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When we become mothers…the postpartum period

Having worked with women now for nearly 20 years, I can honestly say, in my very “unscientific” way, that women change when they give birth. Really change.

Every woman who has been there knows what I’m talking about. We feel differently, we think differently, we act differently. My friend/former client Cathy O’Neill, one of the authors of “Babyproofing Your Marriage” calls it the “Mommy Chip”. Well, scientists seems to have finally “found” the Mommy Chip!

This article outlines what we’ve “known” and “seen” for years- a change in how our brain works, likely to be related to the hormones of pregnancy, birth, lactation and postpartum.

Helping moms through the initial changesĀ  physically and emotionally seems even more critical, in getting parenthood off to a good balanced start. Our culture has forgotten the 40 days of “lying in” that is so prevalent in many parts of the world– where a woman does nothing for 40 days postpartum (that’s nearly 6 weeks!) but care for her baby. She is nurtured and fed. Her home, husband, and other children are cared for, so she can rest, nurse, and get to know her new baby. This support allows a woman to “give in” to the Mommy Chip urges, heal physically, and gently adjust to the new change in her family.

Sometimes this help comes from family, friends, and neighbors, but not everyone has those resources. When they don’t (and sometimes even when they do) a postpartum doula can be a lifesaver. Postpartum doulas are specifically trained to assist the family during this transitional time, helping the mother with breastfeeding, her baby, and her household. A doula will help build a woman’s confidence so that eventually she feels more and more capable to handle things on her own. A doula may make recommendations, offer suggestions, or provide resources to a new family to smooth the transition. She may teach skills, such as babywearing. She may educate, on baby care and breastfeeding, baby safety in the home, or self care. She may validate a mother’s feelings, or choices in parenting. She may nurture the Mommy Chip.

Studies indicate as many as one in six women suffer from some kind of postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) such as depression or anxiety. Could we greatly reduce these numbers, and the severity of some cases if we provided better care to mothers during this critical time?