Help. I’m drowning. ~ new mother
I’ve been there. A very high-needs baby, combined with postpartum hormone shifts, combined with ambivalence about motherhood, created for me the perfect storm.
I can’t tell you what you should do for yourself. That is your unique journey to walk. But here’s the advice I would give my younger self, knowing what I do now and having lived to tell the tale.
#1 Know That a High-Needs Baby is Not Your Fault
The “high-needs baby” is a term I learned from Dr. Sears. As parents to many, many children, Dr. and Martha Sears learned that some babies are easy, and some are high-needs. Some can be set down in a crib, swing or bouncy chair, and others have to be constantly carried. Some sleep for long stretches from an early age, and others wake every couple of hours, all night long, for a long, long time.
As parents to many children, the Sears learned not to take their individual baby’s disposition personally. ITS HOW THEIR BABY WAS MADE. Their baby’s personality is not a reflection on their attention or skill as parents. It is what it is.
If you are feeling desperate, dark or out of control (no shame, I did) then first things first …
# 2 DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP
Depression and anxiety are liars. They make thousands of excuses why you can’t get help, can’t afford it, it won’t work, and on and on and on. As your older self, let me give you some clarity. GET HELP, now. Don’t spend another day feeling like you’re drowning and blaming yourself.
Find a therapist, counselor or social worker to talk to. Commit to at least four sessions. Regardless, you can afford it. (The alternative to taking care of yourself is much more expensive, believe me.) Your mental health is an investment in your family’s future.
Completely remove the stigma for yourself in taking medication to treat your anxiety and depression. There are different options that are safe for breastfeeding. THERE IS NO SHAME IN DOING THIS. Just because you take medication now does not mean you will have to take it forever. Imagine it as someone throwing you a life preserver. Grab it.
#3 YOU KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THE BABY. Learn to Take Care of Yourself.
1) Spend one hour away* from the baby every day, if you can.
(*does not include at work)
You can make it happen. The excuse you’ll give why you can’t is that the baby needs you, and you feel guilty.
What the baby needs is a strong mama that knows herself and is grounded enough to trust her instincts. Weepy, panicked and out of control, or drowning in despair, is not a grounded or trusting place to live.
•Develop a home yoga practice. Five minutes a day will make a huge difference.
•Sit in a dark room and be aware of your breath.
•Go for a walk outside and listen to a great podcast. (Big Magic and the Robcast are two of my favorites.) Listen to an audiobook (Rising Strong and Wild are two of my favorites.)
• Take a nap. If you have trouble day-napping, rub lavender and Cedarwood Essential Oils on your feet right after you lay down.
•Wash your hair. Just do it.
2) Sleep for at least four hours a night, if you can
For a high-needs baby, this might mean taking shifts. (Daddy is on 11p to 3a, mommy on 3a to 7a.) Note when assigning shifts, try to give each person at least an hour between 2am and 5am. These are the “witching” hours when getting sleep can make or break your day.
3) Acknowledge Your Own Personal Natural Disaster
First off, remember that this is a time of crisis. A high-needs baby is in many ways a natural disaster. If you were the victims of a hurricane and lost your home, how would you continue to meet your basic needs? Apply those rules here. ASK FOR HELP FROM YOUR COMMUNITY. If you attend a house of worship, reach out to folks from you church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship. ACCEPT HELP.
•Use paper plates and plastic silverware
•Get groceries delivered, or pick them up instead of spending precious emotional energy at the store. (Walmart and other stores offer online ordering and pick up.)
•Drop off 2 loads of laundry to be done by someone else, or have someone come do your laundry, or fold and put away clean laundry, once a week. ACCEPT HELP.
•Have someone come once or twice a month to deep clean. If folks are offering baby gifts, ask them instead to contribute toward a maid service for a good deep clean.
•LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. A dirty house is not a sign of things going badly. An anxious, weepy and miserable mama is a sign things are going badly. If you feel better, you won’t care as much if the house is dirty.
4) Sunlight and Movement
Go outside. Walk around. Go to the park, arboretum or for a hike. AGAIN, THIS ISN’T FOR THE BABY’S WELL-BEING, IT’S FOR YOURS. Baby-wearing was a godsend. When I was especially sick of our baby I would carry her on my back and pretend she wasn’t there. (NO SHAME.)
4) Calm the F down
A therapist or counselor can teach you positive self-talk for your darkest, middle of the night moments when you aren’t sure you can do this. Affirmations are so powerful!
(These are best used in combination. Ask your healthcare provider about any interactions with medical conditions or prescribed meds.)
• Lemon Balm (tincture or tea) ~ used before bedtime.
• Lavender ~ apply it or diffuse it as an essential oil, drink it as a tea, steeped in a bath
• Cedarwood ~ apply it, diffuse it. Burn it as a smudge stuck
• Sage ~ burn it as a smudge stick
• Chamomile ~ drink it as a tea
• Calendula and Rosemary ~ bathe in.
• Epsom salts baths : bathe in them
5) Balance Your Hormones (all herbs listed are safe for breastfeeding)
Consider these herbs (best used in combination)
• Motherwort (tincture)
• Red Clover (infusion)
• Red Raspberry Leaf (infusion)
• Nettle (infusion)
Castor Oil Packs : help detoxify the liver, thereby balancing the hormones. If you are breastfeeding, I would wear the pack for smaller increments of time, gradually increasing day by day. (1st day, 15 minutes, 2nd day, 15 mins, 3rd day, 30 minutes, 4th day, 30 minutes, 5th day 1 hour.)
Try to limit refined carbs: sugar, white flour and processed foods … These aggravate mood disorders and the affects of sleep deprivation.
Eat more greens: dark leafy and bitter greens — kale, arugula, endive, radicchio, these help support the liver
Eat probiotic FOODS: gut health is mental health. Live cultured sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, etc. THE ACTUAL FOOD VERSION IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN SUPPLEMENT VERSION, and cheaper.
Milk Thistle Seed: is a great liver support. I’ve found for me it helps curb anxiety as well. I eat it finely ground (with an herb or coffee grinder) in applesauce (a food that aids the gallbladder.)
Limit Alcohol: a glass (or bottle) of wine might seem like a quick fix, but it makes everything worse.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
In our culture, we worship babies, and forget the mothers. But mothers and babies are inherently connected. Baby’s well-being and care is INTRICATELY connected to the well-being of you, his mother. Babies don’t really need perfect outfits, special kinds of diapers, and crib sets. They need mothers who are nourished, confident, and grounded. If you want to be a good mom to your baby, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Honor yourself, support yourself, love yourself, believe in yourself.