10.10 MB | 25:19 Min
Dr. Alison Wilson is a psychologist whose practice focuses on women’s mental health issues surrounding reproduction. Her specialty is providing women and couples counseling for infertility, prenatal and postpartum adjustment (including postpartum depression), miscarriages, pregnancy loss and grief counseling.
Gabriela Gerhart is the founder of The Motherhood Center in Houston, TX. The Motherhood Center offers a full range of services, support and classes to moms-to-be and new parents.
Welcome to your Pea in the Podcast, I’m Bonnie Petrie with everything you need to know about your body, your baby and the big changes ahead in your life as you begin your journey to becoming a mommy.
This week, we’re going to help you survive the first 3 months of your baby’s life.
From sleep deprivation…
“I would say the first month or so I barely remember just because it was so exhausting.”
To taking care of yourself…
“There were days when I was like hmmm I haven’t brushed my teeth; hmm I can’t remember the last time I shaved my legs.”
Oh, yeah, we’ll hear from several moms who have made through the first 3 months of parenthood and lived to tell about it, and an expert in helping new moms take care of themselves, she’ll give you some advice. And we’ll go in-depth with an expert in post-partum depression. It’s Baby Boot camp Taking Care of You, in this Pea in the Podcast.
It’s what you’ve been waiting, planning and preparing for for the last 40 weeks, maybe more. Your baby’s birthday. For most moms this is the most joyous day of their lives. Your little one is actually here! You get to meet them. You are cuddling them in your arms. Pressing your lips to their tiny head, tinier than you ever imagined it would be. Your beautiful, beautiful baby…and then your life as a mommy begins. What have you gotten yourself into?
“The first few months of parenthood are so overwhelming.”
“It’s exhausting and frustrating and tiring and calls on every insecurity you ever had as a person.”
And your life can suddenly start to feel very small.
“Diapering the baby, feeding the baby, drinking water and feeding yourself and sleeping.”
Sleeping…if you can sleep. Gabriela Gerhart is the founder of The Motherhood Center in Houston, Texas, and she said when they send you home with your baby you may wonder what in the world they were thinking. You are not ready for this!
“It is definitely a 24-hour job. The baby is totally dependent on them and just knowing that I think it’s kind of a scary situation for many moms that they just, the baby is totally dependent on them.”
Gerhart says that simply terrifies many women, understandably. But you are ready for this, honestly. I did it! You’re just in baby boot camp and you take it one day at a time.
The first thing many women — I’d venture to say all women — struggle with is sleep deprivation.
“So I would say the first month or so I barely remember just because it was so exhausting. For me the lack of sleep was really hard. I was truly surprised what sleep deprivation does to a person.”
Gerhart says sleep deprivation can make these first 3 months of parenthood feel like they are just way too much.
“You can get to the point where you are about to throw up how sleep deprived you can be. It’s just you’ve kind hit the wall and you don’t think that it’s going to get any better and you have all of these anxieties and of course all of the joy as well but emotions are just so strong and every day is very different and everything that you kind of figured out one day or one week, the next week or the next day is very different so it’s kind of a constantly learning every hour.”
The business of just keeping your baby fed is an all-consuming job.
“Because she was so small she was waking up every hour and half to eat. Because I had to pump and then give her the bottle, my hour and half of sleep turned to about 20 minutes at a time. So I think the first month I got you know 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there so I remember after 3 or 4 months just telling my husband this is torture in some countries. I can’t believe it I can’t even make full sentences.”
Now no matter how you feed your baby, they eat a lot in those first 3 months. They have to. If you’re nursing they eat all of the time to build your supply and they still need to eat frequently to keep their blood sugar regulated. Their tummies are tiny too so they fill up quickly and they empty quickly and need to be filled up again. It’s just a fact of life, in those first 3 months you’re not going to get a lot of sleep. But guess what? You will manage.
“It is amazing how little sleep you can function on. I was shocked actually.”
I was, too. I really was. I had always been somebody who needed a lot of sleep to function and here I was managing and managing, you know, pretty well on no sleep. Of course Gerhart says the first thing you need to do to stay sane during this time is learn to nap.
“I think we have so many moms which are A-Type personality and goal oriented and task oriented that they don’t learn that during pregnancy they will just not be able to nap and really kind of take the time for themselves while the baby is here because the maternal instinct takes over and your only focus is the baby. You kind of forget about yourself.”
You’ll hear this a million times while you’re in baby boot camp, sleep when the baby sleeps. It is harder than you think, but it really should be something you try to do when you can. Now you might expect that you won’t get sleep during the day, but to newborns there is really no day or night, so nighttime can feel an awful lot like day time when you’re up feeding and changing your baby while listening to music or watching old reruns like I did or just rocking in the silence. This is the time though, one of the many times you can ask your partner for help.
“If the dad can allow the mom to have go straight back to sleep while he’s going to be doing the burping and changing diaper and give her just a little bit more sleep and it is going to be great for the dad for the bonding. But you know, find ways how to take turns in caring for the baby so one of the parents doesn’t feel like they’re the only one with doing everything.”
If your nursing you can have your partner bring the baby to you in bed and nurse there and then let dad take the baby and burp them and change them. If you’re bottle feeding you can take turns feeding the baby but try to share this load as much as you can.
Believe it or not though when you look back on this time many moms say those quiet nights with their baby staring up into their eyes snuggled in closely those times are among their most cherished memories.
“Those 3AM feedings as much as I hated dragging myself out of bed, I wouldn’t trade them for anything because I mean it is romanticized now but at the same time, yeah it was hard but it was so worth it.”
I had one mommy describe baby boot camp to me as one very long day, and it is true, like your baby you might lose track of day and night. When you don’t have a regular bedtime and a regular wake up time when you do things like shower or eat, so often, believe it or not, you’ll forget to do these things altogether.
“Women definitely do forget to eat, they forget to sleep even if they have a chance to sleep and I usually kind of joke with the dads when they are coming home from work make sure that they don’t ask if the dinner is ready because that would just the worst question to ask a new mom. But also the dad will realize many times their wives realize oh that’s right I didn’t have lunch yet. You know and it’s already 7 o’clock or 6 o’clock in the evening.”
And if you can’t remember to eat, forget about trying to look presentable on a given day.
“There were days when I was like hmmm I haven’t brushed my teeth; hmm I can’t remember when the last time I shaved my legs. Yeah so there’s a lot of self-care stuff that goes right out the window.”
Yeah my baby was about 3 weeks old when my husband came home and suggested I might want to consider brushing the layer of film off my teeth that had accumulated over a period of I don’t know how long.
But these two things, sleep deprivation and lack of self care, coupled with hormones that are now going crazy trying to normalize themselves after your baby is born can lead you to feel sad, sometimes very sad. Dr. Allison Wilson is a psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression, and she says some degree of sadness is absolutely normal. First of all there is a feeling of let down after the dizzying excitement of pregnancy.
“Hormonally speaking, emotionally speaking, it’s over. This long 9 month journey is over and I would say the majority of women and I have seen statistics researchers might say that 85% of women are going to have some sort of mood fluctuation during the first few weeks of postpartum period so I want women to know that is very normal and natural. What that often looks like is weeping at any commercials that are on TV or just really tearful and obviously very tired and then very sensitive feelings, and not to say that your body is also going through a lot so you might experience what we would call the ‘baby blues’ and it is very mild symptoms, and how you can usually distinguish that from postpartum depression is you’re still able to function. You’re still able to take care of the baby, you still have some hope of I’m kind of emotional right now but life is still good. And then we’ll also find baby blues usually last for a short period of time, 2-3 weeks. It usually peaks around the 4th or 5th day after delivering the baby. That is kind of when the let down really occurs and I think it is helpful to have that support right there, if you have it, of your spouse and friends and knowing that this is very normal and natural.”
Because the baby blues is completely normal, a lot of moms don’t notice it when they start slipping into postpartum depression, but this is also very common.
“The depression is just like at other periods in your life when you would have depression. Your mood is more depressed than not, there’s a loss of hope. There’s also crying but there is this feeling of I just can’t do this. It feels incredibly overwhelming and it typically lasts a lot longer than the postpartum blues, and you might have sleep disturbances, which is hard to tell because a new mother is up all of the time in the night anyway, but she may have insomnia where she can’t sleep at all. She might have appetite disturbances, but again that is hard to tell, especially if you’re nursing. So I always recommend for loved ones if they are just not quite sure, talk to your OBGYN about this, do something to start feeling better.”
If you are slipping into postpartum depression you might begin to have thoughts that scare or embarrass you.
“For some it might even be suicidal thoughts and also some ambivalence or negative feelings toward the infant. Some women in the office will go sometimes I kind of have a fear of hurting the baby and that worries me and you know that is more of the anxiety speaking and I will mention to her, you know I am so glad you told me. Not that I think she is actually going to harm the baby, because she is grounded in reality. She knows that that would not be right. She is scared about these thoughts and so again it’s very, very different looking than baby blues.”
Don’t be embarrassed. This happens to so many women. Your doctor can help you. I’ve talked to moms who feel like they missed out on the entire first year of their baby’s lives because they were depressed and either didn’t know it or were too ashamed to do anything about it. A lot of women are ashamed when it occurs to them that they might be slipping into postpartum depression because they’ve heard about cases like that of Andrea Yates, the mom who drowned her 5 children in a bathtub. But Andrea Yates did not have postpartum depression.
“That would involve postpartum psychosis which is the most severe type of postpartum obviously psychiatric illness. It is rare and it usually occurs in 1 to 2 women out of 1,000. So often times we will see it, the symptoms manifest while the woman is still in the hospital within the 24-48 hour after delivering. For some women, the psychosis – to remind everyone, being psychotic means you have a break from reality — you’re not grounded in reality and you are either seeing things that other people are not seeing or you’re hearing voices that other people are not hearing. Fortunately, if it emerges within the first 48-72 hours, they’re still in the hospital. But it can also develop within the first 2 weeks. She may have delusional beliefs that feel very, very real to her but they are not. So that might incorporate that this baby is defective or it is dying or Satan has come in and I need to save it. She may like I said have auditory hallucinations where she is hearing voices that she needs to go hurt her baby and that is psychosis.”
Women who are at the greatest risk for postpartum psychosis are women who have bi-polar disorder or whom have previously had postpartum psychosis.
My (ex) husband and I talked about this a lot during my pregnancy. I wanted him to keep an eye on me and if I seemed to be different — I mean more different than I might otherwise be, considering I got about 2 hours a sleep a night — I needed him to talk to me and my doctor. I really wanted him to do this. Dr. Wilson thinks that is good idea.
“You want to have people to be able to monitor and tell you wow you’re not really seeming like yourself. I think another thing is lots of women are under this conception that oh the postpartum depression happens once I have the baby, but it can actually surface itself during the last trimester of the pregnancy. So any type of mood changes, and I’m talking you’re depressed for more days than not, not just simply weepy or emotional but you’re just not feeling like yourself and there is loss of hope and there is this idea of I just can’t do it. It might really come across as being very, very overwhelmed and this is during the pregnancy. If those feelings start to surface we really want to watch you once you deliver.”
“And then we’ll also find after delivering, another thing that can contribute to postpartum depression, is the expectations a woman may have around motherhood. I mean she may think oh the baby is going to sleep for several hours and I’m going to take it in a cute little bassinet up to work and I’m going to work and I’m going to do this and that and if the baby, you know babies wake up and they have their own little temperament and if it’s not what she thought it would be, her expectations sometimes that can really throw her off-guard and can contribute to post-partum depression. Of course we’re also looking at a huge fluctuation in hormone levels and that can obviously contribute to it as well. Not having a lot of support is also a contributing factor and so again we want to look for these things during the pregnancy then obviously afterward.”
Okay, so how do we manage the factors that we can control that might contribute to depression? Well first of all throw those high expectations out the window. Be gentle with yourself.
“Recognize that she’s going through a big change in her life on many, many levels and if she can at a bare minimum get herself dressed, preferably bathed if she has the time, eat well, continue to eat like during your pregnancy of eating fruits and vegetables and milk if you can and you know whatever to keep nourishing your body especially if you are nursing. Drink lots and lots of water, you can become dehydrated in a hurry and you can be so busy with the baby and tending to them and you forget about that. I would also you know if you have family that can step in and help, lean on them. It is quite alright to do that. If you don’t have family present, then online friends, talk, talk to your spouse, talk to some friends on the phone just to get you through this adjustment period.”
If you don’t have family and friends to lean on you still don’t have to be alone, you can hire a postpartum doula to come in and help you a little. We did. It was hard to budget for it, but we managed, because as Gabriela Gerhart of Houston’s Motherhood Center says, no new mom should be completely alone.
“We actually have a lot of clients which get reimbursed through their insurance companies now for our services because they are understanding how important it is for the mom to have the help. And the recovery part is going to be so much faster for the mom because she is allowed to heal and she is allowed to have some time to herself. So yeah. And having the educational support because as we all know babies don’t come with manuals from the hospital and/or from the birthing center, whatever. So everything you do you are doing for the most part for the first time so having someone there who guides you and instructs you if you don’t do something correctly that person can, post-partum doula can show you how to make things easier for yourself and understanding the baby’s needs. You know when the baby is crying what the cry is really about and what the baby’s needs are and of course taking care of the mom.”
I would have been absolutely lost without my postpartum doula. She made sure I ate and drank. She ran out for groceries, she let me get naps, she basically taught me how to nurse, she helped me understand my baby, she taught me how to make a nice tight swaddle that would help my baby sleep, she offered me warm non-judgmental support and connection. And connection is what new moms need most of all.
“You know when you are working you don’t usually have too many co-workers which are pregnant so you’re already kind of isolated during pregnancy, but once you have the baby everybody’s life is kind of going on and not you. You’re kind of forgotten, a little bit, and of course all of the focus is on the baby now. And I think it is very important for the moms to really create a circle of their friends.”
You can create this network of friends through your childbirth classes or if you take a prenatal yoga class you can make some friends there. I made some lifelong friends about whom I’m passionate on the internet at a mommy message board. They are now real life friends that I have leaned on in all kinds of crises. You can also make connections and get yourself out of the house by joining a mommy and baby yoga class. It doesn’t matter how you do it.
Just do it.
And also remember to take time for yourself.
“Even if it is 20 minutes during the day you need to go lay down and grab a book, grab a magazine, but not a baby book or a baby magazine. It needs to be something that really, really relates to the mother so she really can kind of recharge her body and you know cope the rest of the day or the rest of the night whatever is ahead of her.”
And you and your partner must remember also to take time for each other.
“What is really important for the couple to still be the husband and wife but many times what happens is they become the mommy and daddy and forget about really the relationship which started the whole process. It is important to have date nights, I know it is kind of hard to do in the first few weeks because you just want to go to sleep rather than going out to dinner but just really have either relatives or the post-partum doula to come back for a few hours at night or hire a babysitting service which is specializing in infants like we do at the Motherhood Center and allow yourself to have 3 hours to spend with your husband and try not to talk about the baby the whole time as well, which can be very hard.”
And Dr. Wilson says forget about trying to be perfect.
“Go get a bunch of paper plates and go get a bunch of paper towels if that is helpful to you to just not worry about the dishes. Just try to eliminate the things that you can in your life, and this is temporary, and it all works out, so it is good to just cut yourself some slack.”
And it is temporary. Take it from a mom who has been there and done that.
“You know what, it is really hard. Give it 3 months and things will get a lot better.”
Or from Gabrielle Gerhart.
“What I get a lot of times from clients after the 3 months, they are coming out of fog. You know so you are in this, there is this sleeping deprivation where your brain cannot operate 100% because you had 3 hours of sleep every night in the last few weeks or 4 hours of sleep if you get lucky.”
Baby boot camp ultimately is about you blossoming into motherhood, your baby growing comfortable with the world, your family becoming, well a family. That’s what this mom thinks anyway.
“I think that the first 3 months is really a time for your family to kind of gel and decide what family you are going to be. How is your family going to be, what are you going to choose and what flavor are we going to have in our home and I think that is the time that you get to remind yourself that you are parents. You’re the mommy now, you get to make the choices and you don’t have to feel pressured by everybody with all of these pieces of advice everywhere.”
And although we have spent this entire podcast talking about just how difficult and intense your first 3 months of parenthood are going to be for you — and they will be — equally intense will be the pure joy you experience as you truly comprehend love, maybe for the first time.
“To feel how much love you have the capacity to feel and then to realize that you are that loved in this world. That was amazing to me.”
And that is what this journey to becoming a mommy is all about.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this Pea in the Podcast: Baby Boot Camp; Taking Care of You. Please visit our website PeaInThePodcast.com for more information about our experts, to find links and transcripts and to register to get tailored week-by-week shows for each week and stage of your pregnancy. It’s everything you need to know about your body, your baby and the big changes ahead in your life in your journey to becoming a mommy. For Pea in the Podcast, I’m Bonnie Petrie. Thanks for listening.
A Special Thanks To…
All of the wonderful moms from all over the country who shared their experiences with baby boot camp for this podcast.