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The first week at home with a new baby can seem overwhelming. Many new mothers have a strange mixture of feelings that are surprising in their intensity.  Instead of the misty eyed perfect picture of motherly love, a new mom finds that she is experiencing dramatic shifts from sheer exhaustion and resentment at the lack of sleep to exhilaration and wonder at the new life created.  The weight of responsibility for this new life can feel like a terrifying burden and she wonders how she will ever manage.  This roller coaster of emotions is normal.  Birth itself is life transforming, whether vaginal or surgical. The initial amazement, quickly interchanges with worry the complicated process of parenting unravels.

Support

 

The essential ingredient in the first weeks of motherhood.  Prepare YOUR “new baby plan”!

By Arabella Hancock, LCCE, IBCLC

The Challenge

The media has done us a disservice.  Constantly showing pictures of the latest celebrity out and about, looking perfect a few days after birth.  Unseen, are the army of helpers these people have when needed! The majority of us are unable to even figure out how to take a shower in the first week.  So why is it so hard?  Is it an evolutionary fail?  Or has the western world forgotten the importance of family and how to support a new mother.

The Solution

When we consider other cultures the birthing women is assisted by the whole community.  In fact, a couple of hundred years ago, it was considered a necessity in America for women to spend the initial weeks “lying in,” a period attended by friends and family.

As a dual citizen of both the US and UK my own experience in England was far more supportive than the system here.  For two weeks following the birth of my children a midwife visited me at home to assist with breastfeeding and to check on the wellbeing of all.  After the two weeks, local clinics held free breastfeeding groups. A health visitor was available to discuss issues until my child reached the age of 5.  According to the CDC, 1 in 9 of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms.  When we consider this statistic, we should also note that PPMD (postpartum mood disorders) are extremely underreported and misunderstood.  We are only just beginning to look at partners and discover that in the case of a father approximately 4 experience depression in the first year after their child’s birth.  Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth is also a relatively new condition now beginning to emerge, with up to  9% of women experiencing this.

It is imperative to be organized and open to assistance from others. Parents- to-be should focus on postpartum “baby plans,” designed to create a nurturing and supportive environment.   Whether this is organizing the delivery of home-cooked food, helping with washing or holding baby while the parents rest, it is a necessity frequently overlooked which can have devastating consequences. Birth is a physical challenge and it takes a few months before women truly start to feel physically restored.  Breastfeeding or pumping following birth can feel like a daunting and exhausting task, fraught with difficulty.  Postpartum care needs to be vastly improved but at present, mothers in the US need to pay for some level of help (note: some insurance companies reimburse for support from a board certified lactation consultant – research here).

This woman-to-woman (generally speaking) support is multi-faceted. Not only does it provide a forum for the new mother to normalize the mixed feelings she has but it also allows greater understanding and teaching of parenting skills.  Breastfeeding challenges can be identified and remedied, allowing for a more seamless transition to the role.  What support is available?  An IBCLC is a board certified lactation consultant that is able to provide in-home breastfeeding and infant care, and is covered by some insurances.  Postpartum Doulas are another great resource, mothering the mother and imbuing the new parents with skills for calming infants and basic breastfeeding issues.  Friends and family should be supportive in the first few weeks to ensure the new parents are able to get some rest.  Baby showers are a great place for family and friends to help organize this care. For instance, creating calendars for helpers to sign up to bring meals – there are great apps such as Meal Train that allow this to be easily managed.  After the first few week’s mothers should be encouraged to attend breastfeeding support, babywearing or mommy and me groups.  La Leche League is a wonderful organization that hosts regular free meetings in most areas.

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Providing new moms with Lactation consulting and postpartum support across the greater Pasadena, CA area by phone, skype and home visits.

Support for New Mothers around the World.

Mexico

In Mexico, the ritualized interlude, or the cuarentena, goes for 40 days, or long enough for the womb to return to its place.

The Netherlands

Dutch maternity nurses make postpartum visits every day for the eight days after childbirth

France

As elsewhere in many countries, new moms in France spend nearly a week in the hospital