Becoming a mom is a life changing event. But while mom tends to focus on baby, she may not be aware of the many emotional and physical issues that can affect her own health. We've gathered the experts to give you the scoop on taking care of the new mom. The emotional connection
"Becoming a new mother is a huge role change for most women and a range of emotions is typically experienced, from joy to frustration to fear," says Deborah Kim, MD, the director of Penn Behavioral Health for Women, Department of Psychiatry, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. "Most women cope well and are smart to get support from those around them."
"After a birth, especially the first, there is a shift in the way a woman defines herself. The addition of the title of 'mother' is a huge one, and not necessarily similar to a new mom's fantasies," says Susan Karol Martel, Ed.M., a psychotherapist in Philadelphia and the co-author of the post-partum book, The Fourth Trimester: On Becoming a Mother. She says that many new mothers take on too much at once, and that can lead to emotional issues. "It's not abnormal when a woman feels that balancing is difficult," she says. "The question is how will she regain it, and what kinds of supports are available to her."
"Society expects mothers to be really proud and happy," Meena Khandlewal, MD, an associate professor at the Division of Maternal Fetal medicine in Cooper, NJ. "Some mothers may not be able to compete with this image, and that's okay. It will come," she says. "I would tell mothers to never feel guilty. They feel responsible for everything in life."
"After a baby, everything is more demanding," Dr. Khandlewal says. "It is important to continue taking a prenatal vitamin and get plenty of rest. A lot of [new mothers] are anemic from a loss of blood, and that can make them weak. I tell women 'If you aren't healthy, you can't take care of someone else.'"
Dr. Khandlewal offers the following guidelines to postpartum physical concerns:
Getting enough sleep and exercise
"There is no such thing as enough sleep! Women who are sleep deprived and all new mothers, first time or seventh suffer from sleep depravation," Martel says. "Without enough sleep, nothing is quite right and women suffer from similar feelings to those of battle fatigue."
Dr. Kim agrees. "Postpartum sleep is essential. The adage is 'sleep when the baby sleeps.' Nursing women can pump and allow dad to do a nighttime feeding. Women who are not nursing should have dad or a family member do nighttime feeding at least the first few weeks. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression and mood swings.
"I tell couples that for the first 6 weeks it is dad's job to attend to family, other children, and the household chores. It is mom's job to tend to herself and the baby," Dr. Kim says. "If family wants to help, let them food shop or clean and let mom bond with the baby."
"Exercise is so important to emotional and physical strength, mood, body chemistry balancing," Martel says. "I highly recommend that the method of exercise chosen is pleasurable. If exercise feels like another task that is not nourishing and fun, the new mom will less likely follow through..."
"The new mom can begin kegels as soon as the episiotomy or C-section heals in about two weeks," Dr. Khandlewal says. "After that, start slow stretching and gradually build up. Walking and swimming are great." Dr. Khandlewal says that swimming should only be done when all bleeding has stopped. "Exercise makes people feel healthier, gives them a little vigor and makes sleep better."
Most women (80 percent) experience post-partum blues lasting for seven to ten days during which they have mood swings, sleep difficulties, anxiety and crying spells. However, 10 - 15 percent of women will develop post-partum depression (PPD), according to Dr. Kim. "Particular to PPD can be ruminations about being an incompetent mother, disinterest in the baby, not being able to sleep when the baby sleeps or thoughts of harm coming to the baby."
"Some mothers experience an increased sensitivity that is there to make the mother quick to respond to the infant," Dr. Khandlewal says. This can proceed to post partum depression."
According to Dr. Khandlewal, the symptoms of PPD may also include not eating, severe emotional disability, up and down mood swings, being indifferent to surroundings and feeling excluded.
"Any mom experiencing the symptoms of depression should seek professional help immediately," Dr. Kim says. "PPD is usually easily treatable. Untreated PPD can affect an infant by having an adverse impact on bonding and the baby's development.
"Recovery takes time but improvement can be expected within four weeks of starting treatment. Family should encourage treatment and not tell women this is 'normal' or they will 'snap out of it.'"
The right emotional and physical support, our experts all say, will speed recovery from the whirlwind of being a new mom. "Recovery begins with the awareness that a very real problem exists," Martel says. "With some attention and sometimes medication, if warranted, recovery can actually be swift."
Need some support? Check out the following mom's group:
Mothers & More of Delaware County
"A local network of intelligent, talented and resourceful women helping each other find a sense of connection as we balance the roles of woman, mother, and professional. Discussion meetings, book group, moms' night out activities, play groups, family outings, and more. Call Becki at (610) 876-0367 or visit our websites, or www.delcomothersandmore.org."
The International Moms Club
"We are a support group designed just for you, the at-home mother of today! You are interested in the world around you, want a variety of activities for you and your children, and are proud of your choice of at-home mothering for your families! We know, because we're at-home mothers, too! You need a support group that understands your special needs as an at-home mother and we're it! We are the first, largest and fastest growing support group specifically for ALL at-home mothers. Visit International moms club Momsclub.org."
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS international)
"MOPS stands for Mothers of Preschoolers. MOPS International exists to meet the needs of every mom -- urban, suburban, and rural moms, stay-at-home and working moms, teen, single, and married moms -- moms with different lifestyles who all share a similar desire to be the very best moms they can be! MOPS recognizes that the years from infancy through kindergarten are foundational in a mother-child relationship and are filled with unique needs." This is an evangelical Christian organization. Visit MOPS.org.