Overcoming Isolation When a Baby Arrives

by Amber Strocel on March 10, 2010

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Welcoming your first baby is a very overwhelming experience for many parents. In North American culture very few of us spend much time around newborns until we have our own. I probably clocked in about 17 minutes total holding other people’s new arrivals before my daughter was born. Most of us just don’t see a lot of babies in our daily lives.

Many of us live far away from our families of origin these days. This means that when our babies arrive, they often arrive to a largely empty house. Most fathers don’t get much (or any) time off following their child’s birth, so new moms find themselves at home alone with their babies pretty soon after giving birth. The adjustment came as a big shock to me, and I think it does to many working moms. I was accustomed to spending my days in an office environment. There was order and a schedule and treat time on Wednesdays. In the span of a few weeks it was just me and a tiny baby and I felt totally lost.

This experience of isolation with a newborn is pretty common, but I this is not the way it was meant to be. If we examine the postpartum practices of traditional cultures, for instance, we see a very different story. Most traditional societies held that in the first 30-40 days of life the mother and baby were vulnerable and required special protection. They stayed at home, in bed, and the mother ate special foods, prepared for her by other women. There were rites of passage, and special rituals marked the completion of this confinement period. Mothers were not alone with their newborns, struggling to find some lunch.

Family of three
My husband Jon and I with our newborn daughter, Hannah

It is well and good to comment on how isolating new motherhood can be, but the truth is that I am not planning to move in with my in-laws or adopt a whole new lifestyle. Even if we remain in our single family homes in the suburbs, I believe it is still possible to reduce or eliminate some of the isolation that a lot of new parents feel. Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Parenting groups, such as Attachment Parenting International, can provide valuable support to new parents. Having someone to talk to who understands what you are experiencing is invaluable when you’re feeling alone.
  • Postpartum doulas provide families with support during the early days and weeks of their new baby’s life. They can take care of basic tasks like cooking and light housework, and provide information on breastfeeding and baby care.
  • If you know someone who just welcomed a baby, consider helping out. Having someone hold the baby while you shower is a huge help, as is having a friend run the vacuum or unload the dishwasher. A little bit of assistance goes a long way.
  • Planning ahead when you are expecting can help reduce any feelings of overwhelm later on. For example, casseroles in the freezer or friends on stand-by will simplify your life while you learn to care for your baby. Many people are willing to help but don’t know how, so asking for what you need can make a big difference.
  • What about you? Do you have any thoughts on how to better support new families, and reduce the experience of isolation that many new mothers feel?

    Amber blogs about her daily adventures in parenting two small children at Strocel.com.

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    Amber Strocel (29 Posts)

    Amber is a hippie mama to two, a writer, a dreamer, a student, an erstwhile engineer and a lover of chocolate. She lives in suburban Vancouver with her family and one very cranky tabby cat. Keep up with her on her blog at Strocel.com.


    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    Jaimee March 10, 2010 at 8:50 am

    This is a great topic and one that is definitely overlooked in our society. This why we have such high rates of postpartum depression and maternal mortality in this country. Mothers, especially first time mothers, need help to adjust to life with a new little one. One 6 week postpartum OB appointment is hardly sufficient. Many midwives visit several times in the first few weeks, but you might even need more than that. If you don’t have any relatives close by, as the article mentioned, a postpartum doula can be a life saver.

    After the first couple of weeks, I found baby groups and “play” dates with other moms of babies to be invaluable. Looking forward to someone coming to visit or forcing myself to get out of the house made me feel human and when I feel good, I’m a better mother. Support is absolutely crucial. Now you can get on the internet and visit sites like API’s or MDC’s discussion forums. It’s a great way to connect with other mothers and get advice. But, don’t underestimate the importance of real life contacts. When you child gets older, you’ll need older kids around to entertain them and babysitting exchanges are a great way for you to get some alone time or go out on a date.

    Reply

    abbie March 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks for this post Amber! With my baby due any time, I appreciate the tips!

    Reply

    MamanADroit March 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    This was definitely tough for me. I had contractions and bleeding for 8 days before they delivered Baby via c-section, so besides being inexperienced with babies, I was also in a lot of pain and fatigue, and trying to recover without medication as much as possible because I was breastfeeding. Talking on the phone to my parents, in-laws, and even my brothers and grandparents helped me not feel so isolated. I definitely recommend getting a cell or landline phone plan with lots (or unlimited) of minutes if you can afford it!

    Reply

    Sarah November 23, 2013 at 2:05 am

    This is a good article on a topic that needs to be discussed. I’m finding I have no one to help out and wondering how one goes about making new friends with a colicky baby? My husband works shift work and we recently moved to a new city. We are far from family. None of our acquaintances have kids and I’m finding invitations to meetup or do things are declined now that we have a baby. Everyone is busy or has a reason why they can’t hang out. I’m quite sad and often as a trip to the grocery store or the post office is sometimes the only social interaction I have for days.

    How does one go about making new friends with a tiny baby that requires care 24/7?

    Reply

    Lisa Lord November 25, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Sarah,

    Like you, I was living in a new town where I knew no one beside my husband and did not have family nearby. The baby and toddler playgroup at our local community center turned out to be a great way to meet other parents, many of whom also felt lonely in the early days of parenthood. I developed many good friendships and plenty of acquaintances over the years at the playgroup.

    You may wish to check if there is an API Support Group in your area. If not, you may wish to consider starting one! If there is no API group, you can check if there are other sponsored playgroups, parent groups or parent/baby classes in the area. You may also wish to check the web to find out if there is a parents’ site for your city or area, which may list local playgroups, parent/baby classes or classified ads in case you want to start a playgroup of your own.

    I hope you find this information helpful.

    - Editor, APtly Said

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