Being the primary caregiver to a brand new, helpless human being requires a tremendous amount of emotional, mental, and physical energy. New moms give everything they’ve got, and they’ve already given everything they had to bring that baby into the world.
In order for the new family to have the best start, new mothers need to be mothered. When new moms have the experience of being taken care of, it is easier to have empathy for the experiences of their babies. When pregnant, laboring, and postpartum moms have their needs met by others, it is easier to meet the needs of their babies. But not all moms have friends and family around to take care of them. And even if they do, not all moms are comfortable asking for and receiving help.
If you’re pregnant and you don’t have friends and family available to help, there are many resources that you can get connected with. Finding a doula and a prenatal class is a good way to get started. MAYA is a great resource for this! Doulas and educators love to mother new moms. They are great listeners and are all about celebrating you, advocating for you, and empowering you. You want them in your corner while you are giving your new baby everything she needs.
The hard part can sometimes be asking for help or accepting help that is offered. Do you feel that you need to do it all yourself? Do you feel that you don’t want to bother people? Or do you doubt that others will come through for you? There are many different reasons that people find it hard to receive help from others. If this is the case, I have an experiment for you to try. For the next week, find one small thing each day that you can ask another person to help you with. It can be a really small thing. I’m curious to see what might happen.
Do you have a pregnant or postpartum friend or loved one that could use some support? Here are some ideas for ways you can celebrate and pamper her.
Mothering the pregnant mom
Emotional support during pregnancy can reduce her stress, lower her blood pressure, and raise her self-esteem!
- Back rubs!
- Make her healthy food.
- Go on walks with her.
- Enjoy a night in with her (if everyone else is going out for drinks in a smoky bar)
- Listen to her fears and worries without cheerleading or giving advice.
- Go with her to a prenatal appointment. Take notes and remind her to ask questions.
Mothering the laboring mom
A recent study found that women with continuous labor support had less incidence of anxiety, depression, and feeding problems. They were more likely to say that their relationship had improved since the birth and reported more satisfaction with their partner. Women with doulas were found to have an increase in positive perceptions of self and baby at six weeks. Think of the difference we would see in the emotional health of an entire generation of mothers, and the benefits their children would enjoy, if they all received continuous labor support!
- Stay focused on her, with a calm, confident presence.
- Hold her hand.
- Tell her she is beautiful, has been working really hard, and you love her.
- Give her water and nourishment.
- Lip balm!
- Ina May Gaskin famously said, “If a woman in labor doesn’t look like a goddess, someone’s not treating her right.” So just ask yourself, “how would I treat a goddess?”
Mothering the postpartum mom
The new mom’s life can feel like a completely different realm than that of other people. Make sure she knows that she is still important to you and that you value and respect her hard work by helping her out and spending time with her.
- Ask her how she’s doing. Accept all her feelings.
- Tell her she is doing a great job. Also, she is beautiful, has been working REALLY hard, and you love her.
- Prepare food for her.
- Keep her “nursing station” stocked with water, snacks, burp rags, and anything she might want to have on hand should she end up spending hours at a time there.
- Spend time with her, with no expectations. Let her follow her baby’s lead.
- Clean up without asking.
- Spend time with her older kids.
- Walk her dog.
- Don’t be afraid to call. She’ll turn off the ringer if she doesn’t want to be disturbed.
- Ask questions. Listen. No unsolicited advice, please.
- Invite her on baby-friendly outings. Be patient, babies have their own schedules.
- Invite her to join peer-support groups.
Remember, the smallest thing can really turn someone’s day around. I will never forget a friend of mine telling me what brightened her day during a rough postpartum time. She had managed to get herself and her baby out of the house for a short walk to get a cup of coffee, which was a major victory. Sleep-deprived, unshowered, and vulnerable, she ordered her coffee, and the young man behind the counter simply said, “Moms are awesome!”