All Posts tagged family

Mom Brain


By: Dr. Tanya Cotler, Clinical Psychologist
Don’t tell but I had that awful daydream again: New moms and scary thoughts.“ Every time I would descend a stairwell with baby Nila*  I imagined falling with her. The day nightmare changes – sometimes I fall on her, or she cracks her head. Sometimes I just shake my head to make the ugly thought go away. ”Molly* sat in front  of me curled in a ball , half hiding her face as she slowly shared with me the “day nightmares” she’d been referencing for several weeks in therapy but had been frightened to share. As I sat and listened, Molly’s body slowly unfolded out of its contorted shape and relaxed a bit more into the seat. She shared that she expected my face to be horrified, and opened up about her fear that if she let anyone know the scary thoughts she was having then they would be horrified or maybe worse actually take her baby away. I helped Molly label these thoughts- they are intrusive thoughts- they are uninvited and come on their own without invitation and indeed can be quite disturbing, but, they are actually quite normal.

As new mothers the idea of being solely responsible for the well being and protection of a precious new little life can be quite overwhelming and indeed anxiety provoking and therefore intrusive thoughts are quite normal and common. These thoughts are a common way for the human mind to test out scenarios  especially when it’s an issue of importance or the person is in a state of increased anxiety. Well, here we are new mom (common increased anxiety) and something she cares about (clearly it’s her baby) and so intrusive thoughts show up.

Donald Winnicott, a prominent English pediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined the term “maternal preoccupation” to describe the early mental process when a mothers mind is constantly focused on her baby. He depicted the optimal “holding” environment for a new baby to thrive as one in which the mother is psychically and physically present for the infant’s needs. That is, just as a new mother is constantly physically occupied with her newborn baby’s needs (diaper, feed, nap repeat!), so too is her mind constantly occupied by nap times, feed times, and concerns over baby‘s physical and emotional safety and health. Winnicott explained that the mother’s mental  preoccupation, and sensitive responding to baby, facilitates the building of a secure attachment bond which is grounded in mom and babe tuning in to one another’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Moreover, there is now scientific evidence to support the normalcy of maternal preoccupation. There are brain changes such as changes in grey matter, that occur in most women post partum. These changes help the mother to be increasingly empathic toward her baby’s experience, while devoting less “brain space” to other trivial stuff like memories of what was for dinner the day before (Insert “mommy brain experience” here).

Despite worrying being part of a normal maternal mental process, at times this experience of preoccupation can also cause a mother undue distress. A mother may feel her mind is unrelenting with thoughts of baby’s well being or she may constantly obsess over bad things happening. When the anxiety feels inescapable, even the most basic decision making becomes difficult. For many this is exacerbated by the information overload and constant opinions from well meaning friends, family (and strangers in grocery lines!). When the scary thoughts feel all consuming and interfere with daily functioning or when a mother starts to develop behaviors to attempt to ward off the “bad” from happening, then it’s possible the mom is struggling with postpartum anxiety or post partum OCD. Indeed, If a new mother finds herself wondering whether her worries and scary thoughts are too much, or she struggles to know what is real or not real, then it is very important to seek professional opinion and support. A mother should not feel alone and plagued by these thoughts.

Indeed, it is common to avoid seeking advice or support because the constant worry and anxiety feels embarrassing or shameful. The problem is that shame over scary thoughts, perceiving them as dangerous and unacceptable, or as evidence of being a bad mother, can make these thoughts even more pervasive.  That is, the secrecy and shame increases feelings of sadness, loneliness and guilt which perpetuates the scary thoughts themselves. Alternatively, sharing these thoughts with a trusted friend, family member or professional may help with tolerating and accepting the dichotomy of emotional experience in motherhood- the love and hate, happiness and sadness, anxiety and calm. The goal when experiencing these scary thoughts is to be able to notice these thoughts, acknowledge them, and then let them go.

A word on trauma: if a new mother has experienced an overwhelming, incomprehensible and devastating psychological experience (be it in childhood, throughout her lifespan, in pregnancy or previous pregnancies, or in labor or birth), scary thoughts can emerge as a fear of the experience reoccurring or as a fear of something else uncontrollable happening. Like a lighthouse, the mind starts to scan the environment for the next ship- the next bad thing- as if catching it before it happens will keep her safe.  This form of “hypervigilance” gives power to the scary thought: it’s the belief that the mother is protecting herself or her baby by obsessing/not taking her mind off of the bad that may happen. If you are worried about how a difficult experience has affected you – and wonder if you are reacting to it or if your scary thoughts are connected to it, talking to a professional is really important and you deserve the support.

The important take home? If you would like to consult a professional about your experience of worries and scary thoughts post partum, you should always feel you can. It may be normal to worry as a new mom, but you should never be suffering in your worries. If you do not know where to turn, you can always look at PSI (post partum support international) for a list of professionals trained in perinatal mental health in your area. You are not – and should not- feel alone.

For further information or to contact the author
Dr. Tanya Cotler
Cotler.phd@gmail.com

More

4 Natural Health Tips for Summer

The sunny days between all of the cloudy, rainy ones are giving us some hope for brighter days. Many families are making plans for the summer, and it’s exciting to finally be anticipating more time spent outdoors. We want our clients and community to enjoy a safe and healthy season, so we thought we’d share some basic and natural tips. High temperatures and sunny days can mean adjusted dietary and health requirements for the whole family.

glass of water1. Fluid replacement: During day trips, team sports, active play and afternoons at the beach, be sure to drink plenty of water and encourage your children to do the same. But skip the sports drinks-Children don’t often sweat excessively, especially during moderate play. Any fluids your child may lose are easily replaced with plain fresh water. Sports drinks contain unhealthily high doses of sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and chemical additives –so be careful what you reach for to replenish fluids and quench thirst.

2. Choose healthy frozen treats: Popsicles and other frozen snacks are a family favourite during the summer –and they can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Skip the artificially flavoured freezies and sugary ice cream, and make your own snacks instead. Opt for frozen bananas, smoothies, or homemade popsicles that use natural sugars and flavours.

Baby sun3. Be sun-smart. Choose a high SPF sunscreen and remember to re-apply every 1-2 hours that your family is in the sun. When possible, take refuge in the shade and minimize direct sun exposure to your skin. Have your children wear brimmed hats and light, cool clothing. You may want to avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, a chemical that is thought to affect hormone levels and cellular health. And it goes without saying- children of all skin types and tones need sunscreen. For fair-skinned children, choose an SPF of 30 or higher.

4. Support your immune system, particularly before big day trips or family vacations. Eat a vitamin-rich diet that features lots of vegetables and probiotics, and be sure to get plenty of vitamin C, even during warm weather. If you know your children are picky eaters during travel, plan ahead when you pack. Take multi-vitamins and easy-to-grab nutritious snacks. Front-load their diet on busy days by sneaking some extra fruit and veggies into a breakfast smoothie.

Wishing you and your family a safe and healthy start to summer!

 

More