The instance when you first lay eyes on your baby’s face with any real clarity of moment is magnificent. There is no other word for it. This baby you felt inside you, growing, rolling, kicking, hiccuping, sleeping, is now in your arms and you are peering into each other’s eyes. How your baby came into the world, for that little moment is a second thought. It is a blink in time when you can enjoy the result of your effort of nine or so months.
The moment that is an instant can seem to last into stillness. Life is put on pause as you immediately memorize your baby’s face, their cry, and the glisten in their eyes that gives you the first inkling as to their personality. You may feel relief, bliss, anxiousness, confidence, exhaustion any array of emotion. Your oxytocin levels, “the love hormone” are soaring (especially if you have labored without much medical intervention), helping you bond with your baby and begin mothering outside the womb. The hormones that carried you through pregnancy begin to change in preparation for breastfeeding, and eventually bringing back menstruation and fertility cycles.
All mothers are vaguely aware of the sleepless nights that could lay ahead. It seems we’ve all heard of the “colicky” baby. Overwhelming fatigue. Crying at the cute Iams commercial as if you were grieving. Somewhere inside us we dread what it might mean to not be pregnant anymore, even if we have been anxiously awaiting our baby’s birthday. Almost suddenly we are transitioned from womanhood to motherhood, after these months of gradual preparation that seemed as if they would never end.
The emotions of postpartum can be very different for everyone, but most of us experience some kind of “baby blues”, and 15-20% of us will experience some form of postpartum depression or anxiety. Pregnancy is all the talk, but once our baby is in arms, it seems like the transparency of everyone’s experience suddenly disappears and we can feel left alone, wondering if what we are feeling is normal. I can remember those beautiful days after the birth of my first daughter, that could sometimes become dark, confusing, and exhausting. One night I remember waking and looking down at my sleeping baby in my arms, as I was attempting to put her to the breast, and realizing I was doing this all without need and in my sleep and I was scared. That night, I knew something had to go differently.
The degrees to which we feel the “baby blues” can vary, and our experiences during birth and early postpartum can greatly determine how we cope with the shift into mothering our newborns. No matter how you gave birth experiencing the “baby blues” is normal. If your birth was traumatic in any way, or the outcome was unexpected, grieving that experience along with the usual dips and dives in hormones can lead to a more difficult emotional time postpartum. For example, some studies have linked cesarean surgery with higher rates of postpartum depression, as surgery interferes with the body’s natural hormone production. It was my experience with my first birth, which was a cesarean section, that I was overwhelmed with a sadness beginning not long after the birth and lasting intensely until I was able to go home from the hospital where I gradually began to process my experience. In my second postpartum experience, my “blues” didn’t hit me until much later. Any symptoms within the first 12 months after the birth of your baby can be attributed to being in the postpartum period.
What Can I Do to Help Myself Through Postpartum?
- Ask for help. If you are feeling like things are getting difficult, or you need some extra rest, ask your significant other, a relative, friend, or postpartum doula to help you with the baby. There are many ways they can help – cleaning, cooking, caring for the older children, or looking after the baby while you sleep. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Your body is recovering from some major work. You need this time.
- Breastfeed. Cuddling and being close with your baby as well as nursing your baby continues the gradual release of oxytocin in your body, and can help with relaxation and bonding. Learn about what you can do before, during, and after your baby is born to help make breastfeeding successful. Even if it does occur, that your birth needs medical intervention to happen safely, breastfeeding is still possible and can actually help you recover easier and more fully. For assistance in getting off to a good start ask your hospital and your pediatrician about meeting with a lactation consultant or a WIC peer counselor. These professionals can help with any specific issues you may be having.
- Rest and Eat Well. You just did some of the most important work of your life. Take the next few weeks to rest with your baby. There is nothing more important than that. Also, eat well. You will be hungry as you heal. Eat good whole foods and drink plenty of water. There is no reason to think about dieting in early postpartum. Read this article by Gloria Lemay (midwife and birth activist) for more on rest and eating well.
- Room in with your baby if you birth in the hospital. I’ll let this video from Mother’s Advocate do the talking here.
- If you are lonely, ask for company. It’s ok for trusted friends and family to come visit you and the baby in the early days. Take the reasonable precautions when it comes to illnesses. Even if it is just a phone call to a friend, it can be helpful to alleviate any feelings of begin left out. However, also don’t be afraid to ask for time alone, if you end up with too much company postpartum.
- Check in with yourself often, and if you feel like you are experiencing something more than the “baby blues” get appropriate help. There is no shame at all in checking things out and asking a professional’s opinion about your feelings. What you are feeling is not “strange”, it is something that can be helped. I give my clients this little self-assessment tool for postpartum –Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale . Depending on the answers you get, you may want to seek out the help of a professional. Postpartum Support International has a listing by state of support networks for postpartum mothers.
- Do a little research about what is normal, and find some resources prior to the birth of your baby in case you need them. Here are a few:
- Postpartum Support International
- C-Section Recovery – Has a listing of multiple resources for mothers regardless of how they gave birth.
- ICEA Postpartum Blog Carnival – Read the experiences and recommendations of a wide variety women and birth professionals.
No matter how we experience the birth of our baby, we must realize that recovering from that important experience can take some time. That time should be honored. We need to respect ourselves and our role as a mother by giving ourselves time to heal. Postpartum is a period to be treated as sacred. Be easy with yourself.