Pregnancy and Postpartum

Drinking and Postpartum Depression

Your world feels chaotic and there’s no escape. There are endless hours between naps, feedings and the constant fatigue. There is no one around to talk to and you feel overwhelmed and frustrated all the time. Having one more drink feels awful, but it gives you that escape you’ve been craving. Sound familiar?

Whether you want to call it an addiction or not, you’re noticing that you’re drinking more than usual. What was initially meant as a treat at the end of the day is starting to become a coping strategy (and, unfortunately, this one comes with some consequences).

If this sounds like your life right now, I get that you’re really struggling. This post is not about judging you or telling what is right or wrong. Addictions is hard. Postpartum depression is hard. For those who are in these circumstances, I hope the following post provides you some clarity and empowerment.

What is drinking doing for you?

Attempts to Self-Soothe:

Life feels chaotic and things feel too difficult to manage. There needs to be an end. It’s not possible to stay hyper-alert forever. You can’t always be watching the baby sleep. It’s overwhelming to be so stressed out at every feed. Drinking helps to balance your window of tolerance. When you’ve become a ball of stress, your body craves a way to settle down. So, a part of you turns toward drinking to help you calm down and relax.

Alcohol is an effective depressant. It forces your body to slow down giving that reprieve you desperately crave. In this way, drinking is an attempt to self-soothe. It’s a coping mechanism for helping slow down, numb out, or block off whatever it is you don’t want to address. You can’t necessarily leave the baby. You don’t want to call it quits as a parent. Drinking provides that mental escape when physical escape is just not possible.

Gabor Mate quote on addiction. Addiction as a coping mechanism during postpartum months. Addressing trauma to address addiction.

Lack of Internal Trust

If you’ve experienced enough trauma, neglect, shame or hardships in your life, you are likely aware that your internal system feels messy. You’re aware that many days you feel overwhelmed by worries, humiliation, guilt, anger, or self-hate. These parts of you are harsh and relentless. However, in their own unique way, they are trying to protect you. For example, you may have a critical part that shames you in order to encourage change. There may be a perfectionist part that nags incessantly so that you do not make mistakes.

Lack of internal trust. Coping with alcohol instead of being with our feelings. Alcohol and postpartum depression

When our system is full of these protective parts, it’s an indicator that there is limited trust inside. Rather than believing you are capable of handling difficult situations, your protective parts take over. For example, when you feel tired of parenting, there may be a harsh part that steps in. It yells at you to be grateful and reminds you of how hard it was to conceive. Your system doesn’t trust you to sit with the distress of parenting. It would rather help you avoid those thoughts by filling you with shame and guilt instead. This is not necessarily a helpful or effective manner of handling things, but it’s been like this for years.

Working with these protective parts are challenging. No amount of reasoning or negotiating in our minds creates that desperately sought after sense of calm. Our guilt, anxieties, shame and internal critics are forever yelling in our minds. So, a part of us starts to drink. It helps to quiet down all of those loud protective layers inside.

Why is it so hard to give up?

You already know that drinking excessively has consequences. But, why is it so hard to give up? If you’ve ever moved towards sobriety or harm reduction, you know this is no small feat. So, let’s take a look at what gets in the way of recovery.

Physical Dependence

So much of the addiction process is physiological. When we drink, the reward centres of our brain become affected. Suddenly, our brain produces an abundance of dopamine (a chemical that makes us feel good and influences our sense of pleasure). Once we get introduced to this experience of high-level dopamine, we start to crave it. By using, our brain is providing us enough dopamine that things feel so much better, calmer, and happier.

When substances are taken away, we feel depleted and depressed. Our brain is not producing the amount of dopamine that we crave. The normal level of dopamine production no longer feels like enough. For many folks, they can work through the triggers and traumas of their addiction, but their brain struggles to find pleasure in normal activities. It’s hard to read a book, talk to a friend, or go for a walk when you continuously feel so flat and apathetic.

Working through Pain Points:

man drinking and postpartum depression. working through trauma and grief to recover from substance use.

When we use substances to cope with our reality, we have to consider what’s happening in our lives that makes us so desperate to escape? Drinking excessively to cope is not anyone’s first solution to fix a problem. Having a baby should not make us so overwhelmed that we’re needing a bottle of whisky every night. So what’s really going on?

When you are no longer drinking, you are left with pain points. Perhaps it is underlying trauma from childhood that keeps coming up. Being around a baby makes you remember all of your toxic and negative experiences as a child. Your pain points may come from unprocessed grief and anxiety. You feel like you ought to be happy with your newborn, but it’s been years of IVF struggles and multiple miscarriages. There’s no way you can let your guard down because what if one more bad thing happens? The part of you that drinks minimizes all of these pain points. Once the substances go, you suddenly have to face your traumas.

Working through pain points means looking at and processing the original trauma. If you continue to be triggered today by situations from the past, that urge to drink will keep coming up in order to protect you.

Russell Brand quote about addiction. Addiction as form of coping. Processing original trauma helps reduce drinking. Working through over-drinking during postpartum months.

Habits

Habit formation can leads us to automatically reach for a glass of wine once the baby goes down for a nap. At the end of the day, we crave those several beers to help feel calm. We don’t even think or question our urge to grab a cigarette or a joint when we start our day. When it comes to these automatic routines, there are ways to change these habits.

4 Tips to Help with Drinking and Postpartum Depression:

1) Address the pain points.

Drinking is not the problem. It’s a means to make the pain stop. Until your postpartum depression, trauma, grief, and other pain points are addressed, that drinking part will want to self-soothe through substances. Healing from these pain points can involve a variety of interventions, including: individual therapy, support from friends and family, psycho-education, group therapy (for those in Kitchener, Stork Secrets provide wonderful care for postpartum depression), or medication.

2) Explore options for self-soothing

For many, accessing the interventions listed above is not possible. If this is your circumstance, you need to find alternative ways to work through difficult emotions. This is where effective coping skills can help. You need quick and reliable ways to slow things down. My favourite recommendation is the DBT temperature change exercise.

3) Find connection

Our shame drives so much of our need to drink. We worry that others will judge us. We assume they’ll reject us or mock us if they knew how much we are struggling. If there are people like this in your life, I’m sorry. These are not the supports you need right now. Find a safe community to talk to about your struggles, such as neighbours, friends, family, partner, colleagues, or a community-based mental health group. Having others who accept you and love you, just as you are, plays a significant role in healing.

4) Get to know your cues and rewards

One of the best tips for changing our habits is understanding our cues and rewards. Pay attention to what triggers you. Are you most likely to use when the baby refuses to go down for a nap? Are you prone to having a bottle of wine starting at supper time? Pay attention to the time, the place, the people and circumstances. Next, notice the rewards that you get when you drink. Are you able to pass out? Can you suddenly tune out the crying and shrieking? Are you able to manage boredom or frustration? Does your anxiety reduce?

understanding cues and rewards for addiction. Changing our habits to help address addictions and postpartum depression.

When it comes to changing habits, we want to make sure that we intervene with a different habit for these cues AND still receive a similar reward. For example, once the baby has done screeching for an hour and finally falls asleep, you may experience an urge to drink. It’s the only way to release all of that pent up anxiety and tension inside of you. In this situation, the cue is the baby shrieking before nap time. The reward is releasing anxiety. We want to bring in an alternative habit that will lead to the same result. You may find that running on your treadmill for ten minutes releases some anxiety. Perhaps playing loud, angry music on your headphones provides you some relief. You could work with a foam roller and target those parts of your body that are carrying the most tension. Pairing these new activities shortly after the baby has gone down for a nap leads to shifting out of the original habit.

Final Thoughts

Addictions is not simple, and one blog post cannot address the complexities of this mental health struggle. If you are struggling with drinking and postpartum depression, please speak with a safe and trusted person or a therapist. This is not a matter of will power. You are worthy of effective support and help.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

7 Tips for Parents Going Back to Work

How are you feeling about going back to work? The past few months have been all about baby, and now you’re suddenly expected to balance work, childcare, and other needs. There’s no way this can go smoothly.

If you’re among the many, returning back to work after maternity leave (or paternity leave) can be a difficult transition. Here are seven tips that can help you along your emotional journey and set you and kiddo up for success.

#1: Change habits ahead of time

changing routines. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers therapy for trauma and perinatal mental health. Online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario

Unfortunately, your schedule will look different. You won’t have the same flexibility with your morning routine. Things you may have fobbed off (e.g. getting ready on time, wearing clothes that are not pyjama/sweats, putting baby in clothes) have to be reintroduced into your routine. Changing your habits can be challenging, and it’s best to give yourself some time with these transitions.

Take a look at your routine and consider what you can do to fine-tune your schedule before going back to work:

  • What is getting in the way for you to have a successful day?
    • Are you staying up late at night scrolling on your phone? Do you drink too much caffeine to fall asleep on time?
    • Once these problem areas are identified, create ways to make them harder to repeat. For example, put the coffee machine away after 11 AM, turn off the wifi after 10 PM. It may sound silly, but any barriers that get in the way will make these problem areas less desirable
    • e.g. If the cookie is right in front of you, you’re going to grab it. If you have to grab the kitchen stool and reach to the top shelf on your cabinet to get the same cookie, you may reconsider if it’s worth it.
  • Consider the habits you’d like to introduce into your schedule: Do you need to wake up earlier? Are you intending to pack your lunch the night before? Do you have a regular night out with your friends? How will you get your child to eat breakfast on time? This step may involve some creative problem solving. You may also have to rely on the support of friends, family, or childcare providers to make it work.
  • Work on introducing one new habit at a time. Rather than manage all of these changes from the get-go, give yourself plenty of time to get used to forming these habits.
  • Have reminders to cue you about your new habits. e.g. Place your gym clothes near the foot of the bed so that you have it ready to go when you wake up in the morning.
  • Use rewards to motivate. Behavioural psychology works! If you pair your new changes with a reward, you’re more likely to follow through. E.g. If your child finishes breakfast on time, you will set aside 10 minutes to play or read before heading out the door.

It takes time to get used to things. Going back to work is huge change from your daily routine of the past few months. If you’d like to learn more about creating changes, check out Atomic Habits or The Power of Habit.

#2 Remember that you will still have a strong attachment with your baby

A big fear of returning back to work is about losing the bond you have with your child. If this is you, remember that attachments and relationships are not so delicate that they will break with having a few hours apart.

If you’re in a secure relationship, you may notice this pattern more easily. In all likelihood, you go to work, hang out with others, pursue your own interests, and you come home to this person knowing that the relationship is still strong. The time apart has not shifted your feelings towards this person. It’s the same with your child. Your infant trusts that you will come back. Your infant will have strong relationships with other peers and adults. You will always be a solid person in his/her/their life.

Going back to work from maternity leave. parental leave. Kasi Shan Therapy offers postpartum and prenatal counselling in Kitchener, ON. Online and in person counselling.

Rather than focusing on the amount of time you have with your kids, focus instead on the quality of the time. Engage in play, conversations, snuggles. Make sure that your kids feel seen and heard by you. This doesn’t mean you have to provide 100% of your attention when you’re at home with them! Instead, try and create some time in the mornings, afternoons and evenings for hanging out. Some examples can include: sitting down together for meals, having chats in the car, splashing around during bath time, or having snuggles while reading a story at bedtime. Going back to work does not have to stop you from having these wonderful moments.

If all of this does not convince, you, there have been studies have shown that babies do not suffer when their caregivers return to work following parental leave. Instead, the results show that children learn they are being left in safe and nurturing spaces AND that their parents always come back to them.

#3 Talk to People

Returning back to work from parental leave. It takes a village. Build a community. talk to people. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in-person appointments in Kitchener, Ontario.

Every single new parent I’ve talked to has varying degrees of concern and worries about going back to work! It’s an adjustment and it’s perfectly normal to feel cautious towards change.

Managing childcare, work, relationships and your own interests is hard. Rather than sitting with these frustrations alone, please reach out to your community. Let your work know about needing time to pump. Talk to other parents at your workplace to see how they managed. Work with your family members to access emotional and practical support. There’s a reason that the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” exists. Gather your village!

#4 Get to know your childcare provider

Get familiar with your daycare. Ask for a tour. Have a list of questions. I promise you, you are not alone in being anxious. Your daycare provider has answered these questions many, many times.

Talk to daycare providers. Transitioning back to work from parental leave. Nervous about going back. Build a community.

If it’s financially feasible, arrange a few half-days for your child to participate in childcare ahead of time. By having this short time period away, you will both become familiar with the routine of doing drop offs and pick ups. This trial period also provides an opportunity for you to see how your child manages when spending time away. Your childcare provider will be able to provide you some feedback (did they cry for 5 minutes or 15 minutes? Were they able to settle? Did they make friends?). You both get used to this routine ahead of time, which is helpful for when you do officially go back to work.

#5 Create a balance between needs and wants

You may have had all the time, energy and resources to invest in twelve different interests and hobbies prior to having your child. But, it’s hard to keep up at that pace. What can you feel comfortable dropping? What are you willing to be a little less “good” at? Be honest with yourself in what you really want vs. what you really need.

work life balance. going back to work from maternity leave. Support with transitions. Kasi Shan Therapy offers online and in person counselling (Kitchener, Ontario).

Find a balance between work, family life AND you-time. It may feel hard to carve out that space for your own interests, but it’s so important to make time for self-care. Without this time for your own needs and interests, it’s easy to burn out, grow resentful or lose yourself in the process of parenthood.

#6 Acknowledge the feelings

No matter what happens, there are going to be feelings. Some good, and some not so pleasant. Rather than pushing these emotions down, allow yourself some time to reflect on what’s coming up as you go back to work. You may experience rage, guilt, anxiety or overwhelm. If this is the case for you, the solutions may vary. You may ned some time to adjust to the transition. It may be helpful to reach out for support. Or, you may require some specific problem solving to address these emotional needs.

Alternatively, you may experience a sense of calm and peace now that you have some time with other adults. You may feel proud that you and your child are handling the transition as well as can be. If this has been your experience, enjoy it! Everyone adjust to change differently, and this transition may be a smooth experience for you.

#7 Cut yourself some slack

Going back to work after so many weeks or months with your child is a huge transition for you and your baby! Give yourself permission to feel all the feels, make a bunch of mistakes AND learn from your experiences. Trust that you are capable of adjusting, and that it will take time before this becomes second nature. Set up manageable expectations for yourself. You are not always going to crush it every day. Sometimes you will half-heartedly parent. Sometimes you will rely on cartoons to occupy your kiddo while prepping a meal. You are human. You are loving. You are doing your best.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Anxiety

Postpartum Anxiety and Feelings of Overwhelm

It may seem that being overwhelmed is just a given. You’re up to your eyeballs in dirty diapers and wet burp clothes. You can’t remember the last time you had more than a few hours of rest. What even is breakfast? You run on a steady stream of coffee and fistfuls of cheerios. When you put this all together, postpartum anxiety (PPA) and feeling overwhelmed seems to be par for the course.

If being overwhelmed or anxious has been your experience for the past few weeks (or months, or years), it is not fair and it’s not okay. It does not have to be like this. Postpartum is not meant to be a painful or miserable time. If you’re struggling with PPA (or similar symptoms), here are some tips to help.

Know the Signs of Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum mental health gets overlooked because so many of its symptoms are normalised. Unfortunately, because having a new baby comes with lots of questions, PPA can get mistaken as “normal” adjustments to parenthood. Someone out there has claimed it is acceptable that you are this tired and irritable and anxious.

Yes, it’s normal to have questions and worries. This is part of being human, and certainly a part of being a new parent. However, it’s not normal to have these worries keep you up at night, cause conflict with your partner, or make you avoid time with the baby. Anxiety is only considered “normal” when it’s within your capacity to address it (a.k.a. your window of tolerance).

Postpartum anxiety is a genuine illness that requires attention and help. Here are the symptoms to look for:

  • Inability to stop worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty with sleep or appetite
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Inability to rest or relax
  • Feeling on edge
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability or rage
  • Physical cues: tightness, tension, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes

One quick way for you to check about the severity of your postpartum anxiety is through the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale. This is a screening tool that is used to identify postpartum mental health struggles (including PPA). Specifically, any score above 12 on this depression scale indicates a high probability of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.

Three quick grounding techniques

If you’re struggling with overwhelming anxiety, you likely want these feelings to calm down ASAP. Here are three quick grounding techniques that can help reduce the panic and overwhelm.

1. Butterfly Hug

The Butterfly Hug is a popular technique used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to quickly settle your body and mind.

Why it’s helpful:

  • Does not require much thinking: This approach does not need you to think through things calmly. You don’t have to “logic” your way out.
  • Helps your brain process in a unique way: EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to activate both your left and right hemisphere while addressing extreme anxieties, traumatic memories, or distressing events
  • Activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the parts of your brain needed for relaxing)
  • Reduces your cortisol level (a.k.a. your stress hormones)
  • You can use this strategy anywhere. It does not require any “equipment”.
The following video shows the steps of the Butterfly Hug:

2. Temperature Change

The temperature change exercise is a great strategy that comes from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. This approach triggers the mammalian dive reflex. This reflex occurs when we are submerged in ice cold water. In order to survive, our body is forced to slow down our heart rate and oxygen is only sent to key organs that are needed. Everything that is considered “non-essential” is overlooked.

Why it’s helpful:

  • Tricks your brain: Your body cannot go into “survival mode” and panic at the same time. Your heart rate is forced to slow down. Your oxygen level drops, thereby making it hard to panic.
  • Provides about 5-20 minutes of calmer thinking. This gives you some time to problem solve or find alternative coping strategies.
  • You don’t have to “think through” it to feel calmer.
The following video shows the steps of the Temperature Change technique

3. Mindful conversation with another person

Using distractions is really helpful to get through a distressing moment. However, if you cannot find a distracting enough activity, your mind tends to wander back to its original anxious thoughts. Participating in mindful conversation with another person face to face is more effective in helping you stay out of the overwhelm. Rather than focusing on the anxious thoughts, you’re turning your attention to the other person, asking and answering questions, and staying present.

Why it’s helpful?

  • When your postpartum anxiety is highly activated, your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system work overtime. Your body turns to survival strategies like fight, flight, freeze/shut down in order to cope. Social engagement, on the other hand, activates our ventral vagal pathway. This pathway tells our brain that we are in a safe and socially connected space.
  • Focusing on topics outside of your postpartum anxiety helps your system recognize that there are still safe options in your world.
  • Gives you the option to engage with someone else outside of your baby.

Working with your anxiety

So now that you’ve coped more effectively in reducing the anxiety, you may be wondering about your next steps. After all, these earlier coping strategies only resolve things for a short time. They’re not actually fixing the issue, and instead, providing brief respite. This is where the hard work of listening to our anxiety comes into effect. In order for you to gain more clarity, you will need to work with your postpartum anxiety.

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) explains that there is always a positive intention to our worries (even though it rarely feels “positive”). It’s challenging to slow our body and mind down enough to hear what your postpartum anxiety has to say. But, we can break down the steps to better support our mental health.

Step One: Find where your anxiety is in your body.

Daniel Siegel coined the term “name it to tame it”. Basically, when you are able to find the feeling in your body and label it, you can get a bit of space from that feeling. Rather than “being” the emotion, you can observe it. So, call out what and where you are feeling things: “I am feeling scared… There is a ball of anxiety in my chest… my shoulders are feeling tense and stressed.”

Step Two: Stay curious

In this step, you will use a bit of mindfulness to approach your emotions. Now that you’ve noticed the emotion, keep your awareness on this feeling. Be aware of the thoughts, sensations, memories, and whatever else comes to mind as you focus on this feeling.

This step involves staying curious about your anxiety is telling you without judging it, trying to get rid of it, or needing it to change. Your anxiety will start to share more as you stay open to it.

As a word of caution, your anxiety may not share the nicest feedback. It may share beliefs such as: “Get me away from this baby! I can’t do this! What was I thinking? I need this to stop!” Stay aware of these thoughts so long as you are within your window of tolerance.

Step Three: Understand what your anxiety is trying to protect

IFS recognizes that our anxious parts are trying to help out in some way or form. Because they tend to communicate in harsh and overwhelming ways, it’s often difficult to understand what our anxieties are trying to achieve.

As you complete step one and two, you will start to identify what your anxiety is telling you. Then, ask yourself, what would happen if these anxious thoughts stopped? What is your anxiety trying to prevent? For example, if your anxiety is often saying, “Get me away from this baby”, what would happen if this warning was no longer present? You might presume that you’d be calmer. While that’s true, what else would happen? Would you suddenly be considered calm enough that others encourage you to parent independently? Would you spend more time with your newborn and make a mistake? What if your baby keeps screaming and you’re reminded that you’re not cut out for this whole parenting thing?

Sometimes your anxiety gets triggered, and it forces you to escape the circumstances. Your brain says, “This is too much, I can’t cope,” and you turn towards avoidance, drinking, zoning out in front of your phone or some other strategy. I’m not saying that these are effective ways to manage things. In all likelihood, this form of “self-soothing” will create new problems. But, as far as your anxiety is concerned, it is satisfied that it has reduced your distress and gotten you away from the “danger” (e.g. time alone with baby).

Step Four: Befriending

Have you seen “Beauty and the Beast”? The Beast is known for being a lousy character. He’s rude, ill-tempered, and scary. But, we see that meeting the Beast with compassion (mixed with assertive boundaries) helps him shift out into a kinder character. (For those who are cringing reading this example, humour me. It’s an analogy. I’m not trying to condone Stockholm syndrome).

In many ways, your anxiety is like the Beast. It’s loud, frightening and has awful manners. However, what happens when you approach your anxiety with compassion or confidence? Have you ever shown any desire to get to know this part of you? What happens when you acknowledge what your anxiety is actually trying to do? Imagine what it would be like to approach your anxiety by saying: “I get it… I get that you’re really scared of me making a mistake… I know this feels like the only way you can help me.” How would it respond to you?

Becoming kinder to yourself

IFS brings in a different level of self-compassion. We are not only meeting our inner system with kindness, but we’re also identifying what our anxious parts are attempting to achieve. When we treat ourselves in this manner, our anxieties will soften. These steps don’t cure postpartum anxiety. We have to address the actual issue, whether it’s the fear of making mistakes, feeling insecure about parenting, or addressing our own childhood traumas. But, meeting our anxiety in this way will reduce the overwhelm.

Curious to learn more?

Postpartum anxiety is treatable. If you found the above examples helpful in reducing your overwhelm, please let me know. If you have any questions about the above steps, or want to work with your own unique circumstances, reach out.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

Struggling with body image during pregnancy

struggling with body image. weight scale. prenatal appointments and weighing in

The worst part of prenatal visits? Going to your healthcare provider’s office and stepping on that scale at Every. Single. Appointment. As if you need any reminder that your weight is increasing at an alarming rate. You know this. You feel huge. No other pregnant mom looks as big as you do. You shouldn’t have eaten that extra serving. Why won’t these pants fit anymore? … Do any of these thoughts sound familiar? Struggling with body image is a huge frustration during and after pregnancy.

Being pregnant can be incredibly challenging if you’re struggling with body image or disordered eating. Yes, rationally you’re aware that this peanut growing inside of you is taking up a lot of real estate. You’ve read all of the instagram posts about body positivity, and know you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way. But, all of that aside, you still feel lousy when you see your reflection or step on the scale. So what can you do? If you’re struggling with body image, here are some thoughts to consider:

Re-assess “normal weight gain” in pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, your body is truly being taken over. Your metabolism shifts, your energy wanes, stretch marks suddenly appear. It’s natural, and it’s hard. When you’ve spent a long time meticulously taking care of your weight and appearance, these drastic changes to your body feel jarring. Check in with yourself about how you are seeing these changes. Is there shame and personalization involved? Are you feeling at fault for gaining “too much”?

body mass index (BMI) and impact on body image. Addressing BMI during pregnancy. healthy weight gain guidlines

Unfortunately, we have been given guidelines that it’s “normal and healthy” to gain 15-30 pounds during pregnancy. But this number is based on BMI, which research continues to point out is a flawed system for assessing health. Your recommended weight gain varies on so many factors. This number shifts based on whether your BMI was over or under prior to pregnancy. Your weight gain will vary if you are having twins. The number on the scale will look different if you’re struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum or if you’re managing your nausea by eating differently. In reality, only a third of pregnancies stay with the recommended weight gain, while about 50% gain beyond this number.

Speaking for my own body, with my first son I gained 45 pounds during my pregnancy, whereas I gained 20 with my second. I didn’t do anything differently. Bodies changes and babies are different. It isn’t personal. You’re not doing it wrong. That number on the scale doesn’t say anything about you or how well you are doing this pregnancy.

It will not be forever

This is not your forever shape or size. I do not have a crystal ball to confirm you will go back to your pre-baby weight, and I won’t deny that perhaps you’ve gained weight. However, the size you are while pregnant does not stay on forever. Whether it’s 6 weeks postpartum or 6 months postpartum, your body will change after delivery. Remind yourself as many times as needed that it took you 9 months to help your baby develop. Give your body at least 9 months to settle back to what it considers is the “new normal”.

Find safe others

Talking to safe person about body image. Struggling with body image during pregnancy.

It’s easy to feel isolated with our crummy feelings. Body positivity is an amazing trend that our culture is trying to lean into; however, it doesn’t leave much space to acknowledge when we are struggling. When we feel ashamed or alone in our thoughts, it can be debilitating. We become worried that others will judge us, shame us or minimize our feelings. If you have judgmental folks like this in your life, they are not the ones to turn to right now.

Find those who truly appreciate how hard this is for you. They know that you want to be healthy AND they respect that body image is something you’re struggling with today. This person doesn’t need to know how to fix the situation. Instead, they just need to let you know that you’re heard, you’re loved, and you will always be safe with them irrespective of how your body looks.

Use movement

using movement to help address prenatal weight anxiety. walking to help with pregnancy and body image

During pregnancy, find ways to move whenever possible. Let go of the standards that you used to meet whether it was a certain distance, speed, repetitions, or weight level. Focus instead on what movements means to you. For me, movement provides me opportunities to let go of stress, it helps my body feel strong, and it helps me feel energized. Once I stopped trying to meet my old standards, it felt easier to accept that this is what exercise could do for me today.

Our Society and Thin Privilege

I won’t deny that being thin and beautiful doesn’t have privileges (read more about thin privilege). Thin privilege allows for your weight to not define you and how you move through your environment and world. There is an awful amount of discrimination with fat phobia. People living in a larger body have been overlooked, groaned at, or mocked because of their weight. In these situations, being thin means they will finally receive respect and courtesy from other people. Being thin means the ability to walk into a store and actually be able to buy clothes. If you’ve been subjected to others’ fat phobia, you may have coped by maintaining a certain weight. Pregnancy has thrown this weight plan out the window.

If being pregnant or weight gain puts you into a space of losing your self-respect or self-worth, that’s not okay. It’s not okay for society to put you in this position or for you to suffer simply because of the way your body naturally flows. So how do we learn to externalize this? How do we shift from assuming there is something wrong with us to there is something biased and unfair about the culture we live in?

Tips for boosting body image:

tips for improving body image. shifting the way we think about our bodies. diet culture. comparing.
  • Diversify what you see: Follow influencers of all shapes and sizes. Follow those who look like you and don’t look like you.
  • Stop the comparison game: Envy is a tough emotion to contend with, and it leaves us feeling lacking. Start by checking the facts: do you know for sure that this person truly has more than you? Do these factors make them better or happier than you?
  • Highlight your own positive attributes: Notice what is awesome about you, and spend time acknowledging these positive traits. e.g. expressing pride in your career or grades, appreciating the health of your relationships
  • Become critical of toxic diet culture: We all know it’s out there. Start by challenging these constantly shifting body ideals. Unfollow or speak up about the companies and individuals that make you feel bad about your body.
  • Focus on what your body is doing for you: What are your thighs, arms, and belly meant to do? What are their functions? Focusing on their role as a function vs.

What are you avoiding by focusing on body image and food?

Sometimes body image acts as a (horrible, awful, exasperating) scapegoat for our actual struggles. By focusing on that number on the scale, you may find that you can avoid addressing other things. You spend hours staring at the fridge, planning meals, going to the gym, organizing your closet with “comfy” clothes, that you don’t have time to deal with the real stuff.

We all cope in different ways. Previously, you may have turned to a glass of wine, a cigarette, or going out dancing to get rid of all your stress. Now that you’re pregnant, these coping mechanisms aren’t as available. Food, on the other hand, is always there and doesn’t take as much effort. It soothes our stressors and pains. But, using food as a coping mechanism offers a temporary solution. It doesn’t allow us to address the actual cause of stress and turmoil in your life.

So ask yourself, if you didn’t spend all this time on body image and food, what would you be left with? Would you suddenly have to address your loneliness? Are you more aware of your anxieties about work, the state of your finances, or your struggling relationships? If we looked at negative body image as a coping mechanism (again, not vouching that it’s a nice or effective one), we realize it’s trying to prevent you from dealing with a deeper vulnerability.

Addressing the original trauma: When did this struggle with body image start?

body image and teenager. Struggling with body image in pregnancy. trauma from childhood

Body image rarely shows up in pregnancy without some form of history. Consider when else in your life have you struggled with this issue. Have you been painfully aware of your appearance since adolescence? Have you managed to shove aside any struggles with your appearance by exercising and maintaining a “healthy” diet? When did you make the connection between your appearance and your self-worth? How was this message taught to you?

When it comes to body image struggles, pregnancy makes things worse. However, it’s not the culprit. After your little one is born, things may feel manageable with dieting and exercise, but it’s a fragile set up. Anytime that weight starts to increase, that same panic may come back.

If this has been your experience, then it’s important to recognize that there is some earlier trauma to be addressed. Your body image struggles could have slowly formed while participating in gym class, listening to your mom comment about her (or your) weight, looking at skinny actresses and models, or a myriad of events. These moments stayed with you. That vulnerable part of you still worries about your appearance, fitting in, or whether you will be considered “worthy.” This is where therapy can be helpful in processing these earlier emotional burdens.

Reach out

If you or a loved one is struggling with body image during pregnancy, reach out. Therapy is a safe space to voice your concerns and work through these difficulties. Schedule a free consult call to see if we would be a good fit.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

Shame and the postpartum experience

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

One of the biggest aversions to attending postpartum therapy is shame. You feel ashamed that your emotions are messy. This isn’t like you. Normally, you’re calm and cool. But, suddenly your hormones are all over the place, your hair is a mess and you can’t remember the last time you showered. There hasn’t been a single day where you haven’t burst into tears or rage.

You feel ashamed about your relationships. It feels like a huge risk to acknowledge how you truly act around your family. What would the other person say if you admit you don’t really like your baby? What if you told them you sometimes screamed at your children? Are they going to judge you if you tell them you’ve stopped breastfeeding? Would you get mocked for admitting you haven’t had sex in months? What if you revealed that you suddenly can’t stand your spouse? How will the other person react?

It’s incredibly vulnerable to open up to a stranger, especially if you worry how he or she will respond. So rather than talk, you stay silent. Shame feels awful, but it protects you. It keeps you safe from being judged. But it also means you are stuck with all these difficult thoughts and feelings bubbling inside.

The shame of mental health

Despite all of the social media posts, campaigns, and recognition about mental health today, there is still a stigma in admitting we are struggling with mental illness. You may worry about what it means to be attending therapy or starting medication. Does it make you incompetent? Are you still able to say you are a good parent if you also admit you are mentally unwell? How do you cope with your family members telling you to “suck it up” or “get it together?” All of these shameful questions and thoughts prevent you from admitting that you need help.

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are genuine illnesses. During pregnancy and postpartum months, an individual could live with anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, or PTSD. The chance of experiencing any one of these illnesses is not uncommon (e.g. approximately 1 in 4 Canadian mothers reported experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety).

As with any illness, you deserve appropriate treatment and care. It is not a matter of will power. We cannot wish it away. My favourite recommendation is to consider how you’d talk to a friend in a similar position. Chances are you would be more compassionate and open-hearted. For example, following a surgery, you would encourage said friend to attend medical appointments, take prescribed medications, and follow their health team’s recommendations. In the same way, would you be able to give yourself the permission to seek the treatment and attention that your mental health needs?

What if the therapist judges me?

Every therapist claims they are nice and nonjudgmental. That doesn’t mean you truly believe it. For those cautious and skeptical parts of you, I want you to know, that’s okay. It’s absolutely okay to have your guard up. Starting therapy feels awkward. As with every relationship, it takes time to build trust.

Take the time to share slowly, if that is what your system needs. Watch how your therapist responds to your words and concerns. You will notice that you either feel more settled and at peace, or if your shame increases. Trust this internal feedback. If you are comfortable, let your therapists know you feel this way, and see how they respond to your words.

Will I get in trouble?

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

One of the biggest fears that pushes clients away from voicing their experiences is the fear of how others will react. In prenatal and postpartum therapy, I see many clients hesitate to talk about how they truly are with their children and relationships. Not only are they managing their internal shame, but they are weary of judgement and negative consequences. Clients are often fearful because they fear the truth will lead to the therapist ending the relationship, calling the Children’s Aid Society or disliking the person. So let’s address these fears:

1) If I am truthful, my therapist will end the relationship:

In most cases, therapists will only end the relationship if they are outside of their clinical scope or the treatment goals have been met. If you have met your treatment goals, that’s wonderful! Celebrate all of your hard work. You don’t necessarily have to end your relationship with your therapist, but you can talk about tapering off sessions or increasing the time in between appointments. If it’s loneliness that drives you to stay, your therapist will support you in exploring how to improve outside relationships. It is not okay that the therapy room is the only space where you are heard, validated and supported.

If your counselling goals are beyond your therapist’s knowledge and skills, they will admit this to you. It isn’t personal. Consider your experiences with other specialists. You may really love your hairdresser, but this is not the person who can necessarily answer your medical concerns. You connect with the clinician who is best able to meet each of your needs. If you keep asking your hairdresser for advice on all things medical, neither of you will leave satisfied or confident that your goals can be achieved.

2) What if they call the Children’s Aid Society (CAS)?

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

This is a common myth that prevents parents from reaching out for postpartum therapy. Postpartum depression often shows up as rage, anger, outbursts and distress. I see many parents who are frustrated with themselves and with others, but are too scared to ask for help in fear of being reported. Postpartum depression deserves respect, compassion and appropriate support. The only reason to reach out to CAS is if there is a genuine concern about a child’s physical or emotional safety. If there is a worry about abuse or neglect, your therapist will ask you directly. However, yelling at your child does not mean an automatic phone call for outside authorities. Having negative or intrusive thoughts does not mean we are automatically contacting outside authorities.

3) What if my therapist dislikes me?

shame and postpartum. perinatal mental health. shame and pregnancy.

I can’t speak for other therapists, but I can speak for myself about this worry. The beauty of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is that IFS therapists are always looking for positive intentions. This means, irrespective of the behaviour, words, or emotion (anger, infidelity, jealousy, disgust, etc), your IFS therapist is always trying to understand how there are parts of you trying to get you through a difficult moment. It’s not about assessing whether the outcome is successful or whether the efforts are worth it. It’s about understanding the actual intention.

IFS therapists go to their own therapy. It’s how we do the work we do. If I feel triggered in a session, that’s an indicator that there is some part inside of me needing support and attention. It has nothing to do with you; it has to do with my own history and experiences. That part, similar to yours, will need support and processing. I take it to my own session or my supervisor. IFS therapists’ intentions are always to keep our parts out of the session, because in therapy, it really is about the client. It’s not about my agenda or my needs; it’s about yours.

The shame of not meeting our own expectations:

You had lots of hopes and dreams of how your pregnancy or postpartum months would turn out. Chances are you did not wish for mental illness.

Many of us struggle when our expectations are not met. We feel a sense of shame and inadequacy in falling short. You may have hoped to be a Pinterest-parent, and realized you have zero interest in arts and crafts. Perhaps you thought you’d enjoy spending days with the baby, and found you were bored out of your mind by week 4. Maybe you thought you’d ace the whole sleep training thing, only to be struggling 15 months later with a toddler who refuses to go to bed. Somehow these results create a sense of failure that we equate into our self worth.

For any parent who struggles with this sense of “inadequacy”, please know that you are not alone. We all have moments where we worry about being good enough parents. Remember that you have so many years ahead of you to figure this out. We often label ourselves as success or failures, but we fail to pay attention to all the efforts and practice we need to improve our skills. We will screw up many times, and we will learn constantly. In this way, there is always space for us to grow.

goals, high expectations. shame and parenting

It isn’t fair to assume we’ll be great at parenting from day one. Think about how it was like when you first learned to drive. In the start, you were in the “conscious incompetent” stage where are very aware that you have no idea what you are doing. However, with time, you get to a place where you can automatically drive your car. Unfortunately, when we are at this place of “unconscious competence” (a.k.a. “I don’t have to think about it, I can do it in my sleep”), we forget how much we initially struggled. We forget the intensity and shame of not doing well.

Make it safe

We can all play a role in reducing the shame of mental illness and perinatal mental health. Talk about your experiences openly with safe others. Offer validation and compassion to those who are in this phase of life. Reach out to a therapist that you can trust. We can work to shift away from judgment, and instead, appreciate that we are all doing our very best.

Warmly,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

The pressures of breastfeeding

That first year with a baby is all about feeding, feeding and more feeding. For every parent, there is a time when he or she decides whether to breastfeed, exclusively pump, stick to formula, or use a combination approach. There are a variety of factors that push a parent towards one choice over the other. There is no “right” choice outside of what works best for a caregiver and baby.

pressures of breastfeeding. support for parents who are struggling to breastfeed

Unfortunately, there is a push in our society to breastfeed. We see signs of it right from the day we deliver. There are subtle cues from healthcare staff as they share latching tips before inquiring whether formula is preferred. We are provided pamphlets of breastfeeding support in our care packages before bringing our newborns home. There are posters for breastfeeding help at our midwives’ office.

This blog post is not to push formula feeds. I have no right to claim whether formula is better than breastfeeding, or vice versa. Ultimately, I am true believer that fed is best. As long as your baby is getting the nutrients he or she needs to develop, I consider it a win. Instead, this post is for the parents who are struggling to breastfeed. Whether by choice or by capacity, they are stuck in that internal battle of guilt, frustration and helplessness as they face yet another feed.

The pressures of breastfeeding:

We live in a culture where breastfeeding is encouraged and subtly (or sometimes, not so subtly) pushed as the best option for our baby. New mothers face an onslaught of judgemental messages about breastfeeding, and these comments are made in permanent and absolute terms: “breastfed babies have higher IQs”, “breastfeeding will prevent illness, infections and chronic conditions,” “breast is best,” “you won’t have a good bond if you formula feed,” etc, etc.

struggling with breastfeeding. postpartum support. new mother.

I agree that there are a lot of values to breastfeeding. However, I also work with parents who are driven to the point of exhaustion and anxiety in trying to produce enough supply for their baby. These parents are so angry at their bodies for failing them and not doing enough to support their baby’s growth. If the option of working with a lactation consultant or consuming fenugreek daily is working, then please keep it up! In fact, I encourage you to start here if you truly want to breastfeed. However, if your baby is losing weight, you are feeling stressed out, or are experiencing any number of production difficulties, I want you to take a moment and consider why you are trying to keep up with this expectation.

The “Mommy Wars”

New parents would love to have the ideal postpartum experience. We see images of celebrities looking beach-wear ready a few days after delivery. We see influencers posting feeds of their babes sleeping through the night. There are endless tweets and posts about the “right ways to parent”.

pressures of parenting. super mom. mommy wars.

With all of these messages of ideal parenthood, it makes sense that we are self-conscious about our own parenting. The Times wrote a beautiful article in reference to the Goddess Myth: “Like millions of other American moms, [mothers have] been bombarded by a powerful message: that she is built to build a human, that she will feel all the more empowered for doing so as nature supposedly intended and that the baby’s future depends on it. ” With this constant push for doing things “naturally”, moms carry the stress of parenting a certain way. There is a need to delivery vaginally, breastfeed on command, only feed your body the “right” foods, and of course, look stunning throughout the process. Of course, mothers then bear the burden of immense guilt when they are unable to meet these pressures.

This push to parent in a specific way also comes from mom-shaming experiences. These experiences can include rude comments and glances from others as a new mother orders a second cup of coffee, buys a drink, and of course, pulls out some formula. It’s as if there is a moral obligation that has been violated by not following the rules others deem best for our children. It’s no wonder that new parents are surrounded by a sense of failure and dread as they step into parenting.

Know that you’re not alone

The American Pediatric Society encourages breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life. While 80% of mothers start off with this intention, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state that only about 58% make it to the six months.

Why is this? Breastfeeding is described as natural and easy; however, any parent who struggles with breastfeeding can vouch that this is not the case. From poor latches, supply issues, mastitis, and other complications, many women start to experience a sense of dread when it comes closer to feeding times. These parents may undergo a period of grief as they cope with the disappointment of needing to put aside their hopes for breastfeeding.

Other parents prefer to not breastfeed. This decision could be based on a variety of reasons: struggles with hormonal shifts while breastfeeding, managing the demands of other children, returning to work, wanting support with nighttime feeds, sexual abuse histories, or simply not wanting to feed in this way. These are not selfish or bad parents. They care deeply for their children while also respecting their own boundaries. At the end of the day, a happy parent is better able to support their baby. If formula feeds provide a calmer structure for the parent, then this is the right decision for this family.

Worries about attachment

Sometimes we push ourselves because we think it’s what’s best for the baby. Sure there are physical benefits to breastmilk, but there are significant benefits to having a grounded and calm parent. If you are overwhelmed everytime you start nursing, that bond is going to feel so much more difficult. You have years to build and nurture the relationship with your child. It does not have to be perfect from day one. Listening to your mental, emotional and physical limits will set you up for success.

For those who feel that nursing creates a better attachment, I encourage you to consider your attachment with your own parents. Are you truly better connected with your mother because she chose to breastfeed versus formula feed? Is your IQ significantly higher than a peer who was formula-fed? Who even asks these questions today of other adults?

You are doing your best for your child

cheerful young multiethnic parents admiring sleeping baby on bed
Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

A hungry baby is a cantankerous baby. A guilty mother is an unhappy mother. Pressures that come from strangers, the internet, and sometimes our own friends and family are perhaps meant with good intentions. However, you are this child’s parent. And if you are feeling stressed and guilty about breastfeeding, you are allowed to stop. You will always be this child’s caregiver, and your bond can be secure irrespective of how you feed this little one. Your baby will grow up and eventually eat food, and this pressure to breastfeed will no longer be the central focus of conversations. So for now, go and enjoy your child. Focus on getting those baby snuggles. Spend time playing, singing, talking, and teaching him or her. And when your little one gets hungry, feed them in whatever way is feasible for you.

All the best,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum

What is happening with my mood?! D-MER and Breastfeeding

What is your experience with breastfeeding? Do you feel angry or tearful as soon as you start? Is there a sense of dread when you begin another pumping session? How intense is your anxiety during these moments? When it comes to nursing, there are many parents who enjoy the experience and feel it’s an opportunity to connect with their infants. However, there are also many parents who are frustrated and distraught by the same encounter. Before we assume that the reason we are struggling with nursing is due to postpartum mental health, we want to rule out a physiological illness called D-MER.

Signs of D-MER:

Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (a.k.a. D-MER) is a breastfeeding struggle that occurs during letdown of milk. This includes nursing, pumping, or manual expression to release milk. Normally when lactating, parents experience the warm and loving feelings that come with an increase in oxytocin. However, with D-MER, a caregiver has a sudden drop in mood, and can experience any of the following difficulties:

Breastfeeding and D-MER. Anxiety, sadness or distress during pumping
  • dysphoria, or a state of unhappiness
  • panic
  • restlessness
  • hopelessness
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • sense of dread/doom
  • paranoia
  • thoughts/urges about suicide or self-harm

D-MER most commonly shows up as anxiety, agitation or sadness. The intensity of these experiences can vary from mild to moderate to severe. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few seconds to 2-3 minutes. It typically shows up about 30 seconds prior to milk release. D-MER struggles subside as you continue to nurse, but reoccurs as soon as another let down happens. Typically, parents start to feel better after 3 to 6 months once milk production regulates. Unfortunately, there are no specific tests or assessments to confirm you have D-MER. If you notice an abrupt shift in mood when you are pumping or nursing, it warrants considering whether D-MER is a factor for you.

D-MER versus Postpartum Mental Health

Breastfeeding and D-MER. Anxiety, sadness or distress during pumping

D-MER is a physiological issue. It happens because of hormonal and chemical changes in the brain during breastfeeding. This is not a psychological issue, although it certainly feels like one. Folks who have a history of mental health struggles are not more vulnerable to experiencing D-MER. It is completely by chance. Parents who have experienced D-MER with their first child have a higher likelihood of experiencing it again with future children.

D-MER is not the same as postpartum mental health. While an episode of postpartum anxiety can last for hours or days, D-MER lasts a few minutes and only occurs during the release of milk. Once breastfeeding is completed, parents moods regulate and they are able to re-engage in their daily activities. Unlike any prenatal or postpartum disorder which involves a combination of biological, psychological and social influences, D-MER is caused solely by hormonal shifts.

This does not mean that the two are mutually exclusive. Parents with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can also struggle with D-MER. If this is the case, then a combination of treatment is useful in order to address both needs.

Why it happens:

D-MER has only recently been identified as a breastfeeding struggle, and research has started in the past 10 years. However, dopamine has been identified as the primary influencer to experiences of D-MER. Dopamine (a hormone connected to feelings of pleasure) must drop in order for prolactin (the hormone which helps produce milk) to increase. What research has found with D-MER is that the drop in dopamine is too significant during milk letdown, which triggers an abrupt drop in moods.

What you can do if you have D-MER:

The first and most important thing to remember about D-MER is that it is not your fault. You are not doing breastfeeding or parenting incorrectly. This is truly a chemical change that is happening outside of your will power. It is not a psychological issue, and there is absolutely nothing “wrong with you.” It’s an automatic reaction, and the emotions and thoughts that come with D-MER are not based on facts, reality, or any truth to your capacity as a parent.

Approximately half of nursing parents stop breastfeeding by 6 months. This can happen for a variety of reasons, and only you are the judge of what is right for your body. If D-MER is one of the reasons to stop breastfeeding, it may be helpful to know that most parents struggling with this issue feel an improvement of symptoms in 3 months once milk production regulates.

Connecting with your health care team:

Lactation struggles. Perinatal mental health. Speaking to physician

Knowing that this ailment is a chemical imbalance, it’s best to speak with your physician or lactation consultant about your experience. In moderate to severe cases of D-MER, treatment options will likely involve medication or herbal supplements to support adequate dopamine production.

Behavioural Strategies

With milder versions of D-MER, there are several behavioural strategies that can be used to support your nursing experience. Firstly, it is helpful to keep track of your symptoms. What varies on days when your D-MER symptoms are worse? Common factors that can improve or exacerbate D-MER include: stress, rest, caffeine intake, hydration, and exercise.

Changing the Pattern:

Using distractions to help during breastfeeding.

Secondly, we want to create a more positive experience when nursing or pumping. When we know we are walking into a stressful event, our system braces in anticipation. With enough occurrences of D-MER, parents are typically anxious about lactation. To break this pattern, we want to pair positive experiences with breastfeeding. While nursing or pumping, add in a pleasurable activity that you can use as a distraction. Options can include: listening to your favourite podcast, reading a novel, playing a game on your phone, watching your favourite TV show, eating a delicious piece of cake. Use this activity only when you are breastfeeding to help your system create positive anticipation.

Mindfulness

Thirdly, mindfulness practices can be used to help during this time. When our system anticipates threat, we are hypervigilant of all signs and symptoms related to the threat. Unfortunately, this can make things worse because we are fixated on every nuance that can go wrong. We can also get caught in a negative spiral after breastfeeding is done because we continue to think about the experience and fret about what did not go well.

Mindfulness involves choosing a neutral anchor to focus our attention. For example, you can focus on the sensation of holding your baby, or keep count of baby’s gulps during a feed. You can pay attention to your own body or breath. You may also focus on external anchors like listen to music or noticing what is outside in your backyard. Your mind may wander, and mindfulness involves re-directing your attention to the safe and neutral anchor whenever this occurs.

Breastfeeding is Tough

There are a lot of factors that can influence our postpartum year, including breastfeeding struggles and D-MER. At the end of the day, no one can or should make the decision to start or end breastfeeding other than you, the lactating parent. If you find your mental health is influenced by your breastfeeding experience, please reach out. You do not have to struggle in isolation.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Depression · Mental Health · Parenting

Support for the avoidant parent

Sure, you and your partner have talked about having a child. In theory, it seemed fine. But now that your baby has arrived, it feels harder than you ever expected. It is exhausting trying to connect with this unresponsive baby. It feels like everytime you pick up your child, he or she knows to scream at the highest decibel. And while you’re feeling stuck, your partner has somehow become the baby whisperer, whipping out breasts, bottles, and toys and magically making this tiny human succumb into a peaceful and serene state. This post is for parents who are feeling avoidant and helpless. It is for the fathers and mothers who are painfully aware of feeling incompetent, and continue to think “I’m not good at this”. I want you to know, it can get better. I hope the following points leave you comforted and empowered. 

Stop comparing yourself with your partner

I hear a lot of fathers commenting that their partners can do it better. They see their partner staying patient and rocking the baby, doing midnight feeds, and changing multiple diapers. They see how the baby settles shortly after these interactions.  While it’s wonderful to see your partner becoming a successful parent, it can bring up a lot of our own insecurities. It’s really hard not to compare. When your partner picks up the baby, the baby calms down. When you pick up the baby, your adorable little human screams bloody murder. It makes a lot of sense that you feel avoidant.

avoidant parent. new parent. difficulty bonding. perinatal mental health. postpartum depression.

If you have always found security and confidence by doing things well, parenting can bring you outside your safe zone. Rather than work with this struggle, it’s easier to encourage your partner to take the lead since he or she is doing it better. I imagine you already know the consequences to this decision. Sure, the baby is calmer, but your partner is fried. Their arms are aching from constantly holding the baby. They haven’t slept or showered properly in days. And, chances are high, that they are frustrated with you for not taking a more active role. Meanwhile, your own insecurities of being a competent parent continues to worsen. 

Parenting is not always about doing things right. It involves time, patience, and some trial and error to figure out how to best help your little person. Chances are that you have a screaming infant on your hands for the first little while. Please know that this is normal. Your partner has also gone through this trial and error period of being hollered at, and it does get better. If you hand over the baby, your confidence does not improve. It only reinforces to you that your partner is capable and you are not. 

Forget perfection

There is a steep and fast learning curve with parenting. We make mistakes, work through the stress, and try again. We don’t have the option of quitting, and so we keep going back and figuring things out. The stress of doing things perfectly can make us avoidant in getting started. Rather than perfection, please accept that you will screw this up. Accept that you are going to make mistakes, and this will lead to tears (some of it will be yours and some will be from the baby). This is perfectly normal even though it sucks.

avoidant parent. struggles to bond with baby. postpartum depression.

While there are umpteen books and blogs out there about parenting strategies, no one has published a book for your child. Take what you know and try it out. Watch your baby’s cues to see if he or she responds well, or freaks out. It tooks me months of rocking my child to sleep and feeling frustrated before I realized this strategy wasn’t working. We’ve all gone through the nightmare of bathtime and the stress of barely keeping the baby above water. Some of us keep losing the soother- the only thing in the whole world that will make your child stop wailing. It happens. We all make mistakes, and it makes us human.

 We don’t know what will work until we take the time to try it, evaluate its efficacy, and continue or introduce a new habit. This is a normal part of learning new skills. We all start with a keen awareness of our incompetence. We practice and fine tune our skills, and eventually get to a place of being unconsciously competent. Wanting to be a perfect parent right from the start prolongs this very normal learning experience. 

Making mistakes is not the issue. Usually that error in judgment lasts a mere seconds before it’s done. However, our mind can keep us fixated on this mistake, and we get easily sucked into a world of shame, embarrassment or guilt. That small moment plagues us for days. Gently remind your system that you are human and you are learning. Mistakes are inevitable, and you did not do it maliciously or intentionally. You can and will learn from these errors. 

Assess if you have postpartum anxiety or depression

While we often think of postpartum mental health as a mom’s issue, this is just not true. 1 in 10 dads have postpartum depression, although only 3% of dads actually seek treatment. 1 in 7 mothers have postpartum depression. Unfortunately, there is limited research available about sexual minority couples, and the published statistics vary widely. That being said, postpartum mental health does not discriminate based on sex, culture, socioeconomic status, education, or age. It can happen to anyone. 

avoidant parent. struggling to bond with new baby. new dads. postpartum depression and perinatal mental health.

When it comes to depression, symptoms can include lack of energy, disinterest, poor sleep or eating habits, or limited social interaction. Postpartum mental health shows up differently. We want to pay attention to signs like irritability, anger, excessive worries, avoidant behaviours, and poor concentration. Because these are painful struggles, many people try to cope by drinking, avoiding parenting, or getting into arguments. Unfortunately, our friends notice that we are drinking a lot and disengaged with the baby, but they don’t recognize that we are struggling with postpartum depression. 

When it comes to mental health or any diagnosis, we need a treatment plan. This can include: help with emotional processing, behavioural changes, professional interventions, medication, or increased social support. Mental health does not go away with sheer will power. It is legitimate and painful, and requires proper attention. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a helpful assessment that can confirm if you are struggling with postpartum mental health. I would encourage anyone who is questioning their postpartum experience to take this self-assessment.

Exposure therapy can help

If you are struggling with your mental health, you do not have the effort or patience to invest into a new relationship. Depression will make you feel irritable and unmotivated, and anxiety will cause you to worry or panic. Your system just wants to shut down. When we shut down from our relationships and our environment, we address the problem briefly. We find temporary relief because we don’t have to spend time with the newborn. This relief is short-lived because, let’s face it, that baby is not going anywhere. Unfortunately, we fall into this repetitive pattern of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions, and avoiding the stress. This works temporarily until we face yet another scenario where we feel overwhelmed.

 I encourage you to take small steps to help your system see that you can become a strong parent. Exposure therapy involves creating a consistent and gradual plan to do things that you are fearful or avoidant of in order to build your confidence and reduce your fears. We want to first create a list of tasks that provoke anxiety and avoidant behaviours. Then we start with fears that are unpleasant, but manageable, and practice this repeatedly. It is only when the distress goes down and the confidence increases, that we move on to a more challenging task. Everyone’s exposure plan will differ based on his or her comfort zone and anxiety level. The following post explains exposure therapy in more detail, and I encourage you to reach out if you’d like to fine tune or problem solve your specific circumstance. 

Finding the balance between Me and We

Parenting can be a serious buzz kill for our social lives. Chances are that your kid is passing out by 7 PM, which means you’re likely starting a bedtime routine by 6:30 PM. It’s hard to nurture our hobbies, interests, or social lives if you need to be home by that early hour. Parenting can also influence our career path. Signing up for that new project or taking a promotion are incredible opportunities that you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. That being said, these activities mean more hours away from home. 

There is not a simple answer that will help you find balance between your interests and ambitions with your new parenting role. However, I’d recommend first sitting down with your partner and working on a plan. Parenting should not be an all-or-nothing experience. You should not give up all your interests, friendships, or goals. However, being a parent does involve some compromise. You may not be able to take on every project at work. Or, if you do, you will face the wrath and frustration of your kids and partner. It’s hard to win at everything, and we need to let go of the expectation to achieve it all. Instead, pay attention to your priorities. Some activities will feel easy to drop, whereas others may cause a lot of resentment. Fight for the priorities that matter.

While routines and schedules are not sexy, they do ensure you have time for yourself. It’s helpful to speak with your partner to ensure you both have time to do your own things. This might involve you taking on morning chores in order for your partner to go to the gym. As a result, he or she is more flexible about you playing hockey and hang out with your friends during the evenings. The predictability in knowing Mondays nights are yours to do as you please will help settle your anxiety.

There will come a time when your child is old enough to be more self-reliant. He or she will not need you to play such a supervisory role. When this happens, sign up for more things. Until then, work with your spouse in understanding what priorities you would like to invest in during the next few months. Talk about this plan regularly so that there are no surprises and there is room to make changes. 

The pressure to do it all

As the sole parent attending work, you may feel a huge financial responsibility on your shoulders. You may also come home to a very drained spouse, and your guilt prevents you from taking time for your own self-care. Perhaps the added stress of taking care of another person can feel overwhelming. 

avoidant parent. stressed new parent. building a better bond with your baby. postpartum mental health.

If you are feeling these types of pressure, pay attention to how you respond. Some parents will work more hours in hopes that they can manage this new financial burden. Some will feel resentful towards their baby or family because these changes feel so hard. Others will become avoidant, and spend all of their time outside of the home. All of these reactions are understandable given how much this postpartum year has left you unsettled.

If possible, take a moment to slow it down and reflect. What is it about this responsibility that is worrying you the most? What makes you doubt your capacity to manage these new tasks? Is your system aware that the financial strain will improve once your partner re-enters the work force? Would it be helpful to look at your budget and make changes so that you don’t spend all day working ? Are you feeling guilty because you are struggling to “fix” your partner’s exhaustion? Does your partner want you to take on this role? By understanding the root cause of our pressure, we are able to make wiser choices. We don’t have to react in impulsive or avoidant ways, and can instead focus on problem solving, communicating, or setting realistic expectations. 

Talk about it 

There are many supports and resources for new mothers, and I recognize that the same level of support is not readily available for dads and partners. A highly effective intervention for postpartum mental health is an increase to our support network. There is significant healing that happens when you are supported by others who truly understand and appreciate the hardships of the postpartum year. This can involve leaning on your parents, friends with older children, neighbours with newborns, or a local support group. It’s helpful to speak up, and receive support and compassion from the other end. It helps to talk with others who can share advice or normalize your experiences. 

Reach out

There are many ways you can build a bond with your baby. While you can remain avoidant, this behaviour tends to bring a lot of consequences. If you or your partner is struggling with this new role of parenthood, reach out. You do not have to struggle in isolation. 

Best wishes, 

Kasi 

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Depression · Mental Health · Parenting

Will I have postpartum depression again?

For anyone who has survived postpartum depression, you know how painful and unsettling life felt after your baby arrived. During that first year, you are overwhelmed with feelings of irritability, helplessness, anger, rage, sadness, and anxiety (just to name a few). The fear of ever facing this experience again causes many parents to hesitate about having another child. There is nothing that they want to avoid more than those intrusive thoughts, hours of sobbing, or crippling anxiety. I hope this post will offer you some support and guidance in considering your next steps.

You have the right to say no

Pressures for nuclear families are constantly pushed at parents. I hear many well-intentioned family members asking when moms will be pregnant again, and expressing concerns that their children will be lonely if they do not have siblings. Firstly, let’s all agree that these folks need to chill out. No one should tell you what your family should look like. There are many, many single-child families who have wonderful, happy lives. If you have decided that one is enough, please rest assured that you are making the right decision. After all, it is your body, your lifestyle, your family, your income, and all of your resources. While loved ones may comment, at the end of the day, you have to take care of this little person. You are absolutely entitled to decide that you don’t want this option.

Many factors will influence your mental health

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There are a lot of vulnerabilities that influence mental health. When it comes to postpartum depression, the list can include: poor sleep, stress, hormonal changes, physical wellness, relationship struggles, financial worries, history of mental health, multiple children, and complicated pregnancies/deliveries. This is not an all-encompassing list; however, it does address some important influencers during the perinatal period.

History of mental health struggles (including postpartum depression with your first child) is only one contributing factor. Postpartum depression symptoms typically decrease between one postpartum period to the next, showing that we have the capacity for healing. Research has found that there is high variability of whether parents’ symptoms of postpartum depression increase or decrease in future deliveries.

What does this all mean for you? Just because you had postpartum once does not guarantee you will have it again. If you had experienced significant distress in your first experience, err on the side of caution and seek support as soon you are pregnant. Postpartum depression is treatable. Your recovery experience improves when you do not prolong suffering.

You know more today than you did during your first pregnancy

Many first time parents feel nervous and uncertain about taking care of their babies. I mean, why wouldn’t we? If we are not surrounded by babies all the time, or if it’s not within our line of work, it makes sense that we are not experts on this topic. Since there are many unknowns during the first year with our child, we can feel inundated with worries about the baby’s well-being and our own capacity to parent.

Postpartum depression. perinatal mental health. Worries about having a second child.

As cliché as this may sound, practice makes perfect. Consider how vulnerable you felt when you first took your little one home versus how you felt six months or even 2 years in to parenting. You’ve gone from feeling incompetent to suddenly having a knack for diaper changes, effortless feedings, and confidence in bedtime routines. That level of skill and knowledge took you weeks of trials and errors before you could confidently move forward. This is the beauty of having a second child. That level of uncertainty and worry still exists; however, it is significantly more muted than the first time experience. You are much faster at handling all of those questions from your first time simply because you have the experience in your tool belt.

Understand your vulnerabilities

postpartum depression and experiences. journal. mental health.

As painful as it may seem, I encourage you to sit down and reflect on your first-time experiences of pregnancy and postpartum months. What was hardest for you? When did you struggle the most? Did you have support available, and was your support team actually helpful? Were you able to rely on your partner? What kept you down on your hardest days? When did circumstances improve? Did you use medication, or were you able to manage without? What resources did you bring in the last time?

Knowing what was hard the first time can give us a working plan of how to handle the situation differently this time around. Some moms are so clear that they do not want to have another child while COVID-19 is still a concern. Other moms are aware that sleep training is what they needed in order to feel more stable. Many moms know that attending counselling and couples counselling helped them work through anxieties as they surfaced. It sucks to have to learn from our hardships. Knowing what did and did not work can help you decide what to do differently this time around. When you have the awareness, you have a lot more control and influence over the situation.

Find a community

The stats are very clear. About one in seven mothers and one in ten fathers experience postpartum depression. Yet, we live in a world where we suffer silently. Joining a support group, or connecting with other safe parents is one of the best things that you can do for your system. Let go of the pinterest-moms in your world. Don’t try and find validation from your next door neighbour who always looks well-presented and has the most well-tempered baby. These people will (hopefully, unintentionally) make you feel lousy. FInd parents who help you feel less alone. Your worries are similar to the stressors that others have also experienced. Find those who have survived postpartum mental health, and hear about their experiences. Learn what worked for them to not only have this level of encouragement, but to also find strategies that you want to employ.

If you experienced postpartum depression with your first child, it’s highly likely that you felt overwhelmed or frustrated with parenting. The circumstances are much more complicated if you are a single parent, or if your partner works long hours. While this is no one’s fault, feeling isolated in your parenting is an important factor to keep in mind. Gather your support team and come up with a plan that will support your needs. This may involve asking your mother to stay with you for the first week, or asking a friend to check in daily. You might contact resources like a lactation consultant, a postpartum doula, or a sleep-training specialist earlier into your postpartum experience. Your support team can be informal like friends or family, or professionals. Irrespective, these folks are helping you to fill in the gaps. There is a reason for the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” No one should be expected to do it all alone.

Move your body

When we struggle with depression, our body wants to shut down, isolate, hide, or retreat. This makes a lot of sense when the world feels too much. Of course, you want to escape and disengage. It’s far safer in your home than to socialize, take the baby out, or pretend that everything is normal. When we stay hidden away, we can get caught in this safety net for a long time. Sure the world may feel safer when you’ve stayed away, but it’s also felt bleak and painful everyday that you’ve been hidden. If you are ambivalent to have another child because of this shut down experience, there are strategies that can help. There are many coping strategies that can be employed to use address anxiety and depression. The key is to find the right set of skills that fit for you.

One effective distress tolerance skill is to increase our activity level. I get that exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I want to emphasize how quickly it can help you in getting out of a funk. When it comes to a crisis situation, getting even 2-5 minutes of intense exercise will force your physiology to change. Your shut down system is forced to be more alert with this sudden intensity. After this burst of working out, we have about 15-20 minutes of reprieve. We feel more regulated and think more clearly. This gives you a chance to look at your current setup and schedule. You may find you have more capacity to get out of your room, go for a walk, or call a friend. Things that felt unmanageable, suddenly feel more accessible.

Seek treatment

Postpartum mental health is not based on will power. Crying everyday, or stressing about spending time alone with the baby is not a normal part of parenthood. If this is your experience, I want you to know that it does not have to be like this. Postpartum myths can prevent us from seeking out help, and I can appreciate that these are genuine barriers. Whether it’s due to internal shame, external pressures, cultural expectations of motherhood, or any other factors, it can be hard to shift away from this perspective. However, the best part of working in perinatal mental health is that I know it gets better. I see mothers improving within a year or two of delivery. This may involve regular therapy, a community of support, various coping strategies, use of medication, or a combination of interventions. With support, postpartum mental health can improve.

Postpartum depression does not have to define your experience

If you are feeling scared of having postpartum depression again, please reach out. Just because you struggled with your mental health the first time does not mean it will happen again, or that it has to get as bad. There are numerous preventative and reactive interventions that we can incorporate to help you feel more resilient. Reach out when you feel ready.

Take care,
Kasi

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Parenting

Building a bond with your baby: Strategies to help when you struggle with postpartum mental health

When it comes to postpartum mental health, many parents struggle to building a connection with their little ones. There may be feelings of resentment that our lives have changed. You may feel too tired to want to play or sing nurseries. Your anxiety feels too high for you to be comfortable spending time alone with your infant. Whatever the reasons may be, you’ve been coping these months by maintaining an emotional distance from your child and feel desperate to build a bond with your baby.

I want you to know that attachment can be formed irrespective of postpartum mental health. Our relationships can always grow and develop, even when the onset was rocky. The first five years with your child are pivotal, and there are many things that can be done from hereon in to nurture this new relationship safely and without overwhelming your nerves or emotions.

The following strategies will help you feel more secure to meet your baby’s needs. No, they’re not all about singing songs or giving massages. I recognize that singing and massages are great options, but not everyone is at this starting point. So, let’s start slow so that we can get you to a place of feeling more confident to building a better relationship.

1. Introduce your infant to activities that you enjoy doing.

bonding with your baby, attachment, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, strategies to cope

When the bond with your baby is already feeling tested, it’s incredibly hard to push ourselves to do “baby-focused” activities. Your motivation and desire to encourage tummy time or play peek-a-boo is next to nil. When you feel this way, it’s not helpful to ask you to force it. This may work for a day or two, but a stressful event will likely bring you back to square one. Instead, I want to encourage taking small steps that will feel more manageable for your system.

When you focus on your hobbies and interests, you’re often able to relax. There’s less pressure to perform. You have less anxieties about ensuring you’re “doing it right” and, instead, can just enjoy the task at hand. Whether it’s going for a run, cooking a meal, painting, reading a book, playing dungeons and dragons, there are creative ways to bring your baby into your world. Bust out that jogger to take your little one on a run with you. Introduce your baby to different smells, and speak to her about the different spices that are going into your meal. Show her the different colors you’re using while painting. Read outloud from your book so that your baby learns new words. Have her roll large dice for your various rounds in a board game. There are ways to still be you and foster your own interests while including your baby.

2. Build confidence with a support person

When you’re feeling insecure about being a parent, the pressure of parenting independently can feel like too much. Let your partner, friends, or family members know how you feel. Your sense of overwhelm with the baby does not mean you cannot be a good parent. Attachment struggles are a common sign of postpartum anxiety. Rather than avoid your baby all together (many have been here!), or become flooded with frustration or resentment, try and share the load.

postpartum mental health, attachment, bond with baby. family support.

Speak with your family members about spending more time together so that you can grow into this role. It’s easier to play with the baby or learn to handle colicky moments when you have a safe friend or family member supporting you. Your trusted person may give tips (tell them to cool it if it feels too much), or may provide you encouragement as you try. They may be wonderful at providing a distraction, so that you’re less focused on doing things perfectly. This support should also include your friend providing you a time out when you have met your limit and need to take a breather.

adult affection baby child
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A word of caution that it can feel tempting to step away and allow your family member to take over. But if you are hanging out with your little one and there’s a fellow adult around, the conversation feels easier, and there’s less strain to manage by yourself. When you’ve had enough practice with your infant, speak with your support person about coming over for shorter visits. By slowly reducing the amount of support available, you are practicing gradual exposure. This type of practice helps you work set realistic goals within your window of tolerance, and slowly build confidence as you spend more time independently parenting.

3. Make sure you are getting enough time to sleep.

postpartum mental health. building bond with your baby. sleep.

I know this point sounds strange as far as suggestions to improve the bond with your baby. However, one of the biggest turning points for postpartum mental health is having enough rest. You will never feel at your best if you are working off days or weeks of sleep deprivation. Trust that you will feel calmer, more energetic, more engaged and more like yourself when you’ve had sleep. Once you’ve had a solid week or two of rest, check in on your feelings towards your baby. Are you still feel that intense aversion or fear or has it shifted a bit?

For new parents, I strongly encourage working collaboratively to at least have longer segmented sleep. This might mean that one parent takes an early morning shift so that the other gets to sleep in. Or vice versa, whoever is the night owl takes on the later evening feed so that the other can rest. Understandably, parents will have to consider their comfort levels with pumping or formula feeding. While this is a personal choice, I want to emphasize that your system will feel significantly better after having at least four solid hours of rest.

4. Eye contact and Communication

Eye contact and verbal communication are effective ways to building a bond with your baby. These verbal and non-verbal cues help foster language skills and emotional intelligence in your little one. Your baby starts to recognize faces, understand facial cues, and builds a sense of safety with you. By communicating more, your baby will pick up on various words and gain a stronger understanding of language.

attachment and bond with your baby. Eye contact. postpartum in moms and dads

Maintaining eye contact can be incredibly difficulty, particularly if you struggle with attachment traumas or social anxiety. This strategy may not feel right for everyone, and I encourage you to be kind to yourself and where you are in your healing process. If it feels manageable, try and look directly at your baby while breastfeeding, changing diapers, and when doing any tasks related to your little one. Feel free to look away when the baby loses interest or is over-stimulated. I want to emphasize that doing even a little bit is better than nothing at all. If you are able to maintain eye contact while changing a diaper but feel overwhelmed during breastfeeding, work with that capacity.

Many parents with postpartum depression struggle to spend time with their babies, and it’s a big ask to encourage them to speak to their infants more often. If you are not “feeling it”, you don’t have to coo, speak in baby-talk, or sing nursery rhymes. Keep it simple. Describe what you’re doing in that moment with your baby, even it if it sounds like a tedious play by play. Talk about things that interest you in front of your infant so that they hear the variance in your speech patterns. Have conversations with other adults in front of your babies so they can witness different verbal and non-verbal expressions.

5. When there are no words, use hugs.

Perinatal mental health. Crying, fussy baby. Improving bond. improving attachment

Sometimes the baby cries, and it’s the most aggravating experience. You can’t figure it out. You have tried changing diapers, feeding, rocking, and nothing is working. Rather than stress yourself further, if you have the ability, focus on just holding your baby. There’s no need to walk around or figure out a soothing gait. Spend that effort on giving your baby a gentle hug. Touch is one of the most reassuring options for your infant and it provides them a sense of safety. Having that skin to skin contact, when you don’t know the right words or actions to take, can help both you and the baby feel calmer. Building a bond with your baby can involve a variety of different strategies, but sometimes the simplest action of being held can be enough.

6. When there are no words, walk away.

time outs. improving bonds. frustrated dad.

I know this seems contradictory to the previous point, but this is to give you the option to decide your current capacity. I encourage you to start with hugs when you are capable of this action. When you feel you cannot take it, and you are at your max, it’s essential that you have permission to put the baby in the crib and walk away. Giving ourselves timeouts is a wonderful option to take a break, find ways to regulate, and try again after a few minutes. I encourage using a distress tolerance skill (e.g. dialectical behaviour therapy skills like ACCEPTS or changing temperature) during your timeouts as it is a fast way to calm your system.

7. Plan your day

Boredom can be a significant trigger for many people. When you are bored, your mind starts to wander and, oftentimes, you’re back to that pattern of anxious, racing thoughts. Boredom can lead you to that rabbithole of social media where you fall into the trap of comparing your life to others. Boredom can be a common push factor towards drinking. When we are aware that boredom plays a role in our emotional struggle, we can form a plan. When your mental health improves, your ability to build a bond with your baby also improves.

While parental leave can be wonderful, it can also involve long and tedious days. In many ways, going to work provides us a lot of stability: we have a consistent routine of getting up, tasks to accomplish, opportunities for social interaction and consistent break times. If we know what the day will include, it can ease our anxieties, and we can plan ahead for boredom.

So, what will you do this week? Can you try and wake up and go to bed at the same time each day? Do you have opportunities to socialize each day? Are there playdates that you can schedule, outings that you can plan, activities that you’ve wanted to try out? Are there new play gyms that are available in your city? Will you register for a new online parent and baby class? Are there some new and exciting activities or hobbies that you’ve been wanting to take up (with or without your little one around)?

8. Building a bond with your baby does not require perfect parenting

Parenting has become a dreaded term. It’s a job that involves a lot of effort and patience on your part, and very little on the part of your babies. And as with any job, you may be striving to do it right. While your intentions are commendable, the desire to parent well can sometimes lead to additional stress.

When it comes to providing for your baby, “good enough” is more than enough. We are not able to get it right all the time, and it’s unrealistic to expect this of anyone. There are always going to be factors that pull our attention and that prevent us from being able to attend to our child’s emotional cues. In reality, we only get it right about 30% of the time. Other times, we are completely missing the mark on our babies’ cues or working to repair that misattunement. This is perfectly normal and expected in all parents. Rather than getting our hopes up to parent perfectly, we can focus our attention on repair if we have made a mistake. Repair work may involve: apologizing if you’ve been cross, paying attention if your child is trying to engage you in play, or providing that gentle hug if your baby gets frightened by your exasperated sigh. Our expectations can ease when we know that we will only get it right 30% of the time AND that this 30% attunement is what we can expect even in the most loving and secure of relationships.

Reach out

Everyone’s situation is unique. I don’t want to assume that the points I’ve listed out are going to meet your specific needs. If you are struggling with postpartum mental health and you’re concerned about the bond with your baby, reach out for a free consult. Postpartum mental health is treatable. You can get better, and your relationship with your child can be positive.

Take care,

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.