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Preparation Begins During Pregnancy: What Expectant Mothers Can Do Now to Avoid a Difficult Postpartum Adjustment

By Andra Brosh, Ph.D.

Why didn't anyone tell me it would be this hard?

This is one of the most common questions I hear in my work with women transitioning into the role of new mother. While not all women struggle during the early months after delivery, preparing yourself for the realities of new motherhood can be of great benefit to you, your partner and your baby. Most of the information available to expectant mothers is focused on the physical aspects of pregnancy and delivery as well as the practical aspects of caring for a newborn. While this information is essential for any new parent to know, there are several other important factors that can determine the kind of postpartum experience you will have. Neglecting the emotional aspects of new motherhood can lead to a difficult adjustment after birth and even symptoms of postpartum depression.

Here are some tips on what you can do now, during pregnancy, to ensure a healthy and happy postpartum experience:

     1. Some of the more obvious factors leading to a difficult postpartum adjustment include a lack of support, financial strain, and social isolation. What many women don't realize is that their past can influence their experience of new motherhood. Women with a history of trauma or who may have had a difficult upbringing may find that their past intrudes on them after delivery whether they like it or not. Pregnancy is an opportune time to work with a trained professional specializing in postpartum adjustment. Understanding your past will allow you to make mindful and authentic decisions about the kind of mother you want to be. Even if it is hard to imagine that your past can influence your future, allowing yourself the space for self-reflection and personal insight can greatly impact your postpartum experience.

     2. Planned pregnancies are different than unplanned pregnancies and unplanned pregnancies are different than unwanted pregnancies. The circumstances under which your baby was conceived will influence your experience of the pregnancy as well as your relationship with your infant after birth. Pay attention to your feelings about the pregnancy and the impending birth and share them with someone you trust. Expressing your fears and concerns now can reduce anxiety and stress that may surface after delivery.

     3. Caring for a newborn can trigger feelings of dependency and need, and it is easy to neglect yourself in the service of those around you. The responsibility that comes with a new baby is daunting and it requires a significant amount of help. This may be a difficult place for women who are used to doing everything themselves. Ensuring that you have a sufficient amount of support and nurturance during the postpartum period can reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed and depleted. Making these arrangements well in advance and discussing your expectations with those people you will be depending on is essential for a smooth postpartum adjustment.

     4. Using your imagination to fantasize about your baby and becoming a mother are a healthy and important part of transitioning into this new life role, but when contemplation turns into expectation you run the risk of being disappointed and unprepared for the unexpected. These expectations could be related to your birth plan, the ability to nurse after delivery or even the sex of your newborn. Spend some time thinking about how you would feel if things turned out differently than you expected. Being open to all possibilities will allow you to more easily adjust and adapt when necessary.

     5. Society leaves very little room for any negative feelings about pregnancy and parenthood. Women are led to believe that only feelings of joy and happiness surround the experience of new motherhood, but this is not the case for everyone. 50% - 80% of new mothers experience some form of anxiety or depression during the postpartum period, and many women find it hard to immediately bond and connect with their newborn. Holding in mind that each woman has her own unique experience of motherhood, and that a multitude of feelings can surface during the postpartum period will make it easier for you to seek help when necessary.

     6. Companies that make millions of dollars on expectant and new parents will try to convince you that you need an extensive amount of material items to raise a healthy and happy baby. All your baby needs is you and the love you provide. Practice turning inward for all of the tools that you need to provide an optimal maternal environment for your infant.

Becoming a mother is a fragile, vulnerable, and life-changing experience. It is a time of enormous transformation and upheaval yet it is a crucial time for a woman to be readily attuned and available to her baby. Taking time now to reflect on the magnitude of having a baby and all that it entails will lead to increased feelings of self-confidence and a more joyful postpartum experience.

About the Author:
Andra Brosh, Ph.D.Andra Brosh, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist dedicated to helping parents and their children thrive. She is the founder of Motheringminds, a community resource offering a variety of services to parents and children during all phases of life. Dr. Brosh specializes in women's mental health with a focus on perinatal mood disorders and the transition to motherhood. Using her knowledge of attachment, mindfulness, infant mental health, and child development, Dr. Brosh provides a holistic approach to parenting that is unique and effective. Visit www.motheringminds.com to learn more about Dr. Brosh and the services she offers.

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