Hear economist Emily discuss her new book Cribsheet, in which she examines the scientific data on many aspects of parenting, including breastfeeding, sleep training, and discipline.
In my everyday life as a mom of a toddler and a therapist to new parents, I encounter a lot that upsets my core feminist principles, specifically that women deserve equal recognition and respect for our contributions to society and to enjoy the same freedoms available to men. First and foremost, every single woman with a new baby is impacted by our government's failure to provide adequate paid maternity leave. Mothers impacted by poverty face dizzying and unending sets of tasks to secure public assistance, most of which is inadequate and short-term. When it comes to returning to work, the cost of childcare is crippling, and women also face immense pressure to seamlessly balance their dual roles at work and home. This involves the "second shift," work inside the household that is disproportionally completed by women, even as they are paid less than their male peers in the workplace.
Amidst this challenging environment for mothering, many woman experience an additional level of difficulty due to internalized sexism. Historically women have been defined based on their success or perceived failure to produce and raise healthy children, and the pervasive perfectionism and self-shaming among women seems to be a relic of this limited view. Here are some examples: I've met with women worried that they failed to provide their children with the best start because they had c-sections. I myself spent at least 4 months of my life obsessing over my inability to breastfeed exclusively and wondering if formula was going to harm my son's health. I've heard from women that feel guilty when they return to work (because they're not spending time with kids), or when they decide not to return to work (because they're not contributing financially to the family or setting a good example as a working woman.) And from full-time moms who say, "I'm not working, I'm just at home with the baby," minimizing the enormous amount of thoughtful and intensive labor that goes into caring for a child. And in my therapy practice I've encountered women who have ignored their own pressing medical needs, including damage from birth trauma, and depression and anxiety symptoms for far too long, isolated within their suffering because they are so ashamed of having these issues.
With these realities in mind, here are some core principles about how to make change, macro, micro, and personal/internal, towards a more feminist version of motherhood.
1) Advocate on the local, state and federal levels for paid maternity leave, affordable childcare options, public benefits for families, and the right to access birth control and abortion so that entering motherhood every woman's choice.
2) Negotiate with our employers for equal pay and flexibility;
3) Communicate and assert our needs to our partners around the sharing of domestic and emotional labor.
4) Practice self-acceptance and tolerance of imperfection within ourselves, making space for mistakes, uncertainty, ambivalence, and finding our own unique path, while still believing we are good enough.
5) Share our full experiences as parents, both the joys and the challenges, with friends, family and online communities in an effort to normalize and de-stigmatize the ups and downs we all face.
6) Access the care and support we deserve, including medical treatment, physical therapy, and counseling for a mental health or relationship concerns. Treating our own needs seriously sends a message to ourselves and to others that our experience as mothers matters, that we matter!
More to come on all of these points in the future. For now here is some additional reading:
The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers
Is Motherhood the unfinished work of feminism?
Self-compassion is thrown around as a solution for any number of mental health problems. But how can "being kind to yourself" have such a big effect? And how can you be kind to yourself when things aren't going the way you want them to? In this amazingly information-packed podcast, you can learn all about the science behind self-compassion and how to begin to cultivate it in yourself.
Yes, Your Sleep Schedule Is Making You Sick
This is NYT article from 2017 is my most-shared ever - a fascinating explanation of how sleep - whether too much, too little, or at the wrong time - can impact depression and anxiety. Takes us through circadian rhythm variations, how to handle jetlag, how doctors are experimenting with how to treat depression with sleep schedule changes... A must read for anyone who sleeps (or doesn't!)
I put together a brief checklist to help pregnant and expecting moms prepare for the challenges ahead and plan for how maintain their emotional health after the baby arrives. This checklist can help you identify any risk factors for postpartum depression and anxiety and put a plan in place to protect your mental health.
Know your risk factors. Past mental health concerns or family history of mental health issues, childhood trauma, grief and loss, family or partner relationship problems can place you at increased risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. Consider connecting with a mental health provider before the baby arrives so you can process your experiences and get support now.
Understand the mind-body connection. Childbirth, hormonal changes, and the major upheaval to daily routines that a new baby brings make all new parents more emotional vulnerable. To sustain yourself, think about how to best meet your basic human needs for nutrition, outdoor time and gentle exercise, social support, and yes, sleep. This might mean preparing grocery lists, identifying potential babysitters and local parent groups , and even talking through how to share night feeding duties to help everyone get 5-6 hours of consecutive sleep at least some nights.
Check your perfectionism. It's hard work learning how to be a parent. Focus on handling the ups and down with patience, perseverance, and flexibility rather than on the end result.
Learn some basic mindfulness meditation skills. Set a timer for three minutes and check-in with whatever thoughts, feelings, and body sensations you are experiencing right now, then take a series of long, deep breaths. Noticing your experience and being present with it for a short time will both build your endurance for difficult moments and give you a tool for calming and self-soothing.
This checklist was included in the October 2018 newsletter of perinatal personal trainer Roma van Der Walt / Openhaus .
Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) are highly preventable. We know the time frame when they emerge (within the first year of baby's life, with the peak risk at 3 months postpartum), and we know the risk factors. But while many new parents sign up for birth, breastfeeding, and infant care classes to prepare for baby's arrival, they don't often focus on how to care for their own emotional wellbeing postpartum. How do you know if you might be at-risk for mental health challenges after childbirth? Take a look at the list below:
Knowing where to turn in a crisis is very difficult, but it's important to seek help as early as possible. If you are worried about your safety or that of your child, contact one of these resources right away.
NATIONAL CRISIS TEXT LINE:
Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Website
NYC Well Hotline
1-888-NYC-WELL (1-888-692-9355), Press 2
Postpartum depression and anxiety don't always fit our typical image of what mental health concerns look like. New mothers are often busy, surrounded by people, and doing their best to appear happy and well, even when they are struggling immensely on the inside. Thanks to a recent post by online resource www.postpartumprogress.com, we can look out for the subtler signs that might be related to PPD.
Mom and Mind by Dr. Kat Kaeni is an excellent resource for parents as well as practitioners!
For the up to 25% of new moms who struggle to breastfeed or choose not to do so, it can be uncomfortable, embarrassing, and even shameful to feed your baby with a bottle of formula in public. This article captures this experience and offers tips for communicating with others and reducing internal criticism. A must- read for any parent working on flexibility, self-acceptance, and finding what works for YOU.
Read it here.