By Ashley Dascola
Forenote by Sabina Sulovsky
Motherhood is blanketed with love and emotion, some good and some not so great.
You are not alone.
As someone who has suffered and seen others suffer, I am delighted to have secured an article for Project Mamma from Ashley Dascola,mental health counsellor, support group leader, life coach, mom and PPD/PPA survivor and advocate.
Ashley has a plethora of qualifications and certifications in life coaching as well as pre/post-natal health and wellness. Specialising in all areas of perinatal mental health and prides herself on creating a practice where judgement is left at the door, openness and honesty are shared, and where holistic healing can truly take place.
If you are struggling with maternal mental health or want to help someone who is, this article may just be what they need.
5 MENTAL HEALTH TIPS ALL NEW MUMS SHOULD KNOW
By Ashley Dascola
If you are reading this, you are most likely either a new mother or about to become one (or maybe even supporting a loved one who is) - and that is something to be truly excited about!
The transition to motherhood is chock full of emotions: happiness, joy, excitement, fear, confusion, doubt - and the list goes on.
But despite the enormous strides that have been made in the world of maternal mental health, new mothers are constantly thrown into a world of mismanaged expectations of what their life "should" be like after giving birth - and this along with tremendous hormonal and physical changes can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts, and feeling as though they are not good enough or failing at the job.
A few simple steps taken prior to and/or shortly after giving birth can help these Mamas-To-Be take good care of their mental health during this pivotal time.
1. Forget Perfectionism and Manage Those Expectations!
When I assess a client for potential risk of experiencing a perinatal mood disorder during pregnancy or after, there are several risk factors that are strong identifiers, and having a perfectionist "Type-A" personality is a big one.
Getting pregnant and having a baby is one of the most intense and immediate changes in responsibility level one will ever face in the course of their lifetime.
There are too many articles and images of pregnancy and new motherhood in the world of social media that do not represent reality and are unrealistic for real new mothers to live up to. This may not seem like much of a big deal, but the truth is that it creates the facade that new motherhood is beautiful and peaceful and nothing but love, joy, sunshine and rainbows.
While I do not intend on bursting your bubble, the reality is that new motherhood is messy, exhausting, and difficult. Conflict can arise within the family that did not exist before, the house that was once in perfect order now seems way too large and difficult of a task to manage, and let's not even talk about what your body has just gone through!
Keeping realistic expectations of how you will feel, what will get done, and how much you will need to lean on others for a while will help tremendously to combat any feelings of guilt, shame or fear of failure.
[Social media]...creates the facade that new motherhood is beautiful and peaceful and nothing but love, joy, sunshine and rainbows
2. Get Comfortable Asking for Help
Who do you feel most comfortable with helping you once you bring your baby home?
What tasks can you delegate in order to take them off your plate for the time being?
You do not and should not have to go through this phase alone.
Our societal norms and culture tend to lead new moms to believe they SHOULD be able to do it all on their own and in turn, we feel like we are asking too much of those around us when we need their assistance. But the truth is, your support system WANTS to help you!
Ask for practical help from others, such as watching the baby so you can sleep, have them bring over meals that you can freeze and have at your disposal, and even allow others just to hold the baby while you do other errands in or out of the house (once physically healed and cleared to do so) - bonding with others is important for baby too, so nix the guilt here!
A few moments of fresh air, sunlight and a shower without your little one clinging to you or needing to watch their every move are important, too; you will still be a rockstar at meeting your baby's instinctual needs during all the other moments in your 24 hours.
Asking for help when and where it is needed makes you a BETTER you, and hence a BETTER mom for your little one.
Ask for practical help from others such as watching the baby so you can sleep, have them bring over meals that you can freeze and have at your disposal....
Engage in Good Self Care Practices - It is NOT Selfish!
That brings me to self-care - a taboo topic these days, especially with the moms of the world.
Many people think self-care means hours at the gym, frequent haircuts and mani/pedi's, or long drawn out bubble baths with wine, cheese and a good book. And while these things are nice and can certainly fall under the category, self-care does NOT have to be luxurious, expensive or time consuming - especially when you have a newborn to take care of.
Getting enough sleep (even if in short spurts), nutritious food and plenty of water, some sunlight and fresh air, moving your body (when cleared to) in even small ways (think short walks, taking the stairs, yoga or stretching, and even breath work), and finding ways to have some quiet time to yourself once in a while all count just as much, if not more, during this phase of your life as a new mother.
I always use the image of a pitcher of water to help with this concept: picture yourself as a pitcher that is full of liquid. You continuously are pouring into other people's cups - your baby, your partner, your parents, other family members and friends, colleagues/work, etc. If you keep pouring into other people's cups without ever refilling your own, you end up empty and unable to continue this process.
Hence, if you do not take time for you to engage in the things that will keep you "full", how can you be expected to give good care to your baby or anyone else?
This is worth repeating again and again – self-care is NOT SELFISH! It allows you to continue giving your best self to those around you whom you love and care for.
4. Find Your Tribe
It's true what they say you know - ain't no tribe like a mama tribe!
While you may have some of the best friends in the world (and that doesn't have to change!), it is difficult to really know how the transition to motherhood impacts one's moods, emotions, and mental health needs unless you have been through it yourself.
Empathy in this area goes a long way in terms of who you surround yourself with for support and how it feels when you need to lean on them for something.
Family and friends who went through this transition a long time ago may have a good understanding of how hard it is to become a new mother, but no one can truly join you on the good, the bad and the ugly more than other newer moms.
Support groups, local community play groups/classes, and phone apps such as Peanut and MomieGo help to match you with other local moms based on location, ages of gestation/children, and other interests (think "Mommy Tinder") can help make you feel connected to others who just "get it" during this major life transition.
5. Seek Professional Support
Yes, I am a mental health professional; yes, I am a new(ish) mom; and yes, I struggled with postpartum anxiety, depression and OCD after having my son.
It took me several months into struggling with my symptoms to be able to admit to myself that something wasn't right and seek professional help of my own. I once had someone question how I could have not known for so long, being a professional in the field; but the fact of the matter is,
I had a lot of knowledge of mental health disorders and the struggles of parenthood from my work, but NO firsthand knowledge or experience of being a first-time mom.
None of us do until we are one! "I'm just tired"; "It's just the baby blues"; "It will get better as soon as (fill in the blank)".
These are all common misconceptions that new moms, particularly first-time moms, tell themselves when they are feeling sad, emotional, overwhelmed, exhausted and scared. But I am here to tell you that you do not have to deal with these feelings alone; and seeking professional help during this very commonly difficult transition will only help you keep that proverbial pitcher full.
Therapists, support groups, and sometimes medications are all tools available to help you get through this transition.
You do not need to wait until you are depressed, anxious, or struggling tremendously in any way to seek this support - being proactive is always better than needing to be reactive when it comes to your health and wellbeing.
If you are looking to get support for your mental health as a new mom, visit beyond blue or call 1300 22 4636 in Australia. For the US contact Postpartum Support International's website at www.postpartum.net or call their warm line at 800-944-4PPD(4773) to be connected to a trained professional near you.
On a person note, thank you Ashley for sharing your professional tips and personal journey. You are amazing
Yours in Wellness and Motherhood
Sabina (and Ashley)