3 Sanity-Saving Tips for the New-Mother Mind

Mom, feel like you’re losing your mind? Apparently, you are!

The New York Times (1) last month reported on a revolutionary study affirming for the first time, that pregnancy actually changes the physical structure of the brain and that these changes last well into the postpartum period. The study revealed that portions of the brain, gray matter, actually reduce during pregnancy. This research corroborates what most new moms already know from experience. Becoming a mother is wholly transformative, yielding not only the birth of a new life, but also the emergence of a new maternal soul. Of course the brain is dramatically changed! This month, Mother Matters highlights 3 researched-based tips for helping to preserve the mama-mind when motherhood feels chaotic, or when a moment’s peace is needed.

Take Time to Write a Line:

The “one-line journal” can provide a quick outlet for releasing strong emotion when there is neither the time nor the energy for more. Even a brief moment to express oneself quickly can be therapeutic by releasing emotion out of the body and on to the page(2), according to social worker and expressive arts therapist Kaeli Macdonald who provides support to pre and postnatal clients in Canada. Reserve a legal pad exclusively for this purpose, or simply take a piece or notebook paper or whatever is on hand and convenient. Grab a marker or a crayon and fill up a line (or two.) Scribble, draw an image, letters, words, a pattern—anything that comes out. This should be a quick burst of creativity, rather than one that is carefully executed.

Take a Moment to be Mindful:

In the early days of mothering, the 24 hour routine of feeding, diaper-changing and sleeping can become so monotonous that time can begin to blur. Taking time to actually be present in a moment, any moment, can present a much-needed opportunity for self-reflection and restoration. One way to do this is through meditation. Cassandra Vieten, PhD has researched and written extensively on the subjects of motherhood and mindfulness-based meditation. Her book, Mindful Motherhood includes a variety of exercises for new and expectant moms. Dr. Vieten offers wonderful meditations including the following, which can be accessed for free here. This exercise (which may be performed with or without baby) is a reminder that breathing is always happening in the present and that learning to place focus on the breath is a way of bringing the whole of oneself into the moment(3). Doing so can be both soothing and empowering.

Make a Call; Make a Few:

Thinking of making a playdate for baby? How about making one for yourself. Take the time to call or Skype a good friend, close family member or both. Increased social support is not only a significant mitigating factor for postpartum depression, but according to a study in the journal Social Science Research, the variety of supportive people in a new mom’s social network is also important(4). Different people offer different kinds of help—concrete or “hands-on,” emotional, etc. New moms deserve as much as they can get, from as many people as possible.

Sources:

1. Pam Belluck, “Pregnancy Changes the Brain in Ways That May Help Mothering,” The New York Times, December 19, 2016 available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/health/pregnancy-brain-change.html

2. Kaeli Macdonald, Skype interview with the author, February 15, 2016.

3. Vieten, C. Mindful Awareness of Breathing Meditation [Audio Recording]. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/ions-assets/library/audio/MindfulAwarenessOfBreathingMeditation.mp3

4. Reid, K. M., & Taylor, M. G. (2015). Social support, stress, and maternal postpartum depression: A comparison of supportive relationships. Social Science Research, 54246-262. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.08.009