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  1. Becoming a parent is a joyful, exciting time. It is also a stressful, disorienting and exhausting time. There is cultural messaging that children are a joy and we should be happy throughout their babyhood. However, as a clinical psychologist and mother, I've seen that this is just not reality, and this message creates shame for mothers and partners who struggle with this major life transition. In fact, did you know that, statistically, couples report the lowest rates of marital satisfaction after the birth of a baby? These tiny humans have a way of taking up a huge amount of emotional space, time and energy. Much of this time, energy and attention you once had to give to your partner or yourself, so of course the transition will be a little bumpy! While you can find thousands of resources about the best car seat or swaddle, it’s rare to find information about what to do to prepare and protect one of the most important things to you and your baby: your marriage or partnership. So here are a few ways to help baby-proof your relationship and prepare your partnership for the transition to parenthood. Establish good communication strategies It is vital to the long-term health of a partnership, particularly during times of stress, to learn how to ask for help and how to constructively express frustration or disappointment. No matter how close we are to someone, they can’t read our mind! It’s also important to reduce criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling (shutting your partner out), as these types of communication patterns have been identified as particularly damaging to a relationship. Discuss expectations Who will do the late-night feedings? Who is in charge of childcare? You may think you’re both on the same page, but sitting down to let your partner know your expectations, and to hear theirs, is essential. Prioritize connection Parenting a newborn is all-encompassing. Connecting with your partner may not look like weekends away or long nights out for a while, but you can still make each other coffee, reach for their hand, or turn your phones and tv off to talk for a few minutes at night. These small moments of connection can make a huge difference. Work on your mindset Don’t keep score! When you aim to win an argument or you keep track of exact numbers of times you do something, even if you win, the relationship loses. See yourself as a team, you both have the same goal to care for this baby. Also remember that this is a temporary phase of life. When we have thoughts like, My life will always be this way, it can make our negative emotions more intense. Take care of yourself You can’t be a good partner if you’re totally depleted. Stay connected to friends, go for walks and lean on your support system. Postpartum anxiety or depression can compound the difficulty of adjusting to parenthood and to your relationship and absolutely necessitates treatment. If you or someone you love is experiencing difficulty, please reach out to me or to another mental health professional.
  2. Are you or someone you love struggling with feelings of anxiety, extreme sadness or feeling very overwhelmed following childbirth? Nancy Segall of Beyond the Baby Blues and Claire Zawa of Birthways Inc. share information and resources for expectant and new parents about the causes, symptoms and treatments for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression occurs in approximately 20 percent of all new mothers. It’s considered the number one postpartum childbirth complication. After this webinar, you will have a better understanding of how perinatal mental health extends beyond depression, impacts the entire family, and can be identified before the family is in crisis. Topics covered: Perinatal mental health diagnoses and presentations Risks factors, special populations, and situations that require referral Tips for how to engage a new or expecting parent in a dialogue about perinatal mental health and how to best offer support Cultural considerations Assessment/screening Resources
  3. Too much bandwidth is being taken up by the so called "mommy wars." In this debate, opposing tribes of (typically well-off, middle-class) moms berate each while wielding their totemic claims: “Breast is best” vs “Back off and butt out, it’s every moms right to choose what’s best for her and her baby.” Now, I’ll be honest. Until recently, I used to be one of these moms. I had breastfed two children and so it was obvious: my team was Breast is Best. In fact, being a blogger, I even posted a few rants in which I condemned moms who chose to bottle-feed. [Related: The best-kept secret about breastfeeding] But here’s the thing: While this conversation does cover some important issues, nevertheless, it is a distraction. The really important issue, the one which deserves to take up mom-blogger bandwidth, is breastfeeding inequality. Are you aware that in the poor state of Louisiana (US) only 56% of mothers ever breastfeed, but in the relatively wealthy state of California, 93% do? Did you know that only 38% of mothers living below the poverty threshold breastfeed at 6-months, while 68% of mothers in top-earning families do? And finally, did you realize that only 29% of mothers who never marry breastfeed their babies until 6-months, whereas 60% of married women do? Shocking, isn’t it? I learned about breastfeeding inequality this year. I was preparing to write another generic mommy wars-style article attacking bottle-feeding. Being a bit of a research nerd, I began digging into the national statistics on breastfeeding. What I learned shattered my preconceptions about breastfeeding. The disparities are huge. In the US, there are almost 4 million mothers with a baby less than 12 months old. When you run the percentages against that figure you are looking at tens (even hundreds) of thousands of mothers who are not breastfeeding because they grew up in the ‘wrong’ area code. [Related: 5 things you should know about breastfeeding before giving birth] Highlighting this isn't about shaming mothers — precisely the opposite. It's about looking hard at the socioeconomic factors causing the problems. It’s about dropping the notion that all moms have the same breastfeeding opportunities and choices. They don’t. It was this realization that caused me to ditch my breastfeeding tribalism. The mommy wars miss the point, and, in doing so, they get in the way of real progressive health improvements for moms and babies. Here are just a few reasons that less well-off mothers find it more difficult to reach optimal breastfeeding goals: • Less access to paid maternity leave • Lower paid jobs that are less likely to allow for pumping breaks • Inadequate maternity and lactation support in hospital • Less effective family and community support • A culture that doesn't unconsciously treat breastfeeding as a desirable status symbol Tackling these issues will be no small feat. But mothers, let’s come together around a goal that we can all agree on: that all moms from all walks of life should have equal knowledge, opportunity, and support to breastfeed (if they want to). Mamas, let’s do this!
  4. Beth is a new mom, and she is exhausted. She hasn’t showered in several days. And even though it's well into the morning, Beth hasn’t brushed her teeth yet. Between breastfeeding on a tight schedule — as prescribed by her pediatrician — and worrying about her daughter gaining weight, Beth has had no time for herself. But today, her daughter is one-month old! Beth picks out the perfect outfit for her baby. She stages the perfect setting and carefully places her daughter in front of the one-month old sign. She takes several photos and chooses her favorite. She then clicks "post" and waits for her social media community to like and comment. [Related: 9 social media rules for first-time parents] As the likes and comments stream in, Beth feels a sense of validation. Maybe she's doing this motherhood thing right after all. At least her friends seem to think so by their adoring comments. But just as quickly as the validation comes, it also goes away, and panic and insecurity set in. Why hasn’t her sister-in-law liked her photo yet? Beth knows she is always on Instagram at this time. Does she think Beth is a bad mother? Does she not like the outfit that Beth picked for her daughter? Should Beth have used one of her sister-in-law’s hand-me-downs? Did Beth’s husband share that Beth is really having a difficult time? Beth is not alone in her social media “insta-curity.” A growing number of Facebook and Instagram users are mothers. Forty percent of millennial moms have an Instagram account dedicated just for their baby. One study, looking at new parents’ social media use, found that mothers sought external validation through social media posts, comments and likes of their child. This type of social media activity was linked to elevated parenting stress and depressive symptoms for new mothers. A related study, examining the connection between social media comparisons and mothers’ parenting behaviors and mental health, found that mothers who frequently compared themselves to others on social media sites felt more depressed, overwhelmed and less competent as parents. An estimated 15-20% of new mothers report experiencing mental health issues during the perinatal and postpartum period. What role does social media play in undermining the confidence and capability of a new parent? Does social media perpetuate perinatal mental health problems, or is it merely a sly accomplice? [Related: How unplugging made me happier parent] People on social media tend to portray themselves in a highly positive manner. This can be especially true for mothers who feel pressure to be perfect. For those mothers who are struggling, comparing themselves to the picture-perfect idyllic image of motherhood inevitably makes them feel like they’re falling short. There are other ways to participate in social media that allow moms to cut themselves some slack. Not every mom on Instagram is perfect. There is a new breed of social media moms that are fighting against the “perfect mother” and instead portraying a more authentic (and messy) version of motherhood — unwashed hair and throw-up stains included. This mom isn’t afraid to admit when she is tired or having a bad day, or that she does not have it all figured out. Additionally, many new parents identify social media as a way to maintain relationships with family and friends and also create a new community, where they connect with other mothers virtually. These connections should help them share support and normalize their personal experience—not make them feel inadequate. Internet aside, you can always connect with other new parents in person. Find parenting playgroups, music classes or mom-and-baby exercise classes. Try to expand your community outside of social media and the Internet. Remember, some days are harder and no amount of “likes” or “comments” is going to change that. But you’re doing great.
  5. Jill* came to see me for therapy at the end of her maternity leave. She had never experienced anxiety before and was suddenly suffering from shortness of breath, racing heart, difficulty breathing and intense feelings of guilt in anticipation of returning to work and leaving her newborn son. While the experiences, conditions and circumstances of working vary, many women, like Jill, experience guilt—feeling they are causing harm or doing something wrong. Mothers often strive to meet unrealistic expectations of parenting. When they don’t reach these unattainable goals, intense feelings of guilt arise. Here are some of the most common reasons mothers feel guilty, specifically when returning to work, followed by tips on how to overcome these feelings. Guilt #1: Leaving my baby with someone else “What’s the point of having a baby if I am going to leave him every day?” Jill asked. Often working mothers feel guilty leaving their babies in the care of others. However, most children under the age of 5 years old receive childcare from someone other than a parent, whether through day care centers, nurseries or with nannies. Infants and children do well with a loving caregiver, whether a parent or another provider. In fact, your child may actually benefit from a healthy and loving relationship with another adult. Furthermore, research suggests that using childcare can have social, psychological and financial benefits for both children and parents. Guilt #2: I’m not good enough Many mothers strive for perfection, which sets them up to feel disappointed, frustrated and ashamed. Rebecca* was looking forward to returning to work after being on maternity leave with her newborn son and toddler but soon discovered that she was not the same employee as before. It was no longer realistic for her to be the first one in the office and the last to leave. Whether you are elated or anxious to be back at work, it is important to be realistic and patient with yourself. You are not the same person as you were before you left, and that is okay. Additionally, you are returning to work with new skills gained in motherhood, such as multitasking, delegation, time-management, saying “no” and fully committing when you say “yes.” Guilt #3: Failing at work-life balance When you think of work-life balance you probably think of equality in both work and life. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Instead, think about work-life balance in more flexible and realistic terms—sometimes work triumphs over life and other times life wins over work. When you are at work, try to be 100% focused. When you’re home, try to be 100% present—don’t check work emails or take work calls. If the work-life wins and losses feel about even, then you have achieved work-life balance. Keep in mind that working is not the same as self-care. You still need time for yourself, whether taking a workout class, grabbing dinner with friends or squeezing in a manicure. Try these tips when returning to work: Choose all of your outfits for the week before returning, ensuring the clothing fits your body now. If you are breastfeeding, practice pumping at home. Find out the best place to pump at work and pack all of your supplies the night before. When coworkers ask how you are doing, have one short and positive line ready, such as “It’s good to be back.” Take breaks and call your partner or supportive person to hear a friendly voice Place a photo of your baby on your desk. Ask your caregiver to occasionally send photos, but try not to FaceTime. Learn to say “no” and not over-commit. Spend quality time with your baby when you return home—the laundry and dishes can wait. Take time for yourself. Find your own version of balance. * Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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