Motherhood: Overcoming the Top 5 Challenges Faced by New Moms

Challenges First Time Moms Face

‘Motherhood is a joy. न मातुः परदैवतम ् (There is no God bigger than Mother). Raising a family is the core purpose of a woman's existence’.

Most young girls in our country go through childhood and adolescence with these words reverberating in the echo chambers of all important circles of influence. It should therefore come as no surprise then that the potent combination of genetic maternal instinct and constant societal conditioning results in most girls looking forward to that day when they will hold their own little child in their hands.

But when the time comes, first time mothers and mothers-to-be, very quickly realize that the many joys of motherhood also come with many challenges. Many new mothers soon find themselves grappling with these unknowns , some of which are not yet acknowledged or understood by Indian society.

Some of the biggest challenges that first time mothers in out country face, both during their pregnancy and after childbirth are:

Anxiety or Depression during Pregnancy:

A new mother’s body undergoes a multitude of changes to prepare for the miracle of childbirth. She experiences hitherto unknown feelings and urges. While struggling to understand the strange thing happening to her, she is assaulted by well-meaning advice from all corners - some that conflict with common sense and at times even with her doctor's advice. She has to deal with the pressure of saying ‘No’ and then with the repercussions. Some may experience PTSD owing to past miscarriages. Most women deal with these challenges with native intelligence and just raw gumption. Some are fortunate to have supportive family members. Lack of awareness on Perinatal Mental Health problems, which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child and affects up to 27% of new and expectant mothers, prevents women and family members from seeking care and adequate treatment. If emergency response is not given to the mental health issues , they can have significant and long-lasting effects on the woman, the child and the family.

Loneliness and Poor Self-Worth:

Across the cultures in India, becoming a mother is an ‘achievement’, a recognised status and an identity in the society. A new mother’s life centers around her little child. In a nuclear family, the woman is alone with her infant all day, while her husband is out at work. In a joint family, she may have some family members around, but many new mothers will still miss her friends, colleagues and the highs and lows of going out into the world to do her own thing. Nursing an infant is an around the clock task and new mothers often find themselves exhausted all the time. As a consequence, they are subject to social isolation as they have no time for interactions with friends. While social networks were meant to bring the world closer, a new mother might find herself more isolated when she finds her friends and colleagues living the good ‘normal’ life on her social feeds. She will often find herself missing her independence and her freedom.

Also, some new mothers may dislike looking into the mirror. In India, there are many misconceptions about appropriate diet during pregnancy and post childbirth. New mothers are often fed in a manner that is most unhealthy. Copious volumes of ‘ghee’ and other goodies are fed to the mother with the sole intention that the child reaps the resulting benefits. It is another matter that the young child benefits very little from such excesses. The poor mother, however, puts on an unhealthy amount of weight. While this can sometimes lead to physical wellness issues, in many cases it leads to poor self worth . The mother often cannot recognise who she sees in the mirror and craves for the body she had before pregnancy.

Relationships Change:

A young child requires constant attention. Motherhood is long, hard and demanding. The little one becomes the center of a mother’s universe. It is not uncommon for partners to feel ignored and in a heavily patriarchal set-up, even insulted. In joint families, household members may sometimes become competitors, fighting the new mother for the little child's attention. She may struggle with unfair expectations. She may not be able to do household chores in a way that meets the expectations of her family. The new mother may find herself constantly juggling the attention her child needs with attention-seeking behavior, complaints and jibes by other family members.

Tiredness and Lack of Sleep:

The short-term effects of childbirth on parental sleep is well known. During the first 3-6 months, the new mothers are often sleep deprived . New mothers are constantly occupied with frequent feedings, diaper changes and walking the halls with a fussy baby. This can make sleeping soundly at night nearly impossible. And when the child sleeps, it's time to do household chores and attend to other members of the family. The situation can get aggravated, if the new mother does not have an understanding and supportive partner or family-members who are willing to share the burden. Many studies have shown that with sleep deprivation, the body is more likely to produce the stress-response hormone cortisol, impairing the ability to think clearly and other psychological symptoms such as irritability , emotional lability, and depression.

Struggling with Breastfeeding:

Nursing may come naturally and instinctively to some mothers but for others it may take a lot of work and practice. There may be issues with getting a deep latch or struggle with the intensity of their baby’s needs. A few may also struggle with a sick baby, birth complications or a baby who isn’t latching at all while others may struggle with family pressures to allow others to feed. Advice from family members and society in general will come from all corners and everyone seems to be an expert. The internet can become a constant echo chamber of doubt. Breastfeeding can also hurt physically, with chapped nipples and sore breasts. Some mothers may find themselves constantly self-doubting if they have enough milk to feed the child. Others may constantly worry if the child is drinking enough to keep her/him healthy.

Impact & How to Overcome them:

The life of a new mother should ideally be one filled with joy, laughter and love while she cares for the apple of her eye, supported by a caring partner and loving family. But for the reasons mentioned above, many new mothers may also experience depression, anxiety and PTSD . Unfortunately, most women are unaware of their emotional state of mind. Many suffer pangs of guilt. In most cases, there are a number of social determinants including socioeconomic status , race/ethnicity and a lack of social support influence a woman’s risk of experiencing perinatal mental health issues and inadequate screening and referral systems often result in these issues going undiagnosed and untreated. There is little awareness that these should be dealt with the same sense of quiet and efficient purpose as physiological health issues. The human brain is as much a part of the human body as a heart, kidney or liver are. The feelings experienced are as real as those of physical pain. There should be no stigma. Acknowledging and addressing such mental health issues by consulting a mental health practitioner can provide care and treatment for women with complex mental health needs and support the developing relationship between parent and baby and improve the quality of life of a new mother. Experts will help women with mental health needs advice for planning a pregnancy. Addressing mental health issues can make first-time motherhood the beautiful experience that it should ideally be.

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