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This is a guest post from Sandra Mauer of Whole Beginnings.
I got a call from one of my oldest friends yesterday. She had a baby about a week ago. Through tears she said, “This is just so hard. Harder than I thought.”
I have spent the last year of my life as a birth doula and before that almost five years as a full-time nanny. I have spent a great deal of time with mamas postpartum and I hear this often, especially from first time moms. Many women spend a great deal of their pregnancy focusing on preparing for the birth process (and well they should!) but neglect to plan for postpartum period.
Particularly in America, where we have lost a great deal of the rituals around birth, mothers tend to feel lonely in postpartum period when everyone is focused on the new baby. For ten months the mother was doted on, had things carried for her, was told stories, asked questions. Suddenly now the baby is the focus of attention, when he eats, sleeps and poops. A lot of moms feel a sense of grieving over the pregnancy being over, or over a certain aspect of the birth not going as planned. There are few outlets for them to address these concerns and many moms feel that they are supposed to just be happy that baby is healthy and they survived.
But there’s so much more to it than that.
Things You Need To Know
1.) You might feel sad.
Even if everything went beautifully. Even if your birth plan was followed to the letter and your care provider was an angel from heaven. You might still feel sad. Your pregnancy is over, something you spent close to a year of your life focusing on. You no longer sleep when you want and your entire waking life is spent thinking about or caring for this new little being. It’s normal to feel sad. In fact, I think a little sadness is expected. I’ve had several Moms express to me that they expected to start feeling like themselves a week or two after delivery and instead they were suddenly feeling sad and overwhelmed. Sometimes that birth “high”, when your system is flooded with oxytocin and you’re just in awe of what you’ve done and the fact that the baby is here, subsides and a steep drop in hormones can cause a steep drop in feelings as well.
What to do?
Be nice to yourself. Be patient with yourself. You are healing and it will take time. Think about seeing a therapist. It can’t hurt! Especially if you suspect that the postpartum blues are really more like postpartum depression. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom, it means you’re a great mom.
If you’ve had surgery or severe tears (or other complications) this will take much longer. So many moms that have cesarean sections don’t realize the recovery period can last almost a year. Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone, but it is for some. Some moms who receive epidurals have a spinal headache for days or weeks postpartum. Scars that mean you can’t bend over easily (if at all) and migraines will make parenting a newborn that much more difficult. STOP FEELING GUILTY. If you planned to co-sleep and it’s not working or you planned not to and you find yourself co-sleeping, give it up! Do what works for your family and stop trying to fit into a parenting book.
2.) People will pay more attention to the baby than you.
Babies are new and exciting. People assume that you have been taken care of by doctors and nurses and that your only challenge now is sleep deprivation. This can be really difficult to navigate if you hadn’t planned for this and asking for help can feel selfish.
What to do?
Hire a postpartum doula. (try http://doulamatch.net ) Or ask a friend to plan to stay with you a day or two postpartum. Feeling like someone is there JUST FOR YOU can make a world of difference.
Find some Moms. Look for a playgroup or church group — anything where you can talk with other moms and share stories and advice. In fact, if you can find a group of mamas with children the same age as yours (this is easier to find in some areas than others) that would be ideal!
3.) You may not suddenly feel “normal” after 6 weeks.
There’s a term some midwives and doulas use called “the fourth trimester” to refer to the postpartum period. During the first three months of baby’s life you experience a huge separation from baby but at the same time are still so interdependent on each other. In a culture where 6 weeks maternity leave is the norm (if you get one!) and people are expecting you to be back to your normal self, you can feel like something’s wrong with you.
What to do?
Stock your cabinets. Before delivery make sure you have a cabinet of stuff to use postpartum. Maybe even register for some on your baby registry. Things you will be happy you have (a local health food store would have these).
- Sitz bath ( an herbal bath that just comes up to your belly button, to get healthy blood flow to the pelvis and aid healing) Here’s How.
- Nipple balm
- Balm for cesarean scars
- Red raspberry leaf tea or other lactation tea
Be comforted by the fact that it’s normal and ok to feel emotionally on a roller coaster.
4.) Breastfeeding might not feel natural.
It looks wonderful. And in the first few days postpartum it seemed to sort of work but suddenly at week two it just doesn’t work anymore, you may have doctors telling you that the baby isn’t gaining enough weight ( I hear this way more often than is actually true). You may have some major engorgement, major cramping during feedings and feel completely uncomfortable and totally abused. You may have had the idea that birth was the hard part and after birth you would not feel like your body still belonged to someone else, and now you’re feeling overwhelmed. In fact, it might feel very painful and you’re afraid something’s wrong with you.
What to do?
Call the lactation consultant. They are incredibly wise. Breastfeeding can be a huge challenge for a lot of people and it’s the first few weeks, when you’re feeling vulnerable and sad and exhausted that are when most moms give up. Don’t give up! This part will end. Most moms report breastfeeding being painful for the first few weeks. It will get easier. But call that consultant at the hospital or go to La Leche League website, (http://www.llli.org) find your local chapter and make a call. They’d love to help.
Pack Nipple Balm in your bag for wherever you’re delivering. It can make your nipples feel sore right away and this will help. Lots of moms use lanolin. I make an organic balm for sore nipples.
Stop scheduling. New moms have a tendency to write down every feeding, every wet diaper every nap. Stop! You’ll make yourself nuts. The best thing to do is nurse/feed on demand, and sleep when she does. You will know if baby is doing ok, trust yourself and your partner. Obsessing over how many feedings a baby gets (with the exception of babies that are premature or sick of course), will do nothing more than make you stressed about milk production (which can lower milk production!) and make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Every baby is different and gets hungry at different times- just like us! ALSO, babies go through growth spurts. This means that sometimes they sleep longer periods of time and sometimes they cluster feed (maybe at the breast all day one day). This is normal.
5) Pooping can be worse than birth.
And you thought the only poop you were gonna be worried about was during the birth! Several moms have told me they wished someone had prepared them for this. Your body will most likely not create a bowel movement for a day or two after delivery, this is normal. However when you do need to go, that area is still very tender and sore and will not feel great.
What to do?
Just be aware that it will be uncomfortable and maybe a little scary. Take a sitz bath a few times a day and probably something to soften your stools.
Note from Kate: Holding a clean, soft cloth over your stitches/tears/perineum can help too. It keeps your sore spots from getting “contaminated” and also prevents this area from getting pushed too hard. And go slow. It’s uncomfortable in the early days but it goes away fast! I use either cotton flannel or bamboo for cloths to wipe and really do anything else in the bathroom for the first couple of weeks. It is so much nicer than toilet paper and also keeps your hands cleaner.
6) Healing from complications and surgery takes a lot of time.
Just because your uterus and vagina appear and feel somewhat normal does not mean that you have to feel “normal” emotionally. Beyond that, if you’ve had a cesarean, this is major surgery, and you might be surprised to find that you have a headache from the anesthesia, breastfeeding is incredibly challenging, and you can’t bend over to pick up the baby if she’s lying somewhere low.
Each birth can feel different, and so can the postpartum recovery. Especially if you’ve had a very different experience this time (like surgery when you had a vaginal birth before or vice versa.)
What to do?
Say No. I had a mom who wanted to teach an abs class 7 weeks postpartum with her first baby. I gently talked her out of it, didn’t want her to feel incapable but I wanted her to realize she wasn’t quite ready for something that strenuous! Say No when people want to come over and you’re tired. They can see the baby another time. It’s not your job to be polite and show off baby 24/7. If you can’t do it, assign your partner to be bouncer of the house. Only surround yourself with people that are positive and truly helpful.
If your bleeding increases, this is a sign to slow down, mama. You absolutely cannot return to your regular routine even if you might think you can. Take this time, enjoy it.
Say Yes. When someone offers you help or food and you really can use it, say yes. Have people bring you food and hand your older children over to grandparents and neighbors for awhile if you can. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t mean it. I promise. Take help. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good mom, it means you’re a great one.
Take a walk. Get some air. Don’t go for a jog but try to get some endorphins going and some sun on your skin (if you can!). Just a change of scenery can make a world of difference!
And Remember you are a great Mama!
What piece of advice would you pass on to a new mom about the postpartum period? Or what do you wish someone had told you?
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