Transforming Post-Partum Stress Into Joy

I wrote a post  a long time ago based upon my experience as a physical therapist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that consistently is one of the top posts ever on this blog.  It really was meant for those parents with premature infants or infants who were neurologically immature to be able to look for stress signs and help their infant with soothing and calming techniques.  However, that post ended up turning into something more than that….and I think this there is a reason.

What I have noticed in leading breastfeeding support meetings over the last 11 and a half years is that mothers today are almost like these infants –  they are not only new,  but super vulnerable, and feeling so stressed about trying to mother.  They are so afraid of making a mistake, and seem almost paralyzed by normal infant behaviors.

Mothers, have confidence in yourself.  YOU are the expert on your baby. Yes, it is probably harder than you thought it was going to be.  It might now be as intuitive as we thought, because many of us use more analysis and fact.   I think there are several reasons for this stressful, anxious ridden beginning that many parents today seem to be experiencing –

  1.  Many times we are afraid to ask for help, so we don’t and just try to tough it out.  If we do decide to ask for help, we turn to the Internet.  We don’t necessarily want to do things the way our parents or grandparents did so we don’t ask them, but when we turn to the Internet, we often get  100 different answers/choices/experiences on any given topic, which is confusing.
  2. This leads to decision-making fatigue.  How do we know which one of the answers/choices/experiences is the RIGHT answer?  We might be messing these poor babies up FOREVER.
  3. The stakes seem to be too high to make a mistake.
  4. We are exhausted.  No one told us it would be like this.  We don’t have a lot of support,  we have too many decisions to make,  and we can’t decide what the answers to these topics or infant behaviors are, and it seems too mystical.

It is so hard.  Parenting is often about trying things and learning to let go, making the wrong choice and having to make it right, or discovering that the things that worry us so were just not that big an issue after all.  And I fear sometimes that as a society we are wearing ourselves out on these small things, and we therefore have less energy for the really big things that  matter and happen as children grow and go through developmental stages.

I think finding people in real-life who can help you – whether that person is the grandma down the street in your neighborhood, a caring health care professional, a support group,  or friends you really trust – can  be helpful.  Staying off the Internet can also be helpful – it will give you a lot less decision fatigue.  See if you can figure out what is going on, what YOU think,  before you turn to the Internet and look it up.  Find some trusted resources.  I think when we had our first child, we wore the pages of Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book” right out.  It was my reassurance because even though I worked with a lot of infants and very sick infants, this baby who was not on a monitor and did full-term baby things was challenging!  And that brings me to my last point: before you have children, it would great to spend some actual time with babies and toddlers.  If you didn’t grow up in a large family or babysitting frequently, you may not really know the normal things that babies and toddlers do.  Pregnant mothers are welcome at many support meetings and that can be a good place to start!

Let’s stop the epidemic of anxious stress that pervades our parenting beginnings.  Let’s take it back down to enjoying the beginning of the newest life in the family.

Much love,
Carrie

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One thought on “Transforming Post-Partum Stress Into Joy

  1. Thank you for this, Carrie. I think that all too often when a new mom is overwhelmed to the point of not functioning well, that medical caregivers are way too quick to say that the mother should stop nursing or that she has post-partum depression. While post-partum depression can be very difficult to realize and diagnose, I think sometimes it’s very easy for doctors to falsely categorize any stressed out new mother as having it. It can be a fine line, and of course, I urge any new mother who is having a difficult time adjusting to seek help. But I’m so glad you are writing about this term “post-partum stress”. Yes. That is what I had when my daughter was a newborn. In a big way, with a large dose of middle-aged new mama wild (WILD) hormones on top!

    Added to that stress, was the stress of having to be very firm with my doctor that NO I did not feel depressed, and NO I did not have any thoughts of hurting my baby or anyone else, and NO I was not going to stop nursing, and NO I was not going to take anti-depressant medication.

    A dear friend from my birthing class and La Leche group did have post-partum depression, and she was helped tremendously by being treated for it, and that was a beautiful thing to witness, and I’m so glad her doctor recognized the signs and helped her.

    That is not the help I needed, but I did need HELP! My once-a-month La Leche League group was amazing! But once a month was not enough help or guidance (for me) in the beginning. Because my husband and I were 40 years old, that meant that our parents were also older (plus living far away), and did not have the energy to help in the ways that we needed.

    The only other parents in our lives at the time were other NEW parents, and while it was really helpful to be going through this experience with other new parents (albeit much younger than we were), we really could have used some help from parents with more years of experience.

    In American middle-class culture, parenting (and all aspects of life) can be very isolating at times. Thank you for creating a space for thought, perspective, and support for parents!

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