Back in the day, folks grew up in a “village”. As a young child people regularly saw pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Their mother may have had children when they were old enough to remember. Seeing pregnant bellies was a normal part of daily life. Labor was a community event for women. Young girls probably participated in keeping birth-givers company early in labor. When older, many probably had the opportunity to stay with a close friend or relative throughout active labor, and maybe even witnessed the birth of a baby.
Taking care of babies was also a shared responsibility. So it was easy to get experience carrying and soothing babies, recognizing babies’ hunger cues and signs of satisfaction. Everyone could get lots of hands on experience with babies!
When people finally started their own family, the village was there for them. The process was familiar to the new parents, and they were rarely alone. Maybe not even when they wanted to be. Folks were familiar with labor, birth, caretaking and breastfeeding. When they had questions, were tired, or felt overwhelmed, help was readily available. No phone or Google search necessary. Another critical benefit of the village, was that new parents didn’t carry the entire responsibility of a baby’s survival on their shoulders alone.
Humans evolved and thrived in a cultural structure of “Shared Care”!!!
According to Dr. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Professor Emerita of Anthropology at University of California-Davis, that trait, the fact that humans SHARE the CARE of newborns and children, is one of the things that made us HUMAN! Read her wonderful book Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding to learn more.
Parenting with the support of family is normal for humans.
We aren’t meant to be doing it alone.
If you want to stress someone out, put them in charge of the life of a helpless human baby, don’t let them sleep nearly enough, and tell them to isolate from others. Then, when a visitor does come around, create an expectation that they answer the door with a smile.
The village; the group care model we evolved in, had built in safe guards. Other family members to help out by making food, taking turns holding the baby, and showing parents how it’s done.
No wonder parents are stressed.
And we know in our bones that this system is failing us. We are overwhelmed and scared that we might mess up and irrevocably harm our baby. That’s why we need our friends and family step up. They can bring food, come to visit, clean the house and hold the baby when we want to take a shower or use the bathroom. We need to have communities that organize a food train to deliver food for weeks to new parents. We need grandparents to be able to come visit and stay for weeks to help out (7).
But Covid-19 has taken even these supports away from new parents. Fear of infecting elderly parents keeps them from visiting and helping out. Social distancing is keeping our friends from coming to help. New parents are caring for babies more alone than ever before!
First: Be kind to yourself. Having a new baby has ALWAYS been hard. It is harder in our western culture where new parents are isolated. It is extraordinarily hard today during this pandemic. So lower your expectations of yourself. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to hold your baby; skin to skin is best as it helps with bonding, lowers the risk of PMAD (8), and helps you get in tune with your baby’s needs. And it feels good! Feed the baby and feed yourself. And try to get some sleep in between. Partners, focus on supporting the breastfeeding parent by feeding them and keeping them company. Also hold the baby (skin to skin is best for you for the same reasons).
Second: Enlist whatever help you can get. Let family and friends bring food. If it’s safe, let them come keep you company, do random chores around the house, and spell you by holding the baby while you sleep. Seek out people who have experience with babies and keep them close, an easy phone call away, or better yet, near enough to talk to. During this time of physical distancing, find your online community (see some options listed below.) Reach out to your doula, hire a postpartum doula, call the lactation support at the hospital where you had your baby, or elsewhere. Their support may look different than usual right now, but they are still offering services.
Finally: Connect with your baby! The best way to become an expert on your baby is to spend lots of time holding, massaging and talking to your baby. Being close to your baby increases your parenting hormone levels (this is true for BOTH parents). Connecting with your baby helps you get to know him or her, so you learn their cues for hunger, sleepiness or discomfort. Holding them often ensures you are there when they are in the mood to play and interact, which is crazy fun and rewarding! This bonds you to your baby and increases your confidence, in turn, making you the expert on YOUR baby. It’s a great tool to reduce the stress of worrying if you’re doing this right.
Remember, parenting has never been a solo job before. You are struggling because this is hard and today’s reality has made it harder than usual. So cut yourself some slack, and re-imagine and rebuild the “village” you need.
- Strong Parent Virtual Group meets every other Thursday at 10am, with BirthWise in Birmingham’s Anjanette and Dalia
- Bloom Alabama Doula Collective holds periodic virtual postpartum meetings
- Huntsville area families can connect at Mama Circle Support Group online
- Brookwood Mother’s breastfeeding support groups: Currently (as of 7/22) they have one meeting place, on Thursdays from 10am to 3pm at Redstone Church: 600 Montgomery Highway in Vestavia 35216. Call 205-877-1978 for updates. The regular (non Covid) schedule is here.
Here’s a video showing how to do facial massage with your baby.
- Postpartum Support International Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders FACT SHEET link here
- Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and Low Socioeconomic Status link here
- National Perinatal Association (NPA) Position Statement 2018 on Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders link here
- Davenport MH, Meyer S, Meah VL, Strynadka MC and Khurana R (2020) Moms Are Not OK: COVID-19 and Maternal Mental Health. Front. Glob. Womens Health 1:1. doi: 10.3389/fgwh.2020.00001 link here
- Motherhood, Shame and Society, An interview with Brené Brown, Ph.D., author of "Women & Shame" Interview and introduction by Judith Stadtman Tucker link here
- Mothers and Autism: The Evolution of a Discourse of Blame, Mitzi M. Waltz, PhD, from the AMA Journal of Ethics, link here
- The help of grandmothers is another key behavior unique to humans, one that is associated with the success of the grandmother’s gene pool and possibly enabled our species to evolve and dominate as it has. See Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.
- Effect of Mother/Infant Skin‐to‐Skin Contact on Postpartum Depressive Symptoms and Maternal Physiological Stress, Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, Volume 41, Issue 3, pages 369-382, 26 APR 2012 DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2012.01350.x link here