Why You Don't Have To Choose Between Your Own Mental Health Or Your Baby’s
There is a lot of controversy around the subject of leaving a baby to cry it out. Rebrand it however you like; self soothing, self settling, controlled comforting, controlled crying… it’s a contentious issue.
I am a postnatal doula and I want all mums to feel empowered and supported in their decision making. I support mums who choose natural birth or plan a caesarean. Some of my clients, bottle feed and some breastfeed. Some of them vaccinate their babies on schedule and others delay. I try and share information rather than my opinion and whatever your decision if you feel positive about your parenting then my job is done.
What really worries me though, is when I see mothers driven to parenting decisions they are unhappy with. If you feel like you are leaving your baby to cry because your own mental health is suffering then something is wrong. Where has our culture arrived if mothers feel driven to choose between their own mental health and their babies?
Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the issues surrounding control crying, but what I want to express today is my grave disappointment with our society for finding another way to vilify women, rather than supporting them. We have abandoned our mothers, and then blame them when they ‘abandon’ their children.
If someone you know is leaving their baby to cry (in your mothers' group or on Facebook) before you judge them please try and see it as a mother crying for help. As a community, we need to find ways to support mothers so that they do not have to make this awful choice.
Here are some of the ways we can support our new mums.
Avoid Emotional Vampires
Every month I offer a free workshop to pregnant parents in Perth. A hot topic that comes up time and again is dealing with the visitors. There are too many women reporting the kind of visitors interfere with their parenting style, force unwanted and outdated advice on to them, eat their food, drink their tea and leave new mums with a big mess (practically and emotionally speaking!)
Whilst the stereotype scenario involves the dreaded mother-in-law, an emotional vampire is anyone who drains your energy and leaves you feeling bad. If you are a mum don’t worry about offending people, politely find a reason why these people can’t visit or can’t stay for long (medical appointments is a simple white lie), or only invite them when your best friend or partner is there to support you.
If you know a mum, please don’t be an emotional vampire, the key is offer practical help, and don’t talk too much!
Get Practical Help
Traditionally babies are brought up in villages. Childcare, cleaning, cooking and shopping are shared amongst friends and family. The benefits are two fold, you don’t have to do it all yourself, and the work is much more enjoyable because you have someone to do it with.
If you know a new mum bring a meal, ask what groceries they need on your way over or offer to take the baby so they can shower or sleep. Never turn up empty handed!
If you are a new mum join a MamaBake group, get a cleaner, or find a friend and help each other with cleaning or shopping. Better still get a postnatal doula, but there are not many of us working in Australia yet.
Live In The Moment & Laugh With Friends
A great mums group is one of the best things about being a mum. A bad mums group however can fit into the emotional vampires category. Shop around till you find a mums group you really love, and this will get the oxytocin flowing. I always recommend facilitated mums groups, ask your local birthing centre, women’s health centre, library or local government if you don’t know where to start. Don’t depend solely on your child health nurse, they are drastically over worked and under-funded, particularly in WA.
I know sometimes it just feels too hard, over 80% of new mums report feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, but sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. I don’t mean you should put on a good face, or suppress your emotions. I mean that practising relaxation, guided meditation or positive affirmations can help you feel really good.
The practise I most commonly use with clients is gratitude. Countless studies have found gratitude improves emotional and physical health, relieves stress and strengthens relationships and community. Are you grateful for your partner or mothers support? Are you grateful for the challenges you face as an opportunity for service and growth? Are you grateful for the dinner you thoughtfully froze whilst pregnant?
If you can’t find anything to be grateful for maybe it’s time to see you GP to ask about postnatal depression.
Cry With Your Baby
Time and again research has found that babies who cry in loving arms do not release the same hormonal stress response in their brains. If a baby cries whilst being held the brain does NOT show the same level of HPA-axis activation, if it show any activation at all.
What this means is that if it’s all too much, it’s ok to hold your baby and cry together. This is release crying, and it’s not just control crying rebranded, it’s about sharing and expressing your emotions together and can be very emotionally healing.