}

New Baby Q & A with Jennifer Waldburger

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1) Nothing will affect a couple as profoundly as having a newborn. It’s a time of tremendous excitement and joyfulness, but it can also be a very destabilizing time, especially if a couple doesn’t have much external support.  What can parents do if they don’t have family or friends ready to help out?

“That’s a great question. Lots of couples unfortunately don’t live near family, and it can feel overwhelming as a new parent once the relatives who visit to lend an extra hand go back home again. That old adage that it takes a village to raise a child really is true, so it’s important for new parents to seek other supports close to home - new-parent support and education groups, classes for your baby where you can meet other parents, asking that mom at the park to meet up for coffee or a play date.”

2) Having a new baby can really challenge the couple relationship, too.

“That’s for sure! If you’re feeling like it’s hard to reconnect as a couple after having a baby, you are definitely in good company. As overjoyed as you might be as new parents, having a child also exposes every crack and flaw in your couple relationship. That can feel terrifying to face, especially at a time when you are so exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the caretaking. Also, moms’ bodies can take months to adjust after having a baby, making intimacy much less appealing. If you can be patient during this adjustment as you slowly find your way toward connecting as not only a couple but as co-parents - and keep a sense of humor along the way - you’ll likely find that your bond becomes even deeper as you see your love for each other reflected in this little person you welcomed into the world together. A meditation practice can be very supportive to new parents in that it gives them the opportunity to metabolize lots of what’s coming up both as a new parent and a new co-parent - and can make it less likely that your own emotional triggers will create tension and conflict in the couple relationship.”

3) Do you think the influence of social media, such as Instagram and Facebook have changed our expectations around pregnancy and birth?

“Yes, both for better and for worse. On the one hand, it’s great that parents can find so much information online and connect virtually with other parents. On the other hand, sometimes there is such a thing as too much information - conflicting opinions and guidance can make your head spin - and some using social media present images that depict their family life as nothing but joy and happiness and cute “mishaps” with kids. That tends to breed an environment of comparison, and can cause you to feel bad about your own, much messier family life. But it’s important to remember what you’re comparing yourself to isn’t even real! Parents owe it to each other not to gloss over the gritty side of daily life with kids, while of course celebrating all that’s great about it too.

4) If you’re struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, what kinds of connection or support can help normalize and address these symptoms?

“It’s important to distinguish between the experience of sadness, anxiety, and irritability that can be present for any new parent who’s exhausted and overwhelmed, and what is truly postpartum depression. If symptoms are affecting your day-to-day functioning and / or your ability to care for your baby - and have been present for more than two weeks - it’s time to seek help. (Talk to your OB-GYN or your baby’s pediatrician, who can give you a referral.) But even if you don’t have diagnosable postpartum depression, the intensity of emotion, sometimes exacerbated by hormonal shifts, can be very challenging for a new parent - especially when you have to be “on”  and available for your baby pretty much around the clock. This is where a practice of mindfulness and meditation can really help. Learning how to make room for the sensations that accompany these emotions, slowly and gradually, can go a long way toward helping you feel your best as a mom or dad - and helping you be the best parent you can be. New parents don’t have lots of time to meditate, so we created several meditations in this series that can be done with your baby.”

5) We don’t hear much about dads’ postpartum experience. What’s it like for them? Do they experience anxiety and sadness too?

“Some absolutely do. Research indicates that about 10 percent of men experience symptoms of depression after the birth of a child, which is almost twice the rate of depression in males that is usually reported. There’s some evidence to suggest that fluctuations in testosterone play a role in a man’s experience of postpartum depression. And just like with women, the way postpartum depression manifests for men is unique to the individual - some get bluesy, but others may be irritable, anxious, or foggy. Men aren’t socialized the way women are to pay attention to their emotions, so it can feel quite shocking to a man to discover so much activity in his emotional landscape. Many men who meditate describe feeling better able to handle emotional ups and downs.”

6) You have a beautiful new baby series on the Evenflow app, which focuses on cultivating attunement and attachment. What is attunement and why do we hear so much about the importance of healthy attachment with babies?

“Attunement is the ability to sense into your baby’s experience and respond to her needs. Healthy attachment refers to a balanced, loving relationship where there is room for both closeness and separation; it’s an essential cornerstone for a child’s healthy development. But there is a common misconception among moms that being a good mother means attending to all of your child’s needs perfectly all of the time. Not only is that completely impossible, but it wouldn’t be good for your child even if you could achieve it -  what a shock she would receive once she went off to school and realized that isn’t how the world works! Thanks to D. W. Winnicott, a pediatrician and researcher, we know that being a “good enough” mother - one who responds accurately to her child’s needs enough but not all of the time - is actually healthiest of all.”

7) For parents with toddlers and a new baby or another one on the way, how do you bond with your newborn when you’re also chasing after your first child or managing their jealousy?

“Before you welcome your second child, you always wonder how you will love another child just as much. And then when that new baby arrives, your heart expands and somehow there is enough love for everyone. But your older child will have an adjustment period as she  gets used to having to share you and be patient. As a parent of more than one, there will inevitably be times when both kids need you and one has to wait. For your older child especially, if you can recognize this as an opportunity to develop some core self-regulation skills - handling disappointment, tolerating frustration, slowing down impulsivity - you’ll have an easier time allowing your own emotions about not being able to be all things to all people. Kids learn a ton of valuable experience in the sibling relationship that will serve them well out in the world. See if you can find small windows of alone time to bond with your baby (while your older child is at school, napping or with the other parent or a caregiver), and small windows of alone time to reinforce the bond you already have with your older child, too (while the baby is napping or with the other parent or a caregiver).”

 

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Mindful Eating - Bringing Mindfulness to the Basics

By Amanda Gilbert, Mindful Eating Expert

Eating and breathing are two basic acts and fundamentals necessary to survive and stay alive. Both are often overlooked during daily living, in the midst of busy schedules, full email inboxes, a bubbling social calendar, and quality time spent alone or with loved ones. Our attention is regularly anywhere but on these two essentials to our very existence.

Being a meditation teacher, practitioner, and person who enjoys living a healthy lifestyle, of course I am biased when it comes to the opinion that mindfulness is the exact intervention capable of bringing our consciousness and attention to these two basic acts normally so automated and mechanical. However, within this bias is a strong and obvious truth based not only on personal experience and all of my years of practice, but on scientific research, and the self-report of so many meditators, that mindfulness meditation really does train you to be present for the most basic parts of your life.  Especially eating and breathing!

While being mindful of the breath is a very popular practice in meditation, being mindful of eating and food is quickly becoming a new companion in the mindfulness spotlight. Our relationship with food is often oversimplified with the belief that eating should be easy, straightforward, and not something taking up our precious bandwidth in life. But the reality is the opposite. Many of us have long-standing, dynamic, complex, and jumbled relationships with food and consuming food. Bringing mindfulness to this relationship exactly as it is can provide a lot of support around a seemingly out of control experience and become the doorway to change.

In mindful eating, we bring our non-judgmental attention to the entire process of eating and to our relationship to food. From picking up the fork and taking a first bite of a favorite food, to being aware of how full we become as we eat is just the beginning when it comes to mindful eating. We also observe our reasons for eating like true physical hunger in the body or a reaction to stress at work. And we practice making wiser choices around the types of food we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat.

Mindful eating can help us discern our motivations for eating and based on this knowledge free ourselves to make healthier and more supportive choices around food and how we eat.

Here are some simple and accessible mindful eating practices that you can do to immediately bring your attention to the present moment and to the food you are about to eat:

Pause and Take a Breath: This may seem very simple and basic and it is! This fundamental mindfulness practice of pausing and taking a breath with your full attention can help bring awareness to what you are about to eat and why you are eating.

3 Part Mindful Eating: Practicing mindfulness as we eat is a wonderful way to bring awareness into our lives and to the food we are eating. The 3 Part Mindful Eating practice is 1-bring your mindful attention to the utensil you are using as you lift the fork let’s say to your mouth, 2- bring your mindful attention to the bite of food you just took. Notice all of the textures, aromas, and flavors of the food. 3- bring your mindful attention to the fork as you lower it to your plate and let it rest on the plate for a moment, while you take a breath in and out.

Ask yourself, “what would my wise mind do?”: In mindful eating, we cultivate our inner wisdom to help support us making healthier choices when eating. This practice is great to do before you are about to eat and just by asking it you bring mindfulness to why are you eating. Then you can make a wise choice for yourself based on your inner wisdom. A common example is if you are stressed but not actually physical hungry you may be reaching for your favorite snack to comfort you. By asking yourself “what would my wise mind do?” you can then see if it is the right decision to eat or not!

As you embark on your own journey of bringing mindfulness to your eating know that just by practicing bringing your attention to the present moment as you eat via the practices above you are on the first step towards a change.  You can also listen to the new mindful eating series available on the Evenflow app where I walk you through a specific mindful eating practice made to guide you towards insight, health, and freedom around food.

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Body Image: Don't believe everything you think.

By Lauren McMeikan, MA, AMFT #92052

Since we were wide-eyed infants, old enough to hear and see, we’ve been told, again and again, that our bodies are supposed to look a certain way.  We’ve been indoctrinated by television shows, billboards, magazine covers, and even by the voices of well-intentioned parents and friends.  While the details may shift ever so slightly from one decade to the next, the general idea is the same: your appearance is important.  In the 90s it was heroin-chic, today it’s fit, trim and toned, but no matter the guise, that underlying message remains.

And the message is potent.  So much so that while many of us believe consciously that appearance shouldn’t dictate self-worth, we still automatically judge our merit against society’s standards.  As a practicing associate psychotherapist, I meet many people who struggle with these dueling value systems.  When I ask them what they actually believe is important about a body they tend to say things like it’s health, wellness, and the capacity to sustain life.  

But our culture’s convictions are in direct conflict with our own beliefs.  And we are scared – scared of falling short of society’s standards. In this fear, we continue to live lives based on a set of values we ultimately don’t agree with.

Faced with these two belief systems, we are posed with quite a dilemma.  How can we mediate the impact of the beliefs that we’ve been handed – the ones that we don’t even feel are truly important – and, at the same time, reinforce what we actually feel is valuable?

Mindfulness is the first step.

The messages that we hear the loudest, clearest and most frequently are those from the media.  So we often default to this value system even when we blatantly disagree with it.  We can use mindfulness to take a pause, to gain perspective of what messages we’re buying into at any given moment and to determine whether we agree that these messages should dictate our worth.

For example, if you had the thought “I am getting so fat,” you can take a step back and gently consider that thought.  What would you have to believe to make that thought harmful?  You’d have to believe that appearance is an important part of self-worth and that fat is bad.  Do you actually agree with these beliefs?

When asked to explore what you truly value, most of us would agree that appearance is not among the most important aspects of life and that it doesn’t determine a person’s worth.  Sometimes the “fat is bad” belief tries to legitimize itself by clinging to the importance of wellness.  But as the health at every size movement gains momentum, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “fat is bad”  belief doesn’t have teeth.

Fat is a noun that describes something that every human being must have in order to live.  It’s not a state of being.  Some people have more of it, others have less of it.  But the amount of it doesn’t define us and our worth.

So then the question becomes what do you value?  Perhaps you feel that mental health is important or that radical acceptance is worthwhile.  If you can identify what you believe in then you can focus on fulfilling that instead of automatically capitulating to what society has told you to value.  

You might have thoughts like “Oh, they’re in such better shape than me. I hate my body.”  You can take a mindful step back and consider what beliefs make this thought upsetting.  This thought is only harmful if you believe that appearance is important and that all people are supposed to have the same body.  Again, this belief is one perpetuated by the media, but it doesn’t hold up to reality.

We are all born with a body type and our bodies aren’t like wet clay.  

Your body actually isn’t supposed to look like other people’s bodies do.  We are all unique beings with a different genetic make-up.  The idea of comparing your body to someone else’s is similar to comparing your thumbprint to someone else’s.

If we can become mindful of our thoughts and what beliefs they reflect, we can make a choice to realign ourselves with what we actually think matters most.

Sure, we live in the real world.  And there are people who will judge you by your appearance.  I wish that that wasn’t true, and I, for one, am hopeful that our culture won’t always put such emphasis on our looks.  Still, you probably do things with the intent of making yourself look “better.”  I wear make-up and style my hair.  I shop for clothing. But even if we do decide to pay attention to our appearance and to groom ourselves that doesn’t mean that our self-worth should be dictated by how we look and our proximity to some arbitrary cultural standard that will likely change again in a few years or a decade.  Perhaps more importantly, the judgments others make about appearance really don’t matter if we base our worth on our values.

It may take a considerable amount of time to counteract the effects of a lifetime of brainwashing.  In fact, we may always be bombarded by beliefs that we don’t agree with at our core.  That said, we can be aware of what value system is operating at any given moment and make a choice to be informed by other’s ideologies or our own beliefs.  We can decide what thoughts we buy into and which we deem unimportant.

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