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 (31 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.

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