It's not uncommon for new mothers to feel overwhelmed as they adapt to the myriad changes that becoming a mother requires. Adjusting to becoming a family of three, loss of pre-baby freedom and functioning on little sleep are all aspects of a shifting identity that emerge during this time. As women become acquainted with their new maternal roles, they often grieve the loss of their former selves.
Unfortunately, society reinforces the message that we can somehow reach into the past and "get back" our "pre-baby lives," which inevitably communicates that we can erase the present and return to the past. I've met with many mothers who express a deep desire to resume working, cleaning, cooking, exercising, etc. as they did before their little ones arrived. Yet when we internalize these messages, we put undo pressure upon ourselves to keep up with the running list of "to-dos" that often contribute to a bad case of preoccupied mommy brain. While we all have thoughts that inevitably distract us from the present moment, identifying some meaningful ways to remain present with your newborn (and yourself) can feel incredibly grounding during this transformative and meaningful time.
One of the ways we can remain present with our babies is to begin practicing the life-skills of mindfulness. Simply stated, mindfulness refers to paying attention, on purpose to the present moment. Contrary to what many new parents may believe, several meditation teachers have identified pregnancy and the postpartum period as an optimal time to begin a mindfulness practice.
At the UCSF Osher Center in San Francisco, California, mindfulness teachers and researchers, Nancy Bardacke, C.N.M. (founder of Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting) and Larissa Duncan, Ph.D. found that parents who cultivated a mindfulness practice before their babies were born reported lower incidences of stress, anxiety and depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period (Duncan & Bardacke, 2010).
Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, and mother of two young children, knows first hand how beneficial mindfulness can be. Carla began meditating when her children were toddlers. At that time, Carla was completing graduate school and noticed that her frustration was increasing while her patience was decreasing. In an effort to feel "calmer, more connected, and present," she cultivated her own meditation & mindfulness practice.
Since that time, Carla has written extensively about mindful parenting. Below, she shares some of the ways that new mothers can parent mindfully:
1. Mindful Breathing: While feeding your baby, it may be tempting to watch TV, check email, or play on your smartphone, but it's also a great time to focus on the baby or focus on your breathing by simply paying attention, on purpose to your breath.
2. Mindful Walking: When you are out with your baby, it's a wonderful time to practice mindful walking by paying attention to your steps - either by counting them or coordinating them with your breathing.
We can remind ourselves that parenting/mothering means simply putting one foot in front of the other and taking one step at a time.
3. Loving Kindness: The early days and months of motherhood are a time when a lot of your attention is focused on your baby. And while many people encourage you to "enjoy every moment," there are many moments and sensations that emerge during your motherhood journey.
Carla reminds parents that they can notice all of the feelings that appear. She says, "When you feel frustrated/overwhelmed, notice those thoughts, and see if you can replace them with some loving ones, either directed towards yourself, your baby or whomever you are struggling with at the moment. "
She offers mothers this loving kindness meditation:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you feel loved.
Carla reminds us that any moment can be an opportunity to practice informal mindfulness and bring our attention back to the present moment. She says that Sharon Salzberg tells a great story about a wise old woman who was caring for so many children that she had no time to meditate. Salzberg asked her how she was so mindful, and she replied that when she stirred the rice, she did it mindfully. The point is that at any time, we can choose to give our full attention to whatever we are doing at that moment.