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Dr. Ricki Pollycove on Being a New Mom
Ricki Pollycove, M.D., is a nationally recognized health expert for women, regularly appearing on television and radio. She is the author of Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind and Intimate Relationships. Pollycove has delivered more than 1,500 babies in her career as an OB/GYN and is now a leader in the practice of integrative medicine in women’s healthcare. She also has been a mother of one for more than 18 years. Here, Pollycove shares some secrets to being a new mom.
What are the typical fears and questions women have in the first 30 days of being a new mom?
It’s usually all about the baby. Is the baby okay? Am I doing this right? Is this all normal?
What are new moms surprised by in the first 30 days?
One of the toughest things is the shocking exhaustion that can lead women to quietly feel that they are completely alone in how much they are not enjoying being a new mother. You have all these expectations, but you can be too tired to feel anything but worried. I remind my patients that sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture.
Many of my patients feel humbled after just a few days. New motherhood is very challenging—the 24/7 effort, the baby’s crying, the initial difficulties with nursing, the ongoing exhaustion and your own physical healing. Even very grownup girls start crying!
At the same time there is a wonderful feeling of connection, the realization that you are a mother and are part of this larger sisterhood of mothers.
What are the biggest challenges of being a new mom?
The two greatest enemies in the first month are fatigue and lack of hydration.
Sometimes you are going to feel a bit crazy from the fact that you have very little uninterrupted sleep. You have to conserve your natural resources. Sleep when the baby sleeps: Even if you are too wired to sleep, you have to lie down and rest.
And you absolutely have to hydrate your body—my rule of thumb is that you are drinking enough water when your urine is clear. Hydration flushes out the waste products and keeps your body fresher and more energetic. It is also important for an ample milk supply—the number one reason for inadequate milk production is dehydration.
What is the most important advice you give to new moms?
It is important to have trust. You have to trust the wisdom built into your baby and your body. Just as with labor and delivery, your body knows how to mother. The human race has survived for thousands of years so we must know what we are doing!
I also give my patients a mantra, “Remember that it is not forever; it’s just for now.” You can get through every hour of the first 30 days with this.
Be selective with whom and how you spend your time. Just say no to visitors and people who put demands on your time. You only should be focusing on you and your baby.
Why are the first 30 days of motherhood such a vital time?
The first 30 days sets the stage, for better or worse, for your approach to motherhood. It shows you how you will handle challenges and go about problem-solving for this new little family. This is an opportunity to establish how you want to be.
What do new moms need most in the first 30 days?
You need a reassuring voice—your partner, a great baby nurse, your mother or mother-in-law—someone to remind you that you are doing just fine. I like to tell my patients, “Your baby thinks you are the expert; you are the best mother he or she has ever had!”
You also need to have loving compassion for yourself. And if this is a problem, then it’s a great time to change that. You don’t want to raise your baby with the example of self-criticism and deprecation.
And you need to get past the baggage that many women carry around that is highly materialistic—if you have the right stroller, the right car seat and the right layette, everything will be great. That is not true. It’s about you learning. It’s in the very simple, practical, repetitive tasks of mothering that we become mothers. It’s not an intellectual thing. You are just as naked, just as vulnerable as your baby. Part of the beauty of bonding is the enormous humility that comes to all of us as a mother.
What are the phases a new mom will go through this first month?
It’s a gradual movement from a physical focus on your healing and taking care of the baby to realizing that you have survived and that you know what you are doing. You are a mother!
What should new moms keep in mind after the first 30 days?
Don’t lose your voice that asks for help. Not reaching out is how a woman becomes isolated and falls off the radar screen. It’s the biggest danger for a new mother.
It’s also about remembering that you are not whole for quite a while. You need to let yourself come together in a new way and to be patient with the process. In the end, you will not only be whole, but you will be more complex and wise. New motherhood is so fantastic if you really take time for self-reflection and contemplation—whether you call it meditation, prayer or just time and space for respite—so that you can restore and soothe yourself.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I believe it’s such a huge, divine universe and the wisdom is out there. I can ask for help; I am not alone. The only reason I’m uncomfortable with change is that I’m a control freak and I have the illusion that I’m in control.
The best thing about change is...
…it’s yet another learning opportunity!
What is the best change you have ever made?
When I was in medical school, I was choosing between different residency options. I went with the path that was more fun and felt natural for me—OB/GYN.
For more information on Dr. Ricki Pollycove, visit www.drricki.com.