Every new beginning is also an ending of what was before. Every ending is a beginning. Whenever a baby is born, the world will never be the same. This is wonderful. It’s also okay to grieve for the loss of the way life was before. A mother may no longer have the control of her own time the way she once did. Perhaps she also misses the challenges and rewards of her work. Hobbies may have been put on hold for a while. Her romance with her partner is also now different — it’s no longer just the two of them. Here are some suggestions for helping a new mother ease into motherhood:
- Help her get as much sleep as possible. If she is breast feeding, she will probably feel sleepy just after nursing. Encourage her to take a nap. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Once nursing is well established, begin giving your baby some bottle feedings (ideally of pumped breast milk). This will give Mom a break, and be a special time for you.
- Get Mom out of the house. Even brief breaks (especially if it’s time the two of you can spend together) can be very restoring, especially if you get outside.
- Surprise your partner with your thoughtfulness. Whatever is special to your beloved, go out of your way to make it happen.
- Release the new mother from as many of her usual roles and responsibilities as possible. Unless she genuinely wants to (and her doctor okays it), she shouldn’t have to cook, do dishes, write thank you notes, make love, take out the trash, feed the dog, deal with her in-laws, or anything else except baby care and self-care. If you are not fortunate enough to have paternity leave, it may be difficult for you to pick up all these extra household tasks. (Even if you do have paternity leave, you may be so sleep deprived yourself that you can’t do them all!) If that’s the case, get help from someone you both trust and find relaxing to have around your home. At the same time, help your partner realize that she is not marginal to the household. She is an incredibly important person!
- Get as involved as possible in caring for your baby. Specifically, ask your partner what she would find most helpful. Would she like you to change more diapers? Read baby care books? Call your pediatrician with questions? Rock the baby to sleep? Run out and buy supplies? There is almost nothing that most new mothers appreciate more than concrete, loving assistance from the father in caring for their baby.
- Shower her with praise and encouragement. Point out to her the things that she is doing well, the ways that she is becoming more adept at baby care, the magnificence of what her body has done in creating a new life. Let her know that you believe in her capacity to be a wonderful mother. Gently remind her that it’s normal and fine for motherhood to be an unfolding process. She doesn’t have to have all the answers. Over time she will be amazed at how skilled she will become in understanding and nurturing her child.
For some new mothers the “baby blues” may signal a more serious problem. Up to 1 in 10 childbearing women experience postpartum major depression. These mothers should seek professional help, in addition to the above suggestions.