Friday, May 31, 2013

Social Support Is Essential for First-Time Mothers

Most first-time mothers say that isolation is one of the big challenges of caring for a newborn. It is easy to stay home and become isolated as it can feel quite challenging to get out with a baby. (Some mothers feel embarrassed when a baby is crying in public and can't wait to go back home). Feeding, changing, bathing and settling the baby are all new tasks a first-time mother needs to learn to perform. Not having somebody around at home a mother may not be sure if she is doing things the right way when caring for the baby. Also a new mother needs to find time to take care of her own needs. Problems may arise if a mother is isolated and does not get social support. For example, a mother may develop a postpartum depression and it may go unnoticed, posing a risk to herself and her baby. Or a baby may not reach important developmental milestones for some reason; the a baby's condition may get worse as time passes without anybody around to point it out and recommend appropriate professional intervention. Family, friends and professionals, like doctors and nurses, midwives, lactation specialists, trained coaches and support groups should be there for the mother from the day the baby is born and especially throughout the baby's first year (and even earlier, during pregnancy).

Family and friends can give emotional and hands-on support to the first-time mother. Immediate family and some friends can be there for the mother 24/7, especially during the first several weeks after delivery of the baby. A woman's mother or sister can help her feed and change a baby, especially if a mother decides to go to work full or part-time shortly after delivery. A husband/partner can go shopping for groceries and diapers. A friend can take the baby for a stroll in the neighborhood if the mother needs a break to do something. Each family tries to figure out what works for their baby and themselves. Family and friends can remind the mother to make appointments with a pediatrician for regular checkups.

Specialists, like pediatricians and nurses, midwives, lactation specialists and trained coaches provide mostly informational support. They assess the baby's health and recommend a treatment if the baby needs it. Some states, like New Mexico have programs like the First Born program where a trained coach pays home visits. One First Born coach has said, "The voluntary program offers all first-time families of newborns (including adopting parents) the opportunity for free home visits by a trained coach who provides them with information, support and encouragement as they deal with the joys and challenges of parenthood." This is a great program for first-time mothers who live far from their families and have no friends around.

It is essential for the mother to find support groups where women support each other to clarify challenging areas in parenting and in life in general. It is quite an accomplishment to get to the first meeting and is not to be underestimated. The group is a safe place to practice feeding and the handling of crying in public. Mothers in groups like La Leche League share helpful tips and information between each other, answer questions and clarify doubts. It is important for the mother to spend some time outside the home in a group with other mothers who can understand and support her.

Without the social support it would be very difficult for the mother to take care of her baby and herself. Being isolated, she would struggle and have problems. Family, friends, professionals and support groups form a social support circle that helps a first-time mother so she can enjoy and delight in her new baby.

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