After the Baby: New motherhood demands adjustment

KAI CHIANG | Thinkstock

When I first had my daughter, I was in shock about the experience of giving birth and completely overwhelmed about how I would take care of my baby and myself from there on out. I felt blindsided by the challenges I faced as a new mom. I was surprised by feelings of grief and loss surrounding the transition into motherhood, and I wondered why no one had told me it would be like this.

I even felt a little ashamed. Why wasn’t I gliding through the transition into motherhood like everyone else? Although I was hesitant to share what I was going through, I’m glad I opened up to friends and family. Sharing what I was experiencing helped me realize I wasn’t alone, and it got me thinking about what would ease the transition into motherhood.

First, educate yourself about the postpartum experience. There are lots of little details I wish I had known about physically recovering from birth and taking care of a newborn. Second, you need to practice self-care. Third, you should develop and use your support network. Finally, it is important to treat yourself with compassion during this challenging transition.

Educate yourself about the postpartum experience. Birthing a baby is a very physical act. I was really surprised how fatigued and sore I was after giving birth. Every mother’s physical experience of labor and birth is different, but it’s a good idea to plan for a few weeks to rest and recuperate. It’s also great to talk with your care provider about the typical course of physical recovery. Knowing a bit about what to expect from your body will help you makes plans to care for yourself while you are learning to care for a new baby.

Practice self-care. I remember nursing my newborn around the clock and feeling like I didn’t even have time to eat or use the bathroom. With the help of family preparing meals—sometimes spoon-feeding me—and being available to hold the baby for a few minutes here and there, I was able to slowly start taking care of myself. But it was really hard. Finding ways to incorporate even momentary rituals of pleasure—like a cup of tea or a bite of chocolate—can go a long way toward postpartum wellness. Talk with your partner and other family members about how they can help you take care of yourself. Ask friends and family what helped them during the postpartum period. You can even organize your ideas into a postpartum wellness plan that you can refer back to once the baby arrives.

Gather your support network. In the first few days after my daughter was born, I remember thinking that I had traded a pretty easygoing lifestyle for a very demanding new job, and in some moments I even wished I could reverse my decision. I was lucky to have a close friend nearby with whom I felt comfortable sharing these thoughts. Without the reassurance that I wasn’t the only one, I might not have made it through the first few weeks of motherhood.

It is so important to find people whom you can share honestly with and who can validate what you are feeling without judgment. Knowing you’re not alone and that you’re normal can help get you through even the toughest moments.

Give yourself a little understanding. Perhaps the most important person you need to get support from is yourself. I am the kind of person who really likes to feel like I’m doing things right. Being a mother has forced me to make peace with not knowing all the answers. Finding compassion for myself is an ongoing process. It may sound simplistic, but talking to myself in a kind and compassionate way has helped me overcome feelings of self-doubt. When you find yourself starting to doubt your ability as a mom, try saying something nice. Or consider creating a mantra like, “I am the perfect mother for my baby.”

Becoming a mother is a joyful and profound experience. It can also be lonely, scary and challenging. Take the time before the baby comes to learn about what to expect after the birth; identify supportive family members and friends; and prioritize self-care. Never forget to cultivate love and compassion for yourself along the way. Remember that it will take quite some time to truly feel comfortable and competent as a new mom.

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