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What is journaling?
Journaling is a form of self-expression: You capture your innermost thoughts and feelings by writing them down. Similar to keeping a diary, journaling is a powerful way to explore, record, and reflect on what's going on in your head and heart when you're pregnant or a new parent.
Decades of research show that writing in a journal (also called expressive writing) can improve your emotional well-being, mental clarity, and even physical health.
The two main approaches to journaling are:
Write free form. Jot down whatever comes to mind. Try not to filter, judge, or edit. Instead, be open to what happens spontaneously and to any insights you have.
Start with a prompt. Use a phrase or question to kick off and guide your writing process. See below for examples.
What are the benefits of journaling for new and expecting parents?
Journaling gives you an opportunity to:
Take time to reflect. Journaling fosters self-reflection. For example, when you're pregnant, physical changes and concerns demand a lot of attention. Writing gives you a chance to focus on how you're feeling emotionally.
Organize your thoughts. Journaling can help you work through an issue in private. For example, exploring a problem on paper first can make it easier to talk about something difficult with your partner or another loved one.
Heal from a difficult event. Writing about a traumatic, stressful, or emotional event can help you process and recover from what happened. Try writing your deepest thoughts about the event for 15 to 20 minutes on three to five occasions. If you're concerned about how you feel, talk to someone close to you, your doctor, or a mental health professional. (Postpartum Support International provides referrals to local resources, such as therapists and support groups.)
Gain perspective. The days and months tend to blur together when you're pregnant or a new parent. Journaling preserves how you felt during certain moments in time. Looking back at journal entries can provide perspective and insights as your life changes over time.
Let go of distressing emotions. Moms-to-be and new parents are often surprised by the range and intensity of emotions that they feel. Writing can give you a cathartic release when you're dealing with more difficult emotions such as sadness, anger, and anxiety. Journaling can also complement treatment for depression during pregnancy, anxiety during pregnancy, or postpartum depression.
Enjoy a creative outlet. The freedom of writing whatever you want in private gives you a chance to exercise your imagination. There are no rules, so have fun with it.
Tips for journaling
Go old school. Capturing your feelings on paper with a pen engages your brain in a different way than writing with a computer or tapping out notes on your phone. Since you can't easily edit your words, writing in ink also encourages you to express unfiltered thoughts. That said, if digital works for you, go for it. There's no right or wrong way to journal.
Make it doable. Think about a time in the day when it's easier to fit in five or 10 minutes of writing, for example, before you go to bed or during your child's nap time. You can set a timer and then choose to go longer or not. Or pair journaling with an activity that's already in your calendar, such as five minutes of writing after a class or meeting.
Let go of perfection. The goal isn't to write beautiful prose. No one else is going to read what you write unless you decide you want to share it.
Give it a chance. Like anything new, journaling may feel awkward at first and become easier over time with practice. Commit to trying it several times before deciding whether to continue.
Try different techniques. Some people love to write free form. Others prefer prompts. It's a personal preference. An easy way to start is to experiment with "I" sentences that are in present tense, such as "Today, I feel …," "Right now, I want …," or "At the moment, I think …"
Reflect on what you write. When you're done writing, look back over what you've written and capture any takeaways. Try finishing this sentence: "As I read this, I notice …"
What is a gratitude journal? How is it different from journaling?
Journaling is an active way to express emotions, a process without a specific goal in mind. It's about exploring your inner world and seeing where that leads.
A gratitude journal has a specific focus: You reflect on what you're grateful for and write it down. Research shows that focusing on gratitude in this way boosts happiness.
To keep a gratitude journal, make a list of what you're grateful for, ideally each day. It could be anything, big or small: feeling your baby kick, watching your newborn sleep, being able to get some sleep yourself, eating farmers' market tomatoes (or chocolate chip cookies), spending time with your loved ones, being healthy, having a job.
You can also make a large-format gratitude "journal" for your family. Tape a large sheet of paper to a wall or stick it on the fridge and have everyone write what they're grateful for. Or use sticky notes and post them in a central spot.
Journal prompts for pregnancy
- What's my happiest pregnancy memory and why?
- What excites me the most about becoming a parent?
- What am I ready to say goodbye to before becoming a parent?
- What's something I wanted from my parents but never received?
- What's a fond family memory I want to share with my child?
- What's a childhood memory that brings me comfort?
- What are three life lessons I want to share with my child?
Journal prompts for new parents
- What surprises me most about being a new parent and why?
- What are three things I need to stay mentally well?
- How do I feel about returning to work?
- What's my favorite lullaby and why?
- What advice do I have for other parents?
- What does it feel like for me to ask for help?
- My goal for today is …
More journal prompts
- I feel happiest when …
- I am grateful for …
- What holds me back from getting what I need?
- What's my favorite song lyric and why?
- What's something I'd like to share but keep to myself?
- Who makes me laugh more than anyone else?
- What are three goals I'd like to achieve this year?
- How do I nurture my partnership?
- What are my limiting thoughts and beliefs? How can I turn them around?
- What gives me purpose?
- What energizes me?
- What is my favorite way to move my body? How can I incorporate more movement into my daily life?
- How can I cultivate more frequent connections with the people around me?
- Who are my five closest friends? How does each one make me feel about myself?
- How can I use my unique gifts to help others?