Pregnancy and the science of conception is a truly amazing process… watching cells transition from a yolk sac to a fetus is quite remarkable. Mothers-to-be have three trimesters to prepare for the welcoming of a new life into the world. They may take classes, read books, ask friends, or all of the above. But when it comes down to it, dealing with the postpartum period is different for each mom. All are faced with a host of new stresses. Some of these new stresses are physical, some emotional; some stresses more acute, and some that are likely to be around for much longer than postpartum.
Stress of Physical Changes after Delivery
If you are a new mom, you have just physically labored and endured pain unfathomable to those who have not experienced it. You may have sutures in unmentionable places from tears, or pain from the injection of your epidural. If vaginal delivery didn’t work out or wasn’t an option, you have just had a pretty significant surgery with sutures, swelling, and possibly even some site draining. Your breasts are starting to swell and you have differing amounts of bleeding vaginally. If you had an epidural, you likely have swelling.
All of these symptoms and limitations may have you in the situation that you have to ask your partner to do things you would never imagine asking them- having them change a pantyliner, clothes, and perform hygiene tasks that would have previously made you squirm. Whatever way your new life came into this world, your body is healing. How long the process takes is unique to you. But everyone requires time to heal.
Support for You and Your Baby
Finding support and asking for help when you need it is critical to get you through this period. It may be from your partner, parents, in laws, or friends. But the support, especially in the first few weeks, will pay dividends. You do not have to do this alone. Embrace those offering to help. Take the dinners they bring, let them fold your laundry. There’s a reason you often cannot return to work for 6-8 weeks. This is a full-time job. Focus on healing and tackling your new job of mom.
Hormonal Changes after Baby
While you’re physically healing from the act of delivery, your body is internally adjusting levels of hormones to allow for lactation and to allow your uterus to return to pre-pregnancy size. Progesterone, the hormone partly responsible for pregnancy and uterus expansion, is now significantly less. This allows other hormones to be secreted so that your breasts are now able to lactate and provide nutrition for your baby. But it can cause intense changes in your mood.
“Baby blues” are common during this acute hormonal transition, but often last only a week or two. If your blues are lasting longer or seem more intense, and affect your bonding with baby, bring it up with your physician. Americanpregnancy.org recommends having a strategy in place for this period. They recommend throwing out the myths of motherhood that project expectations that are not reasonable and endorse having good communication with your partner or support network. Eating well to protect your brain chemistry is also recommended. Making sure to have a few hours of uninterrupted sleep a night will keep you more able to take on the new demands of your role. Exercise can release feel good endorphins and stabilize mood, as well.
Developing a Schedule Postpartum
You may fully acknowledge that much of the sleep deprivation, lack of schedule, and physical discomfort is temporary, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In the first few weeks as your baby is just getting acclimated to the new environment, a schedule may not be a reasonable expectation. But a few weeks into the post-partum period, as you get to know your baby and their needs, you may come to find some stability in a more scheduled day. Routines create predictability for both parents and baby. The predictability can help manage expectations and possibly lessen stress.
Help with Breastfeeding
Your breasts are now swelling and can become engorged; you are likely attempting to breastfeed, which is a different situation for everyone. Pediatrics studied breastfeeding women and found 54% experienced some form of difficulty, from latching to sucking. And, the process is time consuming. It may hurt. You may not know how much milk your baby is getting from a session. Lactation consultants are now more readily available and often covered by insurance plans. They can help your unique needs and find ways to make your situation more manageable.
Types of Stress in New Moms
Your new baby is a love like no other. You will experience joy and excitement along with the stress. But learning how to cope with the stress can help you and your baby. Studies show that babies are in tune with maternal levels of stress. The CDC sorts stresses into three categories, not all of which are harmful. These categories include positive stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress. Toxic stress is the type that can be more harmful in the postpartum period, with possible effects to the baby, as well. (webmd.com) It is important to take care of yourself, so that you can be better at caring for your baby. Eating well, hydrating with water, trying to sleep when possible, and finding a support system can help lessen the stress in the toxic category. (webmd.com)
After the acute postpartum period, moms often face the stress of returning to work. You may be anxious about leaving your baby with a stranger, or financially concerned with the cost this may bring. Will you continue to pump while you’re at work, or will you transition to formula? Researching facilities, meeting nannies, and getting referrals may help lessen the amount of stress felt when the time comes. Working out a schedule with your partner or employer may lessen the need for childcare. Can you or your partner work from home either part time or full time? Would a parent or family member offer to open their schedule some of the weekdays? Preparing early for this transition back to work will help to lessen the stress once the time comes.
You have just accomplished something you should be incredibly proud of; your body performed one of the most awesome tasks of life. While the stress is real, may it be well worth it and accompanied with a loving bond unlike anything else.