I’m very concerned about how to help new mothers not only to love and cherish their babies and give them what they need, but also how to make sure that new moms have time to breathe and time to “be” so they can enjoy their babies.
Postpartum can be a really rough time for brand new moms. All of a sudden, your vision of yourself sitting on a blanket under a tree with a smiling, cooing baby, is blown to smithereens when you get home from the hospital with a small creature who is totally dependent on you, and whose cries shake your confidence to your core.
I remember my own experience as if it were yesterday. The feeling of upset, frustration and discouragement I felt as my colicky first child cried for eight hours a day, four in the morning, and four every evening, for three solid months. I was on my own in a big city, in a new apartment on the nineteenth floor, knowing no-one nearby. My mother was thousands of miles away, and so was my mother-in-law. I used to sit on the edge of my bed, hold my son and cry with him because I couldn’t help him. Thank goodness I had a good pediatrician who helped to calm me and do his best for the baby. Although I was worried, I thankfully managed to come through it all without postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is more common than you think. In reports I’ve read, about twenty percent of new mothers suffer this mental health problem, and doctors are advised to monitor their patients for signs of it for the first four to six weeks after women give birth. Some of the signs are parents worrying about making a mistake, having frequent thoughts of being “bad” parents, and feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of new parenthood.
Here’s the thing that’s worrying me: a type of parenting approach that I think makes a new mother exhausted and worn out. Many new moms have taken up a fad in which they “wear” their baby in a sling all day long. Not only that, they are sleeping with the baby (“co-sleeping”) so are awakened, not only by their child’s demand for feeding, but also by their baby’s sleeping noises. Two things happen here: one is that the parent doesn’t get her deep sleep and two, the baby is not allowed to learn to self-soothe, because the parent is picking her up and not allowing her to go back to sleep on her own. Sleep deprivation is a main cause of postpartum depression. It is erroneous thinking to believe that a baby needs to be constantly in physical contact with her mother. In cultures where mothers have to work in the fields or travel long distances on foot to get water, for example, baby-wearing is essential. This is not necessary, nor is it healthy, in today’s modern world. Contrary to what many people think, doctors believe that babies should sleep separately from their mothers.
Mothers carry babies for nine months inside their bodies. From the time they are born, babies are on a path of learning to be independent. They need attention and cuddling, yes, but they need time to “be”, not being suffocated by their mother’s constant attention. The goal of parenting is to raise a self-sufficient, independent adult. Serious problems can arise from co-sleeping and baby-wearing, such as sleeping difficulties (for the child as well as for parents), and parental depression and exhaustion. Also new dads need to have a chance to bond with the newborn and can be an invaluable help to lighten the load of baby care.
A mom asked a question on a parenting site: “Is it okay for me to leave my baby alone so I can take a shower?” I was perplexed by this question, then realized she was embracing the fad of constantly holding her baby. She was not only doing her child a disservice, but was sacrificing precious self-care of her own, crucial for her to be able to feel good about herself and to enjoy her baby.
New moms: Put your baby in his own bed. Doctors recommend this because of the danger of SIDS, among other things. Keep him in your room for the first few weeks, then move him to his own room. Put a rocking chair there and feed him there. That way, you’re helping him on his first steps to adult independence. Also, your partner can continue sleeping with you, which is an important part of maintaining a good relationship.
I advise buying a playpen or “play yard”, and outfitting it with a mobile and age appropriate toys so your baby can learn to play on his own for short times. You can take a shower when your child is fed and changed and in his bed, or in the playpen, away from family pets or other children in the family. I know from my experience of using a playpen with my four children that you can take a break, have a coffee, or get some housework done while your baby is happily settled in a safe place learning to enjoy some time alone. Buy one you can use until he’s walking.
Looking after yourself as well as your baby is so important. Take some time away from him to exercise, eat well, and sleep as much as possible when he sleeps – in his own bed. You’ll enjoy your baby more and he’ll benefit tremendously.
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