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Having a baby is a very stressful event, not just for the mother, but for the entire family. The added stress of a new routine, increased responsibility and the burdens of childcare can quickly become overwhelming. Many women also feel shame or guilt when the new baby doesn’t satisfy them emotionally. They may even become resentful. Along with this, mothers who are overly anxious about their new status and the child can be especially burdened.
While the specific causes of post partum depression aren’t completely understood, the good news is that aiding some who suffers from the condition is straightforward.
Post partum depression is a recognized medical syndrome. It isn’t the mother’s fault, it isn’t the spouses fault, and it certainly isn’t the baby’s fault. Mothers need to know they aren’t a bad mother simply because they don’t feel all the joy they thought would come with a newborn. Self-blame is a trap that can easily make the depression worse when the feeling of failure adds to the normal fatigue and physical changes that come with childbirth.
Mothers may blame themselves, the baby or some deficiency in their spouse for not being able to keep up. However, adding a baby to the mix is disruptive – there needs to be a willingness to let some things slide. The home might not be up to par, clothes might not get washed and folded, even a career might be put on hold until the new situation becomes normal. Spouses need to avoid blaming the mother if she doesn’t seem up to here normal energy level or isn’t interested in sex.
Either or both parent may blame the new baby for disrupting their normal lives. It’s true; an infant does require time and resources. Parents can acknowledge this without blaming the infant or feeling guilty about it. The remedy is to compromise and look for opportunities to support each other.
Some mothers have a hard time accepting help. They may judge their abilities by the false standard of the household they grew up in and worry that they can’t meet their own expectations. This is trouble. Offering support in the form of taking on chores like shopping, laundry or watching the child sometimes needs to be repeated. In most situations, an offer isn’t needed – anyone in the household can chip in and do what needs to be done.
Sometimes, the support needs to be financial and can take the form of diapers, formula or other material goods you know the family needs but wouldn’t ask for. A new jumper or other baby accessory can take the form of an “impulse gift.” Spouses can use this same excuse to deliver some surprise flowers or chocolates.
Support should also come in the form of time. Anything that will allow mom to take a break from her responsibilities will help.
• A friendly, non-judgmental ear can work wonders. Sometimes, mom just needs a shoulder to lean on and someone to vent to. This doesn’t have to be a spouse, and often the role of confedant will be filled by an older woman who has already had children of their own. It is important to keep these lines of communication open – if you see mom is getting withdrawn and uncommunicative, try connecting her with a confidant from the other direction. Sometimes a phone call from a trusted friend will work wonders.
• Encourage mom to talk about how she feels and not just in terms of the baby.
• Pitch in without being asked – housework, shopping, babysitting. All these are routine tasks that can build up and overwhelm a new mother.
• Use physical affection without pressuring her into sex. It can take many weeks until the new mom feels secure enough and is healed enough to want to continue sexual relations. This is completely normal. Adding undue pressure on her to pick up where you left off will only compound her stress.
• Watch out for simple opportunities – these can mean a lot. A walk at the mall or getting out for some sun provides much needed exercise and gets her away from the house and the baby. Consider some daily time for just you and her. This adds stability and security to what can seem like a chaotic, out of control day.
• Understand that she needs time to herself as well. It’s hard to imagine a workday that runs from the middle of the night when baby cries to be fed all the way through to the next evening. Mental hygiene breaks are important.
• Show your support with frequent contact while you are away from her. This may mean more than normal calls from work, but these contacts give her a feeling of not shouldering the burdens on her own.
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