During those long nine months of pregnancy, all you can dream of are the days when you can hold your baby in your arms, and have a permanent little playmate, by your side. But after those first few weeks with your baby and flowers and friends' visits, sometimes the reality of being home 24/7 can hit you.
If you're used to being busy working and surrounded by people, suddenly finding yourself without adult coversation for much of the day can come as a real shock to the system.
We're not suggesting for one millisecond that you don't adore your gorgeous bundle of love – but we are admitting that being a mum is not always the easiest gig, and we can all feel a little lonely sometimes. Here, our brilliant columnist Louise Pentland shares her take on how loneliness can affect us all from time to time – and how you can help yourself.
Reach out for support if you're feeling lonely
"If you’re feeling lonely to a point where it’s really getting you down and are struggling, reach out to a professional — your health visitor or your GP,’ says Louise. ‘A lot of mums feel they don’t want to say anything because they think it makes them a bad mother, but you’re not a bad mother if you’re feeling lonely, and you’re not a bad mother if your feelings are stronger than that – there is further help and support available."
"When you’re a mum you’re suddenly thrust into a situation when someone needs your entire attention all the time – just to stay alive! Your baby can’t look after herself, she needs you to feed her, change her, make sure she doesn’t roll off the changing table...! So it’s really hard to be a mum as well as running around trying to do your “normal life” stuff too.
"There’s no shame in saying that motherhood can be lonely. I think that people can feel like it’s a slight on motherhood – or their baby – to say so. People often say “I love my baby, but...” Just take out the but! We know you love your baby because you’re a decent mother, so it’s OK to simply say, “Motherhood is a bit lonely” because it’s the truth and it’s completely normal.
"I had a day recently when I really felt it, and I think that chimed with a lot of people online. My partner, Liam, had gone to work, I wasn’t picking up my eldest daughter, Darcy, from school that day, and it was just me and my youngest, Pearl, at home alone all day. At first it was fine – we watched Peppa Pig, then got out the playdough. But by about 3pm, I felt really lonely. It wasn’t a deep loneliness; I knew Liam would be coming home and I’d be out the next day doing different things, but I wanted to say that it’s OK to be like “I’m a bit lonely today!”
"When your baby’s really little, it’s easy to have lots of days like that, and sometimes you get to a point where you think “It’s just easier not to go out”. And when you start doing that more and more, it becomes an even bigger deal to go out, and you quickly begin isolate yourself.
"It could be that you find yourself in a place where you haven’t got friends you can call on all the time – if your working life meant you’ve not got to know many people, or if you’ve moved to a new place. I’ve found that finding friends as a mum is harder than it sounds. People often say, "Go to a baby group, there’s lots of friends there!” but just because you’ve all had a baby, doesn’t mean you’re all going to be similar or be the same kind of person. I’d also say you want to look for the same qualities in a friend that you would have looked for before you had a baby. So take some time to think about the qualities in a friend that are important to you. I look for people I feel comfortable with, whose company I enjoy, who make me laugh, and are kind and loyal. And when you’re a mum, an added layer of patience and understanding in a friend is always helpful, so they understand those occasions when you have to cancel on them because your toddler is sick or the babysitter has let you down.
"I did go to baby groups and I did really like them, but I didn’t find they were necessarily places to make loads of friends. Even if you get chatting with people, it can be hard to maintain friendships when you get home, as you may not have time to keep up with a WhatsApp group, and when you do have time away from your baby, you’re either too shattered or you want to spend it with your partner.
"Remember that friends can come in different all sorts of ‘shapes and sizes’ too! One of my friends has a daughter the same age as Pearl, so we do a lot of soft play and visits to petting farms – it’s lovely to have someone to spend that time with. I also have friends like Esther, who has a daughter Darcy’s age, so the girls are happy to run off and play together, giving us time for a really good catch up!
"I also have friends who don’t have children. They’re fun because we go out to dinner and have drinks, and do all of the sorts of things I used to do before kids! It can be especially hard to keep those friendships going though, as they don’t always have a full understanding of quite how tired you are, and how much your brain is not your own anymore. I have friends who invite me to “Just come and hang out for a weekend!” but I can’t just ‘hang out’ anymore.
"I need to plan childcare for the girls, and even when I’m with friends, I’m still constantly checking in on the girls – that’s just how it is. If you follow me online, you’ll know that I’m an advocate for the internet because I’ve built my whole career and life on it, but while it means we can speak to friends a lot more easily, I think it’s the face-to-face human interaction that you miss out on most when you become an at-home person.
"Loneliness is not just the absence of friends, it’s an absence of people. Many women on maternity leave have left busy working environments – from schools, to offices, to shops – where they were always surrounded by people. Now, all of a sudden, they’re on their own at home, and the contrast can be really tough. Your world has changed completely and you’re not quite sure how to deal with it."
Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can reconnect when you’re feeling lonely...
5 ways to improve your mental health and mood
1. Do more for you: There’s a lot to be said for feeling confident in yourself and the effects this can have on your self-esteem. While you’ve gained so much having a child, becoming a mum can also feel like you've lost some of yourself at times. Working to get this back, whether that's by taking up a hobby or a weekly exercise class, can make you feel better in yourself and increase your confidence as a result. This will then help you to feel more comfortable with reaching out to chat with other mums in the park or even reconnecting with old friends.
2. Open up: Everyone feels lonely from time to time but not sharing this information with those around you means you’re preventing people from trying to help. No-one can read your mind, and being honest about how you’re feeling will help others to get an understanding of what it is you need from them.
3. Try different modes of communication: Realistically, it can be difficult to make time in your schedule for friends, especially if they're a mum too. But this doesn't have to mean missing out on that human connection. Sometimes a simple phone call will be enough, alternatively, a lot of people find voice notes a great way of communicating, meaning you can reply in your own time.
4. Ditch social media: While social media can be great for forging connections, if you find you’re using it to compare yourself and your life to others, it can leave you feeling isolated, especially if you are already feeling vulnerable. If this is the case, temporarily step back from using them.
5. Download a Mum-meet app: If you don’t feel confident enough to strike up a conversation with that mum you like the look of at baby sensory, an app might be right up your street. Created by two mums who met on maternity leave, Mush (Free, App Store and Android) helps mums just like you find friends who live nearby with children the same age, who you can chat and meet up with.
Live interview with Louise Pentland: Supporting #MaternalMentalHealthWeek
Read more articles about how to improve your mental health with Motherandbaby.co.uk