When a parent is suffering, there's a real possibility that the new baby in their life is suffering.
It can be subtle, such as a missed signal from baby that the diaper is full. A missed signal from baby here and there is typical and easily rectified. (Talk to your baby. They may not understand your words, but they will understand your tone and your love. Say, "Hi baby, I'm so sorry I didn't notice your diaper was full [you are hungry / you need a hug / anything]! Let's take care of you!")
However, when signals are missed over and over, a disconnect in attachment begins to occur, possibly leading to lasting negative consequences in the form of impact on a young person's views on love and care for themselves and others.
When new moms and dads take care of themselves, they are increasing the capacity they have to take care of their baby.
What does it mean for a parent to take care of themselves? It means getting support in lots of areas, including:
- having food delivered from a local restaurant or brought over by friends and family
- preparing for the impact of a new baby on relationships (See the four relationship-saving questions to ask before baby arrives)
- hiring a postpartum doula to step in with whatever practical, social or emotional support is needed in the moment
- reaching out for help when anxiety, worry or sadness levels are overpowering (where the ups are few and far between and there are mostly downs)
- making time to take care of practicalities (taking showers, brushing teeth, taking a nap)
- communicating with friends and family through phone calls and visits, or going to support groups for parents
- visiting a therapist to take care of your own emotional needs, as an individual and/or as a couple
- hiring someone to cook, clean your house, and/or do any chores you'd rather not do while caring for an infant
Hiring someone to clean your house can seem like a wild luxury that is too expensive. However, having temporary practical support can make the difference in having enough time to create a more solid foundation for your family. There is a limited window of time during those precious few first months at home with baby. Giving yourself the time to recover and bond with your baby is going to give you a better opportunity to create a good attachment with your baby. Perhaps it is time to re-think the priorities of resources in life, even if temporarily, so that you can create the experience you need. (For example, can you cut back on the expensive furniture, baby room decorations and clothes, cars or other things for six months?)
"Moms can have a hard time doing something for themselves, but will do anything for their child."
Justifying support-related expenses can seem tough, but remember, money spent on support for parents is ultimately money spent on your baby's initial experiences of life outside the womb. Alexis and Katy point out that "moms can have a hard time doing something for themselves, but will do anything for their child." And, support doesn't have to be expensive or cost prohibitive. Reach out to the friends, family and neighbors around you. Ask them to help do a load of laundry, watch your baby for an hour so you can take a nap, pick up groceries for you, bring over a meal. Even a recent study by Harvard researchers found that "spending money to save time may reduce stress about the limited time in the day, thereby improving happiness." This finding is true for everyone, new parents included.
On this episode of the Fourth Trimester Podcast, Alexis and Katy talk about some of the signs of postpartum anxiety and depression, in addition to building on the care and support messaging discussed here.
Alexis and Katy have a postpartum support group called Postpartum SF (http://postpartumsf.com/postpartum-sf-mama-support-group.html). Mama Support is a group for moms with postpartum depression and / or anxiety. It's a space to share your authentic experience and receive nonjudgemental support, tools to cope with what's happening and connection with others who share in a similar struggle.
Parents in the San Francisco Bay Area can attend, and all parents can reach out to both Alexis and Katy via their websites below.
Katy Lonergan, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in San Francisco where she enjoys working individuals and kids. She has experience in infant mental health and Gottman Bringing Baby Home and Emotion Coaching. She is passionate about helping individuals and families regain the joy in their lives.
She enjoys spending time with family and friends, exploring the vast microclimates and geographies of the SF Bay Area, and dabbling in improv - a tremendous exercise in mindfulness.
Alexis Monnier, M.A. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in San Francisco specializing in couples and new parenthood.