5 Unhelpful Things Not to Say to Moms
written by Chelsea Skaggs
There’s a big difference between sound advice and things we pass down to new moms that actually can end up being harmful.
Women are fixers. We love to find something encouraging to say- something to make things more rosey. More than that, we feel like we have to have something to say. The idea of just letting another woman sit in discomfort and uncertainty- it’s maddening. This is probably the reason why so many things get passed on to new moms that are not always true and often not helpful. Intentions are good, the result isn’t always. These words of wisdom or encouragement are often set as expectations and when they don’t pan out, a new mom is left feeling defeated and often like she has done something wrong. Being a new mom is full of transitions and emotions. The last thing we need is for a new mom to feel defeated and like she has done something wrong… can we agree on that?
From my own experience, and the conversations with clients and friends, I’m breaking down 5 Unhelpful Things We Say to New Moms. I’ll share why these are unhelpful and even offer an alternative way to approach the topic.
You’ll lose the weight if breastfeeding
There’s no doubt about it, breastfeeding burns calories. Whether you’re directly nursing or pumping, your body is doing a lot of work preparing that food! However, breastfeeding is not the only factor when it comes to postpartum weight. Experiences are different for everyone. It’s truly unfair to tell someone to breastfeed to lose weight.
- It doesn’t work that way. There are a plethora of other factors that go into weight change in postpartum. Also, some bodies see the biggest change when they wean. Even Serena Williams discusses in this article how she didn’t lose weight until she weaned. This is not a reason TO breastfeed or TO STOP. The overall theme is that bodies are different: body composition, stress, hormones, sleep, genetics… they all play a part. If someone says breastfeeding melted her baby weight off, she’s probably neglecting to realize there were other factors at play.
- Even saying this deduces the role of both breastfeeding and postpartum recovery. Why should we have to motivate women to breastfeed by telling them they can lose weight? Breastfeeding is its own unique experience with many aspects, losing weight is not the main objective or purpose. Losing weight is also not the overall goal of postpartum recovery, just as a reminder.
Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, or other Postpartum Mood Disorders only show up in the first few weeks
At your 4-8 week (average 6) postpartum checkup, you’ll most likely be given an Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale. This will have a series of questions to screen you for Postpartum Depression. While this is a good resource and step, this cannot be our main indicator of needing help with postpartum mood disorders. First, there are a number of postpartum mood disorders that may not be caught by this screening. Secondly, symptoms present themselves in different ways and at different times than we often anticipate. Postpartum Mood Disorders can be sadness, lack of motivation, wanting to stay in bed, etc., but that is just one picture. It may also be heightened anxiety, becoming OCD, birth trauma PTSD, having bi-polar episodes, rage, and more. These things do not just happen in the first weeks. In fact, according to Americanpregnancy.org, symptoms can start to show as late a one full year after delivery.
Some women fear to acknowledge their postpartum symptoms thinking that treatment would require them to stop breastfeeding. There are some risks, but overall research has shown the benefits outweigh the risks. You can read more about this here.
It’s Love at First Sight
“You’re just going to fall in love as soon as you see him!” This phrase, while rooted in good intentions, can be very damaging. After the challenges of pregnancy, labor and delivery, a mom is facing and feelings things she never has before. Her body, her mind, her emotions have all taken a wild ride. Perhaps she’s exhausted. Perhaps she’s facing trauma. Perhaps she’s not sure how to handle the way life just changed forever. Perhaps she’s coming off of meds and feeling foggy. Perhaps she is feeling overwhelmed with emotions she can’t describe. Perhaps she doesn’t feel love at first sight. Perhaps she isn’t smitten and giddy. Maybe she, understandably and rightfully, feels any other emotion. What then? Guilt. She feels guilty because she was told that she’d have this instant overcoming of love and if she’s not feeling that right away, she feels like she has missed the mark as a mom right from the start. She’s not a bad mom. She hasn’t done anything wrong. She does and will love this baby deeply… but it may not be her first thought and experience and we have to be there to show up for her in that. (Momma- if you’ve been carrying guilt about this, let it gooooo. You have a reason for whatever feelings and thoughts you had in those moments, and they do not define you as a mother. Feeling instant love doesn’t make you a better mom than someone who takes some time to transition into it.)
Breastfeeding Won’t Hurt
Seriously. Why are people still saying this? Your nipples- skin, ducts, and tissue- usually aren’t pulled, chomped, sucked four hours a day. Breastfeeding turns that all upside down when a little human who can hardly see and has no practice, starts to pull milk out of those nipples multiple times a day. There is no other part of our body that goes relatively “unused” for years and then, in an instant, becomes arguably the most used part of the body. Anything with that drastic of a change is probably going to hurt. Hear me out- I’m not saying it should be longstanding, crippling pain. There is a reason lactation consultants exist and can help you to improve the teamwork of you and your baby- but overall, you’re probably going to have some pain. When anyone says breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, I wonder how they define hurt. My son was considered a “great” eater with no tongue tie or lip tie and learned a great latch, but for a while, I was still digging my toes into the carpet at the thought of feeding. I was lathering up the lanolin, coconut oil, and whatever cream I could get my hands on and yet my chest was raw and painful for a while. Did it get better, yep! We got to the point where there wasn’t pain or anxiety involved but I would never tell a new mom it won’t hurt.
Will be great for your marriage
Marriage is tough. If you’ve been married for a few hours or more, you probably would agree. I love marriage but it’s the hardest thing I’ve done. I’ve heard people say that a baby will “Be great for your marriage” or “Bring you closer together.” Do you know what doesn’t really help something that’s rocky? An avalanche. I also love my kids, but I have no problem describing them as avalanches. Kids come in and turn everything upside down. With them, they bring sleep-deprivation and high physical, mental and emotional needs. If you’re struggling to connect with your partner, a 2am tiff over who is going to wash the sheets that have been shit and puked on probably isn’t going to turn things into roses. There’s something incredible about seeing your partner turn into a parent. There are a lot of skills you learn in connecting in shorter time frames and being more creative about how to show your love. However, I would never prescribe a baby as a remedy for marriage woes. Don’t do it. Improve as much of your relationship as you can before adding a baby in. Obviously, it’s never going to be perfect but again, don’t count on a baby to “fix” things. It’s both inaccurate and unfair.
Ladies, we owe it to one another to get real and gritty about motherhood- and to stand by one another in the awkward moments of uncertainty. Sometimes a fix isn’t the answer, but a listening ear without judgment is. If you don’t have something helpful to say, that’s okay. Just be there. No words are better than well-intentioned words that could set your friend up for failure.
Chelsea Skaggs is a mama of two, a writer, speaker and postpartum coach and the founder of Postpartum Together. Her mission is to help normalize postpartum as well as break stigmas about mind, body and emotion. She keeps shit real. You can learn more about Chelsea’s movement to advocate for postpartum and honest motherhood over at www.strivelesslivemore.com. And you can follow her over on Instagram @chelsb.skaggs.