The first months after a baby is born are perhaps the most challenging in a mother’s life. In fact, they will possibly be the most challenging in a couple’s relationship.
This is truly a delicate time.
Women always seem to say, “No one ever warns you about what happens after a birth!”
This is true. For the most part though, I believe this is because those first few months after birth are such a complete blur for most of us that we forget all of the finer details. Little is written about this phase of pregnancy, because most women seem to fall into a secret abyss, a deep cavern of their mind, only to reawaken a few months later, hopefully with their sense of humour intact!
I have intentionally termed post-birth a ‘phase’ of pregnancy, because just as each trimester is unique and distinct, these first few months after birth are unparalleled.
Regardless of your birth outcome, all women seem to find this time overwhelming at some point. Women who have caesareans will have separate needs to those who give birth vaginally, and women who breastfeed will require more coaching than those who don’t. There are, however, many emotions during this post-birth phase that are common to us all.
During this post-birth period, women find that one day quickly merges into another with seemingly very few tasks accomplished. Time is spent learning or re-learning the needs and cues of a newborn baby, mastering feeding, coping with after-pains and catching ‘nanna naps’ whenever possible.
As we sit deliriously tired, feeding our babies in the middle of the night, many women feel isolated and overwhelmed with their current plight in life. With morning light we find ourselves gathering up our newborn and rushing out the door, late for an appointment, secretly praying that no one realises we have failed to look in the mirror in our haste.
After five births, I feel I have learnt a few tools that help to “ease the load” during this phase. Take comfort in knowing there are many other post-birth women wandering around with fuzzy, messy hair and fuzzy, messy minds.
I’ve grouped these suggestions together under the title of Post-Birth ABCs to keep things as simple as possible. More ABC’s are discussed in Chapter 14 of the Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition.
• Abandon any fantasy you may have that you will be able to hold coherent or adult-like conversations. Pre-warn your friends or colleagues that your brain is currently just like your abdominals—all soft and squishy, and unable to solve a world crisis.
• Abort any preconceived ideas that you will run on time for anything! Allow yourself and your newborn an extra hour’s grace to get out the door.
• Attempt to sleep as often and as much as you can. When friends offer to help, ask them to come over and mind any other children you may have or the baby, while you have a bath or catch an extra hour of sleep.
Believe me, the world is a much brighter place when we sneak a little extra sleep.
Switch on the answering machine or take the phone off the hook when the baby is asleep and grab a nap yourself.
• Appetite: Fill the house with plenty of healthy foods and snacks. Have a bowl of pre-cut raw veggies ready to nibble on in the fridge, and plenty of fresh and dried (sulphur dioxide free) fruit available. Stack the pantry with nuts, crackers and health bars (low sugar). Have your partner cook up some soup every few days that is easy to re-heat. Cook larger amounts of evening meals and enjoy the excess for lunch the following day.
• Be active when you can. Simply taking 15 minutes for some fresh air reminds us that this time will soon pass, that life moves on and soon your baby will not be quite so reliant on you. Short walks can re-energise you or lift your state of mind, helping to bring you back into gratitude. Sunshine can make you feel like a million dollars! As the weeks pass and your body heals, you may feel like taking longer walks and being more physically active—however, there is merit in not pushing yourself too soon.
• Be mindful of your abdominal scar if you have had a caesarean—particularly if you have been given pain-relieving medication. These drugs will mask pain messages, quite often resulting in mothers forgetting to go slow and let their bodies heal. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Get up out of bed or your chair slowly. Twist and turn your body delicately. Do not lift anything heavier than a dinner plate for some weeks!
• Be authentic and ask for help when you need it. Let relatives or friends assist with practical tasks such as making meals and healthy snacks for you, washing, cleaning or doing a bit of vacuuming. The reality is, there are no prizes for being superwoman!
• Bravely ask for space. Few people understand how taxing it is to have someone suckling from your breast most of the night and day. Not wanting to be touched, cuddled or hugged—even by your other children or your partner—is no reflection on them, nor is it a sign of Post-Natal Depression; it’s simply a personal
• Be the master of your pelvic floor. Pelvic floor exercises are about the last thing you feel like doing post-birth, but Mother Nature kindly reminds us of the importance of these muscles pretty much straight away. For instance, when you have to do that first dreaded pooh and you pray to God that your insides don’t fall right out into the toilet. Or you may sneeze and your knees give way under you, as you feel like your pelvic floor hits the ground.Remind yourself throughout the day to LIFT your pelvic floor and HOLD.Imagine you are trying to zip up your pants using these muscles. (Please see Pelvic Floor Exercises section in Chapter 14, Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition).
• Beating the baby blues. Baby blues can affect up to 80% of new mothers. The main cause is the abrupt drop in hormone levels which leads to weepiness, anxiety or even mild depression. Usually occurring in the first week after the birth, it is completely normal and disappears of its own accord after a few hours or a few days at most. However if symptoms last longer than this, contact your early childhood centre, midwife or your GP.
Chiropractic, Chinese herbs and homeopathy may be particularly helpful at this time also.
Post-Natal Depression (PND) affects about one in ten new mothers. PND tends to start later than the blues, usually within six weeks of the birth but sometimes later. Symptoms are similar but more extreme and they last longer. Women with PND may also experience sleeping and eating difficulties as well as feelings of guilt and despondency. The sooner you seek professional help, the easier it is to minimise or fix.
• Boldly pat your ego. No matter what type of birth you had or whether you’re judging yourself in some way about the outcome, know that it is much more important to celebrate HOW CLEVER you have been to date. How clever your body is!!
• Chiropractic is just one of those hidden secret weapons for families. Not only does it have a profound effect on newborns, assisting them with sleep, colic, attaching etc, chiropractic makes the world of difference for mums too. Many women suffer post-birth with low back pain or neck and shoulder pain. Breastfeeding, too, can be relentless on a mother’s body. Chiropractic is safe and very effective. Chiropractic adjustments can also help to rebalance the body’s emotions and hormones. One girlfriend jokes that chiropractic helps her feel like she can tackle her young children with “patience and creativity, rather than feeling like a bear with a sore head!”—that has to be a good thing! Seek out a registered chiropractor that is confident seeing children. Word of mouth is a great way to find skilled practitioners.
• Chinese Medicine and herbs. Through personal experience, I can highly recommend a trip to see a registered Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner for a dose of herbs to replenish your body post-birth. Now after five births, I am quick to realise that if for a week or two I am feeling more tired than usual, then perhaps my blood needs a little enriching.
•Count your blessings. When you feel frustrated that your newborn is so reliant on you, take a moment to give thanks. One quick way to step back into gratitude is to think of those less fortunate. Take a moment to remember babies who are born still, babies with special needs or couples who are unable to
•Care for your newborn using natural and toxin-free products (Please also see Choosing Products section in Chapter 14,Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition).