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The 1 Thing I Did Not Plan For During My Pregnancy

**Disclaimer: This is my personal story and journey with postnatal anxiety and depression. I am not looking for advice or opinions regarding my personal journey. I have professional support and a strong friends and family network. **

During pregnancy you do a lot of preparing for baby. You buy furniture, bedding and linen, cute little baby clothes, nappies, a pram and various items to make the home a safe and nurturing place for your new bundle of joy.

I did all these things. I prepared to bring my baby home and love him and nurture him.

What I did not plan for was the possibility of getting postnatal depression and anxiety.

In the days after Remy’s birth I was extremely emotional. And I figured it was normal. All of the hormones, lack of sleep and joy that is the rollercoaster of a newborn. I was like, “yep, it’s just the baby blues.”

BUT – the tears lasted. What I thought was normal anxiety about my baby’s health and wellbeing spiraled into depression. I can vividly remember on a Sunday afternoon being curled up in bed, sobbing inconsolably, while Remy was crying as well, and my partner had to soothe the both of us. Not only was I overly emotional and sleep deprived, but I was also telling myself horrible things.

Things like: “I am rubbish at this”, “I am a terrible mother”, “Remy deserves better than me”.

The scariest thoughts for me were thoughts of just packing up and leaving in the middle of the night or taking Remy to my parents’ and just driving away.

The new role of motherhood was something I never could have prepared for. The loss of independence, putting my professional career on hold, being stuck on the couch breastfeeding, and being covered in spew. I did not have time to eat or go to the toilet some days. I did not feel like myself. In fact, I had completely lost my identity. No-one asked about me anymore. All questions were directed at Remy. How is he sleeping? How is he feeding? Is he gaining weight? Is he happy? I became invisible.

The turning point came when I was at the 6-week Maternal Child Health appointment for Remy. Our MCH Nurse, Karen, asked how I was doing, and I burst into tears. Karen listened to how I was feeling and requested a mental health care plan with my GP. I felt relief and fear simultaneously. I was relieved to know that someone was looking out for me and wanting to help me. And fear because I felt like a failure as a mum.

Once I recognized that I wasn’t coping, I put a few things in place. As well as seeking counselling, I arranged for post-partum support with my doula. I told my sister that I wasn’t doing well and now she checks in with me daily. I arranged with my partner for some “Laura time” on weekends and arranged with my parents for a break during the week. I made the plan to return to work.

I now feel as though the dark cloud of depression is lifting. I am crying less and not having big emotions all the time. I can see the difference between the good days and not so good days. I am being kinder to myself. I am talking to my sister and partner when I am not feeling so good, instead of keeping it to myself. I am getting counselling.

I know I am not “cured” and I still have a long way to go. I am in a much better place now. And I know that if I keep doing what I am doing, reaching out to my support network, I will be able to be the mother that I need to be for my child.

This week is PANDA week, a week dedicated to raising awareness on perinatal mental health. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men experience perinatal anxiety and depression. Strong Independent Men and Women Ask for help and accept help. If you are not feeling yourself, and think you need support, speak to your GP, MCH nurse or a trusted friend or family member. This is the first step in feeling better. It’s hard to do, and so important.

Important Contacts:

PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Sat, 9am – 7.30pm AEST/AEDT) 1300 726 306

Lifeline 24/7 Crisis Support 13 11 14

Beyond Blue Support Service  via telephone 24/7 1300 22 4636

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The #1 Thing You Must Ask All New Mums

I’m going to cut right to the chase with this post. I am going to be extremely vulnerable and put myself out there and be seen. I hope that in doing so, this will help other mums too.

The transition for motherhood has not been an easy one for me.

I am dealing with postnatal anxiety, which feels like it is impacting every aspect of my ability to cope as a parent, and as a person. I am seeking support from professional services and have an amazing support network in place.

I love my son so much and feel grateful for him every day.

There is just one thing I ask all those out there that have a friend or family member that is a new mum (or even a second on third time mum).

ASK HER HOW SHE IS GOING – REALLY

And ask her this BEFORE you ask about the baby.

She may say she is “fine” and that is OK. Not every person wants to go into the full extend of their psyche. And most often we have trouble asking for help.

But just ask the damn question.

Drop off a meal, groceries, or other personal care products, without her having to ask. Leave it at her door and send her a text message to let her know you are thinking of HER not just her baby.

Call her and talk to her and don’t ask about her baby for the first 10 minutes of the call. Never ask her if she has a “good” baby, or if the baby sleeps through the night. These questions are annoying and dumb.

A new mother is going through a massive change. She has lost her identity, her interests, her paid job, her hobbies. and she has gained a huge responsibility, a job that does not have immediate gratification, no time to figure out her own needs and wants and desires.

So as lockdowns start to lift and you want to visit your first who had a baby during the pandemic, maybe ask to hold her first.

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The 3 Ways Doulas Nurture Families

When I told people I was pregnant, one of the questions they asked was whether I was going through the public or private system. I explained that I was going public and that I had a doula.

The next question I got asked was “What’s a doula?”

Jake Peralta from NBC’s Brooklyn Nine Nine describes a doula as a “Vaginal Gandalf”. The term is funny, and true.  The role of a doula is to provide practical and emotional support for the mother and father and to guide and coach them through the process of childbirth and parenthood.

I know that my pregnancy and parenthood journey would not be the same without the support from Beth McDonald from Popbellies Doula Services. In this blog, I share my experience and the ways that Beth supported my pregnancy and transition to motherhood

The Pregnancy:

During my pregnancy, Beth helped Tim and I to manage our expectations and understand more about the process of childbirth. Beth has an incredible amount if knowledge. And we really needed the support. Yes, we had done a childbirth preparation course, but this was months earlier and we had forgotten a lot of the things we were taught about the stages of labour, the hospital system and how to advocate for the type of care we wanted to receive. Beth helped us to feel more confident is saying “No” should a situation arise in hospital that did not sit right with us. Beth helped us develop of birth preferences. And in the lead up to my induction, she provided us both with a bit of TLC. For me this was in the form of a spicy, decadent hot chocolate to sip on to support a natural induction.

The Birth:

Due to COVID restrictions, Beth was unable to come into the hospital to physically support us during the birth, she was still involved every step of the way. From the moment my waters broke, to getting an epidural, to the time we made the decision to have a cesarean, Beth was there to help us work through the big decisions that come with childbirth. Tim says that the birth “did not go to plan”. My perspective is quite different. It is because of the support from Beth that I felt empowered with our decision making during the birth. Yes, I had planned on an active labour. I planned for massages and hot showers and heat packs. My labour was different to what I expected. And I believe that Beth’s support in helping me to advocate for myself and my birth helped me to feel good about the outcome of my birth experience.

The Post-Partum:

It is safe to say that describing post-partum as a roller coaster of emotions is a severe understatement. Nothing could have ever prepared for the emotions, physical pain from my abdominal surgery and sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood. I have Beth to thank for supporting me through some of the big emotions that come along with the transition of Matrescence. During this stage, Beth was able to provide practical support in the context of light cleaning duties, which as we all know, cleaning goes out the window when a little one arrives. But for me, I just needed someone to talk to. I called Beth at all hours when Remy just would not settle, and I was at my wits ends as to what to do and I just needed to sleep. The non-judgmental support of an impartial third party was so important for me as I let the freedom to truly express how I felt about the jarring transition to motherhood.

For my family, I know that I could not have had this done this pregnancy without the support of a doula. I would encourage all new and expanding families to engage with a doula for non-judgmental, emotional, and physical support. I truly feel that I would not have the positive experience of birth (despite it not going to “plan”) and motherhood if I did not have Beth with me every step of the way.

If you are pregnant and think that the care and support of a doula could help your family, I highly recommend Beth McDonald. For more information about Beth and how she can help your family, visit her website: http://popbellies.com.au/

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The 6 Secrets to Better Sleep For Tired Mums

By Guest Blogger – Narelle King at Simply Happy

About to become a mum? How exciting! There are so many amazing new things that come with newborns. It comes with some pretty big challenges too, one of which is the rollercoaster of change to your sleep. Strap yourself in, it’s time to get prepared for changes to your sleep, and learn how to maximize your Zzzz’s in those first few months. 

It can be a huge adjustment to get your head around having little control over the amount of sleep you get each night. It’s something you can’t get around, and have to accept there are going to be some big changes. Newborns wake throughout the night, so you need to adjust to getting up throughout the night and having your sleep broken up. It takes a few months for your newborn to establish a day-night cycle. This can be the trickiest stage for new mums. You might be used to a daily routine, staying on top of your housework, meal prep, socializing or taking time out for you. Routines go out the window with newborns, but that doesn’t mean saying goodbye to self-care.

With a new baby, I found myself sacrificing sleep for more time. It was a quick-fix, but the lack of sleep created more problems than it solved. But why is sleep so important, and what can you do to maximise quality sleep as a new mum?

Why sleep is important

When you sleep, your body goes into recovery mode. A good night’s sleep leaves you revitalized and well prepared for the next day. It can help with mood regulation and maximizing social experiences. Good sleep even helps you consolidate memories and behaviours. If you skip out on good sleep, you’re not giving your brain the chance to put everything together from your day.

A lack of sleep has physical impacts beyond just low energy levels. It can raise your core body temperature, leading to physical problems like inflammation-related conditions, autoimmune disease and allergies. It can weaken your immune system, leaving you susceptible to bugs. Lack of sleep contributes negatively to mental wellbeing and anxiety. It makes overcoming the challenges of a newborn baby much harder. 

There’s no quick-fix for getting sleep as a new mum. But while your priorities have to change, your health and wellbeing is still an important priority. A little bit of quality sleep goes a long way during those first few months. Here’s some ways to do it:

Sleep in the day 

You might feel like you have a million things to do and they should get done when your baby is asleep. It’s very tempting to try and do chores, wash dishes, do laundry and clean floors when your baby is asleep. One thing I’ve learnt is to accept that your house might not be perfect, or you might have to put off some items on your to-do list. Sleep and self-care is more important! 

It’s OK to have some sleep when your baby does, because once they are up, you have to be up too. Broken sleep is better than none, and naps can help you catch up on some sleep. While the easiest and best sleep time is overnight, taking any window during the day to catch up on lost sleep will really help.  Early afternoon is a great time of the day when your body naturally wants to go to sleep.

Sleep during the day doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep – blocking out light with heavy drapes helps, as does making it quiet and comfortable.  Eye masks and ear plugs are a cheap way to block out light and loud background noise. Keep your phone off, or at least out of arm’s reach, so you’re not tempted to distract yourself from sleep.

Establish a night ritual for yourself

Create your own sleep ritual. It can be hard to turn on and off sleep to fit your newborns schedule. While your sleep ritual may have to be flexible, it’s still a great way to get your body ready to rest. One or two hours before you plan to go to bed, start by turning off your phone and TV and dimming the lights. Do relaxing activities away from screens like having a bath, reading a book or listening to calming music.

You can build cues that your body associates with sleep. This can be an activity, music, lighting or a relaxing scent. Use the power of essential oils to create a relaxing atmosphere. It’s also a way to begin to associate the relaxing scent with bedtime. When you smell lavender, your body will subconsciously begin to wind down. You’ll be off to sleep in no time!

Watch what you eat and drink

Your food intake can make a big difference to your sleep. Maintaining a healthy diet can seem like a huge challenge as a new mum, but there are little things you can do to improve your health. Try not to substitute sleep with food. When you can, take the opportunity to get that quality energy from sleep. Food can’t replace that energy.

A big challenge is to watch your sugar intake. If you tend to rely on sugar hits to get you through the day, start replacing your sugary snacks with more energy-efficient snacks like nuts, yoghurt and whole foods. This is particularly important in the afternoon and evening. You don’t want a sugar-high stopping you from getting to sleep!

Stop having caffeine after 12. Caffeine can make your mind more active when it’s time to switch off. When the productive part of your day is over, give your body a rest and leave the caffeine for another time.

Ask for help

If you love to be as organized and efficient as I do, this step can be hard. I know asking, or accepting, help from others may feel challenging. You don’t have to go through the big changes of new motherhood alone, there are plenty of people to help you with the adjustment. Whether that’s family, friends or outside help, it can free up some time for you to take care of yourself. If your body is screaming out for sleep, but you can’t find the opportunity to rest, someone else might be able to free up that opportunity for you. I’m sure they’d love to help. 

Practice Nidra yoga

Nidra Yoga is a sleep-based, conscious guided meditation. Don’t let the word yoga put you off! There are no yoga poses or physical exertion. You’re lying in a comfortable position and covered with a blanket. Your body sleeps while your mind is awake taking in the guided instructions. It’s complete REST for both your mind and body. You get all the benefits of meditation, as well as sleep. 

Yoga Nidra encourages rest by using breathing, triggering the relaxation response. Your nervous system is calmed and your thoughts slowed down. The hormone serotonin is released to help you feel more relaxed. Practicing Yoga Nidra for just 20-minutes is the equivalent rest of an extra 2 hours of sleep. Getting to sleep and staying asleep is also improved with a regular Yoga Nidra practice. It can be a great tool to have as a new mum, and can be used any time when you have a few minutes to yourself!

Try Yin Yoga

Yoga is known to be a relaxing, healthy and spiritual practice that can improve flexibility and strength. As a new mum, it can be a way to take time for yourself and reconnect with yourself. Yin Yoga is a quiet practice that slows down movement and focuses on a spiritual connection with your mind and body. Instead of flowing through active movements, Yin Yoga involves holding deep poses for longer periods of time. A pose may last a minute or two, or even up to 5 minutes.

By slowing down your mind and body during Yin Yoga, you are gifting your body with gratitude and relaxation. Yin Yoga releases stress, worry and unease. This can have lasting benefits with your mental wellbeing, well beyond the end of the practice. 

Yin Yoga is also physical. By holding deep strengths, your body’s tissues lengthen and release, leaving your muscles feeling as though they have been relaxed or massaged. This practice can improve your range of motion and help strengthen and heal reoccurring injuries. The deep breathing you’ll learn during the practice is also a powerful trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system. This is connected to a number of benefits including improved blood pressure, digestion, sleep and immune function. What better tool to have as a new mum?

About the Author

Narelle King is our guest blogger. Narelle is a mum to two children, wellness coach and Yin & Nidra Yoga instructor for Simply Happy. She helps mums to implement routines to save them time so they can start to use tools like Yin & Nidra Yoga to help them rest and heal from constantly living in stress mode. 

Why not try the SimplyHappy online yoga studio? It’s an easy way to access restorative yoga nidra and yin yoga practices, and connect with other new mums! The online studie is flexible, so you can connect and practice when it suits YOU.

For more inforation about how Narelle can help you in your motherhood journey, check out her website https://simplyhappy.com.au/

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Body Image Lies We Tell Pregnant Women

Early during my pregnancy, I criticized my body in the mirror. “Oh God, I look so fat.” I thought to myself one day as I was getting dressed. It took me a moment to catch this automatic thought, and remind my self that during pregnancy, my belly is meant to expand and that I am in fact, pregnant, not fat.

This got me thinking about the impact that body image has on pregnancy and emotional health and wellbeing.

Entire industries are built on telling women that they need to be prettier, skinnier, fitter, sexier. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how imperfect and unworthy we are. Women are given two societal roles. The Mother or the Whore. And as June Diane Raphael says, “we are both”.

When it comes to pregnancy, it is expected that women will gain weight. It is normal. And encouraged. Suddenly it is OK to indulge in food as women are “eating for two”.

However, women are still bombarded with perfect, soft bumps, glowing and perfect skin and bodies.  Instagram posts show the perfect baby bumps, with elaborately decorated nurseries and well-behaved children. Leaving women feeling inadequate and ill=prepared for their own parenting journey.

So, what does the research say?

An American study by Mehta et al (2011) 1192 pregnant women participated in a study which used the Body Image Assessment for Obesity tool to assess their ideal body size versus their actual body size. The study found that women who stated pregnancy with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) had an increased risk of excess weight gain if they preferred to be thinner and that women with a lower income had an increased risk of inadequate wight gain, while women with lower education were at risk of excessive weight gain. Mehta et al (2011) suggests that body image and weight perception is not just limited to a desire to be thin but linked to socioeconomic factors such as income and education.

But what about mental health?

A systemic review conducted by Hodgkinson et al (2014) found that women protected their body image by differentiating between “fatness” and pregnancy and utilizing this difference and an excuse to not conform to socially constructed ideals of body image. However, these findings were not consistent during the postpartum period, where studies recognized a strong belief that being fat is not socially acceptable, but pregnancy is.  Furthermore, women were forced to re-negotiate their identity due to pregnancy related changes, changing their identity from a sexually attractive woman to a mother identity. Hodgkinson et al (2014) suggests a need to support women to adopt healthy lifestyles with a focus on desired body image, rather that desired weight.

How do we tie this together?

Body images impacts many women during their pregnancy. Monitoring attitudes to physical appearance is especially important during this time.

Women can engage in nurturing practices to support positive body image attitude during pregnancy:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet, including a variety fresh fruit and vegetables, and limiting processed food.
  • Exercising regularly to support a healthy lifestyle.
  • Drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness with a focus on accepting the physical changes of pregnancy.
  • Creating positive affirmations to shift mindset, such as “I am Enough”, “I am Beautiful” “I am Worthy of Love”
  • Seeking support from a counselor or psychologist to address mental health and body image issues.

There are some days that I look at my now 28-week bump and think “It kind of looks like I just ate a big lunch.” And other times where I feel like I look the way a pregnant woman should. Soft, round, feminine. I know that my body image will continue to change throughout my pregnancy and into motherhood. Awareness of the impact that body image plays on my own health and wellbeing is the first step that I can take to making positive changes and improving my overall perception and identity of who I am as I transition into this new role.

 

 

References:

Mehta UJ, Siega-Riz AM, and Herring AH, Effect of Body Image on Pregnancy Weight Gain. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2011 Apr; 15(3): 324–332. Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665282/

 

Hodgkinson EL, Smith DM, and Wittkowski A, Women’s experiences of their pregnancy and postpartum body image: a systematic review and meta-synthesis. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014; 14: 330.

Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261580/