Schedule Some Postpartum Self-Care
The focus may be on the new bundle of joy, but it’s important for Mom to take time to recover, too.
By Angela E. Thomas Photos courtesy of Nicolle Fletcher
An estimated 250 children are born each minute worldwide. And for many women in the United States, the joy of childbirth is accompanied by a countdown. In just 42 days, they’ll be expected to return to work, to have recovered physically and emotionally, to juggle the responsibilities of working while rearing a child—or two or more—and attend to the needs of her marriage/relationship and, in many cases, to manage her household.
While the Family and Medical Leave Act protects an employee’s job for up to 12 weeks, this leave is unpaid and only applies to employees of public agencies, public and private schools and companies with 50 and more employees. In Arkansas, women who work for the state receive four weeks of paid leave. This is, unfortunately, exceptional. Many employers do not offer paid maternity leave, and often working families cannot afford more than the six to eight weeks granted for maternity leave.
Becoming a working mother can be overwhelming, that’s why self-care is so important. One of the first things new moms should know: Don’t be hard on yourself.
“It takes nine to 10 months to develop a child for birth. Six to eight weeks is not enough time to fully recover and feel like yourself again. It takes about eight months to feel as if you’re back to being yourself,” said Nicolle Fletcher.
On the Horizon
The issue of paid leave is on the forefront: During his second State of the Union address, President Donald Trump discussed his proposed budget, which includes six weeks of paid leave for new parents.
In March, New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which would guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees who: become new parents, by birth or adoption; need to care for immediate family members experiencing a serious illness; and/or have a qualifying urgent demand that arises due to an immediate family member’s active duty in the military.
Employers who provide paid leave, from 2018 through the end of this year, may claim a tax credit of a percentage of the wages they pay to their qualifying employees who are on leave under the FMLA (according to the Society of Human Resource Management).
Fletcher is a certified doula, who specializes in birth and postpartum care. She’s also a lactation counselor and a certified health coach.
“Many women set their expectations based on Instagram moms, who post pictures of themselves glowing, with captions about the magic of motherhood. While this is true—motherhood is wonderful—most do not post the pictures of the rough moments on Instagram and Facebook. Moms-to-be see these women who seemingly have it all together and think that’s reality. But it’s important to realize these are ‘highlight reels.’ They don’t tell you that they’re not eating, not sleeping and they’re irritated with their husbands,” Fletcher said.
These posts can create internal pressure for new moms, who may begin to think, “I don’t measure up.”
“Remember, your body is changing quickly. Your uterus has gone from being the size of a pear to the size of a watermelon, then down to a cantaloupe and eventually back to a pear. Your organs have all shifted, and they’re now returning to their original places. It’s typical for new moms to leak from every hole—crying, nursing and bleeding all at once,” Fletcher said, laughing. “And along with all these psychological changes, your hormones are all over the place.”
Recovery is an individual process; however, Fletcher offers the following advice:
“New mothers are focused on caring for their newborns. After giving birth, mom needs someone who is focused on her. Someone who will remind her to eat, sleep and take care of herself.” This can be her partner, a parent or a close friend.
“She’ll need 300 to 500 nutritionally dense calories per day. These can be found in fruits and vegetables and foods like hummus and avocados,” Fletcher said. “Prior to giving birth, plan ahead by cooking and freezing some healthy meals. Look for healthy take-out options and prepare a bin of healthy snacks. Once Mom is on her own, she should set an alarm as a reminder to eat. Eating well will help her body function properly.”
Additionally, she recommends new mothers drink about half their body weight in fluid ounces in water each day; this is especially important for breastfeeding moms.
Exercise is important. “Do not jump right back into your gym routine. Wait until your doctor clears you to do so. However, leisure walks outdoors are good, and the exposure to the sun will help with vitamin D levels.” She also recommends performing Kegels, which help strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
Keep a journal. “Write your thoughts or create a video journal—just for you. This will help with emotional healing.”
Additionally, take inventory of your feelings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in nine women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Most women experience baby blues (feeling tired, sad and worried) for several weeks, and postpartum depression is also common.
“If you are feeling helpless or hopeless, indifference toward your baby, feeling ‘out of body,’ or if you’re overeating, undereating or feeling especially irritable, these may be signs of postpartum depression. If you have thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby, seek immediate attention from a professional,” such as your doctor or mental health professional. Remember, there is no shame in getting help.
Join a group. “Find a Mommy and Me group, or meet with the members of your childbirth class. It’s important that you meet with women who are in the same ‘space.’ While social media can help you with a sense of community, meeting with others in person provides a ‘touch’ that isn’t available online,” Fletcher added.
Good postpartum care is vital and can make the transition into motherhood and back into the workplace much easier. You may also want to consider a doula. Birthing doulas provide emotional, physical and informational support during the delivery process. Postpartum doulas provide this support once your child is born. They are medically aware and can advise new mothers and give direction when medical attention is needed.
For more information about Fletcher and the services she provides, log on to nurturingarrowsdoulacoach.com.
To Doula or Not to Doula
Doulas, contrary to popular belief, are not midwives. You do not have to have a homebirth or deliver your child without medication to use their services.
Doulas are not responsible for your primary care. However, they are medically aware.
Doulas lend the emotional and physical support needed during the delivery process (this is key as hospital staff often do not provide this, and many obstetricians check on their patients periodically but are present for the delivery only).
While doulas’ services are generally not covered by insurance, they are not exclusive to the wealthy. The average doula in Central Arkansas charges $500 to $1,500 for her services.
Doulas empower women to have the birth experiences they desire.
Doulas may be birth doulas, postpartum care doulas or both.