You’re expecting a baby and have your due date boldly circled on your calendar. You’ve most likely read all the different labor and delivery stories online or heard them from friends. You researched all of the latest baby gear and set up a beautiful nursery. What else is there left to do except wait for baby to send out those cute birth announcements right?
They said it would be hard but the nitty gritty was left out. The truth is that when your baby arrives, reality can be very different from what you envisioned. Welcoming your baby into the world is an incredible milestone! So, rather than place a warning label on the postpartum period we will look at all the different ways to prepare for it.
The most difficult part of these challenges is not knowing what to expect and then facing them with little or no guidance. These next seven points are things that you can do to mentally and physically prepare for those early weeks.
Healing from childbirth can be both physically and emotionally challenging.
Your uterus and other lady parts are doing major restorative work. If you had a C-section then you will be recovering from a major surgery. During your recovery, you might have stitches, mild to severe pain, and swelling. Lastly, you will excrete fluids. Lots and lots of fluids, in the form of sweat, blood, and maybe some tears.
Your hormones are undergoing drastic change. This plays a huge role in how you will feel post baby. In a nutshell, without getting too scientific, your progesterone levels will plummet and estrogen levels will be higher as a result. Research “estrogen dominance” and see for yourself!
Be kind to yourself. This will all pass but being aware of these things can be validating. It’s a normal part of the healing process but always check with your care provider if you have questions. Join a support group and try to meet people face to face. Beware of “mommy forums” and frequent Googling which sometimes offer conflicting advice and attack your self esteem.
Breastfeeding is not always easy.
It is natural but requires practice and instruction. You had no idea what “inverted nipples were” because quite frankly, it never mattered until now. You may encounter engorgement, leakage, and lumps.
Breastfeeding may be slightly uncomfortable or downright painful if your baby has difficulty with latching. A newborn’s suckle can be powerful and until your nipples get accustomed to this, it can take some getting used to. In some cases, pain, cracking, and even bleeding are things you need to look out for if this is your first time breastfeeding. The good news is that in the event these things occur, with proper guidance, you can overcome all of it and form a healthy breastfeeding bond with your baby.
Make sure you have a lactation consultant’s information on tab. Gather all your breastfeeding supplies (breast pump, Boppy, and nursing pads.) The more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel should an issue arise. Attend a free drop in La Leche League meeting and network with fellow breastfeeding moms and professionals. You can also pick up a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and familiarize yourself with different holds.
You might feel physically or emotionally depleted.
You might feel physically exhausted for obvious reasons. They don’t call it labor for nothing! However the emotional piece is twofold. We discussed the role that our hormones play during recovery but here is another: Identity. The moment your baby was born, you were born into your motherhood role. You’ve entered a new position and are experiencing a tremendous learning curve as you build this relationship with your baby. Understand that this is normal and be gentle with yourself.
Grab a pen and paper and figure out what your needs are at this very moment. Do you need someone to talk to, a long nap, a massage, or a newborn care class? Use your resources! Make a list of all of your strengths and take this time to see if you could strengthen other areas such as patience, self-love, time management, or priorities if necessary.
A baby’s cry can pierce right through your walls (of self confidence.)
The first cry was the most beautiful sound you ever heard. As the nurse was fishing for your placenta, you didn’t mind it one bit- your baby’s glorious cry was all that mattered. The magical moment wears off after hearing these cries without the ability to soothe them. Your baby is new to this world and is experiencing everything including hunger for the first time—and with urgency!
A baby’s nervous system can get overstimulated easily. Everything in this world is brand new to them and this takes some adjusting in the form of crying. Think of it as feeling home sick in a world completely different from the womb!
Don’t take your baby’s cries personally or as an indicator of your parenting. Once you have gone through the checklist (diaper, feeding, physical comfort) and/or consulted with your baby’s physician, consider that maybe your baby is having an emotional release. Your baby can have rough days too and being there for him could just mean holding him while he cries the way you would for a friend. Babies have emotional needs too which includes the need to be heard and held with no judgment just like crying adult would need. It’s a different perspective but trust that it works.
New mothers need guilt-free time to themselves.
The keywords here are guilt-free. What are you doing for you and how are you feeling about it? If you find that you can’t return to your old social life or hobbies, take this time to discover new ones! It sounds a lot easier said than done. After all, when was the last time you had to think about making new friends or developing new interests?
Join a moms group, yoga class, or activity where you can meet other expectant moms pre-baby. Try to step out of the home or visit another mom when you feel ready even if it’s for a short walk or a cup of tea. It’s important to build these relationships early on so that you feel connected and supported once you step into your new role.
Moms aren’t always entirely truthful when they say, “I’m doing just fine.”
The intention is not to be dishonest. This also doesn’t mean things are bad but it is a challenging adjustment that isn’t easy to admit. Early parenting is also a memory that fades with time so you may hear things like “My baby slept through night since she was three weeks old!” or “My baby hardly ever cried!” I guarantee you every mother has overcome a challenge in one department or another but not everyone will tell you about it.
Don’t feel ashamed to share what you are feeling. You may find that being open will help others open up about their own experiences too. If you don’t feel you are struggling, offer other moms genuine tips and reassurance if you feel they could use the guidance.
Having an extra set of skilled hands is a necessity not a luxury.
Motherhood is the most complex all-encompassing role you could ever imagine. The village cliché proves true and you will need physical and non-judgmental emotional support. Having some form of support during the early weeks and beyond your baby’s arrival is crucial to your family’s well being. This could mean having relatives, friends, a lactation expert, or a postpartum doula visit you.
Do your research and don’t be afraid to hire a knowledgeable expert to guide you even if you have family staying with you. If you’re not sure about hiring someone, at least have a few phone numbers you can call should you decide to have extra help. Do NOT do this alone. I repeat, do not attempt to do it all on your own!
So here you have it: The seven challenges new mothers face and steps you can take to feel more confident earlier on. Also remember to try and take it one day at a time because before you know it, this phase will pass and become a thing of the past.