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  • Writer's pictureJacinta

In the thick of it

Updated: May 7

Why your mindset is so important in postpartum



I was recently in Hawaii for the first time. It was something my family and I eagerly prepared for. Once we arrived, there was a very familiar feeling for myself at least - the climate, elements of the landscape, the beaches and some of the fauna around the island of Maui reminded me of Australia. It felt safe and familiar and I just loved it.


But one thing that was very different landscape-wise were the volcanic craters. Driving up the Haleakala Crater was initially a little uneventful - you couldn't see much after a certain point as we drove into the thick cloud cover that lasted for a few kilometres up to the top of the crater. Occasionally, you could see glimpses through the clouds of stunning views of the island down below. Then, suddenly, we were above the clouds and there was nothing but blue skies and sunshine.


The crater was so impressive. It was so vast and looked almost like a desert that just appeared out of nowhere, particular after the drive up through the Maui Upcountry which is filled with lush, green countryside and farms. It was amazing to look down and see the rest of the island below us - life was continuing on below us. 


Not once in my travel planning did I read anything about altitude sickness, though. I expected to rock up to the crater, walk around, do part of the trail, see some cool landscape and then come back down. Instead, I instantly felt breathless and nauseous within the first few steps out of the car; I had a pounding headache and almost immediately my first reaction was I needed to go back to the car and get out of here. I didn't plan for this. I initially pushed on - I mean, we travelled all that way, we had to make it worth our while. And I WANTED to be there, too, don't get me wrong. But, the altitude sickness became overwhelming. I tried to follow my husband as we made our way around the crater and I had to keep stopping every few metres, which for me felt like a failure - we are people who can hike for hours and hours and I couldn't even manage 50m at a time. 


Afterwards, I was thinking about the day's events and it made me think that this is very similar to the postpartum experience for several reasons - no matter how much you plan, things don't always pan out as you hope, as well as how it's hard to see beyond when you are in the thick of it all.



For many of us, we spend months planning for our baby's arrival. We plan the birth (or at least have an idea of how we would like it to go), buy the baby gear, read the books, take our prenatal vitamins, do prenatal courses, think about baby names, organise the nursery and sleeping space. We can plan and plan but the journey into postpartum often does not meet our expectations in one way or another. Whether it's due to the labour and delivery, the relentless rigmarole of infant care, the challenges that comes with feeding (regardless whether it's breast or bottle), the mental health struggles, the hormones, the lack of sleep, PURPLE crying (if you aren't sure what that is, check out my Instagram reel about it), the lack of support from family and friends - the list goes on. 


A big factor I have noticed both as a postpartum doula is that many expectations about a newborn are unrealistic, for example, they sleep through the night, feed to a schedule, sleep to a schedule, don't need support to fall asleep or to sleep close to their parents. These unrealistic expectations create additional anxieties and stresses on the parents who are trying to heal, who are sleep deprived; maybe they also have other children to parent, and in general,  they are just trying to do the best they can to learn and bond with their new baby when they are running on so little energy and sleep.


How are these unrealistic expectations created? This requires a deeper dive in another post at another time to really get into the nitty-gritty, but essentially, whilst there is some great parenting info out there, there is also A LOT that is not reflective of the general population of babies or the wide spectrum of time in which babies reach their cognitive, physical or emotional developments. Anecdotal information passed on by friends and family that worked for their babies might not always work for your baby which leads to parents feeling anxious about their baby or their own parenting style. Other times, parents think they need to control or change normal newborn behaviours when their baby might be giving cues that this isn't something they are ready for yet.


But, if the books or website or social media posts say things are supposed to be a certain way, then who are we to disagree with this, right?! Plus, when you're in the thick of it, you may not realise there are other ways to approach a certain situation that is more conducive to you, your baby and your family. Many families find themselves continually repeating certain behaviours because they feel like it is something they are supposed to do to prevent something else from happening Most of the anxieties I see are related to feeding and sleep - sometimes as their own standalone issues and other times, one starts to impact the other. As a consequence, the parents' mental health can become impacted which makes the parents try even harder to change or control normal newborn behaviour. It becomes a vicious cycle.


Of course, there are moments where things feel good, bonding feels beautiful and parents feel confident and happy. But moods can fluctuate many times within a day - we can't all be expected to feel glorious and happy and loving the postpartum experience every minute of everyday. Just like the journey up to see the crater, when we are in the thick of all the clouds, it's hard to see the blue skies and the lovely landscape around us. We focus on the things we think we are doing wrong, or that our babies can/can't be do yet. And even with "blue skies and sunshine", it can still feel really overwhelming because if it isn't challenges related to baby's development, it's challenges in regards to sleep for the parents, healing and body changes for the birth parent, identity challenges for both parents and a myriad of other physical, mental and emotional factors. We get to a point where we feel like something's got to give!


I can't tell you that by X-month things will get better because the truth is, it will always ebb and flow, where things feel like they are on the "right" track, and other times where things are just a total shitshow. Our babies are all on their own developmental timelines, every birth parent's healing journey will look different, and there will ALWAYS be something else to replace one challenging period (just when you think one leap is done, the next one rolls in....or it's teething...or an illness...). But, it can feel more manageable when we change how we approach the challenges. It will still be HARD, but a shift in mindset can have a profound effect. Telling yourself things like:


  • My baby is NOT being difficult.

  • My baby is NOT a "bad" sleeper or feeder.

  • My baby is NOT trying to manipulate me.

  • I am NOT spoiling my baby by holding them or wearing them or responding to their every cry.

  • I am my baby's safe place and person.

  • Every time I respond to my baby's cries, I am responding to their needs. They need me for everything at the moment.

  • My baby cries as a way to communicate, they are trying to tell me something.

  • Last night was hard and so tiring, but today is a new day.

  • This developmental period will not last forever. It feels really hard right now, but it won't last.

  • It's okay to want things to change. They will in time when my baby is ready.

  • Not all baby's have the same temperament so what works for one baby might not work for my baby.


Human babies in comparison to their other mammal baby counterparts are born too early in terms of their period of gestation. Most mammal babies pop out and know how to walk/swim/feed straight away. Our babies can't. They need to be nurtured and taught these vital skills. I know this is an oversimplification, but understanding that our babies NEED us for all their physical, mental, emotional and social needs for a really long time - well into school and teenage years - is something I don't think many parents stop to consider. For too long, unrealistic, "adult" expectations have been placed upon babies, and then families wonder what's "wrong" with their baby when everything that is being suggested is developmentally inappropriate for infants. If we can teach parents what to really expect in postpartum beyond how to change a diaper and burp a baby, more families will go into this period knowing how to appropriately support their baby and themselves, too.  


It doesn't mean everything gets magically better with a shift in mindset. There will always be struggles - I mean, how many people learn that they will most likely experience sleep deprivation with a newborn and are just completely fine about it when it actually happens?! Spoiler alert: NO ONE! It's bloody debilitating and really stretches one's physical and mental capabilities. But, knowing this can happen and having a plan on how to support the whole family can make a huge difference to how you feel and get through the challenging postpartum periods.  


So, what can parents do?


  • Gain a thorough understanding of normal infant behaviours, the reality of breast or bottle feeding and the importance of recognising perinatal mental health disorders in both the birth parent and partner through a Newborn and Postpartum Care workshop (something which I provide!). If sleep is triggering for you, I highly recommend reading literature from Dr. Lyndsey Hookway as a starting point to understanding newborn sleep (she has a great Instagram account and some great books that you can purchase from either her website or Amazon).

 

  • Create your own support network - maybe it's having family and friends bring meals over, or to help with housekeeping tasks, to walk the dog, to hold baby while you shower; having names and numbers of postpartum mental health therapists at the ready if you aren't already seeing someone; hiring a postpartum doula or other professional service that might help relieve a bit of the pressure on your plate (eg - a cleaner, dog walker, gardener, etc).


  • If you don't have family or friends close by to rely on, consider hiring a postpartum doula either for in-home or virtual support. I help families with the education side of things regarding all things newborn and postpartum - newborn care, newborn behaviours, sleep, feeding, what the birth parent may experience directly after birth and in the days and weeks that follow, healing info and tips, as well as by providing certain practical support and emotional and social support. Virtual support is either through text support or a phone call where we can discuss any immediate concerns and you are given tailored evidence based, holistic information, tips and tricks to try. If it is something outside of a PP doula's scope, then I would provide further resources to get you the information that will best serve you.


  • Consider how you might set up your home to be accessible so that way you can still rest and feel nourished as much as possible (eg: meal prep in pregnancy, or plan to have staples in the pantry to make quick meals, floor bed or a co-sleeper bassinet to co-sleep with baby, diaper caddies in different parts of the house, cloth diaper services so you don't have to do the laundering, etc)


  • Have strategies in place for when you are feeling overwhelmed, such as: Place baby in a safe environment (eg. crib, bassinet, on the floor  - never on a surface like a sofa, changing table or a regular bed where they could fall from a height), or give your baby to your partner/family/friend and take a few moments to yourself. Call someone in that particular moment to share your feelings with. Make sure you find time in the day to get outside for fresh air. Take a stroll to get your body moving a little bit. 


  • Immediately reach out to your healthcare provider if you feel your mental health is deteriorating. Go to the emergency department or call an ambulance if you fear you may cause yourself or your baby harm. Or, if you are a partner or family or friend and notice these tendencies in the birth parent, seek urgent medical attention immediately. 


If you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out either via Instagram or on the Contact page and see how I can help you on your postpartum journey. I'm here to listen and help.


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