Tag Archives: postpartum

A Letter To My Belly

 

Dear Belly,

Every morning my little one pulls up my shirt, kisses you, and says, “I came from there!” You are fleshy now, stretched. I feel warmth and softness when I touch you. Mother. You hang over my jeans a bit. My sagging muffin top. I try not to mentally airbrush you out of pictures- the little traces of shame that still linger, the empire cut shirts, even though I haven’t been pregnant for five years.

Twenty years ago disgust for you filled my world. And crushed my spirit. All the self-loathing, anger, fear and shame were stuffed into you. I’m sorry. So many apology letters written to you in those first years of eating disorder recovery. But I did grow to accept you! And fed you. And then you created an amazing child! (Ok it was my womb, but you are the flesh that stretched to accommodate). You grew and stretched beyond what I thought was possible

Belly, I’m sorry that there are so many images in the world that don’t look like you. I know those images make you feel unloved, disgusting, flabby. I’m sorry those images make you feel wrong.

Those images tell you all kinds of crazy sh*t:

“Be smaller! Be flatter! Do this to be loved! Be big and full of yourself until age seven and then be flat and hungry. But don’t feel hungry! Just look thin! Don’t get angry! Hide your intuition. Don’t listen to it. Be attractive by not being yourself! Don’t get stretched. If you get stretched, get sucked and stitched back in.”

I just want you to know, Belly, they’re wrong, those messages. Contrary to what the images tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. Let me say it again as you have received those other brutal messages so many times.

Belly, there is nothing wrong with you.

5 Super Simple (But Not Easy) Self-Care Strategies for New Moms

IMG_1555

  1. Shower

We all know how easy this was in our former lives. Just hop in! At any time! With no interruptions and for as long as you want! This is no longer the case. However, a shower can make a world of difference. It is actually one of the main action steps I encourage not only new moms, but also clients recovering from depression to take. Cleaning your body helps your mind. It has the capacity to wash away some of the sleep deprivation and frustration. And it has the added benefit of cleaning away stinky-ness having old milk, snot, and poo that your little one may have generously shared. For at least one moment, your body can be clean, and all your own.

  1. Sleep

Don’t stop reading yet! I know, if one more person tells you “sleep when the baby sleeps,” you are going to punch them. So I’m not going to tell you that. However, I want to encourage you to carve out in whatever way works for you and your family, a good chunk of sleep for yourself. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation can cause difficulties in concentrating, irritability, problems with reading, speaking, and an increase in appetite. If the deprivation continues, disorientation, visual hallucinations, social withdrawal and/or challenges, memory lapses, and breaks in reality occur.[i] One of the main treatments for moms recovering from perinatal mood disorders (anxiety, depression, psychosis), along with therapy and medication, is sleep. And the sleep needs to be for prolonged period of uninterrupted time. (Disrupted sleep is as bad as no sleep – more on this
in upcoming sleep blog).

Art-HighRez-3932-3157179467-OHere some ideas: hire a night doula, have your partner or grandma take over night feedings for one night, ask your partner to do the middle-of-the-night feeds, or do modified sleep training. Preserve and protect your sleep, however you can. Don’t succumb to the temptation for late night Facebook/Online shopping/Great-ideas-planning-your-new-business-vnture-as-a-mommypreneur. If these are still appealing when you are rested, you will know they are coming from a true need. Otherwise, it’s adrenaline-fueled exhaustion that would be better fed with restoring your sleep.

  1. Sunshine

Did you know that vitamin D is one of the best antidepressant vitamins? Low vitamin D has been linked not only with postpartum depression for the mother[ii] but also increased risk of eating disorders in female offspring.[iii] Getting out of the house can be one of the best ways to bring new perspective to what can feel like drudgery of new motherhood. So pack up all your new accoutrements – diaper bag, pacifiers, bottles, snacks, diapers, etc.- and get out into the sun. It may just be to walk around the block. It may be an adventure like getting to the playground or the coffee shop. You may even coordinate this adventure with another new mom, which leads to the next tip…

  1. Support

It is a recent cultural phenomenon that moms are trying to care for their babies alone, at home, by themselves without a “village” of support. This used to be the extended family, or way, way back in human experience, the tribe. Humans thrive on attachment. Without it, we wither. There is no wrong way to have support as a new mom, other than to not have support as a new mom. Your support could be a mom’s group. It could be your partner. It could be your therapist. It could be YOUR mom. It could be your non-mom friend. It could be your friend who is also a mom. It could be your doula, lactation consultant, or mother-in-law. It could be all of these or some combination of these. But having none of these is a recipe for trying to be Supermom (who doesn’t exist, and lives in the isolated perfectionist imaginations of moms who have no support), which can to Postpartum Depression. I love this quote from Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of emotionally focused therapy:

“Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.”

If you are providing attachment to your new little one, YOU need to be strongly attached.

Trying to holdOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, provide food, and give emotional sustenance to your baby without support yourself is like being a tree without roots. You will fall over, you will wilt, you will not thrive. An then this will happen to your baby, too… It is not only okay, but also essential that you have support! Put on your oxygen masks first, Mama.

  1. Spiritual practice

 Last but not least, having a mindfulness practice can be a helpful tool for tolerating the distress and practicing acceptance with all the learnings of new parenthood. This may be 5 minutes of meditation per day. Or it may be one bite of mindful eating during a lunch otherwise filled with Cheerios being thrown on the floor. It may be a yoga class or writing 1 page in your journal every day. You could practice deep breathing every time you hear your baby cry and your stomach tenses up with anxiety or discomfort. For new moms, it is important to Keep It Simple. Remember: the Buddha was NOT a parent when he became enlightened. Unlike him, you don’t have seven days to sit under a tree uninterrupted. You may have seven minutes. Take it. A good practice is to breath in the suffering of all new moms all around the earth and breathe out loving-kindness to all the new moms all around the earth. I used this practice when I was a new mom. It made me feel so much less alone at 3am.

In Conclusion

You are not alone, Mama. Keep going. Keep practicing any and all of these self-care practices as much as you can for as long as it takes. You are NOT allowed to use this blog to beat up on yourself for what you are not doing. If you are doing that, stop now. Thousands of other moms are struggling right along with you, trying to sleep, shower, get support, see the sunshine, and do spiritual practice! Try, to the best of your ability one moment at a time, to find the kind mother inside yourself for yourself. This kindness is where the real strength of motherhood is: it is this place that is rooted and flexible, fierce and tender. It is the one that defends her right to practice her own self-care as a way to then be able to care for others. It is the mother putting her own oxygen mask on first. In the words of Sue Monk Kidd:

“You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside.”

You can do it mama. If you can’t find her, keep looking. You may need to grow your capacity to be a good mom to yourself along with learning to be a good one to your baby. That is okay. She is there, waiting for you to feed, nurture, forgive, and grow her. Oh, and shower her, too!

1000-IMG_3876-3132320497-O

Linda Shanti McCabe is a Mom and Licensed Clinical Psychologist in San Francisco.As always, this blog is written to provide experience, inspiration, and hope – not to provide psychological treatment. If you are struggling with a perinatal mood disorder, a good resource is Postpartum Support International.

All original art images copyright Linda Shanti McCabe

[i] Bulkeley, Kelly, “Why Sleep Deprivation is Torture” Psychology Today, December 15, 2014.

[ii] Robinson et al. Low maternal serum vitamin D during pregnancy and the risk for postpartum depression symptoms, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2014.

[iii] Allen KL, Byrne SM, Kusel MM, Hart PH, Whitehouse AJ.  Maternal vitamin D levels during pregnancy and offspring eating disorder risk in adolescence. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Jun 26, 2013.

 

What You Need to Know About Pregnancy and Eating Disorders: A Podcast

In introducing this month’s Butterfy Effect theme of CONNECTING, I am honored to share an interview by the founder of Recovery Warriors, Jessica Raymond, MS. Recovery Warriors is a multimedia resource hub for hope and healing from an eating disorder. Here is a link to the podcast: RecoverywarriorsPodcast

An overview

The desire to become a mom can be a motivating factor in eating disorder recovery. However,the challenges of pregnancy and the postpartum period mirror the early stages of recovery. Both pregnant and new mothers and women recovering from eating disorders experience anxiety, body image distress, difficulty sleeping, hormonal changes, appetite changes, and ambivalence/excitement/distress around cultivating a new identity. In this episode of The Recovery Warrior Show, expert Dr. Linda Shanti shares personal and professional stories of recovering from an eating disorder and entering into motherhood. Listen in regardless of where you are at in the biological cycle because there is much to learn.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why people don’t talk about miscarriages
  • How pregnancy is similar to early stages of recovery
  • Why you need to be proactive in seeking professional help before having a baby?
  • Why how a mother eats affects her child
  • Is there a right time to have a kid

 Favorite Quote

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Advice to Former Self

You’ll get through this honey, you will. It’s going to change you and it is changing you and that’s ok; that’s the way it’s supposed to be. There’s no parallel life that you’re supposed to be leading; this is it, this is not a detour. Just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path; you’re absolutely on the right path. Keep going.

Definition of Recovery

Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Not engaging in behaviors that hurt me. Moving toward growth edges. Accepting my body as it is. Allowing and inviting all feelings. Lowering the bar on perfectionism. Thinking in the rainbow between black and white. Listening to my heart and connecting with a larger purpose.

FullSizeRender-4 copy

 

5 Things Moms Can Do to Prevent Eating Disorders

I recently gave a talk for parents on Eating Disorders and what parents wanted to know most was: How do I prevent my child from developing an eating disorder?

Here are five things you can do (and some you can be conscious of NOT doing) to assist with preventing your child from developing an eating disorder:

  • 1. DON’T Diet. 

Diets don’t work. This has been proven again and again. Here are a few scary statistics:

*95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, Levine, Spencer, Colditz, & Stampfer, 1996; Neumark-Sztainer, Haines, Wall, & Eisenberg, 2007).

*80% of 10-year-old girls in America have dieted to lose weight. (Bates, 2016)

And yet

Women who were put on diets as young girls are more likely to struggle with obesity, alcohol abuse and disordered eating as adults. (Keel, 2014).

*35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. (Shisslak, Crago, & Estes, 1995).

  • 2. DO eat intuitively.

Intuitive eating can be summarized by: relying on internal cues for hunger and satiety, eating for physiological rather than emotional reasons, having no dietary restrictions/unconditional permission to eat, and body size acceptance (Tribole, and Resche, Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary program that Works, 1995, 2012). Listen to your own hunger and don’t restrict. Give yourself permission to enjoy eating!

  • 3. Take care of your own body image.
body ruffle.jpg

The Onion, Aug 25,2014

Be mindful that you are your child’s mirror. You may be tempted, as I saw in a humourous newspaper wear a “Mom’s Bathing Suit as One Giant, Body-Ecclipsing Ruffle.” You many gaze disgustedly in the mirror at your postpartum muffin top.  Postpartum body image and ageing can be brutal. However, don’t allow yourself to buy into the culture’s message around self-worth being tied to “getting your postbaby body back in shape.”

A) Your postpartum body will never be the same shape. You grew a baby in there.

B) Your worth is bigger now. You have been changed by life. Try and embrace and radically accept that. Be proud of your tummy like your child is proud of theirs. You are beautiful because of the life you have lived and your body reflects that: all the scars, stretches, and wrinkles. A wizened tree does not Botox itself to look like a skinny leaf-sprout. Be the tree that you are proudly (or, on a bad day, good-enough).

  • 4. Follow the “Division of Responsibility” when feeding your child.

FullSizeRender-4 copy 3Briefly, the division of responsibility is: The parent is responsible for What, When, and Where you eat. The child is responsible for How much and Whether they eat. This is based on Ellen Sattyr’s work. To see a handout on this, click here

I know it can be hard to trust that your child WILL choose to eat vegetables. But it CAN and DOES happen. See this amazing transformation in my own little one, who used to only eat anything soft and white. Notice how one carrot and two bits of pepper have grown into a plate almost entirely filled with vegetables!

FullSizeRender-4(By the way, DO respect sensory sensitivities. If your child prefers soft texture, make soft texture food and gradually without a fight and making it fun introduce other textures.) And, remember: there are no bad foods. Kids need carbs and fat, and so do you. They help you have enough energy, they feed your brain.

  • 5. Allow all feelings in your family (especially uncomfortable ones like anger, fear, and shame).

Low tolerance for negative affect has been shown to be one of the factors contributing to eating disorders. What does this mean? It means, in order to create an environment where your child willFullSizeRender-4 copy not feel they have to hide or stuff parts of themselves in order to be loved, you have to allow discomfort. Anger is a tough one. Most people error in one direction (rage at others) or the other (blame self and stuff into depression). Work on expressing anger at the level of irritation before it gets too overwhelmingly big. Have weekly family meetings. If you get in a fight with your partner, make up and show your child you have made up so they can see people re-unite after being mad at each other. When your child is mad, don’t withdraw your affection. Notice: “I see you are mad. I’m going to help you. I love you even when you are mad. You can hit the pillow, but not me. I’m going to stay with you until we work this out.” Allow fear. Allow insecurity, embrace imperfection. When someone makes a mistake in our house, we say “Yay! I made a mistake!” This is not my natural inclination. The natural inclination with shame is to hide it. Sweep it under the rug quickly! Pretend-like-you-know-what-you-are-doing-before-you-get-in-trouble-or-someone-sees-that-you-are-a-fraud! Don’t do this. Turn toward your own and your child’s imperfections and growth edges. Growing requires failing, and failing, and failing before succeeding. Support your child in practicing new skills. When your little one is learning to walk and falls down, you say “Hooray! Try again!” Continue to do this with yourself and your little one. Again and again.

It is possible to prevent eating disorders. And it is also possible to build a strong protective factors so that if your child develops one, they can recover with more ease. Do what you can. Eating Disorders are complex and develop from a unique and individual interplay of many factors. Eating disorders are no-one’s fault, but everyone’s responsibility. Prevention and recovery are possible.

 

The Butterfly Effect

Life is short. If you doubt me, ask a butterfly. Their average life span is a mere five to fourteen days.   -Ellen DeGeneres
My vision collage this year emerged in the shape of a butterfly and included images of many fellow people in my “tribe.” So I decided to name it “Butterfly tribe.” I then got to thinking about how I could, like Gretchen Rubin in her Happiness Projects, have themes to focus on each month. This is your cordial invitation to join me in the year of

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

 thisrsz_1heartbutterflymandala

The butterfly effect is a term from chaos theory that refers to a small change resulting in large differences in a later state or place. Each month I will be making small changes in different areas.

Here are the areas:

  1. Vision (January)
  2. Clarity (February)
  3. Make A Plan (March)
  4. Cultivate Creativity (April)
  5. Connect (May)
  6. Honor Sensitivity (June)
  7. Receive Support (July)
  8. Embrace Change (August)
  9. Play (September)
  10. Romance (October)
  11. Health (November)
  12. Release Shame (December)
Each month I will be writing about the small incremental changes I am practicing in these areas and recommending books or action you could try if you would like. Where do you come in? You are invited to join. If each of us make small changes, they MAY result in large differences. Also, in a tribe, people can learn from each other. For example there may be some spring chickens in this tribe that could teach me about how the heck to “tweet” during May.
Change (recovery, parenthood, living your vision) can be hard. It can be even harder when we attempt to do it alone. I have created a few ground rules for myself and you, should you choose to accept, in this butterfly project:
 butterfly

1. It is ok to choose the level of your participation, to make mistakes, and to change your mind.


2. You do not have to do it alone.

3. Stay engaged with the process (and notice when you would rather not).

Butterflies are fragile. They collapse easily and don’t survive well alone. They need each other, they need heat, and they need light. 4th generation monarchs, the ones that travel to California
and Mexico and live for 180-240 days, travel together for astounding distances. They do this together and then, when they hang in the trees, they do it together. So when you feel alone or collapsing in shame or sick and tired of being sick and tired, Do not give up. In the words of Richard Bach,

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.

On Huf Post!

Check it out…

Motherhood as Rite of Passage

Art-HighRez-3932-3157179467-O

 

Motherhood as Rite of Passage

IMG_3210The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.

~Rajneesh Look

I remember when I was a brand new first-time mom, like four days brand new, and went to a new mom group. I was in the no-sleep, hormones still rollercoaster-ing daze. I was trying to look like I knew what I was doing, even though it felt like the bottom had dropped out of my body, my breasts were bowling balls, and I was wondering why no one ever tells you about urinary incontinence…

(This is Guest blog- to read full article, go to psychedinsanfrancisco.com )

Legs and Feet: Walking the walk, Baby steps, Taking the first step

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Did you know it takes babies first stepat least a year to take their first step? And this is a first attempt, not fully practiced walking. Most babies begin to stand briefly and take small steps while holding onto support prior to walking by themselves. This is often called “cruising.” Not all babies walk at one year though- some do at 9 months, some at 17 months. It is an individual process. Once started, the journey of learning how to walk independently continues through many, many months trial and error: two steps forward, one fall down; two steps forward, one fall down.

– resource: Baby’s Milestones: Your child’s first year of development WebMD.com

We could interpret this “first step” in all kinds of ways metaphorically. In the 12 steps, the first step is about admitting powerlessness and unmanageability- not in a disempowered way, but in admitting your current (and past) way of walking in the world is no longer working. It is about taking an honest look about where you have fallen down, “hit bottom.” It is about reflecting, as you get up, on how you can learn to walk differently. How can you walk down the sidewalk in a different way or walk a different sidewalk? There is a well-quoted poem about the recovery process that goes like this:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

I I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalkimages-1 I fall in. I am lost … I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.

II I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place but, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

III I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. my eyes are open I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

IV I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

V I walk down another street.

resource: Portia Nelson, There’s A Hole in My Sidewalk, 1993. As you are learning to walk down the sidewalk in your recovery, in motherhood, in life:

  • How can you allow for holes in the sidewalk?
  • How can you practice taking steps down another sidewalk?
  • How can you love and accept your legs and feet while you are taking each step?

Give yourself time to learn how to walk differently in the world in your recovery process, whether it be from an eating disorder, alcoholism/addiction, codependency, depression, or postpartum. Try to accept and appreciate your legs and feet as they are and not need to change them. Babies learning to walk do not judge themselves when they fall and they certainly do not worry about the size of their thighs. They get back up, again and again, and again, focusing on the task of learning their new skill. In recovery, this skill is to notice the judgments, not believe them, and keep walking. Here are two suggestions for how to practice walking steps in the road to recovery:

  1. Lean on Support


Ask yourself: How can I allow others to support me? How can I allow them to walk with me? Recovery is a time to let support in, not push it away. However, many people find it difficult to reach out and accept support from others. The truth is it’s much easier to walk the road of recovery with someone walking alongside you than making the trip on your own. If you are having difficulty accepting support, think about how you feel when you are given the opportunity to provide support to others. Remember, it is a gift. Resource: Life During Recovery: Questions to Ask Yourself from National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website, By Maggie Baumann, BA, Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today, Spring 2007 Volume 5, Number 2, (c) 2007 Gürze Books.

  1. Practice Mindful Walking:

Walk slowly and carefully walk feeling your feet connect at each point on the floor. Without controlling the breath too much, you can try pairing walking and breathing so that 1 foot touches the ground at each in and out breath. See how many steps seem natural to take during each inhalation and exhalation. Direct all attention towards the sensations of walking: you feet and lower legs. Which part touches the ground first? Pay attention to how your weight shifts from one foot to the other. What are the feelings in your knees as they bend? What is the texture of the ground (hard, soft, cracks, stones)? Differences in walking on different surfaces? From Coping Skills handout Compiled by Shannon Dorsey, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Licensed Psychologist, University of Washington, Evidence Based Treatments images

Remember the one-year-old practicing her first steps for a whole year. As a Japanese proverb states, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

Also, it is not only ok but encouraged to make time for pedicures and (non exercise-bulimic oriented) dancing. Your legs and feet deserve it. How are you going to take your first step today? What are you going to do to take care of your legs and feet?

Mommy Brain

Mommy brain

I distinctly remember 1 moment postpartum when my husband and I were in a bookstore, with baby in the carrier, browsing. I saw the book The Female Brain and picked it up, thumbing directly to the section on “Mommy brain,” and, more specifically, “Breast feeding and the Fuzzy brain.” I was still breast-feeding, fuzzy brained, and seeking some scientific proof that I wasn’t going crazy. I found it. Louann Brizendine, MD writes:

“…one down side of breast feeding can be a lack of mental focus. Although a fuzzy brained state is pretty common after giving birth, breast feeding can heighten and prolong this mellow… unfocused state…the parts of the brain responsible for focus and concentration are preoccupied with protecting and tracking the newborn.”

During this time, I would walk into the next room of the house to get something and forget what it was. Keys? Diaper bag? One of my husband’s friends, a Stanford scientist with two children, explained: “You’re breastfeeding. Your brain will come back after you stop.” This fuzzy breastfeeding brain also explained why I felt physically connected with my baby when I went back to work. Brizendine writes:

Many mothers suffer ‘withdrawal’ symptoms when they’re physically separated from their babies, feeling fear, anxiety, and even waves of panic. It is now recognized that this is more than a psychological state but is a neurochemical state.

The longer and more often a baby suckles, the more it triggers the prolactin-oxytocin response in the mommy brain…Oxytocin dilates blood vessels in the mother’s chest, warming her nursing child, who also gets doses of feel good compounds in the breast milk…

Ah, Oxytocin, the bonding hormone. By 3:00pm at work, I would be physically and emotionally longing for my baby. I’m sure it was no accident that this was the time that I would pump milk for him and he would be having his afternoon snack! I remember coming home from work, checking in with the nanny on how baby’s day went, and she would say “he’s probably not hungry- just had a bottle about an hour ago.” I would nod ok, and then, as soon as she left, baby would lunge for the breast like a long lost lover and Mama would feel relieved and reconnected.

According to Brizendine, This lovely, feel-good state of oxytocin is turned on at the time of birth.

 The mommy-brain transformation gets underway at conception and can take over even the most career oriented woman’s circuits…At the same time, her brain signals for eating, especially in the morning, become finicky as her brain is changing how it reacts to certain smells…she wouldn’t want to eat something that would harm her fragile fetus…That is why her brain is now overly sensitive to smell.…Progesterone spikes from ten to a hundred times its normal level … and the brain becomes marinated in this hormone, whose sedating effects are similar to Valium.

 IMG_3261Pregnancy brain

I wish I had had this book when pregnant. Sometimes there is no substitute for empirical, neurological data to combat shame and confusion. I remember sitting at my desk at work while pregnant feeling like I was in a mental fog and wondering where my focus had gone? Where was my motivation for work? I would sit there feeling like a hippo (I know, hippo is not a feeling- see previous blog), daydream about rocking chairs, and eat olives with hummus and crackers (My baby had a Greek craving theme). I could not tolerate perfume smells and threw up in the airport when walking through the fancy shopping section filled with expensive scents.

I was also studying psychological material for the EPPP (Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology: the licensure test for Psychologists) at the time, and confused about why nothing I was studying seemed to be able to stick in my brain. I would study material and then the next day it would have flown out of my mind. This was not very pleasant or ego syntonic for someone who had earned 4.0’s all through her undergraduate, Master’s and Doctorate degrees.  At 7 months pregnant, I was scoring 50% on practice exams. Finally, with humility, resignation, some resistance, and a good dose of radical acceptance, I threw in the towel and postponed.

Why have 9,000 books have been written about

helping your baby sleep through the night

While oxytocin is a lovely feel-good chemical, drops in hormone levels mixed with lack of sleep do NOT feel good. I remember a mother in my brand New Mommy group telling me about how her baby slept through the night at 3 months. Bless her for her kindness (or perhaps it was discernment that the other mothers may have killed her) for not sharing this at the time.  Every baby, like every person, has their own temperament, their own capacities, and their own preferences from the time of birth.  I see this in my own child, a boy, who seems to be predisposed to fire trucks, dump trucks, dinosaurs, and things that go bang or boom. As a feminist, I would have ardently fought this Nature-Nurture debate prior to children. However, my little boy is naturally drawn to trucks, particularly those that dump things or make loud noises.  Anyway, that is a whole other post (See http://www.scarymommy.com/boys-vs-girls/)

My baby did not naturally sleep through the night at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, or 12 months. That too, is a whole other post as well as bookshelves filled with thousand of experts offering their advice on how to get one’s baby to sleep. For the new Mom, though, lack of sleep can contribute to a fuzzy brain.

In a new mother, sleep is disrupted by repeated awakenings of the infant, but hormonal factors also seem to play a role.  Immediately after childbirth, levels of the reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, drop precipitously.  It is believed that, because these hormones modulate neurotransmitter systems in the brain responsible for sleep quality, this dramatic hormonal shift may cause significant disruptions in sleep. (See MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/posts/postpartum-depression-and-poor-sleep-quality-occur-together/ )

I remember going into work and hearing my (childless) co-workers say, “Gosh, I’m tired today.” Then they would sheepishly look over at me a moment later and say “Oops sorry” as I gave them the death stare. However, sleep-deprived states aside, there are other brain changes that can occur postpartum that are both beneficial and astounding.

Does the brain grow BIGGER postpartum?

Research from the American Psychological Association suggests this is the case.

Exploratory research…found that the brains of new mothers bulked up in areas linked to motivation and behavior…A comparison of images taken two to four weeks and three to four months after [new mothers] gave birth showed that gray matter volume increased by a small but significant amount in various parts of the brain. In adults, gray matter volume doesn’t ordinarily change over a few months without significant learning, brain injury or illness, or major environmental change. (Craig Kinsley, PhD and Elizabeth Meyer, PhD, Behavioral Neuroscience, October 2010)

I was sharing with a friend recently about the hidden gift of humility in needing to slow down on my desired accomplishments due to being a Mommy. She replied, “You are doing and growing more than most people I know, with or without children.”

“Oh,” I thought, “it certainly doesn’t feel like that.” I often tell my clients, who are recovering from eating disorders, that they are growing much faster than they realize. As they say in twelve-step recovery “You can’t kiss your own ear.” In other words, others will see your growth before you do. I certainly see that in my son. Sometimes it seems as if he has literally grown overnight. One day he is standing by the couch scooching, and then BAM! He is walking. One day he is babbling incoherently and then Bam! He is saying “Bump!” for Mr. Bump, and banging his chest for the gorilla. Where did my newborn go? And so, as I begin to let go of my Mommy brain fuzz (Hooray!!!), I am also letting go of my little breastfeeding baby (sweet sadness), toddling about, developing his own cerebral cortex and synaptic formations. (http://main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_brainFAQ#changes) May the growth continue.

 

Linda Shanti McCabe, PsyD, works at the Association of Professionals Treating eating Disorders in San Francisco. You can learn more about her at http://WWW.DrLindaShanti.com

 

%d bloggers like this: