Mothering the Mother: Ways to Support Mothers During the Postpartum Period

| Megan Davis LCSW

In the days, weeks, and even months after childbirth, much of the attention and focus tends to be on the new addition.  Everyone wants to see, touch, and hold the baby. Soft voices and gentle bounces help soothe the baby when he or she is crying.  There might be gifts or advice on how to best raise the little one. While there may be many visitors or people around, this can also be a very isolating and vulnerable time for mothers.  With approximately 1 in 5 mothers experiencing some form of mental health symptoms in the postpartum period, it is important to have a plan for caring for a new mother.  

The process of childbirth can leave a new mother feeling extremely vulnerable.  She has likely experienced pain, uncertainty, physical and emotional exhaustion throughout the process.  While her body has gone through significant physical changes, she is also experiencing immediate role changes.  She is moving from being responsible for herself and her body to now also responsible for deciphering and meeting her baby’s needs. During this time the new mother is also experiencing sleep deprivation and hormonal changes that can be difficult to navigate.  All of these factors play a role in what is called the “Fourth Trimester” which refers to the first 12 weeks postpartum and is the period for the baby to adjust to being in the great big world.  

As much as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to support the mother. In the initial weeks after coming home with baby, it is important to ensure a new mother has adequate sleep and nourishment, especially if she is breastfeeding.  Partners and family members can support a new mother by changing diapers, taking care of light household tasks, washing/sanitizing bottles, and supporting the new mother in identifying a plan so that she can focus on sleeping, feeding, and bonding with the baby.  Set up a Meal Train or coordinate for meals and easy snacks to be brought to the family.  For family members who live far away and are not able to be present to provide support, consider chipping in to hire a postpartum doula who can assist with parent/infant bonding, cooking, errands, and light housekeeping.

Sometimes new mothers are not able to identify their needs or have difficulty asking for help.  Instead of saying something along the lines of “Let me know if you need anything,” be more specific in ways you would like to help.  A good example might be “I’m on my way to the store, what are some items you need me to pick up? I can leave them at the front door.”  It can also be helpful to offer to watch the baby and/or other children so the new mother can take time to take a shower and engage in self-care.  If a mother turns down the offer, wait a few days and try again.

Another important way to support a new mother is by affirming her abilities as a mother. Motherhood can be terrifying and many new mothers (and not-so-new mothers) find themselves wondering if they are doing it right. Check in and ask her how she is doing – if she says fine, dig deeper to see if she really is fine.  Open-ended questions such as “What has it been like to transition into motherhood for you?” can be helpful for opening up deeper dialogue. Providing a listening ear and validation can go a long way to support a new mother in feeling less alone and more connected as she navigates motherhood. 

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