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New mom? Don't be afraid to ask for help

By The Orange County Register

December 1, 2015

During my pregnancy, “Congratulations” was nearly always followed by, “Get ready.”

Sometimes a mom offered this wisdom as if she truly wanted me to emotionally prepare for the joy that becoming a mom would bring, which I later learned is impossible to prepare for.

Most of the time, the advice felt more like a warning from those who have been in the trenches of sleepless nights, spit-up and separation anxiety.

Looking back, I know there is no way to “get ready” for these challenges, but there are ways to keep from completely losing your mind.

There will be sleep deprivation, constant worry and stress, and Dr. Jennifer Birkhauser, a pediatrician at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, says moms shouldn’t hesitate to call for backup.

“Ask for help, and accept it when offered,” Birkhauser said. “Whether it be dad, parents, in-laws, other family, whoever – let them bring you food, help with cleaning and help take care of any other kids that you may have.”

Friends and well-deserved breaks are also important tools, Birkhauser added.

“Other moms may be an invaluable source of advice and reassurance or, at the very least, an understanding ear,” she said. “If you are truly feeling overwhelmed, it is OK to leave the baby in a safe place, such as a crib or bassinet, and go outside for a breath of fresh air for a couple of minutes.”

Often, the biggest support is the person sharing the bed with you. Whitney Kumar, a Fullerton mom of a 3-year-old boy, says tag-teaming baby duties with her partner kept her stress levels low.

“Being kind to your partner is really important,” she said. “When you have a newborn, you are so exhausted, frustrated and irritable that it’s really easy to take it out on your partner. You have to remember that and be very conscious of it because your spouse is your biggest asset.”

Meredith Hansen, a relationship and family psychotherapist in Newport Beach, emphasized the importance of making your relationship a priority. “It’s definitely easy to get caught up in taking care of baby’s needs and to neglect your relationship, but remember that your marriage is the foundation for your family,” Hansen said. “When you tend to your marriage, you not only provide a safe, stable environment for your children, but you teach them about love early on.”

Caring for your personal health is just as important as maintaining strong relationships and allowing yourself some well-deserved breaks, both doctors add.

Sleep deprivation and stress have a way of making us skip meals and stay sedentary – the antitheses of combating fatigue, Birkhauser says.

“The last thing you may feel like doing after having a baby is exercising, but just walking around the block with your baby in a stroller counts as exercise,” she said. “Making sure your diet is balanced and has enough calories, especially if you are nursing, is vital.”

For some moms, there will be times when trying all these things won’t seem to be enough. In this case, expand your network, Hansen says.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help of any kind,” she said. “Whether that means meeting with a lactation consultant for help with breastfeeding issues, a sleep expert for help with regulating baby’s sleep, or a psychologist to help strengthen your marriage.

“Professionals are there to help, and their tips and support can make a big difference in getting you through the many unknowns of being new parents.”

So when you have spit-up in your hair and are on Day 3 of dirty yoga pants, remember to take a deep breath, Mama.

Turns out, your mind has a way of making those tough moments fade, and things like first smiles and bedtime cuddles really shine.

“A new baby is a rough but rewarding ride,” Birkhauser said. “Things will get better, and you’ll probably forget how stressful the newborn period can be.”