Becoming a new mother is a transition like none other we have ever experienced in our lives. When you are pregnant you are showered (sometimes literally in the form of a baby shower) with attention. You visit a doctor or midwife regularly who ask you how you how feel; you are checked to make sure you are eating healthfully and your vitals are monitored- all to ensure that the baby is developing properly inside of you. Fast forward to Labor Day. Not the one in early September, the day when you actually begin the labor of parenting by bringing your child into the world. After the birth of your baby, everything changes. Assuming you, as the mother, are healthy, your birth team’s focus (this applies mostly to birth in a hospital rather than in the comfort of one’s own home) has now shifted to the baby. Checking all the baby’s vitals, making sure he or she is warm enough, administering various tests and even giving vaccinations if you have given permission. Often times these activities take the baby away from you at a time when it is most important for you to be together. And by together, I mean touching, skin to skin. I could go on and on about the importance of skin to skin contact between mother and baby following birth but you can also read about it here. Despite all the research emphasizing the importance of this special time for mom and baby, it often doesn’t happen. This can delay the initiation of breastfeeding and essential bonding between mother and baby. If you are one of the lucky ones, you will be able to get your baby latched on with relative ease or there will be a board certified lactation consultant (not a nurse whose job it is to administer meds, take your blood pressure, etc., who has also been assigned to give you a little breastfeeding assistance, whether she likes it or not) available who can come help you get breastfeeding off to a good start. Sadly, I very often hear stories where none of these things have taken place. Instead, I hear (and these are direct quotes from other new moms), “My baby was separated from me for hours after the birth.” “He was given formula in the nursery without my permission.” “The nurse told me that it was my fault I was having trouble breastfeeding.” All of these situations serve to take power away from you, a new mom.
Following your brief stay in the hospital, where you may or may not have been given the support necessary to make a good start as a confident new mom, you are sent home. And there you will stay. More often than not, I hear that new moms go for weeks without leaving the house and when they do, the only trips they do make out are to the pediatrician–someone who is primarily interested in the well-being of the baby and not the mom who is trying her hardest to feed and nurture this new life. Hopefully, if it is breastfeeding you are struggling with, you have found the help you need in the form of a lactation consultant, postpartum doula, a LaLeche meeting or other breastfeeding support group. Even with these supports, new moms remain very isolated within their homes. You have to now figure out how to take care of your baby, feed yourself, maybe take a shower, and function in general–all on very little sleep. While you are learning all of these things, your baby is trying to figure it all out as well. He or she has never pooped until just recently so babies make all sorts of funny noises and faces, sometimes appearing to be in pain, as their brand new GI system learns how to process breastmilk or formula. They are not used to sleeping in the manner that we are instructed to put them to sleep–flat on their backs. They often long for the days when they were snuggled in, cozily nestled in their mommy’s warm,dark, noisy uterus. So when you put your baby down for just a second to do some silly thing like, say, brush your teeth, they often react with screams and cries. This can make even the most chill new mom frazzled. If you were lucky enough to have your partner around a bit after returning home (or really lucky and he or she works for a company like Google and gets an awesome leave when a child is born), you may have been able to accomplish some of these activities of daily living. Or maybe you have some helpful family members or friends who have put together a meal train and you have meals coming in regularly, at least for the first little bit. This can help tremendously.
No matter how helpful our relatives or our partners may be, there is no substitute for the support that women receive from other women. New moms groups provide essential education support at a time when you need it most and in ways you never imaged. Meeting others who are experiencing many of the same challenges as you can go a long way towards helping you realize that you are not alone in your struggles. Finding other new moms who share your experience can ease your transition into motherhood tremendously. You’ll learn that the women you meet in a new moms group will be one of the most valuable resources you posses as a mother. A professionally facilitated group, such as The Chicago New Moms Group, not only provides you with peer support but also education on a wide variety of topics that new moms are always asking about like sleeping, feeding, returning to work vs. staying at home, your relationship with your partner, baby temperament and developmental milestones. These groups also get you out of the house. This has the added benefit of giving you the chance to practice going out with your baby, feeding your baby when you aren’t in the comfort of your home, and learning to be comfortable when your baby cries around others. Knowing that you will be going to a consistently supportive and nurturing environment when you do venture out can make the process a bit less daunting. All of these factors together help to reduce the isolation that often can lead to postpartum depression or a general sense of feeling overwhelmed by all the challenges that come with becoming a parent. You don’t have to do it alone- join a new moms group.
Linda Szmulewitz is a mom of two crazy kids, a licensed clinical social worker, a postpartum doula, and a member of the Board of Directors for Breastfeed, Chicago! She is the founder and group facilitator of The Chicago New Moms Group, an educational and support program for first time moms of babies 0-6 months old. The next 6 week session begins January 23. Please visit the website for more information and group registration.