top of page

The Ultimate Guide to Navigating Postpartum Mental Health: My Favourite Tool for Finding Balance

Why I created this tool:

“What do you need?” 

I never understood how difficult it would be to identify, meet and communicate my own needs until I had my first child. In the depth of newborn haze, breast feeding and growth issues, new parent anxiety and a Pandemic, I struggled to find time to get even my basic needs met. Though I had lots of support, and care... my needs got lost in the chaos of a new baby and the giant shift to my identify and family system. I struggled to find time to do the simplest of things, to eat, to pee, to wash my face and brush my teeth.

What I have come to learn in working in Perinatal Mental Health and talking with LOTS of other new parents is that this experience is all too common. The tidal wave of emotions, hormones, schedule changes, lack of routine, identity shifts, relationship shifts DISORIENTS us beyond belief. So much so, that we can sometimes even struggle to answer that surprisingly not so simple question of "what do you need?"

Self care is a big buzz word that floats around during the PostPartum period. Self care, and how we understand it in our society is really difficult if not impossible in this early Postpartum stage. In my favourite Postpartum Mental Health book Impossible Parenting: Creating a New Culture of Mental Health for Parents, Olivia Scobie unpacks how unrealistic and even harmful our society's concept of "self care" can be. She writes that this type of self care is "hyper-feminized and usually focuses on beauty rituals... This is what she calls "Prescriptive self-care." She writes "The logic of prescriptive self-care says that if we're fatigued or drained, it's because we aren't caring enough for ourselves, making it a personal deficit issue rather than a by-product of the culture of impossible parenting."

Olivia offers an alternative solution: Self Parenting. "It's the practice of parents taking care of themselves in the same way they would their children." It is the practice of ALSO treating yourself as if you are a full human being who has basic needs that are equally important as your baby's needs, or your partner's needs.

It feels embarrassing that this blew my mind at 4 months Postpartum when I read her book. I realized how I wasn't acknowledging the fullness of my humanity as a new mother, because I didn't know I was allowed to! I thought "baby comes first now, and always." So when baby fussed, baby got fed even if I had to pee, and hadn't eaten all day. The concept of self-parenting reminded me that I was HUMAN TOO, and also had a right to my basic needs! I started the simple yet powerful practice of Self-Parenting in small ways. I ate before sitting down to feed baby, I listened to my body when it told me I had to pee, I slept instead of washed the dishes when baby was napping. Slowly over time, these small but mighty actions completely shifted my Postpartum experience, and my entire view of self as a mother.

After seeing this same phenomenon happen in soooo many new parents, I wanted to create a tool that could help us to orient to our humanity and the validity of our needs. This is where the Postpartum Triangle came into my practice. Similar to Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, the triangle lays down a foundation of BASIC HUMAN NEEDS that typically need to be achieved before we can move forward. Also similar to Maslow's hierarchy, this is not to be taken as a "steps to success" map, this is simply a compass that we can use to re-orient when feeling overwhelmed.

I have added different levels or areas of healing and growth that I have found to be important for people. Starting with basic needs, healing and recovery from birth and shifts in systems, adjustment to your new life, and discovering new identity for self as a parent.

Here is an example of a triangle for an imaginary person that I created. Yours may looks different, or quite similar.

The triangle is a reminder to any of us that we are human beings first, with basic needs that we have a right to protect. We can soar up and down and around this triangle at anytime, and this is ok. There is no right way to navigate your healing. Once again, it is a compass for when we feel lost, when someone asks, "what do you need?" We can check in here first.

Who can use this tool?

This is a helpful tool for single parents and co-parenting partners navigating new parenthood together. I often encourage couples to look at this triangle together, fill out your own, and talk about how you can support each other in (at the very least) protecting the bottom level when our capacity is low. Often times I see resentment emerge in couples when one partner is struggling to get basic needs met, and the other partner is wanting to fulfill I higher level need (ex: Partner A: I want to have sex again, Partner B: I have not had more than 4 hours of sleep consistently for 4 months). The triangle can help create a mutual understanding that our responsibility towards ourselves is to care for our basic needs first AND It can provide clarity to a partner on how to support.

My favourite part of this tool is how it can give us permission to be full human beings. Often times as new parents we are told that we lose our rights to many of the needs on the bottom of the triangle. This cannot be true. Sleep is a basic human need! We need sleep, and food, and to use the bathroom. When we start to view it as this, it creates a new and strong foundation for our Postpartum Planning. For example: Partners plan shift work at night for night parenting for protecting sleep...regardless of who is "working out of the home" the next day. Basic needs are important for EVERYONE. It can also give us permission when we are underresourced, to focus on survival with what energy, time and capacity we have. It can give us permission to say:

"it's ok I can't do this alone, it's ok for me to want/need more help."

"It is ok that I can't reach those higher level needs, my job right now is just to care for baby, and get my basic needs met because that is all I have the capacity for."

Our society puts pressure on us to achieve ALL OF THESE levels of healing and growth at once. My hope is for you to use the triangle to ground in whatever and wherever is important to you.

Self Reflection: Create Your Own Triangle!

Download the blank PDF and an example of the triangle!

PP Traingle
Download PDF • 258KB

Take some time to reflect on each category and what you may need/ do need in your Postpartum journey. Print it out, hang it on your fridge and refer back to it next time you feel overwhelmed, check in and ask yourself "How do I need to tend to myself today?"

Basic Human Needs

Examples of needs that show up in this area:

  • Sleep

  • Food/nutrition

  • Drinking Water

  • Safety

  • Hygiene needs and using the bathroom

  • Feeling Supported and not isolation

  • Mental health

  • Emotional connection

You will notice that I have included emotional connection, mental health, and feeling supported and not isolated in this category. I would invite you to do the same. Our emotional well being and need for feeling connected, understood and held (attachment needs!) become increasingly important, if not just as important as being fed, and getting sleep.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you fill out this level and/or chat about this with your partner/support people (don't forget they have their own triangles too!):

  1. What are my basic human needs?

  2. Which of these needs do I struggle to meet now, or did I struggle to meet even before baby?

  3. Which of these needs do I think will be most threatened by this new shift in my life?

  4. How can I plan ahead to protect and respect those needs?

  5. What supports do I need to plan for ahead of time?

  6. How will I notice and communicate when these needs are being unmet?

Healing and Recovery

You may not have the information needed for this category until after baby arrives, but we can still make guesses!

Examples of needs that show up in this area:

  • Finding balance/confidence as a parent

  • Figuring out what I want/need in my healing and learning how to ask for it

  • Processing/making sense of my birth journey

  • Marriage/partnership re-organization and family system re-organization

Here are some questions to think about:

  1. How can I have patience with my body (or my partner's body) after birth?

  2. What is my view of "postpartum recovery?" What informs that view? Does it feel true to my experience, or harmful?

  3. What professional supports do I have lined up to help with my healing?

  4. What are areas of tension/change/growth that are showing up in my relationship and family system?

  5. How can/might we tend to these areas?

  6. What further needs of my own are becoming apparent after I meet my basic needs?

Adjusting to New Roles in Life and Family

This category entails anything and everything that has to do with life! It's a big one! Think about what needs seem to pressing for you, seem to be nagging at you to get met (either internally or externally) they usually land in here.

Examples of needs that show up in this area:

  • Finding ways to move and connect with my new and different body after birth

  • Managing the household

  • Friendships and relationships

  • re-engaging in Sex and sexual parts of myself

Discovering New Identity for Self

Anything in your identity that has nothing to do with being a parent (work, hobbies, etc.) may fall under here. These are the needs and pieces of you that may have been put on hold in the PostPartum period, that we may have to grieve, or that we may want foster again. I have created a Self Reflection Tool for exactly this work, when you are ready to do it!

I offer virtual Psychotherapy throughout Ontario to clients as a Registered Psychotherapist.

If you are interested in journeying with me in your therapy work you can book a session here. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

Take care and always be gentle with yourself,

Michelle Green MA, RP, CCC, CC-PMH


bottom of page