Combating Loneliness As A New Parent
As a society, we talk often about the joys of being a new parent. But there is an aspect of parenting that is not commonly discussed: loneliness.
Due to the lack of conversation on the subject, feelings of loneliness as a new parent are often unexpected, and can take a toll on the parent’s mental health. New parents can feel lonely even when they are regularly in touch with family and friends, as loneliness is not always caused by being physically alone.
While feelings of loneliness are common, brushing them under the carpet can lead to poorer mental health. According to NICE, depression and anxiety affect 15‑20% of women in the first year after childbirth, and research suggests that loneliness is linked to these mental health conditions. Instead of avoiding the subject, it’s important to understand why you are feeling lonely, and explore the routes that you can take to combat loneliness.
Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz is a Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre with a specialism in parental mental health. She explains, “The responsibility of looking after a baby means that new parenthood is already a stressful time. However, while the majority of parents are well aware of the physical strain – lack of sleep, back pain, poor diet – some are unprepared for the emotional and mental strain both caused and exacerbated by loneliness.
“Talking about your feelings is an important first step towards helping yourself feel better. But there are many other ways to tackle loneliness as a new parent, such as attending organised parent and child activities, and joining online communities.”
Below, we explore why new parents may feel lonely, and what to do in order to combat loneliness.
Why Do New Parents Get Lonely?
It might seem like the most sociable time in your life – everybody wants to meet the new addition to your family, and so you’re met with a flurry of guests cooing over and cuddling your little one. So why do you feel lonely? There are many answers to this question, but here are a few common causes:
Change in lifestyle
Many people lead busy social lives prior to having children, whether that includes socialising with colleagues at work, meeting up with friends or encountering new people through hobbies and other activities.
When a baby comes along, it becomes difficult to maintain relationships with others until a routine is established. As a new parent, you might take a break from work, have less time and energy to meet your friends for a casual catch up, and neglect your hobbies for a brief time while you take care of your child. All of these changes taking place in a short amount of time can easily bring about feelings of loneliness.
All attention is directed towards the baby
When you’re out and about with your newborn, or at home receiving visitors, it might seem like other people have more interest in your baby than in you. This is normal behaviour – we are all interested in the ‘new’ in our lives. However, it can make you feel as if your own feelings are overlooked; others may forget to ask you how you are feeling, how well you are coping, or whether you need any help. This can cause you to feel isolated and unvalued.
Whether you have friends who are also parents or not, it’s possible that you may drift apart from them during this time. Friends who are parents may also be busy caring for their child, while friends who do not have kids may see you less because you may not have the time (or inclination) to take part in the social activities that you once used to.
Being awake at unsociable hours
Many parents are familiar with the phrase, ‘sleep when baby sleeps’, which means that parents are often awake in the early hours of the morning caring for their child while a more regular sleep schedule is established. Being awake during these unsociable hours, and napping during the daytime, often leads to less contact with others.
At the root of these causes of loneliness is the lack of discussion surrounding the mental health issues and societal pressures associated with parenthood. By talking about these problems, we could break down the stigma around parents who need support, and create a healthier environment for such issues to be discussed in future.
3 Ways To Combat Loneliness As A New Parent
It may feel difficult to get past feelings of loneliness or isolation during motherhood and fatherhood, especially as it’s easy to feel like a burden on others. However, actively socialising or taking part in activities that bring you joy can help ease these feelings until you can adjust to your new lifestyle. Here are some ideas on what you can do to combat loneliness:
Accept help from others
Some of the stigma that surrounds the need for support when parenting is perpetuated by our own actions. Some parents, although offered help, do not accept it because they do not want to feel like a burden, or because they want to be seen as a strong, capable parent. However, the truth is that you can still be strong and capable while accepting help from others. Not only will this help ease the stress of caring for a newborn child, it will also aid you in establishing a strong social support system for yourself and your child.
Be open to new friendships
Walking into a new environment, such as a baby group or antenatal class, can seem daunting. However, while there may already be friendships within that environment, remember that everyone was in the same position at one point. Try to pluck up the confidence to talk to others, and you will likely be rewarded with a new friendship or two.
Download an app or use social media
Depending on where you are located, there may be apps available to help you meet other new parents. Alternatively, you could use social media platforms such as Facebook to help you find local parenting groups. Always remember to put safety first when meeting new people from the internet.
What Can You Do To Help New Parents Who Are Struggling?
While you may be excited to meet your friend or family member’s new baby, remember that they may be struggling with the stress of parenthood, and may be grateful for your help. Some people may not be comfortable talking about their feelings of loneliness outright, but there are many other ways to help them feel supported.
Avoid invalidating their feelings
If a new mother or father tells you that they are feeling lonely, don’t dismiss this by saying that they shouldn’t feel sad or upset. This invalidates their feelings, and discourages them from seeking help in future. As Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz says, ‘the frequent assumption and expectation that pregnancy and the birth of the child should be or is always a happy time is not helpful.’
Instead, listen to what they have to say. They may just need someone to vent their feelings to. If asked, try to offer practical advice, such as suggesting a place to meet up with other parents.
Do not criticise
Avoid making assumptions that the parent’s feelings of loneliness are their own fault, perhaps because they aren’t actively seeking out others to spend time with. Parenthood can be exhausting, and they may instead be open to suggestions of easier ways to meet people, such as talking to other parents online.
Offer a small, supportive gesture
Bring food to their house when they have said that they feel too busy to cook; take a few seconds to tidy up their living space; accompany them on a walk around the neighbourhood. Although small, gestures such as these can help remind new parents that they have a support system behind them.
When To Seek Help
Above, we have outlined many ways to help yourself and others when dealing with loneliness during new parenthood. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulties with mental health as a new parent, remember that extra support is available.
Dr Agnieszka Klimowicz explains, “mental health problems around the time of childbirth are perhaps not so much more common than at any other time in life, but they might be more severe if the help is delayed.”
Read more about perinatal and postnatal mental health. If you feel that help is needed, please feel free to get in touch with our friendly and experienced team using the details below: