Of all the challenges that we take on over the course of our lives, none is as hard or as rewarding as parenthood. If you had a doula during labor she can help you prep for this critical time. As doula’s we know that it may be difficult, but there is a primal drive to create something new and wonderful, like a child. We’re going to talk about the postpartum period for new mothers, and how to deal with the physical and emotional challenges of birth. It’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed, but the truth is that you’re not alone: millions of new parents are going through the same thing, and they’ll have a lot of the same concerns as you.
For many women, the postpartum period is the time in their life where they’re at their most vulnerable. They’ve just experienced a huge amount of pain and physical stress, and instead of being allowed to recover they’re now supposed to look after something that is completely dependent on them. It’s not unlike having your appendix removed and then immediately having to look after a puppy full time - but more extreme. Parenthood will redefine all of your close relationships: with your friends, your family, your partner and possibly even your colleagues. This is because of the huge shift in your life that is happening: you won’t be as worried about missing someone’s birthday party because there’s something diverting your attention.
The good news is that this only really happens when you have your first child, because after that people know what to expect of you. You’re also likely to feel much better and more confident afterwards: you’ve done this before, your partner has (usually) done this before and you can apply your first hand experience. However, sometimes things are different - from complications with birth to different behavior from your baby, so remember that it is okay to reach out for help if you feel you need it.
Let’s talk about some of the physical changes you’ll go through postpartum. Firstly, you’ll bleed for a couple of weeks. This is because your body is healing from the inside out which can take some time. Although it looks like one, it isn’t actually a period, and it’s called the Lochia. It’s made up of the blood, mucus membrane and lining of the uterus. You shouldn’t use tampons doing this time as you’re more likely to get an infection, so pads are best. If you do start to bleed heavily (using more than one pad per hour) you’ll need to contact a doctor and you might need medical attention.
Here's a list of things that might be helpful to get for your postpartum:
peri bottle (they should give you this in the hospital)
stool softener (if recommended by your provider)
heating pads (to aid in after birth pains)
nipple cream (or coconut oil, whichever you prefer)
equipment for padsicles
Padsicles are great to help soothe the vagina and labia after birth. You can start with extra large absorbent pads, then add witch hazel, lavender oil, aloe vera or coconut oil (whichever you prefer), then put them in sandwich bags and chill in the freezer.
Your uterus will return to a normal size, but don’t expect your body to immediately ‘snap back’ to how it looked before you became pregnant. A lot of midwives and birth doulas notice that women want or hope that this will happen and that they’ll be back wearing jeans and doing all of their normal activities very quickly. This isn’t always possible, and is a lot of (often unnecessary) stress to add to a challenging time. Your body created something amazing: be patient with it. Some women feel unattractive after they’ve given birth, or like they’ve lost what makes them feel sexy. How long this lasts will vary between women, and the solutions for it also depend on your own ideas about attractiveness and what turns you on and makes you feel confident.
Your breasts will start leaking milk and feeling sore, regardless of if you choose to breastfeed or not. You should be aware of the symptoms of mastitis, which include a high temperature, feeling like you’re getting the flu, or redness/inflammation of your breast. The best thing to do is to feed your baby, which will physically remove some of the pressure. However, you should discuss this with a doctor, doula or midwife if you have any concerns.
Unfortunately, your breasts won’t be the only things that feel sore. It’s very common for women who’ve just given birth to have some pain when they urinate or poop. There are products that you can use to help you with this, and it won’t last for very long.
Finally, your body will be releasing a lot of oxytocin during and directly after birth. It’s called the love hormone and it’s really helpful for getting you and your baby to bond, delivering the placenta but it can also increase your feelings of vulnerability. It can make you extremely compassionate, but also incredibly sensitive and you might struggle to keep things in perspective: the odd unkind look or rude comment from a stranger probably says more about them than you, and you don’t need to feel heartbroken about it - but if you do, it’s absolutely understandable and valid. Oxytocin also has practical uses around the body: it helps the uterus shrink back to its normal size, and it can help stop hemorrhaging and aids with the production of milk. It’s not the only hormone that changes: estrogen levels will drop about two weeks after the birth, and this can cause ‘baby blues’ (not a type of music or a different name for postpartum depression). Baby blues can make the mother feel sad, anxious and irritable, but it won’t last for more than two weeks after the baby is born. If the mother still feels this way she might have postpartum depression, which can develop at any point in the year after the baby’s birth. It affects about 1 in 10 women, so there’s a good chance you’ll know someone who’s had it. Officially, the postpartum period can last for up to six months after the baby’s birth.
In Mexico, mothers will have a cuarentena with their new child. It involves putting the mother and baby into bed together for 40 days and nights and just allowing them to bond and heal: nothing else is expected. The woman’s partner or a few close friends/family might bring food, but the woman does not have to socialize, look after the house, go back to work, take care of any other children or do anything except be close to her new baby. You don’t have to be Mexican to try this: if you have the support and think it might help you, give it a go. For some women, the cuarentena is a wonderful thing and can really help them after the stress of pregnancy and labor. However, it’s not right for everyone: some women, especially those with postnatal depression, might find that this isn’t helpful and they would prefer to spend some time away from their baby to reaffirm their sense of self instead of just as their baby’s mother. Both of these choices are completely valid and fine, and it is the mother’s right to do whatever feels best to her.