Beyond Birth

ADJUSTING TO MOTHERHOOD

So you’ve had the baby and are now adjusting to the role of being a new mum.  The first year is undoubtedly overwhelming and tiring; even more so if you’ve had multiples and/or have other children to look after.

Research by the Leicester Motherhood Project found high levels of adjustment to motherhood regardless of age.

Still, if this is your first child, the upheaval a newborn brings could come as quite a shock after years of personal freedom and generally living life on your terms. Motherhood might initially feel like a complete severance from the life you lived before your baby arrived. This could result in a type of identity crisis and increase your vulnerability to depression.

As a new mother, you might find yourself grieving for your old life. It’s normal to experience a spectrum of feelings; intense love, joy, fulfillment, compassion, tenderness, loneliness, boredom, doubt, fear, anger and even hatred. The adjustment to motherhood can take time – be kind to yourself. You may find returning to work (that’s if you decide to go back) benefits your well being when maternity leave ends.

YOUR WELL BEING

As well as the joy and fulfillment of being a parent it’s also very hard work. Therefore it’s important to take care of yourself, in particular your stress levels.  If you find your self feeling depressed or highly anxious seek help immediately from your GP and health visitor. Here are some suggestions for restoring balance;

  • Good diet – lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and lean meat.  Cut down on caffeine (especially if you are breastfeeding) and refined sugar.  If you have any known food sensitivities then avoid these too if possible. Drink plenty of water and/or calming teas like chamomile. Supplement your diet with a multivitamin.
  • Cut down or stop quick fixes like smoking and alcohol. Smoking IS BAD for your baby or child.
  • If you are a new mother rest and sleep when you can.  Sleep when baby sleeps; a cliche but so true. If it’s possible, enlist help from friends and family.  A post natal doula could offer further support in the first months; their job is to ‘mother the mother’.
  • Quality time for yourself. If you can lean on family or afford childcare this can offer invaluable ‘you time’ to rest and recharge.
  • Aerobic exercise – walking, running, swimming ……
  • Calming activities that stimulate the feel good hormone oxytocin; massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, tai chi, a warm bath and a good supportive hug from loved ones.
  • See your friends and network with other mums. Join bumps to babies and toddler groups. Being a mum can be lonely and isolating and left unchecked can lead to depression.

Being a parent could also ignite painful memories and feelings from your own childhood, difficult to cope with along side managing your child’s feelings. Talking to counsellor or psychotherapist can help regulate your emotions which will enhance your ability to manage your child’s often intense outbursts.

YOUR RELATIONSHIP

One study found a year after birth, older women felt slightly less positive about their marital relationship and had less positive attitudes towards sex than younger women. Overall research indicates that the quality of the parental relationship impacts upon the psychological adjustment to parenthood.  Those with more negative relationships saw an increase in incidents of depression, stress and anxiety.

This may or may not be the case for you but certainly highlights the importance of taking care of the relationship with our partner. During pregnancy it might be an idea to plan how you are going to take care of each other (and the rest of the family if you already have children) and be clear about each others responsibilities when the baby arrives.

A baby can really impact on the relationship dynamic. The partner (usually the father) who returns to work gets to maintain the continuum of their life pre-baby while mum has to cope on her own with the relentless demands of her infant. Mother and baby tend to become an inseparable unit especially during the first six months, so dad may feel left out. Bickering and arguments are therefore normal.  However if your quarrels start to escalate then talking to a couples therapist could help (the link is to Relate who also offer telephone counselling if you have problems with childcare).

Sex (full intercourse) after birth should be approached with understanding and care especially if you are recovering from external wounds and/or traumatic birth. Penetrative sex should generally not commence until after the post natal check up at about six weeks.  Even after this period, and given the rigours of birth, hormonal changes and stresses a new mother has to cope with, it’s entirely normal not to feel sexy and not want ‘full sex’ for some time. Oral sex shouldn’t be performed on you (mum) for a few months after birth due to risks of infecting the vagina and womb.

YOUR CHILD

Developmentally the outcome for children of older parents is good.  Research shows they do better in verbal, reading and comprehension ability and overall perform better at school.  They also tend to be more confident and secure. This might be because older mothers tend to spend more time with their children and throw everything into their parenting role.