The postpartum period is a time you should be able to flourish. Your body is being flooded with oxytocin and prolactin; two amazing hormones that have been characterized as the “love” hormones. With these hormones alone you should be able to thrive and feel wonderful. Here you are, a women embarking on a brand new chapter of life where you get to be a mother. Motherhood expands who you are and develops you as a person. Flourishing in the postpartum period should be expected but... What do we see? Are we seeing postpartum women flourishing or do we see them being depleted?
Towards the end of pregnancy we see moms running around 10,000 baby stores, going to multiple baby showers, and frantically getting everything ready for the new baby. To add to this physical mayhem, moms are likely losing sleep. Personally, nearing the end of my own pregnancy I was not able to get comfortable in any position and of course I was getting up to pee about 50 times a night. As a result I see new moms entering labour and birth already depleted both physically and emotionally. It’s inevitable that they enter the postpartum period feeling exhausted. Then what happens? They go home and the masses descend upon them to see the new baby. Does any of this sound familiar?
Why are new moms depleted?
New moms are healing from labour and birth. There is essentially a large open wound inside her. This period of physical healing in our society is not acknowledged. In North America we do not give permission and clearance to women to allow them to heal their bodies or to heal their emotions.
To add to this issue we are sickened with the “Superwoman syndrome”. New moms are under pressure to continue to do everything she did before while taking care of a new baby and trying to heal herself. This “superwoman syndrome” generates an experience of motherhood that is obscured with conflict and competition of all the other things she needs to do.
Depletion is being normalized. When moms express that they are overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious we tell them it is “normal”. We tell them that there are a lot of other moms out there that feel just as you do. What we neglect to consider is what definition of “normal” is, and is this truly normal? In my opinion we should instead view it as a sign that this mom needs support, care and guidance.
Postpartum changes… everything. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially a mom will never be herself again. Most new moms do not have a real grasp on this change and in my opinion this sets them up for failure.
How can we help mom flourish?
First, we need to create a realistic view of what the postpartum period is. Families that have an accurate view of what the postpartum period is all about fare far better. Keep an open mind about what it might be like and help plan for any challenges that may arise. We need to tell moms that they don’t need to be the “Supermom”. We need to give moms permission to ask for help, to express emotions without judgement and reveal their stresses as well as coping methods. Women need to be able to share both the joys and challenges of newborn period to prevent isolation. We need to get the message across that women need and deserve help.
Next, we need to give them that extra support. Becoming a new mom is a lot like learning to ride a bike. When you first learn this skill there is someone holding on beside you. As you gain confidence and more stability they let go. But even as they let go they run alongside for a little bit longer so that you can have that extra support until you really feel independent. This is exactly what new moms require. Support can take on many forms and some examples include making meals, cleaning, laundry, watching older children, as well as giving guidance and reassurance about life with a new baby.
New moms need someone there beside them to help support them. “A review of the literature on social support and its relationship to maternal health indicates that emotional, tangible, and informational support are positively related to mothers' mental and physical health around the time of childbirth”.
Finally, we must encourage moms to let some things go. There are things that are not going to get done and that is okay. There are things that will not get completed to exactly your specifications and that is okay. By letting go now, moms are better prepared to show compassion for their future toddlers’ attempt at folding.
Support around the world
How we treat new moms in North America is very unique. Through observation and learning from other cultures we can develop strategies to better support women during the postpartum period. In certain parts of the world it is very, very rare that a woman who has a baby has never been around other babies. This is because she has been part of supporting new mothers in the postpartum period even before she has babies of her own. By fostering this sense of community new moms have a realistic view of what to expect from the postpartum period. In addition they know where to get help and are confident that nonjudgmental loving assistance will be provided. In other countries, support could include friends, family, hired help, and government sponsored assistance to assist in this transition period. There are very few societies in the world where a single adult is responsible for the baby, the other children, the home, and managing a career. There is so much pressure on new moms in our society that it has become the “norm” to experience baby blues, exhaustion, and feel overwhelmed. This must change as women cannot provide the level of care their babies need when they are running on empty.
The postpartum plan
Birth plans are becoming a lot more commonplace but the postpartum period is left to “work itself out”. Creating a written postpartum plan means mothers will have the support they need in place before the baby is even born. With an effective plan in place, a new mom can focus on bonding with her baby and taking care of herself as well so she can flourish. We want to create a “babymoon period” where mom is not focusing on laundry, cooking, or cleaning and instead focusing on connecting with the baby. Which tasks can be left undone? Which tasks absolutely must be done? Who will organize and do these tasks? Once the tasks are taken care of, a new mom can address the most important part of a postpartum plan, selfcare. Selfcare is the main key to helping a new mom succeed. A mental shift is necessary, there is no Supermom. Supermom does not exist. Selfcare includes adequate nutrition, rest, exercise, attention to mental/emotional status, adult companionship, and conversation.
The truth is, when we strengthen women we empower them to nurture and fulfil their children's needs. This ultimately sets the foundation for the next generation of healthy, enduring relationships.
Breanne offers great advice and a free postpartum plan on her website - http://www.breannekallonen.com/ - she is a great resource and support for any new mom.