• Tena Davies, Clinical Psychologist, Certified Schema Therapist

Reflections on motherhood

With Mother's Day coming up, I've been thinking about the experience of motherhood, of the joys and the challenges that it brings and of the brave face that many put on who are finding it difficult. 

Feeling negative and distressing emotions as a mother is common place. I think motherhood is challenging due to a range of factors. Firstly, I believe it's the greatest adjustment a woman can make because it represents a loss (in part) of one's former self and an ever evolving set of responsibilities as they child grows up. Often mother's go from having mastery at work to questioning their competence and judgment in their role as mothers. This is amplified by the desire to want to be the best mother possible. A second factor is the relentless nature of the job that requires mother's to put their own needs and wants aside to care for their children. This often means less than ideal health behaviours such as poorer eating patterns, interrupted sleep, less frequent exercise and limited rest, which in turn negatively impacts mental health. Finally, motherhood often comes with juggling many pressures-trying to keep up with old friends, make new ones, lose the baby weight, progress one's career, be a good partner, and above all be a good mum!

For some, the many demands of motherhood can bring on post natal depression and anxiety. This may manifest in a sense of vulnerability and isolation. Many experiencing this put on a brave face because they may fear judgement for others. Fortunately, help is available and there are steps you can take to keep well. 

How to keep well as a mum

Build your team Whether you have stacks of support or none at all use your resources to get as much support as you can.  This can include reaching people who will help with your child such as a babysitter, friend or relative or using a childcare service. It can also include seeking advice from your maternal health nurse, Dr or a Psychologist or even just developing a rapport with those in your community. Some mums find  that investing time in themselves helps them to cope.

Get out of the house Go out even if you don't-especially if- you don't feel like it. It can be easy to stay home when you feel off but this can lead to increased feelings of isolation and depression. Fresh air and a bit of social contact can do wonders for one's mood. 

Invest in relationships  Many mum's report feeling isolated when they first become mothers. With pre-baby friends at work and the daunting prospect of making new mum friends it's not surprising that women can feel lonely. 

The holy grail of social support is hitting the jackpot with your mother's group. However, not every mother's group is a hit. If you're struggling to meet new mum's try joining a baby class or a mother and baby class such mum and Bub yoga. Mum friends can really nourish your soul because they may be going through similar challenges, which helps to normalise them. 

Look after yourself Self care is one of the things that often gets sacrificed to meet the demands of caring for a baby. However, looking after yourself will give you more energy and mental headspace to care for your beautiful little one(s). 

The health behaviours that matter most in terms of mental health are diet, exercise, and sleep (if you can can it!). 

Live for the special moments  While there may be moments of frustration and loneliness that accompany motherhood there are always little moments of magic like have a cuddle, exchanging a smile and celebrating your child's milestones. 

Make gratitude a habit Motherhood can be a competitive sport filled with comparisons but it pays to stop and reflect on everything you do have instead of what is lacking. This could include  reflecting on what you are grateful for. Everything from having a safe home to enjoying meaningful relationships to appreciating nature (the beautiful changing colours of autumn leaves) is worth reflecting on. Studies show that those who make reflecting on gratitude a daily habit.

Maintain your relationship with your partner The concept of date night might be laughable with a young baby. However, it's worth putting aside at least an hour a week to connect with your partner. If you can't leave your house get take away and eat at the table. 

Know when it's time to seek help If you don't feel like yourself, have lost your zest for life and things feel like too much of an effort it might be time to talk to Psychologist and in doing so work out new skills to deal with difficult situations. This questionnaire can help you determine if your level of distress warrants doing something about it.  Practice relaxation  Relaxation and mindfulness can help your mind go on a much needed holiday and teaches you the skills to be present. I find a simple way to do this is by downloading a mindfulness app such as the Smiling Mind (free) or Headspace,

You can also practice mindfulness (the skill of observing the present moment) in everyday activities such mindfully applying hand cream or hand wash. This involves noticing the colours, sounds, smells, textures and sensations involved in these activities. The same principles would apply to walking in park, cooking, and drinking a coffee. 

As a Psychologist, I often work with mum's who wish to improve their well being. I find this work rewarding because mother's tend to be very motivated to change. I am always touched that mum's come to see with the ultimate goal of working through their issues so they can be even better mothers. Now that's love! If you would like to more about postnatal depression please visit PANDA.

Article written by Tena Davies, Psychologist. The aim of this article is to give you ideas on well being. Please note this article is not intended to replace therapy.

Tena Davies is Clinical Psychologist and Certified Individual Schema Therapist (Standard). She is based in Fitzroy North, Victoria Australia. See www.tenadavies.com for more details.

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