Taking Care of the New Mom

Having a baby can bring with it many emotions.  A new mom (whether it’s her first or fifth baby) will experience elation, fear, joy, excitement, exhaustion, and a myriad of other feelings along the way.  At times it can be difficult for the people around her to even keep up!  Sometimes it may seem like it would be easier to just take the baby and let mom rest (and there is a place for that), but what she needs most is to be completely supported and cared for so that she can take care of her baby.

Encouraging Connection

The most important thing that a loved one can do is assist mom in connecting to her baby.  This can be difficult to do when we have built a culture around “letting mom rest” and sending the baby to the nursery.  Research shows us that babies actually need to be with their moms as much as possible from the moment of birth throughout the first 10 days postpartum.  Newborn babies are not difficult to care for and mom will actually sleep better knowing that her baby is nearby and safe.  Respect mom’s instincts and decisions and allow her to lead in her new role.  The most hurtful thing someone can do is to tell a new mom that she isn’t doing something right.  That can cause guilt and ultimately harm the connection a mom feels towards her new baby.

Becoming Her Protector

Women are taught to be strong and capable, but after the birth of a child, a woman needs to feel completely taken care of so she can meet the physical and emotional needs of her baby.  The best thing that her husband, partner, or close family member can do is to get prepared for the best way to care for her.  As I said before, this may not look exactly like you may think.  Moms don’t need someone to “take the baby,” “feed the baby,” or “give mom time alone.”  Moms need their basic needs met so they can spend as much time with their baby resting, feeding, and bonding.  One of the most important things you can do is to be prepared for the “baby blues” which normally peak due to hormone fluctuations on days 3 and 10.  These feelings are completely normal and actually serve a purpose when they are within reason.  They help to remind mom that she has just been through a very physical and mental experience and needs to rest and depend on those around her.  Historically women would have given birth, gathered their baby in their arms and rested for 40 days.  All of her meals and needs would have been taken care of, and she would have allowed herself to cope with everything that becoming a new mom entails.  While we are pretty far removed from this method of bonding, you can help create an atmosphere as close to this as possible.  You will most likely find that mom will work through the “baby blues” and move towards more balance as she becomes more accustomed to life with baby.  There are times when the baby blues turns into postpartum depression and anxiety, if that is a concern you should help the new mom seek help.  A good website is:  www.postpartumprogress.com

In Their Own Words

“As a new mom, I was surprised by the range of emotions I felt.  My baby was healthy, beautiful, and strong. But all of that didn’t change the fact that I was overwhelmed by sleep deprivation, nursing difficulties, and a huge learning curve.  I felt anxious and insecure in my new role. I felt isolated, frustrated, and even resentful. Heaped on top of all of these was guilt. How could I have these feelings with this incredible blessing in my arms? Why couldn’t I just be happy and content, like all of the other young mothers I knew?   I could only begin to process all of these emotions and gain perspective once I became transparent with a few close friends. It was such a relief to know that I was not the only one experiencing these conflicting emotions. One of the keys to taking care of new mothers is giving them a safe place in which to work through these early days of motherhood…a place where the guilt, confusion, fear, and frustration can be freely discussed and dealt with in a healthy way. ”  ~Emily Brown
“In years gone by, families often lived close together.  Now, with jobs and other circumstances often putting extended families across the country from one another, new moms and babies are often alone more quickly when dad has to go back to work.  I know, personally and through helping other mothers as a childbirth instructor, that having sufficient postpartum support is key in so many aspects: helping mom succeed in breastfeeding, reducing postpartum depression, aiding in mom’s recovery, and just helping the new family have time to properly bond.”  ~Rachel McDaris
“I would say that as someone whose mother lives 2500 miles away, having support here is very important. There is only so much support you can get over the phone.  The first few months are when you need the support the most for various reasons. We were blessed with [our daughter] in so many ways, but found out we were getting her and then had her in our arms within 48 hours.  After years of waiting and praying for a child, it was wonderful, terrifying, and filled my heart to the point of overflowing all at the same time.  Finding BabyNet was such a blessing because I know very few stay-at-home moms, much less ones that cloth diaper and feel the way I do about baby wearing, organic feeding, natural remedies, etc. “  ~Suzy Brewer
How Things Have Changed

“A big step in caring for moms and babies in the hospital is the recent support for ‘kangaroo birth care.’  Mom is able to hold her newborn immediately after birth, skin-to-skin, uninterrupted for at least one hour.  This enables baby to adjust to extra-uterine life while easily maintaining breathing, temperature, and blood sugars.  All Kentucky birthing hospitals have this information, although not all have implemented the practice yet. TJ Samson in Glasgow was one of the first in the state to start this, and the nurses have said the immediate calming effect was one of the most surprising results. When family members are clamoring for birth measurements to share and fighting for a chance to hold the new baby, remind yourself and others that this is one of the most important times to support the new mother – by giving her this calming and peaceful hour (or more).  She’s worked hard for these precious moments, and she deserves to hold and bond with her new baby.  Respect mom’s time with baby, and respect baby’s time with mom.  Her body is the only environment he/she knows!”  ~Dana Bennett, Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator 

Because babies were generally taken away from their mothers and placed in a nursery, family members became accustomed to getting to see the baby weighed, measured, etc.  They could take pictures and “ohh and ahh” over the baby immediately after birth.  A common practice was calling (now done through Facebook and texting) the baby’s time of birth, length, and weight moments after he/she was born.  Kangaroo care changes this practice a bit.  You may hear the lullaby song and then it may be longer than you had hoped before you get to announce the news and take those first pictures.  Be assured that mom and baby are doing what nature intended and that they are feeling each other’s warmth, baby is hearing mom’s comforting heartbeat, they are looking into one another’s eyes and falling in love.  I encourage you to be supportive and understanding even if this is not the same experience that you had when your babies were born.

How to Visit a New Mom

I was thinking through what friends and neighbors could do to help moms during the first couple of weeks with a newborn.  I posted this question on the BabyNet KY Facebook page and quickly had a long list of suggestions.  Here are a few that seemed most popular:

1.    While some moms may specifically request visitors at the hospital, most would rather limit it to just immediate family.  Giving birth and bonding with baby takes a lot of work and a calm environment.

2.    Email or text if possible so you do not wake a sleeping mom or baby!

3.    Bring a meal.  Call ahead and see what the new mom would like to eat.  Bringing frozen meals or gift certificates for take-out are good ideas as well.  Ask if they need anything else like diapers or wipes.

4.    Clean something while you are there:  the bathroom (secretly), sweep the floor, or offer to start a load of laundry.

5.    Do not expect to hold the baby, but if she asks you if you would like to, offer to let her take a shower or get something else done while you are holding the baby.

6.    Set the ringer on your phone to ring after 20 minutes to make sure that you do not stay too long.