Why Motherhood Can Sometimes Get Harder After the First Month

Black mother cuddling sleeping baby son on sofa
LWA/Dann Tardif / Getty Images

If you had a tough pregnancy, you may have thought things would get easier once your baby was born. Perhaps you were ready to be rid of the watermelon-between-your-legs waddle, couldn’t wait to have a glass of wine again, or of course, were looking forward to that best reward for all of the weeks of pregnancy—finally holding your little one in your arms!

But many first-time moms find that after the first month of parenthood, it can actually get more difficult. This surprising truth is one reason many experts refer to baby’s first three months of life as the “fourth trimester.”

If months two, three, and beyond are tougher than you expected, you’re not alone. From going back to work to changing sleep schedules, there are many reasons you may feel parenting becomes increasingly difficult after an initial honeymoon period. Here are several challenges you may experience, plus expert input on how to lighten your load.

Your Baby’s Sleep Is Changing

For the first several weeks of life, it might seem like your new arrival does nothing but snooze. “In the first month, babies require an enormous amount of sleep and will sleep just about anywhere,” says pediatric sleep consultant Gaby Wentworth, LCSW. “It's easy to transport them and get things done around the house because, well, they sleep all of the time.”

However, as time goes by and your bundle of joy begins to grow and change, so does their sleep. They start to require a more structured sleep schedule in a more consistent environment. This means you're working around their schedule now—not the other way around.

You might also notice your baby entering a “twilight zone” of fussiness late in the day. “At this age, fussiness in the afternoon and early evening tends to hit its peak. This can be exhausting for parents,” says Wentworth. Though you may not be able to stop this tendency toward cranky behavior, you can rest assured that it’s normal for this stage of your child’s development.

You May Not Have Much Help

Maybe having a parent or in-law live with you for the first few weeks postpartum wasn’t your idea of a grand old time—but after their departure, you may discover their help was more valuable than you realized.

Plus, it’s not just live-in helpers who typically go away after the first month of your baby’s life. Meal deliveries and other offers of help also gradually recede the older your baby gets.

Without assistance from others, the full weight of baby care can feel overwhelming. But there are still ways to politely ask for—and get—help, even after baby’s first month.

“I always encourage new mothers to not allow asking for help to mean something it doesn't,” says counselor Kayce Hodos, LPC, NCC. “It doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing or you're weak or a bad mother. It simply means you're doing the hardest job in the world and could use some support.”

Try making a list of tasks you wish you had help with, encourages Hodos, and then reach out to friends. She suggests you keep it practical and focus on the jobs that need doing.

Your Emotions Continue to Adjust

“While many women experience overwhelming sadness and/or anxiety within the first few days or weeks (known as the "baby blues"), others report feeling a rush of excitement (perhaps oxytocin) that carries them through the first week or two,” says Hodos.

As you continue to adjust to your new life with baby, you might feel like you’re on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. “A woman can experience symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders at any time during pregnancy and up to one year after childbirth,” Hodos reminds. 

Motherhood is an ever-evolving journey that will keep you on your toes—physically and emotionally. But if feelings of sadness, anger or anxiety just aren’t letting up, seek help from a qualified professional.

You May Have to Go Back to Work

In what feels like a flash, it’s time to go back to work; the prescribed limit for many women on maternity leave is just six weeks. Whether you’re employed part- or full-time, leaving your baby in someone else’s care can do a number on your emotions.

Even if you’ve looked forward to returning to work, there’s no denying that doing so comes with logistical challenges. For breastfeeding moms, pumping at work can be stressful and time-consuming, while childcare drop-off and pickup may add extra time to your commute.

When going back to work piles on the pressure, try to focus on streamlining your routine. Having a set schedule for to-dos like when to pack baby’s daycare bag or when to take a pumping break may help you hang on to your sanity.

To cultivate your sense of closeness with your little one, make a point of reserving special activities that are just for the two of you, like bath time in the evenings or a Saturday morning walk.

Hodos also recommends speaking with your human resources department as early as possible about how to make the shift back to work smoother.

“Some workplaces allow women to gradually return to their jobs, working a part-time schedule or a modified work-from-home arrangement a few days a week,” she says. “Do some thinking about what would make the transition back to work a little easier, and then have a conversation with your boss or HR.”

Others’ Expectations of You Change 

Most people understand that, for new moms, the first few weeks after giving birth are a haze of diaper changes, round-the-clock feedings, and sometimes-painful physical recovery—all on fragmented sleep.

But, as the weeks after baby’s arrival go by, other people’s expectations of new moms often shift. Friends and family might give you less grace for being late or seeming scattered. You may feel pressure to “get it together”—even though your sleep and your self-care may be just as out of whack (or more so) as when you first gave birth.

When others don’t have compassion for your situation, it’s easy to feel like you have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps to meet their expectations. But remember that becoming a mom is an enormous life change that takes time to adjust to. Try a gut check. Regardless of other people’s opinions, if you know you’re doing your best, that’s what matters. 

Was this page helpful?