When the going gets tough, the mommy gets going!
As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, Debarati Palit Singh talks to new and first-time mothers to know how to go about the monumental task and make the journey less stressful
Being a mom is the most beautiful feeling in the world, especially when you hold your child for the first time and your little one nestles in your arms feeling your snug and comfort. The tiny fingers, the small feet, the angelic smile — your baby is your world, especially if you are a first-time mom.
But anything that you do for the first time can be challenging, and the motherhood journey is no different. It’s a difficult path, and the physical and emotional demands post childbirth can drain new moms. Which is why six months post natal care is recommended for the well-being of both mother and child. However, new moms are always anxious about the well-being of their baby. From your child’s pee count to poop colour, and how many times you are feeding your baby to how much s/he weighs — every little detail is jotted in mind and there is a constant effort to improve every single day. Your concern: ‘As a mom, I must not fail!’ And with all this attention towards your child, you put your needs on the back-burner. On Mother’s Day, we talk to a few first-time moms to know how to make the journey less stressful and more enjoyable.
THE BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY
Breastfeeding is the most natural way of feeding your child and is essential nutrition for infants. World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that a mother should exclusively breastfeed her child for six months, and continue breastfeeding the child for two years along with appropriate complementary foods.) Breastfeeding also strengthens the bond between mother and child. That said, some mothers have a smooth breastfeeding journey, and some are not so lucky.
Debashree Pal fed her newborn formula milk for the first five days because she had absolutely no idea how to breastfeed. “The paediatrician at the hospital made me feel worse. His words were, ‘You are an educated woman, how can you not feed the baby your milk?’ Whereas it was at the same hospital that the nurses had started formula without my permission. After we returned home, the real struggle started,” says she.
Pal did not know how to go about breastfeeding, so like many other moms, she was advised to introduce the bottle to her baby but she was determined to learn. “There are all kinds of things that one has to hear, especially when living in a joint family. I got to hear how he (my son) needs his fix. Also that he is very lean and cow’s milk will make him chubby etc,” says she adding, “But I never gave up.”
Vinita Prabhume, who gave birth to a baby boy four months back, says, “Whenever my child cries, I am told that my son is hungry and my milk is not enough. But I am firm that I will exclusively breastfeed my child till six months. It’s not only nutritious for him but he and I will develop a strong bond, which is equally important.”
Today, there are support groups who motivate women to exclusively breastfeed their child despite the challenges they face. Breastfeeding Support for Indian Women, a support group on Facebook, has more than 95,000 members. The members and admins support new mothers, and ask them to share their experiences, queries and motivate them to breastfeed their child.
Dealing with low milk supply can also be emotionally disheartening. While some moms are blessed with natural flow, others find it a little difficult. Gynaecologist Dr Rachana Parmar says that it’s an emotional thing rather than physical. “You have to be emotionally determined to feed your child. The initial three days you have to be emotionally attached to your baby. In addition to that, mothers need privacy while feeding the child, they also need proper nutrition and a protein-rich diet. There are lactation techniques by which the issue can also be tackled,” she says.
It’s common to feel emotionally drained post childbirth. A lot of factors contribute to this, like lack of sleep, hormonal changes, keeping up with the demands of the newborn, feeding and so on. Because of these factors many mothers feel either depressed or a sense of anxiety, which is quite normal, believe medical experts.
Deblina Sinha, whose daughter turned a year old in April, says that post childbirth she used to feel angry and hungry all the time. “I used to feel agitated. In fact, I had so many arguments with my mother because of my mood swings. But gradually I became calm. The reason for my worry was: ‘Being a mom is a big responsibility, what if I can’t take care of my child properly?’” she says.
Postpartum depression is a condition that new mothers face. In India, the awareness is not so huge, but medical experts say that it’s important to know about the condition where two lives are involved (mother and child). In fact, when new moms are discharged from maternity clinics, they are told about the condition.
Dr Avinash Waghmare, psychiatrist, says that there is a difference between postpartum blues (occurs in two-third mothers) and postpartum depression. “In addition to many physiological changes in the body, mothers have to wake up at night a few times to feed the child, so it is natural for anybody to feel tired. There might be guilt if they are not being able to produce milk. Also, first-time mothers don’t know how to take care of their babies. Due to all this, they might feel low and cry at times. Usually it’s a passing phase and will be gone in a few days or weeks. In case of postpartum depression or clinical depression, sadness is continuous, associated with negative thinking, affects functioning and the mother has no control over these. If the mother is feeling low, she is unable to take care of the child, so the bonding is affected and this can have long term consequences for the child,” he says adding that one should seek medical help while going through such thoughts. “Treatment options include medicines (though a fraction is secreted in breast milk) and psychotherapy (‘counseling’ for lay people). In mild to moderate depression, either can be used, but considering that the mother has to take care of the baby 24/7 and there is hardly any time to go for regular counseling and even doing meditation for just 15 minutes becomes difficult, medicines are used in many cases. In severe depression, admission in hospital and use of electroconvulsive therapy (which can be life saving) is required,” he says.
Swati Semwal, who has directed and written a short film titled New Born Mother, says, “While researching on the subject, I realised that 70 per cent of mothers all over the world experience this condition but it gets neglected because the attention is on the baby. The challenge is to make people talk about it.”
Dr Waghmare further says that apart from medical help, women need utmost love and care not just from their husbands but people around them. “Mothers need to be dealt with a lot of care and understanding which will help improve their condition,” he says. To this Semwal adds, “In the early days, the reason women were sent to their parental home post childbirth was because of this. The kind of love and care one gets at their parental home is to be found nowhere else,” he says.
Once the child is born, a woman’s relationship with her husband, parents, in-laws and the world, in general, undergoes transformation. New moms tend to spend most of their time with their newborn, at least for the initial six months. This is the reason many mothers have less interactions with people around them.
However, with more hands-on dads now, things are changing. From waking up at night to settling the baby to sleep, to changing diapers, dads are chipping in. “We were completely on our own after having our baby, so my wife was tied up with childcare responsibilities all the time. Instead of complaining or feeling left out, I tried to help her in whatever possible to take care of our son Ayaansh, who is six months old now,” says IT professional Anurag Burman adding, “I think most spouses complain about their wives not paying them attention. But that thought never crossed my mind. Before we became parents, my wife and I would go to theatres to watch movies, which is not possible now. But instead of complaining if we, along with our wives, participate in every aspect of our child’s life like feeding, bathing, playing and so on, we won’t feel left out. As we both take care of Ayaansh, we chat, laugh and discover new things together. Interestingly, this has made our bond even more stronger.”
Like Burman, Prakash Tiwari too took up his father’s responsibilities quite well. “As a couple, our relationship became stronger. We were together at every step of our daughter’s childhood. I would like to suggest that every father must equally contribute towards childcare and the upbringing,” says Tiwari whose daughter turned four recently.
New mothers feel a constant guilt. They feel guilty if they fail to understand why the baby is crying, they feel they should cut down on their sleep so as to give more care and attention to the child and so on. For a working mom, the guilt is even more. Your heart breaks when you have to leave your child home and resume work after six months’ maternity leave. There are several organisations which allow an extension, but not all.
Sonal Rawal, a mother of two lovely daughters, rejoined work when her younger child was six months old. But she wasn’t sure if it was the right choice. “As I knew I had to rejoin work, I would leave my baby with my mother-in-law for four hours daily, initially. Gradually, I increased an hour every day. I am lucky to have the support of my mother-in-law who encouraged me to rejoin work and was ready to look after my two daughters,” says Rawal. But she also helps her mother-in-law when she gets back home so that she too gets to relax.
Once back from work, she spends quality time with her children. Most working mothers try to make up for lost time. They try to stay away from mobile phones, social media, television, household chores etc so that they can spend as much quality time with their baby.
GETTING INTO SHAPE
Motherhood is physically demanding, especially mothers who have gone through C-section. Along with the child, they have to take care of their own health too. New moms also have to deal with weight gain issues. Post childbirth, most mothers want to get back into shape quickly but they must take things smoothly, say experts.
Nipa Kakkar says that she wanted to lose weight but she followed a gradual path. “I just followed a healthy diet and taking care of my daughter helped me lose those extra kilos too. But I tell my friends not to become obsessed about weight loss; it will gradually happen,” she says.