Feel (a Lot) Happier as a Mom

Whether you're running on empty, overwhelmed or have the baby blues, find your groove as a new mom with these proven fixes.

Mom Kissing Baby Google Images: Luka

Terri Greenlee had just recovered from a C-section when she made her first venture out for groceries with her 8-week-old daughter, Emelie. In the checkout line, a grinning stranger tapped her on the shoulder with a mouthful of advice: "Enjoy this special time. It goes by so fast." Greenlee wasn't looking for a side of parenting advice to go with her pasta sauce—but there it was. "I wanted to scream," the West Caldwell, N.J., mom says. "I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, driving myself crazy thinking about my milk supply and my daughter's bowel movements every waking minute." Greenlee, a social worker who specializes in early childhood development, knew how fleeting this period was—and how much she was supposed to be enjoying it. On some level, she knew she wouldn't spend the rest of her life in a nursing bra changing diapers at 2 a.m. And sure enough, when her daughter turned 6 months old, Greenlee started to feel like her old self again. But her new-mom baby blues were far from unusual. After nine months spent choosing nursery colors and enjoying your status as a Very Important Pregnant Lady, you too might feel blindsided by the nonstop demands of your baby.

"It's normal to lose perspective and feel like you're missing out on the magical feeling of becoming a parent," says Lu Hanessian, author of Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood. Blame it on the sleep deprivation, rollercoastering hormones, biological changes to your brain architecture—and alright, maybe that perfectly coiffed mom across the street who's always bouncing around in skinny jeans. (Spoiler alert: She feels just as crazed as you!) Take heart: You're not doomed to soldier through your first few months in a constant state of frazzle. We asked a team of doctors, therapists and moms how you (yes, you!) can slow down and enjoy this wild and wonderful time.

HAPPINESS HURDLE YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE YOU ANYMORE You haven't changed out of your leggings in a week, and while you sort of don't care, it seems this might be the slippery slope to a life stuck in a minivan and mom jeans. No, the old you isn't gone—Mother Nature just moved her to the back burner for a while so you can focus on your infant. "Moms learn to read and anticipate their babies' signals through their cries, facial expressions and movements," says Allan Schore, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. A new mom's brain actually rewires to obsess about her baby 24/7. "This period can feel intense, but it's actually an adaptive function," he says.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE Roll with the (healthy) obsession. Knowing there's a biological reason you're weirdly inclined to talk about breast pumps when your girlfriends pop in for a visit is a good start, Hanessian says. Life will recalibrate and you'll bust out of the leggings—eventually. When the mood strikes, pass the munchkin to your partner or a family member and escape to another room with your favorite magazine or outside for a stroll with a playlist that makes you feel cool again.

HAPPINESS HURDLE YOU'RE SO DANG EXHAUSTED How can mothering a sleepy 7-pounder take more out of you than the half marathon you ran last year? All your little peach does is eat, sleep, wet her diaper and occasionally demand that you make cutesy sounds at her, and yet your delirium is reaching uncharted depths.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE Hello—you just built a brand new human being! You bet you're running on fumes. To keep from crashing, here's your new favorite word: delegate. "The best advice I got while pregnant was to buy a big chalkboard and put it in the kitchen," says Kristina Kamm of Harrington Park, N.J. "Fill it with tasks that need to be done, like vacuuming and laundry, as well as a shopping list. When Grandma asks what she can do to help, you'll know exactly what you need. And really awesome people will see the board and get to work with no prompting." While you have help buzzing around, slip away for a nap (keep it to an hour to sidestep grogginess), enjoy some sunshine and fresh air or power through a few yoga poses in the quiet of your bedroom, all of which can jolt your energy level, says Alice Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health.

HAPPINESS HURDLE OFF-THE-CHARTS ANXIETY It's only 10 a.m. and you're convinced Baby is bored, malnourished and possibly allergic to the swaddles your mother-in-law bought. And now you're going to have to cancel brunch with your BFFs because your small fry has a runny nose. Great.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE "Reassure yourself that you and Baby are both where you're supposed to be during this brief time, and you'll be freer to enjoy the ride— detours and all," Hanessian says. Next time you're angsting about the long parenting road ahead, find a quiet place to sit with your doughy-eyed bub and take in the changes already happening in his face, hands and now-focused gaze. Think about what he's doing today that he wasn't doing yesterday. Amazing, right?

HAPPINESS HURDLE CRYING—HERS AND YOURS Your pipsqueak squawks for lots of reasons. She's either hungry, tired, wet, cold, overwhelmed by this big, bright world—or all of the above. And when she's not crying, don't be surprised if you are. The first weeks of momhood are tough as you recover from birth, wake for round-the-clock feedings and adjust to hormonal fluctuations that start with the delivery of your placenta, says Kelly Brogan, M.D., a holistic women's health psychiatrist in New York City.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE Even in your most frustrated, angsty, can't-get-this-babylatched- on moments, holding your little bird skin-to-skin can fast-track you both to nirvana. One bare-chested snuggle boosts feel-good endorphins and the love hormone oxytocin in both of you, promoting attachment, facilitating breastfeeding and helping brain development, according to research in Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews. So next time your wailing wee one launches into a cryfest, take a deep breath, dim the lights, climb into bed and pull her close.

HAPPINESS HURDLE SOCIAL ISOLATION After kissing her husband goodbye as he left for work one morning and cleaning the entire house by 9 a.m., Randy Patterson, a postpartum doula trainer at ProDoula in Putnam Valley, N.Y., felt so desperate for adult company during her maternity leave that she called a game show contestant hotline that flashed across her TV screen. "The woman who answered said, 'Tell me about yourself,'" Patterson says. "All I could think was—she's interested in me." It's a pretty lonely snapshot, but a very real feeling for many moms who crave a conversation that doesn't require talking in a high-pitched baby voice.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE Even in this age of glued-to-your-palm smartphones, you may feel isolated in the early weeks with a newborn— especially during 3 a.m. feedings, when you're sure you're the only sucker awake on the planet. Step One: When the sun rises (and it will), get out of the house. "If going to the bank is on your list of things to do and it takes you hours, so be it," Patterson says. Load up your diaper bag and make a day of it. Step Two: Limit your time on social media and aim for legit face time with other people. A neighborhood new-moms' group is a great place to start—find one on Meetup .com or see if your town has a moms' group on Facebook. Greenlee finally found sanity in a small breastfeeding support group. "My mother used to wonder why I kept going even after I knew how to properly breastfeed," Greenlee says, "but it was vital for me to spend time with women who were walking in my shoes."

HAPPINESS HURDLE ADVICE OVERLOAD If it's not the well-meaning neighbor railing against supermarket baby food, it's your mom telling you to put rice cereal in the baby bottle or Google generating 2,770,000 results for the words 'diaper rash.' "We get so much advice as new parents, which you'd think would help," Patterson says. "But hear too much and selfdoubt creeps in."

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE One day, you'll find time to brush your teeth, eat with both hands and have date nights. But one thing that'll never go away: random folks offering their two cents about parenting. Practice filtering out information sources that don't resonate with you, Patterson says. If you admire your friend whose baby eats and naps in a reassuring rhythm, she might be an ideal mama mentor. Folks you can feel free to ignore: "Those who haven't been around a baby since the millenium and anyone you wouldn't leave your dog alone with," says Magda Pecsenye, a parenting coach in Ann Arbor, Mich. and founder of askmoxie.org. And what about the murky world of online advice? "It's not a great idea to Google anything under the influence of hormones," Pecsenye says. "Have a trusted friend do a search for you and cherry pick the most relevant morsels."

HAPPINESS HURDLE YOU'RE RUNNING ON EMPTY With their marble-sized stomachs, newborns need to eat often, which may leave you wondering if you'll ever prep a sit-down meal again. In due time, absolutely. Until then, you need more than a handful of cereal here and a spoonful of Ben & Jerry's there to stay energized and upbeat, says Hillary Wright, R.D., director of nutritional counseling at the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. This is especially true if you're breastfeeding, as your body is burning 300-plus additional calories a day.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE You need to chow down to feel like a human being, so keep the kitchen stocked. Take friends and family up on their offers to drop off a casserole or roast chicken, which can be turned into quick meals for days. Even better: Set up a Meal Train calendar (mealtrain.com) where loved ones can sign up to bring food or send takeout on designated days. "During this crazy time you might spend most of the day grazing on snacks rather than actual meals," Wright says. "Those munchies should include complex carbohydrates to boost energy, along with some protein to keep up your stamina and maintain your milk supply." Think whole-wheat crackers and peanut butter, a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit or a smoothie blended with Greek yogurt and some frozen berries.

HAPPINESS HURDLE SUPERWOMAN EXPECTATIONS As if making, growing and delivering a baby don't make you heroic enough, you feel compelled to spend your downtime (ha!) being "productive" by monitoring work email and scrambling to make plans with your old pack of child-free friends. And failing miserably at, oh, just about all of it. No bueno!

FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE For starters, remember that your "inability" to keep up with your pre-baby life means your focus is exactly where it should be: with your new bald boss—your baby. Newborn-hood isn't a 12-week gap in your schedule you need to fill with organizing all of the pictures on your computer. It's for snuggling up with that sweetie you waited nine months to meet. "I'm a total Type A, but after I gave birth I turned inward and did nothing but nurse, sleep and eat," says Erin Jurnove of Berkeley, Calif. It's a dreamy idea—if it works for you. "Nothing makes people relax less than someone demanding that they relax," says Meredith Fein-Lichtenberg, a childbirth and parenting educator in New York City. The trick is to set realistic goals, like tackling one optional to-do during baby's first three months (see ya, closet of 10-year-old sweaters!), but if you don't get to it, no worries. You were obviously consumed with a way more important project—Peewee!

IS IT BABY BLUES OR SOMETHING MORE? Falling in love with motherhood is normal—but so are mood swings, tears, anxiety, irritability and decreased concentration, especially during the first 10 postpartum days, says psychiatrist Kelly Brogan, M.D. "After that, with good self-care, more stability should come with each passing day," she says.

For the 10 to 20 percent of new mothers suffering from postpartum depression, these symptoms don't go away. "See a doctor if you can't sleep, don't feel like showering or getting out of bed or find yourself always wanting others to care for the baby," Domar says. "Some women are ashamed to admit they have these feelings, but there are so many effective treatments available."