Why is it that babies of Mexican immigrants in the US have lower infant mortality in the first few weeks of life than average American women? In rural Mexico, Hispanic mothers also avoid postpartum depression, compared to 15 percent of US mothers. What are they doing differently? They don’t have insurance or top notch medical care or education. One reason is the “cuarentena” — 40 days of completely compulsory nurturing for the new Mom. For the first six weeks, family and neighbors come together to ensure the mother eats, sleeps and bonds with the new baby. There’s no cleaning, cooking, or errands. The outcome? A happy mother and a happy baby.
New mothers we see using our agency are typically sucessful professionals between 30 to 40, independent, with successful careers, used to being in control of their lives and overcoming challenges. But bringing home a new baby is overwhelming, and nothing can prepare her for that first one. Hospitals are not designed for sleeping, so by the time she arrives home with baby, she’s utterly spent. Not used to asking for help, her whole identity has radically morphed into how successful she feels she is at mothering. When I had my firstborn, I’d never changed a diaper! How did that happen? In our culture, we live far from parents and extended family, and we think we should be able to do it all.
When my second son was born, I had the blues. I wasn’t feeling any emotion towards my baby, and I’d run out of diapers. I stared out the window at the clean ones fluttering on the line. This was 1968 and dryers had yet to be invented. I was so emotionally spent, I couldn’t go get one. I finally got up to get a diaper, and a few months later, my emotions returned, but that experience has given me an inkling of understanding of what others go through.
Three causes of postpartum depression are a lack of sleep, poor diet, and clutter or disorganization. How can we nurture new mothers so they can successfully nurture their newborns?
- Sleep is crucial now, but hard to get. Be sure the new mom naps during the baby’s nap. Get someone to take the baby at least a couple of hours a day so she can rest. The tiredness is intense. If the Mom is nursing, she can pump for one feeding so that she gets five to six hours of sleep at night.
- Get some help. Being a new mom can be lonely and isolating if dad is back to work and family isn’t close by. A friend who can fold laundry or spend time with the new baby so Mom can get a nap or a shower is invaluable. This isn’t as crucial for new moms, because they can sleep when the baby sleeps day and night, but after a second child, it’s helpful for a friend to come and take the older child on an outing. It’s pretty rough being dethroned, and the older child needs some special attention.
- Supplying meals for a new mom is so helpful. New moms need lots of veggies, foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins such as Riboflavin to bolster her against postpartun depression. Friends can send a gift certificate for your favorite resturant, or bring a home cooked meal that can be warmed up or frozen for later. MealBaby.com is the perfect way to organize meals! It’s free and easy!
- If Grandma can’t help or if you need space from family, hire a mother’s helper, a newborn specialist or baby nurse, or a doula. A newborn specialist can be 24 hours 7 days per week, or just nights. A doula is there more for the mom, preparing meals, taking over baby care for a few hours, preparing meals, doing housework, or a full night shift. Both are helpful for answering questions, hands on education, and reassuring the new mom that she’s doing a great job.
- If there’s someone doing housework, mom will feel free to rest, since naps are her only time to get caught up.
- Listen. Care. Validate her feelings. She may break down and cry, feeling inadequate. What she needs now is understanding, listening, caring. Let her vent. Ask questions. Be curious. Don’t try to solve the immediate problem but ask more about how she’s feeling, giving her your time, and letting her know you care. Most of all, she needs to know she’s doing a wonderful job with her newborn.
- Help her connect with a mom’s group or friends she can go on play dates with.
Offer to run errands for her or with her or babysit so she can get out of the house by herself. Go with her for her six week check-up. Offer to babysit so she she can go out with her husband for a few hours.
So let’s learn from our neighborns south of the border and do a better job of taking care of our mothers by making sure that they get
- plenty of sleep
- nutritious food