I clearly remember the day I brought my first child home from the hospital.
I was over the moon with joy. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I'd survived 9 months of pregnancy and the birthing process. There was the sweetest little baby girl in my arms and the sun was shining that glorious February day. It couldn't have been any better.The beginning of choppy, unfulfilling sleep, pumping, breastfeeding, diaper blowouts, load after load of laundry, very little time for leisurely activities and moments where I felt alone. It was also the beginning of the greatest love I've ever experienced—complete with the best snuggles, smiles, giggles and caresses.
I was over the moon with joy. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I'd survived 9 months of pregnancy and the birthing process. There was the sweetest little baby girl in my arms and the sun was shining that glorious February day. It couldn't have been any better.
What I hadn't completely realized, though, was that this was just the beginning.
Motherhood isn't simple as we all know. It's quite complicated, actually, and all of these highs and lows together weave the beautiful story of a mother and child. Sometimes when you're in the thick of it, though, it's hard to figure out how to navigate all of that rocky terrain. As a doctor, I see a lot of new moms going through this (to them) unfamiliar terrain.
Here are a few important mantras that I find myself sharing over and over again with patients and friends—
Make your emotional health a high priority
Your emotional well being during that first year is a high priority (right behind your child's safety, of course). In the postpartum period, all women experience hormonal fluctuations and some women have mood changes as a result. It can be really confusing to have negative feelings along with your positive feeling of joy and love for your baby. These mood changes can vary from minor “baby blues" to true postpartum depression. These symptoms can start within a week after delivery or could emerge anytime within the six weeks after your baby is born. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to weeks or months. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 70-80% of women experience negative feelings or mood swing after the birth of their child. If this resonates with you, you are definitely not alone and not in the minority. Talking to your doctor, counselor or therapist about this could make a real difference in how you're feeling.
Get yourself out of the house at least once a day
It's really important to have a routine and something to look forward to each day. Depending on the season and where you live, try to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine. If that's not possible, then even an indoor playdate with friends can uplift your mood for the day. Having an adult conversation with another mom is sometimes the best release. Mommy and me classes are a wonderful way to meet other moms while still engaging your baby in a fun way. Some of my dearest friends are moms that I met in these classes. Having emotional support from other moms was key in allowing me to thrive that first year with my baby.
Don't be too hard on yourself
When you have an infant, it's hard to find time in the day to shower, much less cook, clean and exercise too. Some days will be better than others. Some days you'll have the energy to be productive, but on the days that you're exhausted, don't feel guilty if you can't get it all done. Lean on your spouse when you're struggling and remember that no one is keeping score except you. A happy, relaxed mama is more likely to encourage a happy, relaxed baby. So go ahead, take a deep breath and focus on yourself a little bit. If you experience postpartum depression or anxiety, don't blame yourself. Get the help —therapy, medication, social support—that you and your family deserve. There are many more considerations for thriving during that first year, but the general point here is to prioritize your emotional health and wellness. You are the center of the universe for your baby and so your wellness will reflect in your child.