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Matrescence: The Emotional Transition to Motherhood and How to Cope

Two pregnant women sitting and leaning on each other through their transition to motherhood


Becoming a mother is an incredible and complex journey. It involves the physical act of giving birth and a profound emotional and psychological shift known as matrescence. This term often likened to adolescence, describes the transition to motherhood, marking a significant phase in a woman's life. It's a time filled with joy, uncertainty, challenges, and immense change. Understanding matrescence can help new mothers navigate this important period more effectively.


Understanding Matrescence

Matrescence is a transformative phase where a woman evolves into a mother. It involves numerous changes: hormonal adjustments, identity shifts, and evolving relationships. Like any major life change, this transition can be overwhelming. Women often experience mixed emotions—excitement about their new role coupled with anxiety about the changes and responsibilities it brings.


The concept of matrescence is crucial because it recognizes the transition to motherhood as a distinct, significant phase. Acknowledging this can help society provide better support systems for mothers. Understanding this is a normal phase can also help mothers accept and adapt to their new reality.


Awareness of Health Risks

An important aspect of adapting to the changes during matrescence involves being aware of health risks that can impact both mother and baby. The transition to motherhood is an ideal time to prioritize health and make informed choices about lifestyle habits. Understanding these risks and avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy can help expectant mothers protect their health and the well-being of their newborns. Some of the risks include: 


  • Alcohol Use—A significant concern is the effects of alcohol use during pregnancy. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a range of complications and adverse outcomes, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which encompass a range of physical, behavioral, and learning problems. 

  • Smoking—Smoking and exposure to certain environmental toxins are equally hazardous. Smoking during pregnancy can result in premature birth, low birth weight, and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  • Toxins—Exposure to environmental toxins such as lead and certain pesticides has been linked to congenital disabilities and developmental problems in infants.


Emotional Changes During Matrescence

The emotional landscape of a new mother can be rocky. Hormonal changes can cause mood fluctuations, anxiety, and even depression. The pressure to instantly bond with the baby and be a perfect mother can intensify these feelings. It's normal for new mothers to feel a sense of loss as well—the loss of their former life, identity, or career.

Accepting that these feelings are part of the transition can be liberating. It’s important for mothers to know they're not alone in feeling this way and that these emotions are a normal part of their journey. 


Physical and Lifestyle Changes

In addition to emotional changes, new mothers face physical changes and challenges. The body goes through recovery from childbirth, which can be both painful and exhausting. Sleep deprivation is common, often exacerbating stress and emotional instability.


Lifestyle changes are equally impactful. A newborn's constant needs disrupt previous routines and personal time, leading to a feeling of loss of control. It's vital for mothers to find a new rhythm and slowly adapt to their changed lifestyle without harsh self-judgment.


Strategies for Coping with The Emotional Transition to Motherhood

Coping with the transition to motherhood is about finding balance and support. Here are some strategies that can help.


Seek Support

Lean on friends, family, or support groups, and talk to your partner about your struggles. Talking about your feelings can alleviate the sense of isolation and help you get practical solutions from those who've been through similar experiences. Don't hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. Even connecting with other mothers online can offer insights and moral support that make you feel less alone and validate your experiences. These networks can be invaluable, providing both emotional support and practical tips like coping strategies or recommendations for helpful resources.


Set Realistic Expectations

Dispelling the myth of the perfect mother is extremely important. Accept that there will be challenging days, and that feeling overwhelmed is okay. Remember that each mother's experience is unique, and comparing yourself to others can add unnecessary stress. Focus on what you can manage realistically and acknowledge your efforts. Recognizing that some days will be better than others can help maintain a more balanced perspective on motherhood.


Self-Care

Prioritize your well-being. Small acts of self-care, such as reading for a few minutes, taking a short walk, or taking a warm bath, can replenish your emotional reserves. It's also important to try to maintain a balanced diet and get as much rest as possible, even if sleep is interrupted. Consider self-care as a necessity, not a luxury, as maintaining your health is essential for both you and your baby. Making time for hobbies or interests can also keep your identity intact as you transition into your new role as a mother.


Professional Help

If emotional challenges persist, seeking help from a therapist can provide strategies to manage feelings of depression or anxiety. Professional guidance can be crucial in navigating more complex issues, such as postpartum depression or anxiety, which might not resolve on their own. Therapists can offer coping techniques that have been proven effective and can tailor their advice to suit your specific situation, helping you regain a sense of control and well-being.


Educate Yourself and Others

Understanding the psychological changes of matrescence can empower you. Sharing this knowledge can also educate others, fostering a supportive environment. Learning about the biological, psychological, and social aspects of this transition can demystify many of the challenges and emotions new mothers face. Educating your partner, family, and friends, you help them understand your needs better, which can lead to more effective support. When communities are informed, they are better equipped to create resources and support networks that reflect the true needs of mothers.


The Takeaway

Matrescence is a profound, sometimes challenging, transition to motherhood. Recognizing and understanding this phase can greatly ease the emotional burden it might bring. Mothers can navigate this period more smoothly and emerge stronger with the right strategies and support. Seeking help and practicing self-care are essential steps in adapting to one of life's most beautiful transitions.


 

This is a guest post written for Dr. Jordan Harris.

Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists who works in the Northwest Arkansas area, servicing Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. With over 10 years of experience, he's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his specialty is working with couples with young children


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