Postpartum in the Modern World

Breaking Through the Guilt and Pressure of Modern Motherhood

newborn baby holding onto parent's finger laying down

The postpartum period is a time of adjustment, healing, and bonding for both the mother and the baby. However, in today’s fast-paced and interconnected modern world, navigating the postpartum period can present significant physical, emotional, and social challenges. Both personal and societal expectations of women in the postpartum period can cause new parents to feel enormous pressure, isolation, and guilt.  It’s helpful to have a true understanding of what you can expect during the postpartum period, so that you can try to have a plan in place to prevent these negative feelings from overwhelming you in your postpartum experience.

How is the Postpartum Period Defined?

The postpartum period is defined as the range of physical and emotional changes that new mothers experience after childbirth. Physically, the body undergoes remarkable transformations as it recovers from labor and delivery. From healing episiotomies or cesarean incisions to adjusting to hormonal fluctuations, the body requires time and care to recover fully.

Emotionally, the postpartum period can be a rollercoaster of emotions. Many mothers experience the baby blues. Characterized by mood swings, tearfulness, and feelings of overwhelm, they typically subside within a few weeks. (If symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, it may indicate a more serious mental health condition known as a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. We’ll get into later in this article.)

While some people will tell you that the postpartum period is a set time of six to eight weeks, it really encompasses the first year, or maybe even two years, after giving birth. You’ve gone through a major transition, so try to give yourself grace. Welcoming a new baby into your life is a major event, and adjusting to that will take time!

Why is Talking About the Postpartum Period Important?

We’ve made great strides in the past few decades in expanding the conversation around postpartum. But, we still have a long way to go, with much of this time of massive transition still overlooked and misunderstood in the modern world. There are numerous resources about managing pregnancy, creating a birth plan, and caring for your infant. But, our support systems generally fall off a proverbial cliff when it comes time to help new parents care for themselves and address the unique challenges of early parenthood. 

Unfortunately this often leaves moms and dads feeling overwhelmed and potentially without the appropriate support in place. When faced with changes, challenges, and responsibilities, new parents can experience a range of emotional and mental health issues.

What is a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD)?

For new parents, these difficulties may manifest into a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).

PMADs, such as postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, may look a lot like common baby blues in the beginning. But PMADs differ from the baby blues in that their symptoms last longer, are more intense, and interfere with daily life as well as impact a new parent’s overall quality of life. 

There is nothing someone does or doesn’t do during their pregnancy or postpartum that causes them to develop a PMAD. And while there are several risk factors a person may have for developing a PMAD, it is something any new parent may experience and is fully treatable. 

Over the past several years, the rates of PMADs have increased dramatically. One in five pregnant or postpartum women are diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorder during this period. Because of this, talking about the postpartum period is important. Hopefully, the more we can normalize the struggles that new moms experience after giving birth, the easier it will be for everyone to get the care and support they need and deserve.

Strategies for Establishing Proper Support Systems During the Postpartum Period

If all this has you feeling discouraged, hold on – there’s good news! Despite these challenges, modern world mothers also have access to an array of resources and support systems to help them navigate the postpartum period successfully. Here are some suggestions for navigating this transformative time in a more easeful way:

  1. Prioritize Self-Care: Self-care is essential during the postpartum period. It often takes a backseat to the needs of the newborn. However, taking time to rest, nourish your body with nutritious food, and engage in activities that bring you joy can support your physical and emotional well-being. If this seems overwhelming, start small. Be conscious about drinking plenty of water, sit out in the sunshine for a few minutes, or call a close friend for a quick chat. Self-care shouldn’t feel like something you have to fit your life into, instead, make self-care fit into your life.
  1. Seek Support: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and lean on your support network during this time. Whether it’s enlisting the help of a partner, family member, or friend to assist with household tasks or joining a new mothers’ support group, surrounding yourself with supportive individuals can make a world of difference. This is a great time to be clear about your needs, and communicate them. If your mother-in-law comes over and wants to feed the baby, but you really need help getting a load of laundry done, try suggesting that to her. People often don’t always know what will be most helpful to a new mom. While it can be a little awkward to ask for such specific help, it’s usually worth it!
  1. Embrace Flexibility: Recognize that the postpartum period is a time of transition, and it’s okay if things don’t go according to plan. Be gentle with yourself and embrace flexibility as you navigate the ups and downs of new motherhood. Also, try not to compare your postpartum journey to anyone else’s. Everyone’s experience is a bit different, and none of them are any more “right” or “wrong.”
  1. Connect Virtually: While social isolation can be challenging, technology offers new mothers the opportunity to connect virtually with other parents facing similar experiences. Online forums, social media groups, and virtual support networks can provide a sense of community and belonging, even from a distance. New moms feeling overwhelmed and alone could find value in joining virtual group therapy sessions facilitated by a trained therapist.
  1. Plan Ahead: During the postpartum period, new parents often throw calendars, to-do lists, and any sense of routine out of the window. When just getting through each day can feel like a small victory, it can be difficult to even determine if you’re struggling in a way that warrants additional support. With that in mind, talk to the people in your inner circle – your partner, friends, family, even your pediatrician – about the importance of knowing what PMADs are and how to recognize the most common signs of them. That way, if necessary, they can spot it for you, and get you the help you need. 
mother looking down at newborn baby

What are Some Other Common Challenges in the Postpartum Period

Now that we’ve talked about how the modern world impacts the postpartum period, and shared some general tips and tricks for moving through this time with that in mind, let’s dive into some more specific sticking points of the postpartum period, and what you can do to manage them.

1. How to Balance Working with Parenthood

There is often a lot of uncertainty and guilt related to going back to work after the birth of a child. And as traditional roles get redefined in the modern family, there are plenty of questions related to how to balance career and family life. One of the most important things for new moms to recognize is that it is okay to feel conflicted about this decision.

Both staying home with your baby or returning to work are challenging in different ways. There is no one right decision. Try to seek out information and validation to help you with your decision process. For example, many moms worry about how this decision may impact their child’s attachment style. But research shows that attachment is about quality and not quantity. You do not need to be present with your child all day to create a secure attachment with them. Rather, it is the connection when you and your child are together that counts: a special morning ritual, bonding time following dinner, or just time that is focused, with no other distractions. Research consistently shows that going back to work does not prevent or impair a secure attachment. 

2. How to Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries, whether in the context of work, family, or friends, can be difficult for new moms. We always encourage parents to approach boundary-setting by first thinking through their values. How important is time with grandparents versus time alone with baby? How much do you want to prioritize social opportunities? From there, consider how to implement your values in realistic ways. If you value mentorship and training, for example, perhaps it is okay to let your staff email you at night. Remember: it is okay and important to set boundaries for yourself and your family

At the same time, it is important to have some flexibility around boundaries. There are some times where you will need to bend or shift in the moment, and that is okay. Perhaps you have a big project at work and need to log-on to your computer after dinnertime, or provide extra iPad time to your child so that you can deal with a sick family member. Giving yourself permission to adapt is key, as is recognizing that doing so will not be damaging to your child or their relationship with your child. Being flexible is one of the biggest assets in parenthood. 

3. How to Define Your Identity as a New Parent

Parents in the postpartum period juggle a range of identities – work self, mom self, partner self – and can be pulled in lots of different directions at once. As is the case with boundaries, it’s helpful to try to be structured while staying flexible. 

New parenthood can take up a major chunk of your time and attention, and this is healthy and normal. Give yourself grace. Try not to beat yourself up for being a “absent friend” or a “bad daughter” during this time. However, it is also important to try to rebalance this allocation of your time and attention after you settle into a routine so you don’t neglect the pieces of yourself that help you find balance and fulfillment.

Each postpartum period is different, and so your identity as a first-time versus second-time or third-time will be different too. These shifts and differences can be difficult for parents to navigate. The reality, though, is that these changes are expected. You won’t be the same parent each time, and that is okay. Try to extend grace to yourself.

4. How to Deal with Social Media

Today, social media inundates caregivers with content. And while some of this information is helpful, social media can perpetuate misinformation and false expectations. We all compare ourselves to people we see online, and these self-evaluations may increase during the already uncertain postpartum period. So when you see a mom influencer sporting a fresh haircut and tidy house with handcrafted activities for her child, you may feel bad about your mom-bun, overflowing laundry hamper, and reliance on screen time. If you find yourself falling into the comparison trap, it might be helpful to try and minimize social media use (at least temporarily). Or, try to be intentional about filling your feed with accounts that present a more accurate depiction of mom life.

The truth is that no one has it together all the time. Seek out influencers who talk about the range of feelings associated with being a new mom. To go back to our original point about deciding whether or not to return to work, try to infuse your digital life with accurate information and validation, of all the aspects of the postpartum period. 

woman and man sitting on bed with child and newborn baby smiling

How to Get More Support in the Postpartum Period

Though the postpartum period is medically defined as a temporary phase, the truth is that becoming a parent is a permanent shift. In some ways, the postpartum period is a lifelong journey. Parents are always learning and growing with their child. Together, they will experience new opportunities, new challenges, and new milestones. It is totally okay to want or need support and help even once you’re past the traditionally defined postpartum period.

We as a society have a responsibility to support moms and caregivers even when they are out of new-baby survival mode.

At Upshur Bren Psychology Group, we can help with this! Our clinicians specialize in assisting moms and families in preparing for, navigating, and managing this often wonderful and overwhelming stage of life.

For more information on how we can support you and your family in the postpartum period, click here to schedule a free consultation call.

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