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Life after birth

Having a baby is a major event in a family’s life. Parents are suddenly responsible for another human life and will learn to adjust. As well as the happiness that a newborn baby can bring, parents may also feel overwhelmed and anxious. Hormonal changes can also make some women more vulnerable to these feelings.

Being a parent is exhausting. It’s easy to find that you have no time or energy to eat properly or exercise, both of which are really important to you and your family.

Please see below for more information.


During the first week after childbirth, many women get what is often called the ‘baby blues’. This is often due to the sudden hormonal and chemical changes that take place in your body following childbirth.

Symptoms can include:

  • feeling emotional and irrational
  • bursting into tears for no apparent reason
  • feeling irritable or touchy
  • feeling depressed or anxious.
  • All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.

Depression after a baby is born can be extremely distressing. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around one in ten women (and up to four in ten teenage mothers).

Many women suffer in silence and their friends, relatives and health professionals don’t know how they’re feeling.

Postnatal depression usually occurs two to eight weeks after the birth, though sometimes it can happen up to a year after the baby is born.

Symptoms such as tiredness, irritability or poor appetite are normal if you’ve just had a baby. But these are usually mild and don’t stop you leading a normal life.

When you have postnatal depression, you may feel increasingly depressed and despondent. Looking after yourself or your baby may become too much. Other signs of postnatal depression are:

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • sleeplessness
  • extreme tiredness
  • aches and pains
  • feeling generally unwell
  • memory loss or being unable to concentrate
  • feelings of not being able to cope
  • not being able to stop crying
  • loss of appetite
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • not being able to enjoy anything
  • loss of interest in the baby
  • excessive anxiety about the baby.

What should you do?

If you feel that you are suffering in some form or are at risk of postnatal depression, firstly tell someone, preferably your health visitor. She will not judge you and has experience in supporting women following childbirth.
Other things that may help:

  • take breaks and accept help from others
  • be realistic
  • where possible avoid major life changes such as finding a new job or moving house
  • be honest with your health visitor about any concerns that you have.

Caring r yourself:

Involve family and friends to support you – most people really do want to help
If you are unable to ask for help, have a list of things that need to be done so that friends can choose how they help

At this time you really do need to sleep when your baby sleeps.
Your health visitor has other information and contact numbers that may be helpful to you.

Being a parent is exhausting. It’s easy to find that you have no time or energy to cook or eat properly. But eating well doesn’t need to take lots of time or effort.

Try to make eating well a priority. It will make you feel better, and healthy eating is important for the whole family. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

If you think you need to lose weight, talk to your GP. Cut down on fat and sugar, but don’t go on a crash diet. Regular small meals will keep up your energy without adding to your weight.

Healthy time-saving tips for new parents

Try cooking more than you need and freeze a couple of extra portions for another day.

Tinned and frozen fruit and vegetables are quick to prepare and they count towards your five portions a day. Choose vegetables that can be eaten raw – for example, carrots and celery – and snack on these between meals. Remember, steaming is a healthy and quick way to cook vegetables, meat and fish.
If friends or family are keen to help, take up their offer of a healthy home-cooked dinner once in a while.

Breastfeeding and diet

If you’re breastfeeding and you’re a healthy weight for your height, you don’t need to eat a special diet. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids (ideally water) and get lots of rest.

If you’re breastfeeding and you’re overweight, the best way to lose weight healthily is by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and taking regular moderate exercise (such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes every other day). This won’t affect the quality or quantity of your milk.

When you’re feeling tired, being active or taking more exercise may seem like the last thing you need. But activity can relax you, it can help your body recover after childbirth, keep you fit or improve your fitness, and make you feel better and more energetic. The following suggestions may help:

  • Keep up your postnatal exercises. They’ll strengthen vital muscles and improve your shape.
  • Join a postnatal exercise class, it may help to be with other new mums. Many postnatal classes let you do the exercise class with your baby at the side of the room. Some exercise classes sometimes include the baby and buggy as part of the workout. Ask your health visitor for details of local activities.
  • If you’re going to a class that isn’t a special postnatal class, tell the person running the class if you’ve had a baby in the last few months. You’ll need to take special care of your back and avoid exercises that could damage it.
  • Push the pram or buggy briskly, remembering to keep your back straight. Walking is great exercise, so try to get out as much as you can.
  • Play energetic games with older children. You can exercise by running about with them. Find outdoor space if there’s no space at home.
  • Run upstairs. You probably go up and down the stairs several times a day, so think of it as good exercise.
    Squat down to pick things up from the floor. Hold heavy objects close to your body. This is also something you’re likely to be doing a lot. If you squat rather than stooping, with your knees bent and your back straight, you’ll strengthen your thigh muscles and avoid damaging your back.
  • When your lochia (postnatal bleeding) has stopped, you can try swimming. Swimming is good exercise and it’s relaxing too. If you take your child with you, try to have someone else there too so that you get a chance to swim.
  • Borrow or buy an exercise DVD. This is a good way to work out at home. You could get a friend or your children to join in.

When can I start exercising?

It’s a good idea to wait until after your six-week postnatal check before you start to exercise regularly again. If you exercised regularly before giving birth and you feel fit and well, you might be able to start earlier. Talk to your midwife or GP.

If you had a caesarean delivery, your recovery time will be longer, so talk to your midwife or health visitor before starting anything too strenuous.

What should I be aware of before exercising?

Your lower back and core abdominal muscles are weaker than they used to be. Your ligaments and joints are also more supple and pliable, so it’s easier to injure yourself by stretching or twisting too much.
Don’t rely on your pre-pregnancy sports bra. Your back and cup size are likely to have changed, so get measured for a new one.

How do I know if I’m overdoing it?

If you’re doing too much, you’ll experience extreme fatigue, feel run-down and take longer to recover from workout sessions.

If your lochia (the bleeding after birth) flows more heavily or changes colour (becomes pink or red) after activity, you could be overdoing it. Take it easy.

Lots of people smoke because they think it calms their nerves, but this isn’t the case. Smoking just calms the cravings for nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes. The best thing you can do for your and your family’s health is to stop smoking.

The children of smokers are three times more likely to grow up to be smokers themselves.

Giving up smoking isn’t always easy, but the NHS can help. You’re up to four times more likely to stop smoking successfully if you do it with NHS support.

Call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4332 or the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline on 0800 169 9169 for details of your local NHS stop-smoking service. Or go to the Smokefree website.