Ask the Expert: Finding Balance With a New Baby

A stroll down the magazine aisle at the grocery store reveals a parade of celebrities who seem to fit the “super mom” mold. They give birth and within weeks are back at work, back in the limelight and back in that skimpy bikini. Behind that glossy façade, however, is an unreported list of physical trainers, plastic surgeons and nannies who help them maintain their do-it-all image.

There is a quiet tug of war going on in the lives of women today — the constant, and sometimes not-so-subtle, pull and pressure to be the involved mother, the dedicated employee, the community volunteer and the weekly worshipper. Family, work, community and church all want a piece of today’s moms, but the reality is that few mothers can meet all those demands all the time.

Finding some kind of balance in the frenetic pace of daily life is not easy. There are things to keep in mind and things that can be done to help relieve, if not eliminate, the strain.
Bringing a new baby home from the hospital is one of life’s treasures. Few things compare with the sweet experience of bonding with your tiny infant. But along with the gems can be some hidden surprises. While it may have been possible in your pre-baby world to do everything yourself — clean the house, wash the clothes, cook the meals and maintain your full-time job — now doing it all may not be so realistic.

Asking for Help
Learn to ask for help. It’s easier said than done, but it is important to be comfortable asking for help, and also accepting it. Family, friends and neighbors will volunteer, if you ask. This applies to both experienced moms and first-time moms. Be willing to accept the help you need.

“Shouldn’t they know I need help?” The answer is yes, but most people — even your own partner — need you to be specific when you ask for help. Don’t be afraid to tell your support person exactly what you need. “I need you to feed the baby every other hour,” or “Can you cook dinner on Wednesday?”

Setting Boundaries and Priorities
With the myriad demands mothers face, is is important to learn to set limits. You may be someone who likes to be punctual and counted on at work. Or, perhaps you are an active volunteer. You might think that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Take a deep breath. It’s OK to take time to be a mom and get adjusted. As a new mother, it is especially important to observe and learn about your new baby. Learn to let go of some of the things you were involved with before. Mothers can adopt the slogan: “Just say no!”

As a working mom, you may have set an expectation of being back on the job within a two-to-three-month period. However, you may discover you need more time to adjust before returning to work. Find out what options your employer offers and explore your rights. Does your employer offer extended leave or a flexible schedule? Can you take time off under FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)? Maybe your spouse or a family member can take time off to be a support. Until you ask, you may not know what alternatives are available.

Another important part of maintaining balance is setting priorities. Decide what is important and means the most to you. If family is your priority, that is where you should devote most of your time. Other things may have to be temporarily set aside.

Identifying and focusing on priorities can help create a sense of stability. Trying to do everything will almost certainly set you up for failure. Many moms fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m not doing anything right.” By prioritizing, you can identify the things you are doing well and have a greater sense of balance.

Establishing your own support network is a crucial strategy for staying grounded. Let friends know you are going to call them once a week to keep in touch. Spend time with people you enjoy and who truly care about you.
If you struggle to maintain balance or feel your anxiety building to an unhealthy level, seek professional support. A therapist can offer coping skills. Self-help books provide valuable ideas and insights. Online groups such as PSI (Post-partum Support International) offer valuable Web sites. There are many resources for new and experienced mothers who need additional help as they face the struggle to maintain a healthy balance in life.

Maintaining balance: 6 reminders for mothers

It’s OK to say “no.” Practice it a few times.
Take care of yourself. You’re not able to help your family, if you’re not taking care of yourself.
Ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. Don’t feel bad if you have to tell your partner exactly how you need him to help.
Set priorities. Identify what’s truly most important to you and stick to it.
Make sleep a priority. Lack of sleep creates its own set of problems. Get some sleep and you’ll see a big difference.
There is no perfect mom. Do the best you can and enjoy the journey.

Dr. Samantha Graves Suffren is a psychiatrist at Presbyterian Hospital with a special interest in caring for mothers with perinatal depression and anxiety. For more information, call 704-384-1246