by Kimberly Chan
This post was originally published at https://www.oktobeimperfect.com/preparing-baby-emotional-changes-challenges/.
Emotional changes and challenges should be expected with the arrival of a new baby. As I prepare to lead a PEPS Newborn group discussion on Emotional Changes and Challenges and prepare for the arrival of our second child, I want to share my approach with other new and expecting parents through this post.
One thing that I’ve learned about pregnancy and parenthood is how unpredictable life can be! There’s a certain (sometimes huge) level of uncertainty around the health of the baby and mom during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and temperament of the child after it’s born. The best we can do as expecting parents is to follow providers’ recommendations and reference best practices/tips from other parents.
In this post, I will briefly go over the topic of postpartum mental health and give a checklist of ways to build a support network for this vulnerable period.
Why Bother? What Are These Emotional Changes and Challenges that You Speak of?
Approximately 70-80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child. Often the symptoms of baby blues show up within 2 weeks of birth. Furthermore, 1 in 7 moms (and 1 in 10 dads) experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). PMADs include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). The statistics are astonishing when you put it in the context of the number of parents you may personally know! While one of the drivers is changes in hormones (and the fact that a new parent just went through a life-changing event), other contributing factors can be mitigated with some preparation ahead of time. By preparing for the emotional changes and challenges that often accompany new parenthood,
OK, I’m Convinced. Now What?
Knowing that you or someone you know will likely find new parenthood challenging, my strategy is to have a support network that is as well-rounded as possible.
- Self-care plan (and sticking to it as much as possible)
- House chores
- New Parent Support Groups
- Medication Plan
- Know your local resources
1. Self-care plan (and sticking to it as much as possible)
It can be hard to convince yourself that you should leave your baby in someone else’s care. You may think that caring for the newborn is your responsibility, that you should be able to do it without asking (or paying) for others’ help, or you may find it too challenging/exhausting to find someone you trust. Pride and guilt can get in the way of self-care, but I remind myself that:
if mom is happy and rested, both baby and partner will be happier and better cared for too.
I find that after taking a break, whether to sleep, eat, or simply not be on edge for baby cry for a short time, I have more capacity to tolerate irritation, frustration, baby cries, undone chores, etc.
- Outside time, be it walking around the block, sitting out on the balcony/backyard/front porch or library story time
- Some exercise, when you are ready, at the level you are ready for: it may be 5 squats at home to start, holding plank while your baby is doing tummy time, or postnatal yoga
- Have a list of people you can ask to hold the baby while you use the bathroom/shower/lie down for 5 minutes:
- Friends – “if you love me, you will soothe my screaming baby while I take a nap”
- Partner – yes they may have been working all day and ready to de-stress/relax, but so have you, and they deserve the bonding time too (being tired is the hallmark of new parenthood)
- Visitors – “Are you vaccinated for whooping cough? Have you washed your hands? Here, enjoy the new baby for a minute while I take a deep cleansing breath”
- Neighbor – “please hold/watch my baby while I use the bathroom”
- Doula – birth doulas often offer at least 1 postpartum home visit, and postpartum doulas are specifically to help you out after the baby is home. Many doulas offer sliding fee scale, so be sure to ask!
One thing I’ve learned after the arrival of my first baby is that I can hardly ever find enough time to make healthy food. Usually baby demands attention after everything is cut or mixed, or while something is mid-cooking. Here are a variety of ways to keep everyone fed and sane during those first 8 weeks:
- Buy frozen meals or freeze meals in advance
- Meal train
- Prepare or BBQ pre-marinated meats and veggies
- Try salad kits
- Delivered grocery
- Meal replacement shakes
- Snack bars
- Trail mix
3. House chores
Another thing I have learned (even though it took some time), is that a (new) mom is not required to do it all! It is normal to want to keep a clean and tidy home and put meals on the table, whether out of a sense of responsibility or to keep anxiety and stress in check. But getting someone else to do the job also counts as getting the job done!
Post a list of things visitors can do when they are here. They are here to see you and the baby, but hopefully, they are also here to be helpful.
- Move things into or out of the washing machine
- Bring grocery or meal
- Refill water bottles and snacks around your feeding stations (especially if you are breastfeeding, but you still need fuel even if you’re formula/ bottle-feeding or just plain awake at night)
4. New Parent Support Groups
- PEPS – the Program for Early Parent Support is a Puget Sound region nonprofit that helps parents connect and grow through parent groups and additional programming.
- Adjusting to Parenthood – a parent support group offered on Fridays 11:30 am – 1:00 pm at Seattle Holistic Center (no pre-registration needed, just drop in!). $10 drop-in fee or pay as you can. Adjusting to Parenthood support groups are jointly sponsored by PEPS and Perinatal Support Washington.
- More support groups and resources.
If you have family members living near you, ask them for help! If they don’t live nearby but it’s possible for them to travel, tell them how their visit can be helpful (e.g., come visit 1 month after due date, stay at a hotel or other accommodations, etc.) and set expectations ahead of time (they should plan to help out around your home, you won’t be making plans to entertain them, they should be up to date on vaccinations and wash hands after entering home, don’t come even if they are only a little sick, you will let them know when you are ready to hand over baby, etc.).
Friends should get a similar ‘what to expect’ note as families. Sometimes friends also need a reminder to check in on you beyond the immediate newborn period.
I am an introvert by nature and have a tendency to “keep it together” rather than sharing challenges as they come up. I have learned that made sharing challenges even harder as time progresses. This time around I am more mindful of keeping my close friends current on week-to-week challenges even during the prenatal period.
7. Medication Plan
Since I had already experienced postpartum depression once, I am at risk for it to come back the second time around. My healthcare provider suggested that I get on a baseline dosage 6 weeks before due date to brace for the sharp drop in estrogen after delivery. Have a chat with your healthcare providers so you can understand your options and have a plan in place ready to go if you need it. A well-trained provider should find this conversation normal and expected and should be supportive of you. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are maternal health concerns just like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, and should not be downplayed.
8. Know your local resources
- Sleep consultant
- Feeding consultant
A doula is a person who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born. Many doulas have sliding fee scales. Find a doula in your area through DONA International or PALS Doulas or specifically postpartum doulas at NAPS Doulas
- Therapist – especially one who is trained in pregnancy and postpartum mental health. Try to interview a few to find a good fit before you need one. Speaking from experience, it is much harder to start researching when times are difficult.
- Swedish Center for Perinatal Bonding and Support – Swedish offers day program as well as outpatient therapy. The Day program is a 9 am – 3 pm, 1 – 3 week support for both moms and babies, whereas outpatient therapy is the traditional therapy session. Contact them to see if their services are right for you.
- Community resource list posted on the PEPS website, plus the PEPS Planning Checklist for New Parents
- Community resource list posted on the Swedish website
- PSI Peer Support Warm line – 1-888-404-7763. Not a crisis hotline, but peer support from women who have suffered from some kind of PMAD and a great way to talk to another person. You leave a message and someone will call you back.
- Parent’s Trust Hotline 1-800-932-HOPE
- Online support for women who experienced traumatic births: Solace for Mothers
- A local chapter of International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) Seattle for support and education
- Find many more Washington State Postpartum Support Groups
Got other ideas on how to prepare for the emotional changes and challenges that come with new parenthood? Valuable resources in Seattle or elsewhere? Comment below!
About the Author
Kim is a PEPS Newborn Group Leader in the Central Seattle area and writer for her own blog (oktobeimperfect.com). She was a competitive over-achiever in her corporate career until she realized she couldn’t do it all and decided to prioritize caring for her family. She is a recovering postpartum depression mom with a strong-willed preschooler and a loving and supportive husband. She practices daily to become “OK to be imperfect.”