The Postpartum Adjustment

postpartum adjustmentAny woman who has experienced childbirth knows the wide array of feelings experienced postpartum.  While every birth and woman is unique, one factor is the same: The Postpartum Adjustment.

Pediatricians and other experts often refer to the first three months of a baby’s life as the Fourth Trimester.  As a therapist, I think of the Fourth Trimester as The Postpartum Adjustment period (for both baby and mother).  As this period of time is a time of adjustment for baby to the outside world, it is also a time of adjustment for mom to motherhood.

In psychology, an adjustment is a process of modifying one's behavior in changed circumstances or an altered environment in order to fulfill psychological, physiological, and social needs. (Merriam-Webster online, 2015).  When a woman gives birth, the changes to her body and environment are massive.  As humans, we naturally adjust to change.  In fact, humans are especially good at adjusting, it’s a matter of survival.

Adding a child to the family is one of the most significant life changes a woman will ever experience.  With change comes adjustment.  Tolerance to change varies from person to person.  What may seem natural and comfortable to one mom may be challenging and frustrating to another. “Typical” postpartum adjustment involves feelings of uncertainty, loss (of former self), fear, inadequacy, loneliness, etc.  For most, these feeling become less and less intense over time (a few weeks) as they change and adjust to their new life.

Healthy adjustment to a new baby includes (but is not limited to):

  • Integration of the baby into the family.  He/she claims spot as an individual member of the family.
  • Role changes for parents.  This is especially true for first-time parents as they go from an individual to parent.
  • Learning to understand and attend to baby’s needs.  (I.e. feeding, sleep schedule, etc.).
  • Learning to understand and attend to one’s own needs. (I.e. Social, emotional, physical).
  • Acceptance of one’s new life.  Life with a child/children is different than without.  While it may feel like a loss of what once was, one should slowly begin to accept the change and embrace the new life.
  • Confidence. As parents integrate and accept a baby into their lives they should develop confidence and mastery of new skills.
  • Love.  Parents who have made a healthy adjustment to the baby will feel love and joy.

Keep in mind if you seem to be having a particularly difficult time making the adjustment into motherhood you could be suffering from Postpartum Depression. Postpartum depression symptoms may include: Loss of appetite, insomnia, intense irritability and anger, overwhelming fatigue, loss of interest in sex, lack of joy in life, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with your baby, withdrawal from family and friends, and/or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. (Mayo Clinic, 2015).  As discussed above, many women will experience mild symptoms postpartum (often referred to as the baby blues), postpartum depression should be suspected when symptoms are severe and have lasted over two weeks.  Contact your OBGYN or local mental health professional if you suspect you may be experiencing these symptoms.  Another good resource is the Postpartum Support International call line: 1-800-944-4PPD.

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Bess StarkweatherGuest Blog by Bess Starkweather, MA LLP, Psychologist, Limited License

Bess Starkweather is a Limited Licensed Psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Counseling. She received her Master of Arts degree from Western Michigan University and Bachelors in Psychology from Grand Valley State University. She has worked as a psychologist in many diverse settings including: inpatient case-management, outreach therapy, private practice, and the non-profit sector. Clinically, Bess employs a variety of evidence-based therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Solution Focused methods. She supports and encourages her clients in a process that is compassionate and empowering. Bess enjoys working with people of all ages but has a passion for children and adolescents.

Bess values spending time with her family and loves being a mom. In her free time she enjoys: reading, going for walks, shopping, watching movies/TV, and traveling. She said her favorite local vacation destination is Lake Michigan and favorite trip of all time was to Hawaii. People who know Bess well describe her as easygoing and compassionate.

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