How to Cope with Mom Guilt

The world is full of inspirational quotes, edited and filtered photos that show the joys of motherhood, and status updates that focus on how good family life always seem to be. The truth is, sometimes motherhood is tough. Too often we feel like we have to hide that because it doesn’t always paint that pretty picture that we so badly want to portray.

Let’s talk about something people don’t like to talk about… mom guilt.

Mom Guilt during Pregnancy

The guilt starts almost immediately after we realize we’re pregnant. We didn’t know we had conceived, we had three glasses of wine, never started prenatal folic acid, and ate the rawest of raw fish in our sushi. 

Is the baby going to be okay? Have I hurt the baby? Should I worry? Guilt. It settles in. 

Then we spend the next nine months worrying about what we’re eating, how much weight we’re gaining, which positions we can sleep in, which vaccines to get. 

Do I have the right baby gear? Am I supposed to have a birth plan? Is it weird if I want to encapsulate my placenta? Is it weird if I don’t? 

My best advice here – be gentle with yourself. 

If it’s your first baby, take a nap whenever you can. When it comes to food, eat healthy and take walks when you can, but if you feel like having ice cream tonight, do it. If you have questions about placental encapsulation, ignore the internet and ask your midwife.

If some days you feel great, and others you just aren’t feeling this whole growing a person thing, you’re normal and human. 

Postpartum Mom Guilt

Bringing home that new baby is thrilling, nerve-wracking, and exhausting. We get so much information in the hospital about how to feed our baby, how to change diapers, when and where the baby should sleep, and more. We time our breastfeeding and worry if it’s been long enough. We count the wet diapers and worry there have been too few. We wake up all night long and take care of our babies and worry about falling asleep in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

We are tired. We are nervous. We are worried. We miss our old lives, yet we are so happy at the same time. We feel guilty that we’re not happy enough. 

The first two weeks of the postpartum period, it is extremely normal to feel many ups and downs. It is a huge transition after a major physical and emotional event. There will be days and moments you feel amazing and in control, and just as many days and moments you may feel a sadness over the loss of your old life, feel a lack of control over the days, and be confused as to whose body you’re living in. 

I will tell you – this gets better. You will find a rhythm.

You will find sleep where you can, shower at new times of the day, eat whatever people decide to bring you, and learn to accept the love and support people offer you. After that initial two weeks, you’ll find yourself less teary and more in awe of your new life and your new person. 

Be open with the people you trust, whether that is your partner, best friend, sister, neighbor, or midwife. The best thing you can do is talk about how you feel, accept that maybe motherhood doesn’t always feel as great as the internet portrays it, and learn to ride the waves. 

If those ups and downs persist for more than the two weeks, or you feel panicky and anxious most days, or you can’t eat or sleep when the baby is sleeping, call your midwife or physician. It’s possible these “baby blues” are transitioning into postpartum depression. It’s real, it’s much more common than you think, and it is treatable. You are not alone, my friend. 

Full-Blown Parenthood Mom Guilt

I’d love to say the guilt goes away once your baby can walk, or talk, or starts kindergarten, but in my personal experience, it usually just shifts. That’s not to say there won’t be a million times you will feel like a total rockstar, juggling work, pumping, carpool, dinner, bath time, while even managing to find extra time to handwrite superhero-themed notes for you demanding yet cute little three-year-old before you go to work. 

But when those days hit where you’re overtired, overworked, underappreciated, and just over it, would you do me a favor? Be gentle with yourself. Call a friend. Talk to your mom and tell her you’re sorry for not treating her like a queen every day of your childhood. Trust me, it helps. 

And when you yell at your kid for something that feels really important in the moment but awfully silly once they’re in bed, remember that they always wake up loving you. 

For every time you lose your cool and don’t have things picture-perfect, you will have a million more chances to do right. 

I wish I could hug every single pregnant woman, mother, and partner, look them in the eyes and say, “You’re doing a great job! Keep up the good work, and the mediocre work too! Let yourself feel how you feel because things are not always perfect, but you don’t have to feel bad or guilty about that. You are human. And you are doing the hardest work of all, raising more humans!” 

Now go eat that ice cream, girl, and don’t you dare feel bad about it.

Click here to learn more about midwifery care at South Shore Health.