New mom survival guide
How can you make the postpartum experience less stressful? This should be the happiest time in my life. That, says Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., is just one of the fantasies that new mothers buy into. Bennett, a clinical psychologist who has survived two life-threatening postpartum depressions, knows how easy it is to set yourself up to feel inadequate.
Parenting is not instinctual, and you can't do everything yourself. "Realistic expectations make or break the postpartum experience," says Bennett. Those first postpartum weeks are difficult. Of course you're focused on your new bundle of joy, but you have to take care of yourself, too.
"Get your sleep now," expectant moms are told, "because when the baby arrives, you will sleep no more."
Until you've been there, it's hard to understand how brutal the fatigue can be. You keep one eye open all night to make sure baby is breathing. You finally drift off only to be jolted out of your short slumber by wails of hunger. You drag your sleepless self out of bed the next morning and attempt to get through the day.
Hannah Bookbinder has been there. "Sleep deprivation can make the simplest of tasks – showering, dressing – seem insurmountable," says Bookbinder. You need rest, and one of the best ways to get it is to sleep when baby sleeps – day or night. Restoring your energy is more important than doing the laundry.
"I was totally honest with my husband," says LeeAnne Hanks. "When I told him I was having a hard time just finding energy to get out of bed in the morning, he stepped in, did dishes and laundry, and took the baby so I could nap."
"Eventually," promises Bookbinder, "you and your baby will get into a routine. Meanwhile, take comfort in knowing that some mother in some nursery somewhere on the planet is also up in the middle of the night," says Bookbinder. "It made me feel less alone to know I was not the only one having a hard time."
Read more on surviving the first three months of motherhood.
Postpartum body woes
"Aside from fatigue," says Tara Bloom, owner of Maternique, an all-natural boutique for new and expectant moms "most new moms say that their biggest complaint after bringing baby home is their post-baby body."
According to Nicole Palacios, personal trainer and mother of three, "negative postpartum body image is a huge part of life as a new mother." Bloom suggests thinking of the three months after baby arrives as the fourth trimester. "This way, you're less likely to believe you should come home with a new baby looking like you never experienced pregnancy, and you can accept that the postpartum period is a time to gradually allow your body to return to pre-pregnancy shape."
Pregnancy and childbirth can create permanent muscular and skeletal changes in your body, too. Hanks, a size 0 when she got pregnant, struggled with body image. "I thought I'd slip right back into my jeans when I lost the baby weight." Instead, Hanks discovered that her bone structure had changed – even after losing weight, she needed a whole new wardrobe. So after her second baby, Hanks "found ways to camouflage the post baby bump, like wearing structured jackets." She also found that V-neck tops and bold necklaces drew attention to her face and away from her tummy.
"Dress the body you have now," says style expert Maria Vasilevsky of Stilista. "Don't wait to shop until you lose all the baby weight. Select a few key items that flatter your figure to wear now." Vasilevsky recommends empire-waist dresses, fitted dark-wash jeans, silky hip-length tunics and comfortable ballet flats.
Palacios believes you can feel better about yourself by finding time to exercise. Taking just 10 or 15 minutes twice a day makes a difference in the way you look and feel. Walk with the baby in his stroller, do squats while holding the baby, or carefully lift him up and down to work your arms and chest. "By taking a few extra minutes every day to fit in exercise," say Palacios, "your feelings of self worth and overall positive body image can come back to the forefront."
Karen Shopoff Rooff is a certified personal trainer and fitness specialist. The first challenge Rooff gives new moms is mental, not physical. "Think about everything positive your body has done," says Rooff. "I have yet to meet a mom who isn't awed by the strength and power of her body in the childbearing year."
Pay attention to your marriage
"From the very beginning, couples need to put their relationship first," advises Bennett. But it's easier said than done.
"It's quite a challenge to keep marriage a priority during those first couple months with a newborn but it is of utmost importance," says Suzy Martyn, parenting consultant and speaker, author of Enjoy the Ride: Tools, Tips, and Inspiration for the Most Common Parenting Challenges. Martyn recommends scheduling a weekly time to connect with your spouse, even if it's just for 15 minutes. Hire a neighborhood teen to sit with a sleeping baby or start a rotating babysitting co-op with other families with infants. Keep celebrating important moments, days and anniversaries. Take baby along and do what you and your spouse love to do, from hiking and camping to movies and shopping.
"Taking care of the marriage relationship will make your child will feel secure and loved knowing the ones who take care of him love each other and will be there for each other (and him) for a lifetime," says Martyn. "That is one of the best gifts you can give to a child."
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