Putting Yourself First

“It is like the instructions on an airplane, you need to put on your mask first before you put on your baby’s.”
This is what I have been saying to clients this year when describing the importance of self-care in the postpartum period, a hard sell for a new mom.
For a new mom, self-care can include the following: sleep, good nutrition, adequate water intake, social support, and recognizing the challenges of being a new mom and that she is doing a good job. But self-care is not easy to enforce when a new mom spends most of her time by herself.
Maternal mental health professionals now recommend Postpartum Doulas as a resource to help new moms combat social isolation, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and self-doubt. A postpartum doula can assist a new mother around the house and in the care of her baby, and help normalize leaving her home to run errands or enjoy a spring day.
It is ironic— that pregnant women take such painstaking care to make sure they eat correctly, rest when tired, and even exercise, but after the baby comes, this self care just goes out the window. It is understandable, she is no longer the star of the show, and her baby is. In addition, her friends, family, and other significant persons in her life may forget to ask how she is because there is an adorable newborn to hold.
But we have to ask! If we are partners, family members, or professionals we have to ask. 
This is why—a woman suffering from a perinatal mood disorder, such as baby blues, postpartum depression, or postpartum anxiety, may look great on the outside. But on the inside she may be full of self-doubt, intrusive thoughts, and even thoughts of hurting herself or her baby.
If this is occurring, then her baby is not getting what he needs— because his mother is not bonding with him. A woman struggling postpartum can become a blank slate in the eyes of her baby, and this may actually lead to the baby becoming used to being ignored by his caregiver—and then ignoring other attention and forms of bonding.
This is evident in the video below:

Although this video is really hard to watch, it shows how a baby can be affected when her mother is not emotionally available. And without a solid bond with her mother, she may have issues trusting others, the foundation of Erickson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development .
It is uncomfortable to ask a mother how she is doing, but if you think about it in terms of her family, then that may ease the burden a bit. One in 7 women will experience a perinatal mood disorder, and this will affect her entire family. In addition to affecting the baby, partners of those experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety,  are more likely to go on themselves to develop depression and anxiety.
The following video was created from outtakes of a video about women with postpartum depression and anxiety. The filmmakers were so impressed by the impact on the dads, they believed it was worthy of it’s own video.

Here is the original video created about their wives for Postpartum Support International:

Postpartum Support International: from Postpartum Support International on Vimeo.

Here in Illinois, we have several resources to help postpartum women. As a postpartum doula, these are some of the resources I have gathered to help moms cope that need professional help. If you this reminds you of someone you know, please ask her how she is doing. And if she states she is not doing well, then please assist her in finding the help she needs. She needs to put herself first again, for her baby and family.