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New mamas need some help

My only sibling just had her first baby almost two months ago, which means that I am now officially an aunt (much to my utter joy and delight!). We live on opposite sides of the country, but last week I was able to go and visit her and her hubby, and meet my new nephew.

I was enthralled! It was definitely love at first sight. I had the privilege of doing much rocking, singing, shushing, bouncing, diaper changing, bottle feeding, swaddling, soothing, and in general all-around caring for this little guy that has stolen my heart.

It also reminded me that being a new mama is a heck of a lot of work. It’s been seven years since I had a newborn of my own, and to be honest, much of that season is now a blur in my memory.

I remember feelings, like intense joy and overwhelming exhaustion, all-consuming love and desperate frustration. But many of the details have faded away over time.

Being with my sister did bring back a few memories, and I did my best to offer her a bit of big-sisterly wisdom, but in all honesty, I think she’s already doing one of the most important things that a new mama can do (and of which I definitely didn’t do enough): she’s getting help.

New mamas need a lot of help

While I was visiting them, I coincidentally read an article online at NPR about preventing postpartum depression. It said that there is more and more evidence that the best way to prevent postpartum depression is for mamas of newborns to have plenty of help at home–whether that looks like a fabulous social support network, extended family living in or near the home, or hired help.

The problem is not strictly an American one–but almost. We here in North America are often scattered far and wide from our extended families, as we’ve become more mobile and less rooted. This can also mean the absence of good friends nearby, too.

And unlike most of Western Europe, we often lack many benefits such as paid maternity leave and access to quality postpartum care. But the problem often comes down to the simple fact that our society – and even we mothers ourselves – don’t really see postpartum mamas as people in need. As the article says, our culture often operates under the “badly mistaken assumption that going on maternity leave is akin to going on vacation.” Ha!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Mamas, I’m here to tell you that if what you’re going through feels hard–hard hard–like the hardest thing you’ve ever done and you’re not sure if you’re going to make it, you’re not alone.

Tsh has written here before about her experience with postpartum depression. This open letter to new mamas is a good read for those of you wondering if you’ll ever come up for air. But the most important thing I want to say is: tell someone. Get some help. Find someone you can trust and just tell them that you need some help.

If you don’t have family or friends nearby, see if you can find a way to hire some help if you need it. I know it’s not cheap, but it could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make. If you’re expecting a baby, you could begin to plan ahead now and save funds so that you can hire someone to come in, even for just a few hours a week.

And this doesn’t just apply to brand new mamas, either. Postpartum depression can strike up to a year after the birth of a child, even if it’s not your first child. So be aware, and never be afraid to ask for help. We all need help sometimes.

And if you know a new mama, reach out to her. Don’t hesitate to offer to bring over a meal, or pick up some groceries, or sit with her baby so she can take a shower. You’ll be blessing her more than you ever know.

I wish I had done things differently after my first daughter was born. I should have gotten more help, but I didn’t, and it made things much, much harder than they needed to be.

Chances are, you have people in your life that love you and want to help you out, new mamas. Ask them. Let them help. Let them be a blessing to you. By letting them help you, you just might be a blessing to them, too.

Reading Time:

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  1. Janie

    Yes it is a blessing for a new grandmother to be called to come over and help! Never feel like you are bothering them if you call – often grandparents yearn for that simple request!

  2. Steph

    It took me nearly a year after both kids to finally feel like I had my feet totally under me again. (And there are still days…) I was on bed rest for four months with my first and five weeks with my second so my body totally rebelled when I tried to put it through the rigors of caring for a newborn.

    Thankfully I had a good bit of help on the front end but I wish I would have asked or paid for help longer term. I feel like I gave into the thinking that something must be wrong with me for taking longer than “usual” to get back to “normal.”

  3. Devi

    100% agree – being a new mom is the toughest thing I’ve ever done, and it was still hard even after my 2nd was born two years later. The little bits of time when I’ve had help made it that much easier to keep breathing.

    One thing though – I don’t really think any western society is a good model for post partum care even though Western Europe is marginally better in some things. I live in Europe and have been here for all of my married and parenting life (Switzerland and Sweden). Yes, maternity leave is better, and yes there is post partum care, but European society as a whole – or northern Europe anyway – is incredibly isolating and individualistic. People don’t just offer help, meals, etc. Most people I know in the US have meals brought to them for a while through churches or family, and that’s virtually nonexistent here, in fact the idea of asking for help isn’t very “done” either. I find that people in the US are more community oriented than northern Europeans by a LONG shot.

    • Devi

      I should have added that Asian and African cultures are probably a lot better at taking care of new moms and supporting them with lots of help than western societies.

  4. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    I’m pregnant with our third, so this was such a good reminder for me.

    A dear friend of mine is living in Ethiopia and recently shared that it’s culturally standard for a new mom to be mostly house-bound for about 40 days after giving birth.

    Rather than seeing this as restrictive, I found it oddly liberating–and comforting. I mean, I want to option of going out if I want/have to, but I’m not a huge fan of the expectation of a quick recovery and return to normal life for mom.

  5. Betsy

    This post came at such a great time. My younger sister just had her first child and is having a rough time transitioning. I think this post will help her realize she isn’t alone.

  6. Cindy

    As a mom of 7 and a Nana to 3, I wholeheartedly agree with new moms needing help. One thing our church does that is so helpful is to take meals to families with new babies for 2 weeks. That was a lifesaver for me! We also try to support each other with house cleaning and babysitting when needed.

    Another idea…after my 4th child was born, my husband hired 2 teen girls to come one afternoon a week to watch our other children and clean our house while we went on a date. That was so wonderful, and I felt that I could make it through the week knowing I had that to look forward to! 🙂

  7. Alissa

    I have said so many times that my network of mama friends CARRIED me through the post-partum period after my second was born. Looking back, I can tell how rough of a state I was in, but I didn’t always recognize it at the time. Those gals – they stuck with me! Someone showed up with dinner 2-3 days/week for the first TWO MONTHS and on the weeks that we managed to get to our Friday playgroup, those mamas listened, laughed, and endured with me. Nearly 5 years later, it still scares me to think where I would have been without them.

  8. Asheritah

    This is such a tangible way to show love! After I had my baby, so many friends blessed us with meals and clothes, and my mom practically did all the housework the first two weeks. I was overwhelmed by their outpouring of love and grace and that helped me back away from the presipice I was teetering on.

    Now it’s my joy to help new mamas in those first few months.

  9. Victoria

    I’ve got a 6 month old baby girl and desperately needed to read this post today 🙂 It’s very easy for me to think I’m the only one who can take care of her and to decline offers of help. Thanks for the reminder and needed perspective!

  10. Dena

    I actually thrive on the challenge of the newborn period, I’ve had three. But now that my youngest is almost 2 I really feel like things are much harder. Easier physically, but now is the time I feel more depressed. Parenting is hard work all around but some seasons are worse than others. I’m looking forward to when my youngest is a little older and it’s easier to get out.

  11. Katie Harding

    I am getting ready to have my third baby so this was a nice reminder to ASK for help! I am not the best about accepting it but after reading this I know that it will be the best thing for my whole family. Great post!

  12. Maridyth

    Congratulations to your family, Katie! Our third just turned three months this week, so I absolutely agree with your post.
    This time around, my midwife nearly forced me to do nothing for the first TWELVE days. Nothing but nurse my baby. After giving my body a good recovery period, it was astounding to me how great I felt on day thirteen. We had wonderful people bring meals to the house for the first month. Because I had most everything we needed for the baby, family and friends gave us enough money to hire a maid for the first three months (every-other week). I also had my placenta encapsulated this time, and I think the pills have definitely helped thwart off the blue days (and there have been some).
    It’s the little things that have made a lot of difference this time for me. I think moms forget that there truly is a fourth trimester in every pregnancy, and they need to have a plan for getting help.

  13. Diana

    I love this: “Chances are, you have people in your life that love you and *want* to help you out, new mamas.”

    Today a little girl offered me lemonade at a yardsale. I said, “Oh, no, I’ll be fine, but thanks.” As I drove away, I realized she probably was disappointed I hadn’t taken her lemonade–she wasn’t offering only because she felt like she ought to or was supposed to. Kids rarely do that. She was genuinely wanting to give me a drink–it’s not like she felt relieved when I didn’t take any. 🙂

    I think probably this happens between adults too–I offer to bring dinner over because I really want to help out my friend. If she says, “Oh, no, I’ll be fine,” then I’m not sitting there thinking, “Whew! I didn’t really want to make her dinner anyway.” No, I’d be sad that I didn’t get a chance to help out in one of the ways I could. But I know I’m the worst at refusing help from others! I need to quit assuming that my friends’ offers of help are forced and take them up on it 🙂

    And I totally agree that support right after a baby’s birth can be huuuuuge when it comes to preventing PPD. My mom has been here for a week after each of my kiddos’ births and she does everything. It’s amazing, and I credit her for how great I’ve felt after each. (And my second is only 5 weeks, so it’s fresh in my mind!)

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