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Common Misconceptions about the Postpartum Period: How Validating the Realities Yields the Compassion that New Moms Need

Updated: 2 days ago

What is “postpartum”? Postpartum refers to the period of time after a baby is born that consists of physical, psychological, and social adjustment. A beautiful yet challenging time. How long does this period last? And what exactly happens? The postpartum recovery timeline varies immensely from person to person. Society, however, often attempts to paint the picture that postpartum is this short-lived time period where Mom “snaps back” effortlessly. Mothers are SO strong and resilient, yes!!! However, unrealistic expectations can leave new moms feeling inadequate and misunderstood in a season of already intense change, sacrifice, and healing. The comparison that social media sells can pressure new parents to feel they aren’t doing enough or doing it “right.” Postpartum is a very vulnerable time, especially for mental health, where asking for help can feel the most difficult yet is truly needed. 

If you are a mom or new parent who has experienced this season, you know the realities: every experience deserves validation and understanding. If you haven’t experienced the postpartum period, you likely know a family in or about to enter it. We hope that these common myths (and realities) explored here can shed light on the holy, hard work that is postpartum and that more parents are given the compassion and support they deserve.

Postpartum mom rocking her baby

Myth #1: Bouncing Back in 6 Weeks

The average amount of maternity leave companies give in the United States is 29 days. This is one example of how society often sends the message that new moms should "snap back" quickly. The reality is: healing takes time.

No matter how a child is born, the body undergoes huge physical and physiological changes that often take longer than 4-6 weeks to recover. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that postpartum care be individualized and extended over twelve weeks – the “fourth trimester.” Physiologically, hormones can take up to two years to return to pre-pregnancy levels. Studies have even shown that pregnancy causes lasting changes in a woman’s brain. Getting back to “pre-baby” shape quickly is also an expectation that fails to take into account the factors of mental health, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding challenges, pelvic floor health, and even a new definition of what is “normal” for what your body might look and feel like post-baby.

Psychologically, meeting the needs of a newborn requires role changes, learning new skills, and a level of sacrifice of freedom, control, and expectations. Socially, new parents are thrust into new identities and schedules, and the way of spending time or relating in relationships changes. Boundaries with extended family members might need to be navigated. The old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” may be true, but not everyone has that village, and becoming a parent can feel lonely, isolating, and overwhelming.

Something else to note is the expectation that a “healthy baby, healthy mom” cancels out a labor and delivery experience. While the human body is amazingly resilient to recover, sometimes it's hard to forget the experience that brought you that precious baby. Disappointment, grief, and even trauma can be the results of a birth experience that deserves to be acknowledged and processed.

Myth #2: Postpartum Depression is Rare and Short-Lived.

The "baby blues" are common, characterized by short-lived mood swings and tearfulness, and typically only last a couple of weeks. Postpartum depression is a more serious condition that persists, affecting up to 1 in 7 women. As many as 1 in 5 women experience some kind of perinatal mood disorder, including postpartum depression (PPD), anxiety (PPA), OCD, PTSD, and even psychosis. Compared to White women, Black women are twice as likely to experience maternal mental health conditions but half as likely to receive treatment! The onset of perinatal mood disorders can occur anytime in the first year after childbirth, meaning they may not be experienced immediately, and they also can last beyond the year mark.

The point is: while hormones can affect emotions, persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or overwhelm could be signs of a mental health condition that requires more attention and CAN be treated with the support of your doctor and a trusted therapist. Postpartum Support International is also a great resource for finding support, including learning more about perinatal mood disorders. You don’t have to figure out how to manage those feelings alone.

Myth #3: You have to be happy all the time.

It’s normal to experience the rollercoaster of emotions of new parenthood, including sadness, anxiety, and frustration. It’s okay if you don’t feel like the newborn days are all “bliss and cuddles.” It is normal to experience the emotions of grief and loss at the changes of parenthood. As stated above, becoming a parent is a huge transition that comes with alllll the emotions: joy and grief, fullness and loneliness, satisfaction and confusion, peace and overwhelm. Don't bottle up your feelings. Share with a trusted friend, partner, or mental health therapist.

parents hands holding a baby's hand

Myth #4: Partners Don't Have Postpartum Issues.

Becoming a parent is a major life change for everyone involved. Fathers experience hormonal shifts, too, and can struggle with anxiety, depression, and the pressures of a new role. As many as 1 in 10 new fathers develop postpartum depression… Partners- your mental health matters, too!

You're Not Alone

Postpartum can be beautiful and challenging, unique and universal. You don't have to go through this alone. Therapy can be a safe space to share and process your experience, receive the support that you deserve, and find care for postpartum mental health concerns. If you are a new mom, dad, or couple navigating parenthood (whether your baby is 1 day old or a few years old), you can find out more about our team of therapists and those specifically trained in working with maternal mental health at Steady Hope and reach out through our contact form. We serve clients in our office in Decatur, GA and virtually anyone throughout the state of Georgia. You can also read more here about how to resource yourself for the postpartum period and build your support system.  


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