Postpartum Recovery and Support for New MomsOct 29, 2021 ● By Cristina Madine
Nomad_Soul for Adobe Stock.jpg
Often called the fourth trimester of pregnancy, the first months after a baby is born can be an incredibly stressful time for a new mom. Pregnancy requires a considerable amount of physical and mental exertion, and delivery puts a major strain on a woman’s resources. Pregnancy and delivery exhaust and change a woman’s body significantly, yet there is not enough importance placed on mental and physical recovery time. Societal and familial pressures to get back to everyday activities, changes of new motherhood and the potential loss of autonomy affect everyone involved.
Many cultures traditionally view the postpartum period as a crucial time to support the mother, baby, family and by extension, the community. The woman needs to rest and be physically and mentally nourished during the first six weeks. In modern society, the focus is on getting pregnant, pregnancy and childcare. The new mother is often completely overlooked amidst all these profound changes. The reality is that women need sufficient time to recover and heal from pregnancy and the physical demands of labor.
Many women in postpartum experience a variety of symptoms due to brain changes (i.e. “baby brain”) and physical symptoms like heavy flow; swollen face, hands and feet; enlarged breasts; stretch marks; varicose veins; back and vaginal pain; aching joints; incontinence; constipation; hair loss; acne; no energy; and many more. In addition, mental health can be greatly altered through anxiety, fear, confusion, a sense of isolation, an inability to cope and judgment from others. Here are some recommendations to ease postpartum symptoms and recovery.
Hormone levels drop significantly once the placenta is delivered, especially estrogen and progesterone. Another significant hormone that falls is the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which helps with cortisol production. If it isn’t replenished within the first weeks after delivery it will not return to normal. Thyroid hormone imbalances, low levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and cortisol, as well as sleep deprivation, leave a woman further depleted. The postpartum period is painful, uncomfortable and life-altering. It is not always the picture of glory, nor is it frequently talked about or treated.
Have hormones checked. Frequently imbalances go undetected. Estrogen, progesterone, TSH, T3 T4 and cortisol are the main targets. Other tests to consider after six weeks postpartum are a complete blood count, iron, homocysteine, MTHFR gene, and vitamins D and B12.
Prepare for Recovery
For the first month of postpartum, focus on rest, bonding and replenishment of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12, copper and magnesium. Consume foods high in healthy fat, full of nutrients and easy to digest. Consult a healthcare provider to test for any deficiencies before taking supplements or making any dietary changes.
Be mindful and realistic of changing energy levels and the need for privacy. Set firm boundaries and expectations around visitors. It’s okay not to have guests that cause stress or come randomly. It’s okay to say no to people if the timing doesn’t work; let them know and add buffer times. Reassure guests that it isn’t personal.
Make Time for Self-Care
Society doesn’t help when women feel they need to give up who they are to focus solely on the baby. It doesn’t matter if one is a first-time or third-time mom. It’s important not to get so caught up in motherhood that all the things previously enjoyed are pushed aside. Maintain autonomy. Women can enjoy new motherhood and also keep time for themselves.
Autonomy is imperative to recovery, as is being kind, compassionate and loving to oneself. Dedicate this time for the baby and self-care. Let go of extra stresses such as keeping a clean house, the laundry or completing a to-do list. Ask for help if needed. Make time for some easy movements like restorative yoga or a walk in nature.
Get social support. It is so important to be surrounded by people that are helpful (not overly critical), have the knowledge to aid in a quicker recovery and help understand all the changes occurring. Join social media groups, have a close circle of trusted friends, hire a postpartum doula or seek professional help, especially if struggling.
Postpartum depletion is serious, can take up to 10 years to improve and may worsen with each pregnancy. During this postpartum time, women need the most support from loved ones and society. The time is now, and the key to recovery is to help women focus on self-care, emotional, physical and social support.