that you need to set them. Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom before you realize.

What Is New Mom Burnout, Exactly?

New mom burnout causes feelings of overwhelm, physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from children, and a sense of being ineffective as a new mom.

We are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that the newborn phase is so rewarding, fulfilling, and wonderful that new baby snuggles will instantly fulfill you, that it is so joyful that the occasional difficulties (diaper blowouts, pumping, washing bottles, 2 AM wakeup calls) are barely noticeable.

To understand burnout, you can think of a car. When you drive around in your car with a full tank of gas, the options feel endless. You could drive to Vegas! The more and more you drive, the more depleted your gas tank becomes. Once your gas light turns on, it is time to fill back up.

But what if you just kept going? Eventually, your car would stop working, right? Well, it’s the same with our bodies. If we don’t take time to fill up our tank, we will burn out!

What Are the Signs of New Mom Burnout?

Burnout doesn’t just happen. It is gradual and takes time.

There are physical, emotional, and behavioral signs of burnout.

Physical Signs:

  • Sleep deprivation and tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and muscle pain (from clenching and muscle tension!)
  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less)

Emotional:

  • Mom rage
  • Insecurity around motherhood
  • Helplessness, hopelessness
  • Feeling alone
  • No longer enjoying the things you once did
  • Negative outlook on life

Behavioral:

  • Isolation or not wanting any visitors
  • Daydreaming of ways to escape
  • Procrastination of appointments or taking care of your own needs
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with overwhelm

What Causes New Mom Burnout?

Burnout can be caused by many different things. Especially as a new mom, you’re running around doing “all the things” and trying to take care of this tiny human. Between lack of sleep and pressures surrounding feeding, sleep schedules, sleep regressions, and setting boundaries with family and friends, it is easy to lose sight of the things that charge your batteries.

Setting boundaries can be the best way to start to reverse burnout, whether the boundaries are with yourself, your partner, family, friends, your care team, or work.

Boundaries to reverse new mom burnout can look like:

  • Limits on visiting hours
  • Taking feeding shifts at night
  • Deciding formula feeding is better for your mental health
  • Asking people to drop food off on the porch instead of coming inside
  • Reminding yourself you need a break
  • Not cleaning the house while the baby is sleeping

Another cause of burnout can be our expectations of ourselves. There are plenty of myths we hear throughout our lives of what good moms “should” be.

Some of these burnout-causing myths include:

  • “A good mom puts the baby before herself”
  • “A good mom wants to be with her baby all of the time”
  • “A good mom sleeps when the baby sleeps”
  • “A good mom has a clean house”
  • “A good mom never gets overwhelmed and loses her cool”
  • “A good mom loves playing with her baby”

The truth is, a good mom is a mom that meets her baby where they are at. If your baby doesn’t like long car rides, then maybe you say no to the vacation 3 hours away. If your baby likes eating in a darker room, maybe you excuse yourself, throw in your headphones, and listen to your favorite podcast while baby eats. Whatever it is that your baby needs, you know best.

A good mom takes care of HERSELF so she can take care of her baby.

How Can I Reverse New Mom Burnout?

The simple answer: change your habits.

The long answer: take care of yourself, change your parenting narrative, reset your expectations, establish your support system, and learn how to complete your stress cycle. Here are some ways to do this:

Self-Care

Self-care can help you fill your tank back up when you are feeling depleted. To be fully present with yourself and your baby, it is important to take care of yourself.

  • Going on walks
  • Getting a massage/facial
  • Going to coffee with friends
  • Laying in bed watching your favorite movie
  • Reading

Changing Your Parenting Narrative

Changing the parenting narrative can help you understand the parent you wanted to be and allow yourself room to change and grow.

  • Establish what being a good parent means to you
  • Is it realistic?
  • What can be changed to meet your current life circumstances?

Reset Your Expectations

We all set expectations for ourselves in different areas of our lives, at times, these expectations can be set at an unrealistic level. It is important to understand what our lives have space for and what they do not.

  • What are your expectations for work, parenting, relationships, home?
  • Are they realistic?
  • What support do you need to meet these expectations?

Establish Your Support System

Having a support system is essential. Whether it is someone to help watch the baby, clean your house, or hold you while you cry.

  • Who is in your support system?
  • How can they help you?
  • How can you ask for help?

Complete Your Stress Cycle

It is easy to get stuck in the stress cycle if we don’t acknowledge our feelings and cope with them.

  • Laugh
  • Get Creative
  • Breathe
  • Talk
  • Show/receive affection
  • Move
  • CRY!

The transition into new motherhood is a whirlwind. It is hard to prioritize yourself when all you can think about is sleep schedules, feeding schedules, and the amount of wet diapers the baby has had today. While all of these things are important, it is even more important to take care of yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup!

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About the author

Allison Lieberman, LMFT, PMH-C is a therapist, supervisor, and postpartum mental health expert. Allison provides cognitive behavioral therapy to new mothers struggling with the adjustment to parenthood. Allison works with new mothers that are struggling with boundaries, communication, and setting unrealistic parenting expectations. Please contact Allison at her website at: www.rootedharmonycounseling.com.

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