Postpartum Care: How to care for yourself while caring for baby
As every new mother knows, the postpartum period can be a roller coaster ride. It’s thrilling, exciting, scary, and exhausting all at the same time. Delivering a baby is hard work, and the hormonal changes that go along with the early days of motherhood are nothing to sneeze at.
You’ve probably been focused on how you’ll take care of your precious new baby for the last nine months. You’ve read books, you’ve bought tiny outfits, you’ve baby-proofed your home, and you’ve checked out all the latest baby gadgets on the market. You’re seriously prepared to give your new little one everything they need.
But, wait a second…have you given any thought to what you’ll need as a new mom? Taking care of you is just as important as taking care of baby, because your baby needs a mom who’s feeling her best. You’ve probably heard about the Postpartum Blues. And then there’s the more serious side, Postpartum Depression.
Good postnatal care is no guarantee that you’ll avoid Postpartum Depression, but it is one really important way to decrease your risk of having your Baby Blues Syndrome spiral out of control. Your doctor is trained to watch for subtle signs of low mood or an unusual lack of energy (besides the “normal” exhaustion that goes along with new motherhood), so be sure to keep your postpartum check-ups. They’re just as important as prenatal care.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
You may not have all the tools your doctor does, but you know yourself and your body better than anyone else does. When you become a new mom, be alert to postpartum symptoms that might indicate the need for a talk with your doctor. Some signs and symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Extreme fatigue (tiredness) that lasts for more than 2 weeks after delivery.
- Feeling persistently sad.
- Feeling worthless, hopeless, or helpless.
- Feeling anxious or restless. Having trouble sitting still or resting.
- Unusual appetite (either very large or very small), and/or unusual weight changes.
- Aches and pains that don’t seem to have a clear cause, especially headaches and stomachaches.
- Doubts about your ability to care for your new baby (not just passing thoughts –worries that stay with you.)
- A feeling of disconnect or trouble bonding with your new baby.
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Postpartum depression is a real condition, just like any other health condition, and the faster you take steps to relieve it, the better. You can’t necessarily think or wish your way into feeling better. Postpartum depression may require medication, so talk with your doctor about any postpartum symptoms, even if you’re not sure whether they’re serious enough to warrant treatment.
Tips for Postpartum Care
If you have postpartum depression, you need medical attention, so please seek a doctor’s care when in doubt. If you feel mildly “down” or tired and those feelings come and go, it’s possible that you’re suffering from the more typical Baby Blues, but best to seek professional help to make sure you get the care you need. If you and your doctor decide that what you need is a little (or a lot) of TLC, you may have to muster up the energy to make sure you get it. Here are some tips for making the best of your recovery during the postnatal period:
- This is a must, so much as you can, sleep when your baby sleeps, no matter what time it is.
- You’ll need plenty of fluids, especially if you’re nursing.
- Eat well. You’re likely to have a hearty appetite right after your baby is born. This is not the time to try to lose weight. It took 9 months to gain the baby weight, and it’s Ok if it takes 9 months plus to lose it. Eat when you’re hungry so you’ll have the energy you need to take care of yourself and your little one.
- Take care of your body. To add insult to injury after childbirth, you’ve likely got leaky breasts and sore nipples. Some high-quality nursing pads and organic nipple balm can help ease these discomforts.
- If this is your first baby, know that your body will be different. You can use Stretch Mark and Scar Balm to minimize the after-effects of pregnancy and soothe sensitive skin. At the same time, understand that it’s normal and natural that your body looks different from the way it looked before you were pregnant.
- Accept help. If someone asks you, “What can I do to help?” assume they mean it and give them a chore that needs to be done. Don’t feel guilty about this. You just created a whole new person, and you need time to recover.
- Reach out for help. If you don’t have enough of those eager volunteers asking what they can do, reach out and ask for help. Cast a wide net: friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, church, and civic groups you’ve joined — if you’re willing to ask, people will be willing to help. Don’t feel comfortable asking? Recruit a good friend to do the asking for you. She can set up a sign-up for home-cooked meals to be delivered, or whatever assistance works best for you and your family.
- Don’t want to “burden” your partner since he has to get up and go to work? Not so fast. Only one of you delivered a baby, but both of you have a job to do, and I dare say that heading to the office is a walk in the park compared to taking care of a crying baby.
- Know when to say when. There’s nothing sweeter than a new baby, and everyone wants to see your little miracle. But…that can make you feel like you’re on display, or worse, like you have to entertain your visitors. If you’ve had enough, let your partner other handle phone calls and visitors and put up a firm boundary: “Thank you so much for wanting to see our new baby, but we’re not up for any more visitors right now. Can I let you know when we’re ready?”
Your baby needs you in tip-top shape, so make taking care of you a priority. You need to recover from the physical and emotional changes that come along with delivering a new baby, and you deserve the best postpartum care.
Want more tips and advice from real moms? Check out what the Momhood community has to say about postpartum care and the 4th trimester here.