How do we care for ourselves in the postpartum time and onward into the early years of motherhood? There is plenty of information available to women about how to take care of themselves and their baby during preconception & pregnancy. What’s missing is attention to the next stage of a woman’s physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing immediately after birth.
The postpartum time usually refers to the first six weeks after birth
However, there is also a period of about two years after birth that is critical for a woman’s health. There is no specific name for this period, but it is a time filled with massive change. Along with adapting to the many changes in her body, her sense of who she is now, her new home life, changes in her professional life and in all of her relationships, there is this new profound relationship with her baby.
All of this transition and transformation greatly impacts a woman’s physical health and emotional well being. Women get through this time, which can be one of the most challenging times of our lives (and also most beautiful). However, just “getting through” is not the same as intentional healing, deep renewal, or having an empowering life transition. Many women don’t fully re-balance physically after pregnancy. They become depleted and have new stresses that they don’t know how to address. This combination of depletion and extra stress can lead to ongoing health challenges.
Physical challenges a new mother may encounter:
- stress from adapting to a new daily routine or lack of routine
- the effects of increased cortisol due to sleep deprivation
- breastfeeding issues
- weight gained in pregnancy
- changes in joints and ligaments
- hormone fluctuations
- allergies developed during pregnancy
- postpartum hair loss
- carpal tunnel and back pain
- urinary incontinence
- painful intercourse
Some of the emotional challenges new mothers face:
- changes in friendships
- changes in her partnership
- self-worth issues around body image
- loss of personal time
- lack of mental stimulation
- changes in relationships with her parents or in-laws
- balancing work demands
- altering career goals
- her new self-identity
Unfortunately, there are very few dedicated resources to help women heal and recover comprehensively after pregnancy. Likewise, maternal health care providers do not provide long-term support for these health or emotional issues. Other than resources for postpartum depression, there are no real dedicated organizations to help women with these ongoing challenges.
As much as we give attention to prenatal care and later in a woman’s life to menopause, we also need to honor the postpartum time and the early years when so much we demand so much from women, yet often take for granted their vulnerable wellbeing.