There are tremendous physical demands during pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and breastfeeding. Motherhood is also incredibly mentally and emotionally demanding. You can do so much to prepare for being a parent. You can stock up on supplies for your baby, plan for maternity leave and your return to work, and learn about breastfeeding. These tasks are all necessary, but none will mentally prepare you to be a mother. A significant component of mentally preparing for motherhood is knowing what to expect and setting your expectations. This episode covers ten ways to shift your mindset to mentally prepare for motherhood.
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Your Brain is Wired for Motherhood
Newborn babies are 100% dependent on caregivers for survival. From an evolutionary perspective, we have evolved to be good at caring for and raising babies. Our existence depends on it. The good news is that our brains are wired for motherhood. A study that took brain scans of pregnant mothers during and after pregnancy found that pregnancy is associated with substantial long-lasting alterations in brain structure, which may serve an adaptive purpose for pending motherhood.
Motherhood may seem to come naturally for someone who has spent a lot of time around babies and has wanted nothing more than to become a mom. That isn’t the case for many of us, and the thought of being a mother can be very intimidating. You can’t know everything upfront, and you will have a lot of questions.
The Mental and Emotional Demands of Motherhood
Becoming a mother will require a shift in your mindset. You will have emotions you have never experienced and think about things you never considered. A significant component of mentally preparing for motherhood is knowing what to expect and setting your expectations. Here are ten ways to mentally prepare for motherhood.
1. Plan for Time to Adjust
The weeks and months after you have your baby are a huge adjustment period. Planning for your postpartum period is essential. This article on birth recovery and postpartum will help prepare for what to expect. Perhaps even more important than planning is giving yourself space and time to recover from birth and adjust to life as a mother. Every new mom adapts on their own timeline. You may not be ready to get out of the house with your baby right away. It may take you longer than expected to get back to working out. However long it takes you to be ready for new things or to feel like you have a handle on being a mother is okay.
If you are hard on yourself, consider speaking to yourself like you were talking to your best friend. What would you tell her if your best friend took longer than expected to feel comfortable meeting you for lunch with her baby? You wouldn’t say she is failing at being a mother and needs to suck it up and get out of the house. You would tell her that it is okay and that she can take all the time she needs. Motherhood is a big adjustment that takes time. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion while you adjust and get the hang of being a mom.
2. Everything is Always Changing
Your role and the needs of your baby are constantly changing. As soon as you figure one thing out, there is something new. Once you get some semblance of a routine or schedule, your baby will change it. There will be times when you feel like you are in a groove and times when you feel lost. Everything is constantly changing, and the more adaptable you are, the easier being a mother will be.
If you find yourself in a challenging time, know it will not last forever. You may have weeks that your baby fights naps only for them to suddenly adjust to a nap schedule perfectly fine. In the first few weeks, you may feel like your baby is permanently attached to your breast and that there is no end in sight. As you and your baby navigate breastfeeding, it will get more ordered and easier. Keeping in mind that no phase lasts forever can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel in challenging times and really appreciate all of the short-lived stages.
3. Learn to Have a Flexible Schedule
There is a saying about parenting that “The days are long, but the years are short.” This sentiment is intended to mean that although things may be challenging daily, your children grow so fast and will grow up before you know it. Sometimes parenting feels like a never-ending marathon. Other times, you just blinked, and months or years went by.
Your relationship with time changes when you become a mother. Suddenly your time is dictated by a baby who doesn’t understand daytime and nighttime, when they are supposed to take a nap, or when you need a nap. Some parents can have a more rigid schedule with their children. Others let the baby lead the way. If you are accustomed to being on a schedule, prepare to learn to be more flexible and evolve your schedule as your baby grows.
4. Prepare to Adapt to a Different Sleep Schedule
One part of your schedule that will absolutely change is your sleep schedule. One study showed that in the first three months, postpartum women experience, on average, a 1-hour reduction of sleep per night. Sleep duration increases by an average of about 30 min in months 4–6. This study found that sleep levels do not recover fully to prepregnancy levels even up to six years after birth.
You have probably heard the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps. Many mothers find it challenging to do that. When your baby is sleeping can be an opportune time to relax and have some time to yourself, take a shower, or get something done around the house. Sleep is critical for your health, and you should prioritize it. That being said, it can be challenging to do that. Chances are you will be functioning on less sleep than you do now. Setting that expectation can be very helpful in adjusting to less sleep.
5. Be Careful Comparing Yourself to Others
We all have expectations of what motherhood will be. We form these expectations from our experiences, observing others, and what we see on TV and social media. Be mindful of the social media content you consume and how you compare your experience to others. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Seeing content from mothers can be inspiring and relatable, but it can also make you feel like you are not living up to the societal expectations of being a mom.
What you see on Instagram or any social media platform is the highlight reel. You will get the perfect pictures and special moments, but most of motherhood is in the trenches. You will spend most of your time feeding, changing, and trying to get your baby to sleep. Not to mention that you still have all the responsibilities of being a functioning adult, paying bills, and managing a household. Most of your days wouldn’t make for perfectly curated Instagram posts.
A study found that mothers who spend more time online engage in greater levels of social comparison, leading to increased stress and negative emotions. We are still learning about the consequences of social media and how it can have a negative impact on your mental health. If you feel mentally or emotionally drained after scrolling online, take a break and limit your time on social media. It may also be beneficial to unfollow accounts that do not inspire you or support your mental health. Don’t compare a rough day you are having to a perfectly curated picture on Instagram.
6. You Need Support
The saying, it takes a village, is a real thing. No matter how independent you are, you are not meant to parent solo and need people. Surrounding yourself with a support system, including your partner if you have one, family, and friends, is critical. A support system will make your parenting journey easier, but you must be willing to ask for help. Lean on your village and ask for their support.
There is also massive value in having other friends that are moms. This may come easily if everyone in your friend group is in the phase of having kids. If you don’t have the luxury of a prebuilt group of parent friends, seek out new friendships. Having people who can relate to what you are going through and help you navigate parenting can be a lifesaver. An in-person birth class will introduce you to other expecting parents in your area. There are local Facebook and meet-up groups for new moms. You can also meet other parents at the park or in your neighborhood.
If you are an introvert, it can be challenging to introduce yourself to new people. Having a baby is an instant conversation starter. As uncomfortable as it may be to get outside of your comfort zone, it will be worth it to have more people in your support system.
7. You Will Make Mistakes
Every parent wants to get parenting right and make the best decisions for their child. You will inevitably make mistakes. The good news is that making mistakes is an excellent tool for learning and doing things differently in the future. Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake or do something that does not get you the desired outcome. Make a mental note of what didn’t work and move forward.
You will find that one tool for finding solutions as a parent is trial and error. You will try one thing, and when it doesn’t work, you will try something else. Part of this process requires trying things that will not work and making mistakes. You will have many opportunities to find solutions and get things right. There is not one decision or action that will permanently affect your child. Parenting is a marathon, and you will make mistakes along the way. In the process of doing that, you will also do many things right.
8. Find Your Own Parenting Path
There are a lot of very strong opinions about how to be a parent. Your job is to find your way of doing things that work for your family. This may mean you do many things the same way all of your friends and family do, or it could mean you go against the grain and do things differently. In a national survey, 61% of moms reported being criticized for their parenting choices, most often by other family members. 42% of those moms said that, at times, criticism made them feel unsure about their parenting choices. If there were one right way to parent, there would be a manual, and everyone would use it.
You will hear a lot of unsolicited opinions and advice from friends and family. While this usually comes from good intentions, being criticized doesn’t feel good. Use the ideas and advice from others that work for your family and ignore the things that don’t. There will always be people who disagree with how you choose to parent. What works for someone else may not work for you and your child. If there were one right way to parent, we would all follow it. You have to find your own path.
9. Prioritize Yourself
Becoming a mother often involves putting your child’s needs above your own. While you will prioritize your child’s health, safety, and well-being, you must also take care of yourself. We have all heard the cliché sayings. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to put your oxygen mask on first. While this advice may be overused, it is true.
Being a mother is demanding in every way possible. The healthier you are emotionally and physically, the better you can show up and be there for your child. This means that you have to prioritize yourself. As a parent, this is much easier said than done. Self-care is a practice that looks different for everyone. It could be eating a healthy meal, catching up on the phone with a friend, taking a nap, enjoying a bubble bath, or having a night out. Start making self-care a habit now. You have more free time now than you will once your baby arrives. Building a self-care practice during pregnancy will make it easier to continue in your parenting journey.
10. Have an Open Mind About Therapy or Counseling
Ask any mother, and she will tell you that parenting is the hardest (and most rewarding!) job ever. As you navigate motherhood, I encourage you to have an open mind about seeing a therapist or going to counseling. This is especially important in the weeks and months after you have your baby. When you combine drastic drops in hormone levels with a lack of sleep, your body working to recover from labor and birth, and the stress of caring for a newborn, you have the perfect storm to challenge your mental health.
Many new moms will experience what is often referred to as “baby blues” after their baby arrives. This generally includes mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Some other signs are sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, reduced concentration, and a reduced appetite. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after birth and last about two weeks. The good news is that it generally disappears pretty quickly on its own.
Postpartum depression lasts longer than the baby blues and can be more serious. If you struggle with signs of depression, you need not be embarrassed or ashamed and know you are not alone. The sooner you seek help, the better. Please speak to your doctor or midwife about how you feel and seek professional assistance if you are struggling mentally or emotionally.
Becoming a mother is a significant life transition. Even if you avoid the baby blues or postpartum depression, there is still value in therapy or counseling. A therapist can provide a safe and non-judgmental space to process your emotions and support you as you transition into motherhood. Therapy is an invaluable tool for your mental health.
You Got This
Motherhood is amazing and rewarding but also challenging at times. No matter how much you read or how many podcasts you listen to, there will still be surprises, and you will make mistakes. You will also experience some of the greatest joys and an epic adventure. I wish you the very best on your journey of being a mom. You will be great, and you got this.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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