You have waited for this day for the last nine months, probably longer. You have brought a little life into the world and your home. The ‘congratulations’ are pouring in and everyone is swooning at this gorgeous little person you created. This should be one of the happiest times of your life, but often, it doesn’t always feel like that. After bringing your first baby home from the hospital, entering into the “boot camp” of parenting, you might think, “There’s no way it’s this hard for everyone! Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it again!” But, chances are, you will do it again. Though, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard!
Everyone and their mother, and their mother-in-law, will be offering you advice. It’s hard to know what to do and what not to do, but the best approach is to be informed, seek trusted support, and make your own decisions for yourself and your baby. Learn as much as you can about various experiences and know that all moms and all babies are not alike. Most importantly, find resources and people that you trust for advice and support.
Here are several topics that are not only essential for new moms but are also services that you can turn to MaternalWell for support. So settle down with your newborn, feeding pillow, a glass of water, snack, phone, and whatever else you have surrounding you these days, and learn a little more about the adventures of the postpartum journey.
Chances are, you spent the last nine months visiting the doctor, taking your vitamins, eating healthy, regulating your exercise, and planning for this new addition. The focus was on your body and your health. But once your baby was born, your priorities shifted to their bodily health. Are they eating enough? How many poops did they make today? How much spit up is too much spit up? Of course, you want to take the best care of your baby, but it is also essential to care for yourself. After all, if you are not mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy, that can directly impact the health of your baby.
You may want to keep track of your own diet, sleep, and emotions, especially in the beginning. Also, be open to accepting help from others! Physical help like allowing someone to cook or clean for you is great, as well as mental and emotional help like having a trusted source you can talk freely with. These will all support your maternal wellness.
When you spend every day caring for a newborn (and possibly other children), checking in on your mental health is vital. Of course, sleep deprivation will impact anyone, but the baby blues and postpartum depression are more than that. Approximately 80% of mothers will experience the postpartum blues, commonly referred to as ‘baby blues.’ Beyond that, 1 in 9 women experiences a more severe case called postpartum depression. It’s important to know the difference and check-in with yourself or others frequently regarding your mental health during this time.
“Baby blues” is a feeling caused by the sudden change in hormones after delivery, coupled with sleep deprivation and fatigue. You might feel more saddened, overwhelmed, and emotionally fragile. This usually occurs within the first few days following birth and continues for a couple of weeks, if not months.
What do the baby blues feel like?
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
You may be able to improve your baby blues by sharing the responsibility of night feedings, paying closer attention to your diet, talking with a partner or friend about how you’re feeling, or seeking support. Be sure to check in on yourself at least once a day to gauge how you’re feeling.
The baby blues are perfectly normal and tend to go away after 3-5 days (although they may return). However, if your symptoms are getting worse, you may be suffering from postpartum depression. About 10% of women experience postpartum depression, which is a serious problem and one that you shouldn’t ignore. If you feel scared or out of control, tell your provider. If you’re worried about hurting yourself or your baby, call 911.
Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression
Postpartum depression can look like baby blues as they share many symptoms. However, postpartum depression symptoms are more severe and can include suicidal thoughts or an inability to care for your newborn. Symptoms also tend to last much longer. Symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Unfortunately, the first screening of these symptoms has traditionally been administered six weeks after delivery at the first physical check-up appointment. This may be too long to wait so if you are feeling like you might have postpartum depression, reach out to a support service or call your doctor.
Breastfeeding is one of those things that feels like it should be so natural and easy, but it typically ends up feeling the exact opposite. In the beginning, you may not know what you’re doing as you’re trying to guide a young infant who goes from zero to ‘starved to death’ in about 8 seconds towards your swollen, cracked nipples before they pass out. Whew! I’ve been there. Let me assure you, it does get easier and more enjoyable! But also remember that it takes time and patience for every mother and baby.
Three days after giving birth, more than 90% of new moms report having problems breastfeeding. More than half of new moms do not breastfeed for as long as they had intended due to low supply or difficulty latching. But remember, you have many resources at your fingertips such as support from board-certified lactation consultants or through online support groups to help you be successful in breastfeeding. Additionally, organizations like Le Leche League International can provide information, guidance, and encouragement in those times when you feel like it’s just too hard.
There is also more to breastfeeding than figuring out what feels comfortable. Latching problems like tongue ties can prevent newborns from latching onto mom without a nipple shield, or even at all. Low milk supply sometimes interferes with successful breastfeeding but, with early intervention, is also something that can be improved. Monitoring what you’re eating and how it’s affecting your baby is another challenge many mothers navigate. For new mothers, this may feel overwhelming and could make mothers feel guilty about experiencing challenges while breastfeeding. This is why it is important to receive lactation support as often and as early as possible when having a baby, even if things seem to be going great.
Imagine living in the arctic circle where summer months experience 24-hours of sunlight. How would you know when to go to sleep and when to wake? This is similar to what your baby is experiencing. In utero, they could sleep and wake in the dark as they pleased but now that they are out in our world, they need to learn a routine. Sleep training is a safe and effective tool to help babies learn to soothe themselves at night.
There are many opinions and approaches to sleep training so seek out methods that feel right to you. Some to research are:
- The Ferber Method
- Cry It Out
- Chair Method
- Pick Up, Put Down, and Sush-Pat
- Bedtime Routine Fading
- Bedtime-Hour Fading
While often overlooked, roughly 26% of new dads show signs of depression during the three- to six-month period after the baby’s arrival. Just as your life has flipped upside down, so has theirs. As the mother, you tend to be able to bond with your baby on a deeper level than the father. Your partner may be doing their best to support you and the new baby, but the stress and anxiety of a newborn can affect everyone in the household. Encourage your partner to do self-checks as well, checking in on his mental and emotional health during these first few trying months. If he seems to be experiencing signs of depression, encourage him to seek support from a reliable resource.
Your newborn is not the only thing that is sensitive during this trying time. Your relationship with your partner is just as delicate. Babies naturally grow up and get stronger — many relationships, however, deteriorate if couples are not proactive about nurturing it and setting time for each other. In fact, within three years of the birth of a child, approximately two-thirds of couples find that the quality of their relationship declines and, within five years, 13% of marriages end in divorce.
Therefore, it is important that during this time, you and your spouse are making time to check in with each other, even if only for a few minutes. Talk about your days, watch a movie together (if you can both stay awake), or take a walk outside. These may have seemed like simple tasks before, but in the months following having a baby, they become quite an accomplishment. You can also consider whether you want to consult a professional, even if things seem good between you two, just to help you connect and communicate during this season of life.
You are providing health, care, and nutrition to your baby. It is important that you make sure you are taking care of your body now, postpartum, just as you cared for it while pregnant. Knowing what to eat, especially if you’re nursing, can be tricky when you are trying to adjust to your new lifestyle. Our dietitians can help you understand how nutrition factors into your wellness during your pregnancy and after giving birth. With support, diet plans, and collaboration, we can help guide you to a well-rounded nutritional plan that will benefit you and your baby.
For many, adjusting to their post-baby body can be difficult. The physical and hormonal changes that occur during prenatal and postpartum periods cause changes to the musculoskeletal system, which include: altered posture, shortened muscles, muscle imbalances, and spinal mobility. While jumping into a fitness regimen right after birth is discouraged (who has time for that anyway?), finding support in physical therapy can help transition your body to its non-pregnant state.
I know what you’re thinking, what life? The first few months after a baby seem to make life as you knew it feels so far away. But eventually, you’ll be able to get into a new routine of life. Research confirms that although we might not be able to control what happens to us, we can change our responses to stress through self-care (counseling, nutrition, sleep, and moderate physical activity) and seeking support from others. A strong support network of engaged partners, helpful family members, and close friends can balance the negative effects of stress.
MaternalWell is here to accompany you throughout this journey by providing education, support, and counseling in all the categories mentioned above (prenatal, postpartum, and beyond).
Our experienced providers take a proactive approach to mental, physical, and emotional wellness during this critical and sensitive time for new and expecting moms.
We offer convenient and affordable access to high-quality professional care and support through our telehealth platform, providing moms with virtual visits in the comfort of their own homes.
You can visit us at www.maternalwell.com to learn more.