* Thank you to Alana Healthcare who requested I write this entry as a "guest blogger" on their website for September 2016 ...
Becoming a parent is a major life event. It’s an exciting time that changes life in lots of ways—and this transition requires numerous adjustments. Many new parents find that having a baby is more challenging than they anticipated and will experience a range of emotions, both positive and negative.
It’s important to remember that there is no ‘right’ way to feel as the experience will vary for each person. As a new mother, you may need extra support to assist with adjusting for a variety of reasons. Some women appreciate mentoring for specific issues whereas others may require targeted treatment for postnatal depression and anxiety.
So what are some of the common experiences of re-adjustment that a new mother might face?
It is a big deal coming to terms with keeping another human alive. Aside from the very real physical challenges of recovering from the birth and hormonal change, sleep deprivation is a common issue with newborns requiring continuous care in the early months. Feeding and settling can at times present additional stresses. Some women take a few weeks to get in synch with the baby, while others benefit from building trust to accept help from others.
Being a mother can be an enormously challenging job with considerable demands so it’s natural to feel mixed emotions at times. It is estimated that roughly half of new mothers will experience some degree of distress while adjusting to their new role. Many women find their emotions increase in range. Ups—elation, joy, pride, relief—and downs—agitation, hopelessness, anger, guilt, confusion, anxiety, emptiness or sadness—may all be part of the mothering experience.
Finding your flow
A feeling of motherhood is something that a new parent may not experience right away. Learning to understand an infant’s needs, vulnerabilities and communication can seem a daunting task. Every infant has a unique temperament and it may take a little time for a mother and baby to find their flow. Many mothers find greater contentment when they discover a philosophy of baby care that works best for them. And what works may be different for each mother and baby pair.
Developing a personal approach is not always an easy task when navigating volumes of conflicting advice, external expectations and comparisons with others. It’s not surprising that some women may lack confidence in their own ability to respond to their baby’s needs or feel they are not the ‘perfect mother’ with the ‘ideal baby’ they had imagined.
Often the difficulties of juggling an infant’s needs while running a household can result in a woman’s own needs being put aside. Adapting to her role change, a mother may feel a sense of loss of personal identity, work-based status, financial independence, social contact, or sense of control and freedom. Mothers who return to work may feel guilty about leaving their baby in the care of others.
Relationships often undergo restructuring during parenthood. Partners need to negotiate new roles and responsibilities. They may have differing ideas on how to care for a baby, different needs for physical intimacy, and different ideas on the division of domestic tasks. Changes in values and attitudes can lead to tensions. Family dynamics can alter with the arrival of a new member. Single mothers face the job of caring for the baby on their own.
Anxiety, depression and worry
Mothering and worrying tend to go hand-in-hand. It is the way biology safeguards an infant’s physical, mental and emotional health and development. Feeling anxious or wanting to do the best for your child is natural. When it becomes excessive though, this can hinder the enjoyment of parenting.
If motherhood is not what you expected, it is easy to blame yourself or doubt your parenting abilities. Sometimes the life changes and emotions will seem overwhelming and may affect a mother’s ability to enjoy or care for her infant.
Many women have trouble asking for help. They may feel shame because they are not coping with their new baby or guilt because they are not feeling as they think they should. But they are not alone. It’s important to acknowledge both the joy and struggles of adjusting to parenting. There are many things that can be done to help a new mother adjust to these changes as comfortably as possible.
Seeking practical as well as emotional support when needed is a step towards a more rewarding parenting experience. Some mothers benefit greatly from seeing a qualified psychologist who can provide ways of managing mixed emotions and new life skills. Many can also benefit from seeking help as a couple to help navigate the delights and difficulties of the parenting journey.
Wendy Roncolato and Prue Foster
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Alana Healthcare is a well-respected and experienced team who specialise in gynaecology, obstetrics and fertility in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney.