Emotional Stages of Postpartum
“Women are so damn emotional.”
This statement, often said as an insult to belittle the experiences and feelings we have, is actually something worth celebrating.
Emotions are Natural
Humans are emotional. This is nothing to be ashamed of- it’s in our makeup. We learn to navigate the world through a mix of logic and emotional response. Our body naturally creates factors that impact our emotional experience. Our autonomic nervous system causes our physical and mental reactions in an emotional response. Emotions allow us to feel and experience our life.
Somewhere down the line, women’s emotions have been discarded as a joke or a bother. We have been trained to push our emotions away and out in times when they should be flourishing and serving us. We start to see it in menstruation. The flux of hormones in our body creates higher intensity emotions. There are jokes and skits about disregarding a woman in this time. Further down the line, there is the emotions of pregnancy. This is a time that is full of transformation for a woman and yet we so often hear “Oh, she’s just so emotional.” Or we even say it ourselves “Don’t mind me, I’m just emotional.” While there is some jest in the extremities we can experience, it doesn’t change the reality that these emotions are a biological response and are often telling us something important. Brush over them, and we miss a chance to really see the experience in its’ entirety.
Emotions in Postpartum
Months later we enter postpartum. This time following childbirth where everything has undergone change. In this time there are a number of factors contributing to our emotional response- each valid and each with a place in our transition. Again, these are not something to be ashamed of. They are wired in us for a reason and they can shine a light on areas we need to give attention. Tuning into these emotions, through different stages of postpartum, can help us to be mindful and intentional in our postpartum time and give us the prompts we need to take proactive steps in our own healing.
In this post, I will walk you through 5 stages of Postpartum Emotions. As a postpartum coach, I’ve collected stories of hundreds of women. These stories have allowed me to dig into the transitions we all experience, the questions we all have, and the ways we can proactively address them so we can have the most fulfilling emotional transition in postpartum and beyond. You can also get my guided questions for the stages of postpartum here. These will give you questions to ask yourself through each stage. Don’t worry, if you are past the stage it never hurts to go back and make sure these areas were addressed!
How Long is Postpartum?
First, how do we define postpartum? Some women think of postpartum as 6 weeks. This is because at 6(ish) week we have a follow up with our medical provider. At this appointment, we are given the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. We are usually cleared to “go back to normal” in things like sex and fitness. Many moms walk away thinking things should be “normal” without guidance and support on what this new normal might look or feel like for them. (Spoiler alert: This “normal” continues to change and evolve.)
Some women see postpartum as the equivalent to maternity leave. In America, the average maternity leave alloted is 12 weeks. This means many moms get to the 3-month mark and feel the pressure to have control of these evolved areas of their life.
When referring to postpartum, I am referring to a period of time after baby in which you feel you are transitioning. For the majority of women I surveyed, 2 years was the average amount of time they felt “in postpartum.” This feels like a good baseline for me as well. Maybe your postpartum period is shorter and maybe it is longer, but 2 years is the general time frame I’m referring to.
5 Stages of Postpartum Emotions
So what are these 5 stages and what are they made of?
The hours after birth.
This is marked by:
Your connection with baby (be it a feeling of instant connection or not- neither is “right”)
Exhaustion from the birth
Your feelings about the birth experience vs. your expectations prior to the birth
Your internalized feelings about your abilities- instant ideas about your ability to be a mother.
The immediate stage of postpartum is a sacred time where women need to feel honored in their emotions. There is not one "right" way to feel after birth. No matter your experience- take time to process what birth was like, how it shaped your view of yourself as a mother and what it spoke to you about the days ahead. This is a time to rest, push aside anything unnecessary and be present with yourself and immediate family.
The first weeks after birth.
This is marked by:
Fluctuating hormones (Most hormones take 6-8 weeks to balance. However, factors like thyroid and breastfeeding can cause this to be longer.)
Breastfeeding or not breastfeeding
Feelings about your “new” body
Feelings about your partner
Being needed 24/7
Expectations of others
The early stage of postpartum is a sensitive time when we are making intentional choices about this huge life transition. We are making these choices with limited sleep and fluctuation hormones. It is important during this time to draw boundaries to protect your own physical, mental and emotional health. This may mean boundaries around family and friends. This may mean boundaries around what you're absorbing through social media, TV, etc. During this time you are being needed in a way you never have before and that leaves little room for rest and self-care. These boundaries are so important for our preservation and personal empowerment.
Weeks to months after birth
This is marked by:
Hormones (yes, still!)
Presenting your “new self” to society
Returning to work/church/social groups/etc
Mental load of motherhood
Finding (or not) personal enjoyment
The short term stage of postpartum is a transition from a small circle to a larger circle. As you begin to return to old or new rhythms you are presenting a change version of yourself and learning how that integrates into old spaces. You are absorbing the mental load of motherhood as you work to create rhythms for yourself and your family unit. As you return to public spaces, you may feel overlooked as people dote over the baby but do not ask many questions about you. You may also be finding small pockets of time in which I encourage you to engage something for personal enjoyment- be it a hobby, friend, etc.
Months after birth
This is marked by:
Possible identity crises/struggle
Internalized expectations from yourself
Perceived expectations from others
During these mid-term months, we start to think about who we are in a new season of life. We may be questioning or dialing in on our values and priorities. We may see changed friendships. We are putting more expectations on ourselves as mothers and we are perceiving the expectation from others around us. We are working to find a balance- and balance does not mean everything is equal. This means we are figuring out what we need to sustain what is necessary. This is a common time women see their mental health needs as fog is lifted but they are not feeling "normal" like they expected to after the first few weeks of adjusting to motherhood. This is a great time to reach out to someone if you are still experiencing difficulty with mental health.
Months to years (2+) after birth
This is marked by:
Feelings about the evolved self
Feelings about your evolved family and family role
Experienced social dynamics
Perception of achievement and purpose
As our children grow and become more independent, we see another transition as we see our evolved self and family. We are responding to our experiences socially now that our own dynamics have shifted. We are also grappling with what achievement and purpose mean to us. While some women preserve their pre-baby interest, some women struggle to return to them and others have new interests that emerge. This is a time to think about your personality type, your role within your family, friends, and community and find ways to experience your unique purpose and sense of achievement.
Postpartum is an emotional time, but that does not have to be a negative phrase. Our emotions give us insight and can propel us forward into new seasons and ways of life. By being aware of these shifts, we can address them internally and with those near to us so that we can feel understood and empowered during this time.
Momma- no matter what stage you’re in (or will be in the future), your experience is valuable and seen. Gone are the days of “putting on a pretty face and brushing over anything uncomfortable.” We are here to show up, be present and be confident in our transitions and experiences. If you would benefit from more support and community in your postpartum period (and who wouldn’t?), maybe Postpartum Together is for you.
What is/was the biggest transition you experienced emotionally in postpartum? When did you notice this most? Let me know in the comments!