This is a two-part series. Look for the first part in my previous post:
What this Doula Wants You to Know About Birth
What this Doula Wants You to Know About Postpartum
1. The postpartum period is underestimated. Many people focus on the birth of their baby, choosing a care provider, a birth place, and making a birth plan. These are important endeavors, and require adequate research and planning. Yet often little consideration is given to the specifics of how life will function after the baby is here. Researching options for baby gear, registering for diapers and essentials, and choosing a pediatrician is only part of what you need to decide. Just as you need to determine who will take care of your house, older children, pets, work commitments, etc. before and during your birth, these needs will continue and perhaps be more difficult to meet when your baby is earthside. Factor in the need for physical healing, dramatic hormonal changes, and caring for your baby-- all with limited sleep-- you may realize that you need much more help than you planned for. Making a postpartum plan during pregnancy can help prepare you, your partner, and extended support system to meet the needs of the entire household after the birth.
2. Your body may take longer to heal than six weeks. There is a popular meme circulating on social media that pictures a paper dinner plate. That dinner plate represents the size of the wound in your uterus where your placenta was attached. I admit, as the mother of two kids and a trained doula, I had never considered the size of the wound inside my body after birth. It's a powerful visual. If that wound was on the outside of your body, no one-- including yourself-- would expect you to do much for several weeks after birth.
If your birth was physically difficult, you had tearing that required stitches, complications, a high-intervention birth, or a Cesarean birth, your body may take even longer to heal. In the immediate postpartum you may experience vaginal soreness, pain while urinating, difficulty pooping, heavy bleeding, contractions as your uterus shrinks back down to its pre-pregnancy size, sore breasts from learning to breastfeed, irritation or pain from your Cesearan incision site, swelling, profuse sweating, and a host of other physical discomforts.
Your care provider may "clear you" at six or eight weeks, but your body may need more time. You may not be ready for intercourse, work, chores, or outings. You may need more periods of rest, even if you feel physically better. You may need additional treatment, like physical therapy. Accept that your body went through a LOT, and allow yourself the time and grace to heal.
3. Be proactive with lactation support. If you choose to breastfeed, know that it can be difficult to get started. Taking a breastfeeding class in pregnancy is a good idea, but it may still confusing to implement what you learned when baby is actually at your breast. Add in hormonal changes, a baby that needs to eat, and conflicting advice from those trying to help you, and you have a recipe for anxiety and unnecessary stress. Seek out the support of a postpartum doula or lactation specialist early in the postpartum period to get you off to a good start. Any issues outside of normal may be more easily identified and addressed. If needed, referral to an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) can be made.
Two IBCLC's in the Treasure Valley I refer clients to are Melanie Henstrom at Baby Bonds and Lynnelle King at Family Seasons, LLC.
4. Pelvic floor therapy is a no-brainer. Pregnancy and childbirth do a number on our pelvic floor muscles. Complications include urinary and fecal incontinence, uterine prolapse, pubic symphysis pain, diastasic recti, and more. In France, postpartum pelvic floor therapy is standard care. In the United States, it is not, and unresolved injury can be left untreated, causing years of pain, discomfort, and embarrassment. Check out my blog post all about the pelvic floor.
Seeing a pelvic floor specialist in pregnancy can set you up for easier care after your baby is born, or even prevent issues postpartum. In the Treasure Valley, pelvic floor therapy is now even easier to obtain, with the launch of Treasure Valley Pelvic Health, a mobile pelvic therapy provider who will come to you. Your first visit is 20% off in the month of May.
5. Your emotional and mental health needs as just as much attention as your physical health. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) affect 15-20% of women. These include postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum panic disorder, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and rarely, postpartum psychosis. Educating yourself, your partner, and close family and friends in pregnancy about the signs of these disorders can help to identify them and get treatment as soon as possible.
Even just noticing that you feel "off," and "not yourself," can be enough proof to seek out an evaluation from your care provider. Don't discount (or let others discount) the effects of a traumatic or disappointing birth experience on your emotional health, either.
Resources to begin to seek out help include Postpartum Support International (PSI) at www.postpartum.net, your care provider, or local mental health professionals with experience in treating PMAD's. You can find a recommended list of providers on my Parent Resources page.
Even if you don't suffer from a PMAD, you may feel overly tired, stressed out, emotional, sad, disappointed, discouraged, or down at times. A healthy and committed support system that allows you to rest, heal, eat well, and focus on little more than you and your new baby can maximize your chances for a positive postpartum transition. Postpartum doulas can play an important role for those without a strong support system, or those who want or need extra support as they transition to life with a newborn.
By planning for the postpartum period, building a robust support system, and taking advantage of local resources, you can start off on your new parenting journey from a place of confidence and strength. Everyone benefits from a healthy mother or birthing parent-- your baby, your partner, and you especially.
I am a certified labor doula and professional postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the greater Treasure Valley. How can I help you plan for your postpartum?
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.