Becoming a mother can be daunting. There are moments during pregnancy when you feel calm, collected, and totally prepared. Then there are other moments when you realize that soon you will be wholly responsible for a helpless infant, and there are so many things you don't really know how to do. You don't even know how much you don't know!
As your pregnancy progresses, take the opportunity to define who is in your support network. Knowing which kind of support you will need and who is able to provide it is a good first step toward a smoother transition after your baby is born.
Keep in mind that depending on their own experiences, opinions and skill sets, there are different types of support people can provide. In general, most people will either be able to give "practical support" or "emotional support." The "practical support" group is often frustrated by not being able to solve problems (or by your ignoring their well-meaning advice); the "emotional support" group is often overwhelmed by taking on tasks or projects. And the same person could be in a different group depending on the situation at hand, his own recent experience, or even his mood.
Those who excel at practical support are the people who love to tackle projects, and who like to provide solutions to problems. They are willing to bring food, pick up groceries, do laundry, take your dog on a walk, or drive you to the hospital. These people are your helpers, and knowing who they are ahead of time--and asking them for help before baby comes--is the first step toward getting you and your baby's relationship off to the best start possible.
Determining Your Practical Needs
Here are three basic questions which will get you started in determining what your needs for practical support will be once baby arrives:
- What are your day-to-day activities and responsibilities that will need to be met during the first 4-6 weeks after your baby is born? Who can help out with some of these activities while you are recovering and caring for your baby?
- What new activities or obligations will you have (and need help with) in the first few weeks of your baby's life? Who can help you with those?
- What tasks or projects feel unfinished right now? What are some things that you would rest easier knowing are ready or complete before baby arrives. Who can help with that?
Caring for a newborn is a full-time job. If you will be breastfeeding, keep in mind that it can take 40 minutes to an hour for a single feed, and newborns need to eat at least every two hours. Some require nursing more often. That won't leave a lot of time for you to sleep, eat, or do other necessary things between feedings. It is critical to your well-being and happiness in these early weeks that you have a plan for all the "necessary" activities.
Necessary activities begin with fulfilling basic needs--will you prepare food ahead of time, or ask a friend or family member to bring a meal or groceries? Can you ask a partner or friend to help out with laundry or other day-to-day tasks? Do you have children who will need to be cared for while you take a nap?
Beyond these necessary activities, if you have additional responsibilities, like walking the dog, can you find some help with those for the first few weeks?
Don't forget that there will also be a few new activities once baby is born which you may need help with. Your baby may have a doctor's appointment or need to see the doctor. Will you need a ride to the appointment, or will you need help with other children while you are at the appointment? You and your baby may also be learning to breastfeed and need some quiet time to get settled and learn this skill--do you have children that may need a playmate for an hour or two, or who will need help preparing for bed while you are with the baby?
Those who are best at emotional support will sit with you and listen to your frustrations, offering you support, hugs or tissues as needed, without getting uncomfortable, and without trying to define and solve a particular problem. They've probably been through a similar situation, and they are able to honor the challenges you face. These people are your cheerleaders--and their assistance can be just as useful as the "practical support."
Determining Your Emotional Needs
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to find the support you need as you navigate becoming a mother:
- What are your concerns or fears about pregnancy, childbirth or raising a baby? Who can you talk to about these concerns, who has either been through them and can understand, or who helps you feel strong, capable and calm?
- What is important to you about this pregnancy and about becoming a mother? Is it important to you, for example, to have a natural labor, to breastfeed, to co-sleep, etc? Do you know a person or group with the same values who you can reach out to if these things become challenging and you need some support?
- Who can you call/reach in the middle of the night when you are frustrated and sleep-deprived and need an emotional pick-me-up?
Those who offer emotional support can listen to your fears or frustrations without feeling the need to change the situation. They understand what is important to you and can give you the support, whether it is a hug, or kind words, that will be uplifting and renew your trust in your strength, patience and ability.
A third group that may sometimes straddle both practical and emotional, is the Professional Support group. These are people who give advice or provide services in a professional capacity. It is good to have a clear idea of who you can contact as needed in this category as well. In this group will fall your doctor/obstetrician, pediatrician or family doctor, lactation consultants, etc. Make a list with contact information, including contact information for after business hours, for the following (and for any additional resources which may be specific to your situation or particular health needs):
- Your Doctor or Obstetrician
- Your Baby's Doctor (pediatrician or family doctor)
- Lactation Consultant
- Local La Leche League Chapter/Representative
- Local Postpartum Depression Support Group
Asking for Help
One of the things that keeps us from asking for help is the desire to feel like we can handle things on our own. It can feel like a weakness or shortcoming to admit that we can't do this motherhood stuff alone. Allow yourself to receive and ask for help. Raising children is tough, and the proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," is not mere rhetoric. It takes dozens of partnerships to support the well-being of mother and child as a family grows. Consider asking for help a first step toward establishing a village of support and a foundation of love for your growing baby.
Although most people would love to be helpful in the first several weeks, sometimes they need a little guidance. It is hard for those who aren't new parents to remember just how challenging those early days can be, and what tasks they needed the most help with. When you are sleep-deprived and healing from childbirth it is really difficult to know yourself what needs to be done and where to start--and it can feel awkward asking for help. Perhaps you can ask a close friend or family member to assign tasks or create a "meal-train." A note or phrasing such as the following might also be an effective (and courteous) way to ask for help:
“When new babies come, everyone wants to help and help is very much appreciated. What few people know is that, particularly when a Mom is breastfeeding, help holding the baby is not the most helpful. New Moms really need help with tidying, preparing meals or shopping for groceries, and other tasks round the house. If you would please ask ____________, they would be glad to let you know what you can help with. Thank You so much for your love and time”.