by Shannon K. Valenzuela, PhD, LCCE
This week, let’s discuss the tendency of mothers of many to be “supermoms” in the fourth trimester. Supermom takes on all of her former responsibilities plus the demands of caring for a newborn and her own postpartum needs without asking for (or accepting) help. This tendency to do too much too soon can wear her out physically, mentally, and emotionally and can thus slow down her recovery. It’s important, therefore, to help the mother of many avoid the temptation to be supermom as much as possible.
In order to do this, we first have to remind ourselves of the fundamental goal of the initial postpartum period: nourishing the mother so that she can, in turn, nourish her baby. Helping the mother of many to achieve this goal requires us to strip away many of the conventional assumptions surrounding the fourth trimester and focus on strategies that are realistic for her.
What is realistic for the mother of many? It’s fairly clear what is not realistic. To illustrate, Aviva Romm gives this care advice to new mothers in her book Natural Health after Birth:“At 2 weeks postpartum you can expect to feel well enough to be on your feet for an hour or so at a stretch, long enough to heat leftovers or prepare a simple meal, give a toddler a bath, wash a few dishes, or toss a load of laundry into the washer. But you should not do all of these things in one morning or evening by yourself. You still need help.”
This is unrealistic for the mother of many. While she may only feel well enough to be on her feet for an hour or so, chances are that she will do all of these things in one morning or evening and she will do it by herself. If this is the benchmark, then the mother of many will probably overdo it - every time. Why is it so easy for mothers of many to fall into “supermom syndrome”? There are many reasons, but one factor rises above the rest. I asked a forum of mothers of many to identify their biggest challenge in the fourth trimester, and the resounding consensus was this: dad returned to work a week or two after the baby’s birth, leaving mom home alone to care for all the kids. The impact that short paternity leave has on the mother of many cannot be overstated, and it’s important to consider this during the postpartum strategy session.
As you discuss the fourth trimester with the mother of many, tweak the typical script a bit. Set aside, at least at first, the conventional definitions of “overdoing it” and focus instead on helping her find ways to nourish herself as she manages her other responsibilities. Instead of giving her a list of “don’t”s, help her make a list of “do”s by considering these aspects of her situation: Support System
• Does she have family or friends nearby that are able and willing to help once dad goes back to work? If not, DO consider a postpartum doula.
• Will someone set up meals for the family? If not, DO try to make freezer meals ahead of time.Family Dynamics
• Does she have very young children (several under the age of five) in addition to the newborn?
• Is she homeschooling or do the older children attend school?
• Are the older children old enough to care for their younger siblings? If not, DO enlist childcare help from friends and family.Her History
• What were her pregnancy and birth like? Did she have health challenges during the prenatal period that warrant special care during the postpartum period?
• Has she struggled with postpartum issues in the past that might require her to take extra care of herself this time around?
• What does she feel she needs most in order to adjust smoothly to life with a new baby?
Reconciling her own needs with the demands of her vocation may be the most significant challenge that the mother of many faces during the postpartum time. Being positive and encouraging, and taking time to listen to her needs and the realities of her situation can go a long way to helping her avoid “supermom syndrome”!
K. Valenzuela is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, trained birth doula,
and freelance author. She currently
teaches baby care and childbirth preparation classes at Texas Health Resources
- Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. Her
Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released later this
year. You can find out more about her
current projects at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at
@skvalenzuela. She and her husband and
their six children live in Dallas, Texas.