The Overlooked Postpartum Period
Congratulations! You're overjoyed to find out you are expecting your first baby! Your mind moves at a mile a minute.
How are you going to announce the pregnancy to family and friends?
Is the baby a boy or girl?
What will their name be?
All of these exciting questions come to mind. After some time, your brain shifts.
What is labor like?
Who will my care provider be?
What does my ideal birth experience look like?
It can all be very daunting. The unexpected. The horror stories that every grocery store clerk feels the need to tell. The list of choices and possibilities. And this is where we often get stuck.
We focus so much of our attention on the birth that besides preparing the nursery, we completely neglect to plan for our postpartum period.
Don't get me wrong, pregnancy and birth are extremely important and I applaud you for being proactive in those departments - reading, taking childbirth classes, hiring a birth doula, etc - all of which is fantastic and will help tremendously when that time comes but...
- when you are feeding your precious newborn for the first time and can't figure out positioning
- when you get back from the hospital and realize there are a million items you should have had stocked at home - spanning from witch hazel to frozen lasagna
- when you are so exhausted from sleep deprivation, newborn care, and trying to heal from birth and can't figure out who will do the laundry and cook dinner
...these are the moments that will make you realize your postpartum period has unfortunately gone overlooked.
A recent study found that new mothers are dissatisfied with postnatal care, complaining that due to medical staff shortages and overly busy care providers, important newborn and postpartum care questions are going unanswered. The study also concluded that recovery from childbirth takes an entire year, yet we define the postpartum period as only the first six weeks.
Our nation's maternity leave policy is reflective of the thought process that women should bounce-back quickly, giving women only 12 weeks of unpaid leave before needing to return to the workforce. "This policy is distinct to other industrialized countries for its relative scarcity of benefits, in terms of the short length of protected maternity leave and not offering some form of wage compensation for the leave of absence."
Let's not even mention "paternity leave". The World Health Organization (WHO) states:
"The days and weeks following childbirth – the postnatal period – is a critical phase in the lives of mothers and newborn babies. Most maternal and infant deaths occur during this time. Yet, this is the most neglected period for the provision of quality care."
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Postpartum Depression (PPD) occurs in 11-20% of all women. At 15%, that is approximately 600,000 women annually.
In recent years there has been a general rise in breastfeeding rates reflective of WHO recommendations, but of the 81% of women who plan and attempt to breastfeed at birth, only 22% are still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months of age. As your doulas, we want you to meet your goals for feeding your baby--whatever those may be.
So what do all these statistics mean?
It means that as a country, we are failing to acknowledge and give proper care to mothers, newborns and families at large - in the workforce, in the medical field and as a society.
Even amongst close family members and friends, we often lack conversations covering common and important postpartum hardships.
I have two theories:
First, Postpartum is messy, intimate, and sometimes uncomfortable to discuss. Lochia? Engorgement? What's that? We often don’t know until we are in the throes of it.
Secondly, admitting that the postpartum period was personally difficult when nobody else does makes one feel inadequate - especially when battling a society that doesn't recognize it as an important and beautiful, yet extremely trying family adjustment.
Postpartum is real and it's raw and the more we challenge ourselves to openly discuss these topics with our loved ones, the more prepared and more confident new families will feel when obstacles occur.
Postpartum support is The Chicago Doulas' most rapidly growing service. Your postpartum and infant care doula can meet the needs of your growing family and placenta encapsulation can help to ease your postpartum recovery.
Blog post brought to you by affiliate doula Kelsey Haliti