NAYA| Motherhood and social support

What a woman has to go through during motherhood is too complex to be described as good or bad.
by Nada Richa

27 March 2020 | 12:57

Source: by Annahar

  • by Nada Richa
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 27 March 2020 | 12:57

This file photo shows a mother holding her baby.

Birthing a child is a blessing. As amazing as it is, this complex phase can be filled with emotional instabilities and difficulties. Whether motherhood has been a lifetime fancy or an unplanned event, many women experience mixed feelings about themselves and their babies during the postpartum phase. New mothers might encounter some difficulties during this period such as trouble in breastfeeding. The postpartum phase has been mostly explored in the context of postpartum depression. Certainly, many women around the world experience mental illness during this phase. However, not all the difficulties and negative emotions experienced during this stage of life indicate the development of a mental health issue. With the fluctuating hormones, the sleepless nights and the identity shift, it’s normal to go through negative and conflicted emotions during this period. Different types of hard emotions can be experienced during this phase such as maternal ambivalence, a common conflicted emotion felt by some, which relates to the need for wanting a child close, and also craving space on the physical and emotional levels. The identity shift triggers some women to feel lost somewhere in between their identity before and after motherhood. Disappointment can also happen during this period due to mothers constantly comparing themselves to the “perfect” mother they aspire to be, which can be far from their identity and is usually influenced by their family, their culture or the media.

Social support, a preventive factor against postpartum depression

Reducing stigma around hard emotions, finding ways to increase conversation and getting social support are vital to women’s mental health. Unfortunately, many women are ashamed to discuss their emotions for fear of being judged or wrongly labeled, leaving their stories untold, which might lead to isolation and depression.

In this respect, research has shown that social support acts as a buffer against postpartum depression. Besides, recognizing the support needs and expectations of new mothers is crucial during the postpartum phase. Hence, extended social support is needed, be it from partners, families, or peers who had similar experiences or professionals.

The main part of motherhood that might give rise to negative emotions is breastfeeding. When breastfeeding doesn’t work out the way a mother had hoped for, negative emotions such as guilt and disappointment might arise. Hence, many mothers put themselves under excessive pressure to make it the “right” way, which doesn’t help their mental health. In this regard, speaking up and seeking immediate help and emotional support would be the recommended initiatives to prevent postpartum depression.

As part of a recent study aiming to explore experiences with support for breastfeeding in Beirut, several breastfeeding support interventions had been launched, with peer support and professional lactation support provided by International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), to target the decline in exclusive breastfeeding rates in Lebanon.

According to the study, breastfeeding mothers didn’t face negative emotions; instead, they were happy with their breastfeeding experience and extremely grateful for the support provided by their peers and the IBCLCs. Peer support was understood to be important in encouraging mothers to breastfeed and in dealing with emotional challenges, whereas IBCLC support was influential in problem-solving and in overcoming medical issues.

In the highly privatized Lebanese health system, both prenatal and postnatal care don’t follow standard practices. Furthermore, the only form of providing postnatal care is the six-week postnatal checkup, used by only around half of the birthing population versus 96% reporting at least one prenatal visit. Thus, strengthening postnatal care and support can be very helpful, especially for first-time mothers.

What a woman has to go through during motherhood is too complex to be described as good or bad. While navigating this major life transition without the benefit of experience, mothers will cope with hard emotions and difficulties, which is a normal part of motherhood. Acknowledging that new mothers are undergoing a considerable transformation and thus, need support from society as a whole is of major importance.

Nada Richa is a graduate of NDU University with a Master's Degree in Media Studies, where she presented a thesis entitled “The Impact of Online Activism against Domestic Violence in Lebanon on Women’s Empowerment and Social Change.” Richa is also a researcher in the Lebanese Center of Strategic Studies CLES.

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Welcome to “NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.farhat@annahar.com.lb

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