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Becoming a Mother

by Maxine
Posted July 27 2010 01:23pm
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“Giving birth” defines motherhood in the biological sense, but research has shown that becoming a mother is more difficult than we think. Many people assume that mothering comes naturally to women—that they automatically feel comfortable as mothers.

Women today rarely have any way of gaining a real understanding of what to expect in the weeks and months just after birth. Mothering is a learned experience – and it takes time. Some new mothers feel a lot of pressure as they try to look and act as if they feel comfortable with their “new Mom” role, before they are truly ready.

Research is still being carried out in order to find out how new mothers feel about their new role during and after pregnancy. Below, you can see some of the results of several studies of new mothers.

There is a wide range of reactions to becoming a mother, and they change over time. In one study, new mothers were asked to answer the question: “Do you feel comfortable in your role as a mother?" The questions was asked at various times from pregnancy to the end of the first year after the birth of their first baby. The results showed that many mothers took quite some time to feel comfortable in their new role, as you can see in the table below.

Do you feel comfortable in your role as a Mother?

Since pregnancy 3%
Since the baby was two weeks old 33%
Since the baby was two months old 49%
Since the baby was four months old 64%
Since the baby was nine months old 85%
Since the baby was 12 months old 96%

If you are a new mom, don’t be surprised or feel un-motherly if you aren’t instantly “head-over-heels” about this new role during pregnancy or the first few months after your baby is born. As you can see from the table above, many new mothers needed a lot of time to adjust. As their babies grew and the moms became more familiar with being called “a mother,” more mothers began to feel comfortable in their new role. But clearly a few moms were still working on achieving a comfort level in their role when their babies turned one year old.

But feeling comfortable in their role is not exactly the same as feeling competent. Feeling comfortable means you are OK with labeling yourself as a mother and with being called a mother by others. Feeling competent means you feel you know how to respond to your baby’s needs. Competency is much more difficult to grasp.

Gradually over the first weeks and months, mothers begin to know their babies and know how to respond to their needs – which constantly change, by the way. All of a sudden, what worked last week doesn’t work anymore. For example, your baby starts teething or goes to a daycare or stays up too late two nights in a row. Suddenly, all the things that worked before aren’t working any more, and you feel horribly incompetent. But you keep trying to learn, and after a few challenging days or weeks, you arrive at the new right combination of things that work. And you reach a new plateau of competency. Just remember – almost every parent goes through periods of feeling incompetent as part of being a parent.

In your new mothering role, you will need to come to terms with a number of challenges that parenthood brings. The following list includes some of the most common ones that new mothers face as they try to become comfortable and competent in their new role.

Not having or finding any personal time: This was the most common challenge for new mothers in most surveys. Mothers found they had little time to eat meals, bathe and apply makeup or to talk with their husbands. Although the hectic pace decreases over the first year of the baby's life, for many women, this remains a major challenge of motherhood.

Lack of knowledge and preparation on how to deal with typical baby behaviours: When mothers don’t know about normal yet challenging infant behaviours, this can cause them to feel incompetent. Mothers dislike feeling unprepared, and frequently complain about it. This information can help prepare moms and dads for not just the typical things that come along, but some of the not-so-typical ones, too.

Lack of sleep and night-time care of the baby: Something called "super-ordinate fatigue" rules the three or four weeks following delivery. For many new moms this develops into ongoing tiredness, which interferes with their efforts to become a successful mother. Fortunately, there are a few things a couple can do to reduce the lack of sleep due to infants and toddlers who have a hard time sleeping through the night. And feelings of comfort and competency increase as the mother gets more sleep – particularly over the first 4 months. However, tiredness and night-time care remain a key challenge for many mothers throughout the preschool years and beyond.

All-encompassing demand: Throughout the first year of their baby’s life, many mothers feel "a loss of freedom," like they "always have to be there." This makes it hard for a lot of them to feel comfortable in their new roles. Motherhood is often so demanding, it can wear away at a mother’s good intentions.

So how can mothers overcome these challenges? As new moms, coping with the challenges of your role can be very discouraging at times, but you can learn to overcome them with support and the right assistance. Researchers have uncovered the following factors that help mothers as they try to learn their new role.

Previous experience: Some new mothers know things from prior experience with babies, like babysitting, or coming from a large family where they helped to care for their own siblings. If you have had these experiences, you will draw on them as you learn to know your own baby.

Knowledge: Some new mothers have learned about child development and parenting strategies through books or courses, and may have even had a chance to practice.

Baby's behaviour: Things become more manageable once new mothers learn about the parts of a baby’s behaviour that are inherited (called “temperament”) and the parts of each developmental stage that are easy or difficult.

Social support: New mothers can really benefit from the support of their husbands, parents, friends, experienced mothers and other first time mothers. Fortunately searching for good supportive people seems to come naturally. Most first-time mothers are on the look-out for those people they can count on to give them support.

 

Above points reference R.T. Mercer (1985) The process of maternal role attainment of the first year. Nursing Research

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Becoming a Father

by Maxine
Posted December 2 2010 01:50pm
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Your baby will be here very soon, and you probably have some concerns about your new role as a father. Will you know how to care for the baby? Will you connect? This worry could come from the popular belief that fathers are less sensitive than mothers – and even somewhat clumsy with their babies, especially newborns.

Not to worry – there are several studies by noted researchers that suggested that this is untrue. The results actually indicated that fathers are naturally capable of caring for their new babies, as they are generally sensitive, warm and competent caregivers. And they are just as capable or incapable as mothers. And like mom, dad can talk to and touch their babies throughout pregnancy, bonding long before they are born.

Take a look at the information below. It outlines the behavioural and emotional responses new dads showed toward their newborns, according to the research findings. You’ll find plenty of responses that show that new dads are sensitive and competent.

Biological responses: Their heart rate and blood pressure increased while new fathers were interacting with their newborns. This suggests that new Fathers are physically prepared to respond to their babies, which shows they are certainly far from indifferent.

Feelings: New fathers reported feeling elated when their babies were born, emotionally connected to the child and equally as anxious as Mothers about leaving them in someone else's care.

Behaviours: New fathers frequently visited hospitalized newborns. They showed interest by behaving the same as moms when meeting their babies for the first time and when interacting with their babies in the maternity ward. Blindfolded with noses plugged, new fathers could recognize their children by touching their hands, which demonstrates a certain physical connectedness.

When observed feeding their babies, both parents responded appropriately to their baby's cues. (However, if fathers were not asked to show their competence, they were more likely to let the mothers take over.)

Researchers also discovered ways in which new fathers demonstrated sensitivity to their babies’ needs, as compared to mothers.

Distress: When babies showed upset during feeding—for example, sneezing, spitting up, coughing, grunting, crying or moving their mouths— fathers showed sensitivity toward their babies. On average, Fathers were just as responsive as mothers. Encouragement: When babies needed a change in pace or support when feeding, fathers were, on average, equally as capable as mothers to encourage their babies to eat. They also responded well to their babies’ cues by either adjusting to meet the baby’s pace or using phrases like, “Open wide!” and “Look at the spoon!”

Crying: When their babies cried, fathers were less likely than mothers to automatically pick them up. Fathers tended to wait longer than mothers to pick up crying babies.

Language: Both mothers and fathers adjusted their speech patterns when talking to their babies. They spoke more slowly, used shorter phrases and repeated themselves more often than when speaking to an adult.

However, fathers demanded higher levels of speech from their babies. For example, while mothers were more likely to use shorter sentences, fathers used more words in their sentences. This means the babies had to pay more attention to learn what the fathers were saying.

Feel better? Let us know about your experience of becoming a father by sharing your comments below!

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Mom's Emotional Rollercoaster

by Guest
Posted August 4 2010 02:35pm
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During pregnancy, many expectant moms feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster. They experience great emotional highs sprinkled with deep lows, or something in between, but still more emotional than they are used to. For some expectant women, this is a very real experience. However, it doesn’t have to be a scary ride.

Pregnancy is a time for change. Not only does a pregnant woman go through physical changes, but she goes through emotional changes, too. When a mother is more emotional during pregnancy, these feelings can be related to her hormones and her changing body shape.

Each pregnant woman’s emotional experience is unique. Some mothers go through emotional changes all the way through their pregnancy. Others feel strong emotional changes for a time and then not at all. Some have mood swings, while others feel a change in their overall mood level, either higher or lower than usual. The strength and sensitivity of a mother’s feelings may also change during pregnancy. However, most of these emotional changes should disappear after birth; if they continue, talk to your doctor or midwife.

Many expectant moms say the second trimester is the best time for them because their moods are not so extreme. Mothers in their second trimester are often told they are "glowing." But in the last month or so of pregnancy, a woman's size and aches and pains can cause emotional stress. That’s also the point when mothers may worry about labour and delivery and even the responsibilities of becoming a new mother. So, don’t fret if you aren’t “glowing” at the end of your nine months.

How a woman sees her changing body may affect her emotions during pregnancy. Although some pregnant celebrities seem to adore their pregnant bodies, ordinary women are often more conflicted. Some days her body seems special and fulfilling, on other days it is fat and clumsy—especially during the last months. Most women are eager to get back their pre-pregnancy shape right away after birth.

Some women are uneasy with looking at themselves in the mirror. They are sensitive to remarks about their size or weight. This is quite normal. Both mothers and fathers should avoid comparing an expectant mother's body to the bodies of non-pregnant women. Keep in mind how amazing a woman’s body is to be able to house a new growing life!

Emotional ups and downs during pregnancy are normal. However, both parents need to trust their gut feeling if things seem to be getting out of control. Sometimes, pregnancy can set off a period of clinical depression, anxiety disorder or a bipolar disorder.

If you think what you’re feeling or what you see in yourself is a big concern, check with your doctor or healthcare provider right away.

For clinical depression, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder, the earlier you get help, the easier it is to treat or manage the disorders. There are many helpful ways of dealing with these disorders. You shouldn’t wait to get help just to avoid taking drugs during her pregnancy. Your doctor will most certainly discuss the pros and cons of any drug therapy or other non-drug-related approaches with you and your partner.

How do you know if your emotional symptoms are serious enough to discuss them with her doctor or healthcare provider?

It is time to talk to your doctor if ANY of these symptoms occur. Some of these may seem trivial, or typical. But you should keep your healthcare provider in the loop, and err on the side of reporting too many symptoms, rather than waiting until things are out-of-hand.

 

  • Long-lasting mood swings (for more than two weeks and don’t seem to be letting up)
  • Often anxious and a growing bad temper
  • Racing thoughts that keep you up at night
  • Not able or no desire to sleep regularly 
  • Not able or no desire to eat regularly (especially if you’re not gaining weight or are losing weight) 
  • Not able to focus on anything for very long 
  • Loss of short-term memory, trouble focusing, remembering or making decisions 
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoys 
  • Agitated almost all the time 
  • Lack of energy, especially after the first trimester
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 
  • Always worried about the baby’s development 
  • Feelings of sadness or frequent crying 
  • Hot/cold flashes, chest pain and feels shaky or dizzy
  • Guilty thoughts or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness 
  • Impatience, lack of control or lack of energy 
  • Feelings of guilt or failure as a mother-to-be 
  • Withdrawal from partner, family, friends or co-workers

 

For more information on this topic:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Mood Disorders of Canada

 

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