In hospitals, birthing centers, and homes, nearly four million babies are born in America every year. As these newborns enter the world, millions of quieter births are taking place, too. Though not documented on birth certificates or recorded by the government, these emerging identities are just as beautiful, just as compelling, and just as worthy of attention. Every year, millions of mothers are born.

But a frightening trend has impacted the way we look at motherhood: the expectations we place on new mothers have grown outsized and boundless. If mothering was the hardest job in the world before, it has become harder still. The pressures on today’s moms to be perfect are sky-high, while the resources provided are few and far between. In overt and subtle ways, the messages being sent to us are that the maternal experience does not matter, that to be a good mother means to be a good martyr. Over and over again, everywhere we turn, moms are getting the message. And we’re answering the call. Unfortunately, the results have devastating implications for us, our babies, and our families.

Becoming a mother is a complex transition, layered with profound and intense emotion. Among the biggest of life’s privileges, motherhood affords an opportunity to experience unparalleled love and incomparable joy. And, like many heightened experiences, the entrée to motherhood also brings enormous responsibility which can cause feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, guilt, anger, and fear.

Most jobs offer some sort of training–an orientation, a chance to shadow an experienced employee, an instruction manual. Motherhood, the most important job there is, offers none of these. New mothers are led to believe maternal instinct and mother’s intuition are the natural tendencies that will help them to gracefully embrace this new role. But how can instinct and intuition help moms navigate the fatigue brought on by sleep deprivation, the mechanics of breastfeeding, the social isolation, the career negotiation, the management of co-parenting or single parenting, and the myriad other trials that leave mothers understandably overwhelmed–especially in the beginning. Maternal instinct and intuition are meant to help mothers care for their babies. They are valuable guides, but they are not enough. New mothers need to know how to care for themselves. They need something more than intuition and instinct. They need an arsenal of reliable supports.

Having a baby a natural biological process–it happens all day, every day, up to four million times a year! But nature doesn’t always mean sunny skies and starry nights. Sometimes it means pounding hail and stormy nights. The early years of motherhood offer the full spectrum of natural weather. But learning to take care of ourselves as we take care of our little ones allows us to greatly improve the forecast for ourselves, our babies, and our families. Few people dispute that tending to the body, mind, and spirit are essential to living a healthy and happy life. And yet, during one of the most stressful and overwhelming of life’s transitions, new moms often get short-shrift. Doesn’t that seem backward? Shouldn’t mothers be getting more support at this critical life-stage? Shouldn’t someone teach them, for example, that acupressure can actually bolster milk production and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol? Wouldn’t it be helpful for them to be shown a simple coloring exercise that improves feelings of productivity and enables mother-infant bonding? What if every new mother were taught which foods can directly impact physical healing from labor and delivery and enhance emotional health? These ideas are not the stuff of daydreams. They are facts steeped in science. Every mother should have access to them.

Mothercare needs to be taken seriously and it starts with acknowledging that we have to stop putting pressure on moms to completely sacrifice themselves in order to take care of their children. We need to give women the tools they need so that they and their children can thrive.

This article is adapted with permission from Familius. Excerpt from Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom by Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT.

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