Bridget's 6 Tips On Becoming a New Mother
Emotions, changes and adjusting.
The waiting, all the excitement of those nine months, the visits, the planning, the worry, the anxiety, people around ensuring that you simply have got enough rest and good nutrition, then, bam! You have the baby! Now what? The joy of having a new-born is often mixed with stress and therefore the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Not every new parent processes this event in the same way. There are plenty of things that elicit different emotions and experiences.
What type of support system do you have?
Was it a planned pregnancy?
Was the pregnancy smooth or difficult?
Was the delivery normal or anxious making?
How is breastfeeding going? Easy-going or difficult?
What were your expectations of this experience?
What are the should and shouldnot's, are these your own or that of your mother, caregiver, friends, or family?
The process of becoming a new mum is not a like a furniture flat pack assemble, one size fits all experience, but it is an individual one with its own struggles and emotions. Mums of new-borns, who had had children before, also find each experience different.
The 4th trimester
The first twelve weeks are difficult, your body is going back to its original state, hormones are still there and yet you are now a mother and are expected to do, function and to be ok. This is what is known as the 4th trimester. The following three months after giving birth is a time of great physical and emotional change as your baby adjusts to being outside the womb, and you adjust to your new life as a mum.
Everyone is there to celebrate the baby but how are you doing? Are you being seen? How is your experience? Are you feeling sad, disoriented, numb when all around you people are telling you how happy, grateful, amazing you should be feeling? Are you looking at social media and see the picture-perfect poses of new mothers and thinking to yourself “that is how it should be!”?
1. Be kind to yourself:
Newborns take up lots of time. It’s very easy for new mums to be overwhelmed within the first few weeks by the demands of feeding, sleeping (or lack of), crying, and looking after a baby. Combined with the physical recovery after giving birth and the changes to their hormones, it’s no wonder mums can feel exhausted!
Notice your thoughts and your feelings. One of the biggest factors in postnatal depression is guilt and self-doubt. In the first days and weeks, your mind will be focused on the wellbeing of the baby. Is he/she feeding enough, burping enough, sleeping? Is the nappy too full or too dry? Is the bottle making him/her gassy, is he/she too cold or too hot? Is he/ she even breathing?! These are a few of the many thoughts and doubts that come to mind to a new parent, yet, if you start feeling overly stressed because you feel like you are not getting anything right, then a lot of things start to go wrong very quickly.
Mums can reduce their negative thinking, by putting less pressure on themselves to do everything perfectly. Ask yourself, am I striving for perfection? What is most important right now? Is it better for me to sleep now and do the dishes later? Is this a real worry or is it getting out of hand? What would I tell my best friend if she came to me with these worries? Can I ask for help? For those who are struggling with their thinking, therapy can be a key ingredient in breaking the cycle of negative thinking.
2. Ask for and accept help.
You cannot do it all on your own. Yes, you do not need to have everyone visiting right now as it is the time to rest and recover and getting to build your relationship with your baby, but a few family and friends can help by bringing nutritious meals, helping with the household, looking after your other children (if this is not your first child) and looking after the baby while you rest. It is important to try and sleep when your baby is sleeping or ask your partner or a family member to look after your baby while you get some rest. Accept help and don’t be afraid to ask.
3. Be aware of your thoughts and mourning the ‘old’ you.
Sometimes the routine of feeding, changing the nappy, cleaning, sleeping and repeat, gets to us and we start feeling we miss our ‘old’ life of being freer and more independent. It can come out as losing touch with your identity. Being aware of these thoughts and changing the way of talking about them helps. Instead of saying 'I lost my life', one can say, 'this has changed, and I have a new addition to my life.' We don’t have one identity but multiple we can adjust to the many new roles we have. Give yourself time, it takes time to adjust to the new role, trust the process and you will find creative ways on how to adapt to this new life making it work for you.
4. Be playful, create connection and attachment.
Your baby is a new individual you are sharing your life with, one with one’s unique character and needs. Allow yourself the time to get to know him/her, to be playful. A new baby cannot play ball or do ‘boo’ back but being playful by maintaining eye contact is essential, touching the hands and the soles of the feet, spending a lot of time skin to skin to improve the sensations, and just speaking to him/her saying silly stuff. That is what is needed now – creating a connection and bonding.
Give yourself time. At times the attachment and the feeling of knowing your baby take weeks and practice. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't have the 'falling in love’ feeling immediately with your baby. You have a lot on your plate and sometimes worry and self-doubt takes over. Past experiences of care and nurture could also elicit painful memories and strong unresolved feelings of childhood trauma, creating anxiety and even fear. Take time to hold your baby, look at him/ her and look at the eyes. And if you feel like struggling with these emotions, reach out and seek help through therapy.
5. Mindfulness and feeding time.
A practice that I had discovered whilst I was lactating my second born was practicing mindfulness whilst he was latched on to me. It was an ideal time when I could focus on my breathing and becoming aware of my senses, letting my thoughts just be, observing them like they were clouds floating in the blue sky and not giving them any label or judgment. It was a precious time where I felt I could calm down and just let him nourish on me. A time of connection, with myself and with my baby.
Your baby, whilst drinking from your breast, is very much in tune with your body (and you with his/hers). The same goes if your baby is being bottle-fed. When the baby is on you he/she unconsciously and immediately picks up on every signal such as your heart rate, muscle tension, and breathing rhythm to mention a few.
Just imagine the difference for your child when he/she looks up to look at your face whilst feeding and sees you consumed by a screen, as opposed to lovingly/playfully looking at his/her or your eyes closed gently in silent meditation. He/she probably won’t remember consciously but the vibration of these early experiences will be stored in his/her body-mind.
Try this practice written by Judith van Kolfschoten in Breastfeeding in Mindfulness:
While nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, become silent. Breathe deeply and relax. Soften your belly and feel it rise and fall as you breathe in and out. Sense the breath of your baby and the movement of his or her belly and chest as he/she breathes.
Gently notice what comes to your attention: sounds, feelings, thoughts. Simply gently notice and let it stay or pass, like a white cloud in the clear blue sky. If your attention has drifted away for a moment, gently bring it back to the awareness of the breath and the sensation of your baby’s body and yours touching.
Your baby may soon relax into your caring presence. By your breath alone, he/she knows he/she is safe. Also, if he/she is very young, her natural breath will still be arrhythmic and through sensing your rhythmic breath, he/she learns to regulate his/hers.
If you are not used to this kind of practice, know that you are not just sitting still. You are ‘holding space’ for your child, which means: providing a safe container for him/her to move through all the phases and experiences of being a baby. The quality of your presence is worth so much for him/her.
A guided mindfulness video can be found in the further reading list below. Remember, it can be used with bottle-fed babies too. No matter the reason behind your choice of feeding, the holding space and your presence is still felt.
6. When to seek professional help.
Talk about how you feel. Your experience is unique and what you are feeling is valid. No one can tell you how to or not to feel. Yes, many women experience baby blues in the first few days after giving birth, but if these feelings do not go away or get worse like when thoughts and feelings of helplessness and even self-harm emerge, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Psychotherapy helps in supporting you, validating your experience and feelings, and finding ways of becoming aware of your needs. You don’t need to go through it alone.
B.Psy., PG.C.E., PGDip Couns., M.Psych (Gest)
A guide to first-time parents
Becoming a New Parent. How can new parents learn to handle the pressures that come with infant care?
Inside a Mother's Mind. Understanding and coping with maternal anxiety and intrusive "scary thoughts.
Mindfulness for breastfeeding
New parents: psychology & conflict
Ten Changes New Parents Face