Giving birth is the number one rite of passage in a woman’s life. It’s such a transforming event that even the most prepared woman will experience an incredible change from the way she was before having her first child.
Of course, pregnancy and birth produce many physical changes in a woman’s body. The deepest changes postpartum women face, however, are at the emotional level.
Giving birth and going through the postpartum period should be joyous and empowering for new mothers. A woman’s self-confidence should improve after giving birth. Her own health, relationship satisfaction, and self-esteem levels should be on the rise after having a baby. However, we all know this isn’t the case for many new mothers.
Let’s have a look at the reasons why maternal self-esteem suffers a big drop, especially during the first three years after giving birth.
What problems do women face after giving birth?
Many women struggle to find the right balance between what their real needs are and what’s expected of them. Many years of patriarchy have placed women in a very difficult position as most women have been raised to place others’ needs before their own.
From a perspective of social psychology, Maslow explained very well how the fulfillment of our different needs works to achieve self-realization. Our physiological needs are at the base of the pyramid structure. That means they come first.
When a woman has a new baby, what’s imperative from a biological perspective is a complete dedication to fulfilling her baby’s needs.
This is purely physiological. The baby needs his mother to meet all his needs, starting from the bottom and going up in the pyramid as the baby grows. This dependence is so great that nature has made ‘caring for her new baby’ a number one priority for a mother. It has made it a physiological need.
A woman needs to attend to her baby’s demands. For example, her breasts fill up with milk when the baby cries, or even before. When a baby is about to wake up many women say they can feel their breasts filling up and the baby wakes up, ready to feed, a few minutes later. When a baby cries, a new mother will feel in her body that she needs to attend to her baby.
The mother will even postpone her own physiological needs, such as eating, drinking, going to the toilet and sleeping, to meet her baby’s needs first.
Sometimes a woman doesn’t have the necessary support to care for her baby in that way. Perhaps she doesn’t have a partner, or he’s absent. Maybe she’s overworked and has heavy responsibilities, such as other children, household chores, or unwelcome visitors, and no one takes over the duties she had before the arrival of the new baby.
If this is the case, she’s really going to struggle to meet even the first level of needs. If the needs at the base of the pyramid are not met, the ones above certainly won’t be.
A new mother needs a good support system so that she can dedicate most of her time to her baby’s needs and her own self-care.
What should you not do after having a baby?
Many women, especially first-time mothers, think that being a good mother and a good partner means caring for their baby while taking on board many other responsibilities at the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Laura Gutman suggests in her best-selling book Maternity: coming face to face with your own shadow.
The postpartum period is a time when women need to dive into a vital process involving the correct bonding, attachment and development of the baby’s emotional brain structure. A baby cannot develop into an emotionally stable adult if his mother’s mental health is suffering. This is especially important during, at least, the first three years of the baby’s life.
Women need to delegate most of the responsibilities they had before their baby’s arrival to other adults so they can dedicate themselves to the care and nurturing of their babies.
Make sure you have a support system in place, and that the people around you are on board with this idea. It’s very important the adults supporting you understand they’re expected to help with your other responsibilities so you can care for your baby.
Sometimes, if this is not discussed beforehand, others might think their supportive role is to take care of your baby while you deal with everything else.
Listen to yourself and your own needs and make them a priority. New mothers and babies don’t like too many disturbances and the presence of too many others. Limit the number of visitors and feel confident about letting them know they must leave if that’s what you or your baby need. This is the time to mother your baby, not to be socially correct. If your visitors love you, they’ll understand; if they don’t, then you have even more reason to make the encounter a short one.
Share the article 10 Tips For Visiting A New Baby-And Being Asked Back! with your friends and family; it has proved to be a terrific idea.
Hiring the services of a postpartum doula is a very good resource for most mothers, especially for the first few weeks while they recover from birth and adapt to their new routine.
You can read more in 8 Reasons Why You Should Hire A Postnatal Or Postpartum Doula and What Should You Not Do After Giving Birth?
Low self-esteem after having a baby
In this study, researchers found women’s experiences with household roles and social support during the first year after birth were very different from what they really needed. As a result, their self-esteem declined.
The biggest problem is that society expects new moms to keep taking on board these traditional gender-based roles. This has a huge impact on postpartum women’s self-esteem as they simply cannot comply with these expectations.
Following the inability to care properly for themselves and their babies, their houses, partners, and other children comes a significant important self-esteem dip, which can lead to unhappiness, poor relationship satisfaction, a depressed mood, and, ultimately, to postpartum depression.
If you feel you can’t cope with your postpartum situation don’t delay asking for help. Contact your healthcare professional, who will help you find the right solution. If a healthcare provider doesn’t help you, or dismisses you, make sure you keep looking until you get the appropriate support. Don’t forget that not all professionals are good at their jobs and their own prejudices might interfere with their professional advice.
These articles might be helpful:
- Postpartum Depression Symptoms – 9 Signs You Have PPD
- Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale: Take The Test.
Self-image after pregnancy
Let’s be honest. It’s absolutely true our bodies don’t look their best after having a baby. They have gained extra weight to meet our baby’s needs and everything has stretched during 9 months pregnancy. Add the sleep-deprived look on our faces and the lack of time even to brush our hair and yes, the reflection in the mirror isn’t very rewarding.
It’s important women understand that these physical changes are necessary and that recovering their body image will take a bit of time. The changes in our bodies have been very gradual during pregnancy and although our birthing bodies will recover, this will also be a gradual, steady change.
The body still needs to store fat to make sure it produces enough milk to nurture a growing baby. Even if you’ve decided to formula feed, your postpartum body doesn’t know that. The uterus also needs time to heal and go back to its pre-pregnancy state.
We hardly ever see images of real postpartum women. The vast majority of the pictures available are from celebrities and models who make a living from their bodies. Remember, they represent just a tiny percentage of new mothers and are not at all representative of the healthy postpartum body.
Mothers with low self-esteem
Becoming a mother today is full of contradictions. Although it should be one of the most joyous periods of our lives, research is clear and consistent about self-esteem decay in most mothers during the postpartum period and up to three years after the birth of each of their babies.
The reasons for this postnatal self-esteem decline are mainly physical changes to their bodies, hormonal changes, worrying about their baby’s development and future, and a big change in their relationship satisfaction with their partners.
It seems clear that the expectations modern society places on mothers cause a lot of damage to their self-esteem. Many women experience a large discrepancy between what’s expected from them as mothers and the resources available to meet those expectations, which in many cases simply aren’t there.
Because this is generally the case, many women feel forced to pretend the can meet those expectations. They develop a public facade so everyone thinks they are ‘super mothers’. This falseness is praised so they keep on doing it and other mothers copy them and pretend, just as others do.
The result is a vicious cycle that benefits no one and makes each woman show a very different person from the one she really is. As a consequence of this unnatural behavior, women’s self-esteem plummets.
Do women’s brains change after giving birth?
Yes, they do. Prior to becoming a mother, a woman’s brain is set for survival and growth, with the best possible physical health for when the time to reproduce arrives. Once a woman gives birth, this survival instinct shifts towards the survival of her baby to the point of disregarding her own basic needs in order to prioritize her baby’s.
During pregnancy, there is a cellular exchange between the mother and the baby. These cells will travel to the mother’s brain and produce life-lasting changes to make sure her love and support for her child will be there to improve and promote the healthy development of the next generation.
How to get your mojo back after having a baby
You will know when you’re ready to start living your own life and spending time separated from your child.
During the first few months, or even the first few years, you might feel you don’t want to do anything that means separation from your little one – and that’s all right. Each woman will know when it’s the right time for her.
Adapting to this new situation is very important, not only for babies but also for their mothers.
If your friends don’t have children it might be difficult to follow their lifestyle – and that’s all right, too. You don’t have to. You both will adapt to the situation and find common ground to spend time together.
If your priorities have changed, make sure you let them know. You might prefer to spend time with them talking in a quiet environment than partying in a disco until the early hours of the morning. Some things you enjoyed doing before might not be what you prefer to do now.
Without leaving your friends behind, look for mother and baby groups where you can develop fulfilling friendships with others who are experiencing a similar life stage.
Many women welcome going back to work; many others might want to be full-time mums. Others might look for a complete career change or find a job that is more flexible to suit their current needs.
The transformation involved in becoming a mother develops creativity in many women and some of them embark on completely new professional roles.
I suggest you welcome this creative period in your life. Be sure to listen to yourself and, if it’s feasible, follow your instincts.