Between 10 and 20% of women will develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of having a baby (1) with 60% reporting feeling “down” or “depressed” post birth (2). And it’s not just expectant and new mothers, according to research from McGill University, Canada, 13.3% of expectant fathers also experience depression during their partner’s pregnancy.
There is no magic solution to these figures, and some forms of peri and postnatal mental illness need specialist intervention and support, but there are things you can do that might help you through what can be a difficult transition into parenthood.
As figures show that British women spend the least amount of time in hospital after giving birth than in any other European country, it seems that quite often the general expectation is that women give birth every day and that once baby is here, they should just “get on with it”. (Obviously I realise that not everyone chooses to give birth in hospital – I have a number of friends who have home-birthed – however, they are not necessarily immune to feeling the same external pressure once baby is here).
It’s a bit of a British stereotype, “stiff upper lip” and all that, but we are subject to advert after advert that tells us that if we feel below par, even fluey, no need to stop and rest, get back to work as soon as possible – and that’s before cuts to support for people with long term illness or disability. For some of us, the message can seem very clear – show no weakness, soldier on.
In the UK many women will take only a few days to rest, before being out and about within a week or so (if not sooner). This fast return to “normality” can bring with it various risks, from the physical strain it may place on the mother’s recovering body, to the additional stress in can place on a mother who is also still likely to be very tired, both physically and emotionally.
But this attitude isn’t one that is necessarily shared across the world (4) .
In some cultures mothers of newborns are expected to rest, completely, for as much as twenty to thirty days. In the UK this is known as a “Babymoon” or “Fourth Trimester”. Although the term “baby moon” is also used for a last minute holiday pre-birth, the reasoning behind using it as a post-partum description is that it brings with it an idea of a timescale for this period. It takes approximately 27 days (and a bit) for the moon to complete its orbit around the Earth and 29.5 days for it to cycle through its phases, as such a good indicator for the time a baby moon should last is about 28 days or 4 weeks (but some practices advocate longer – up to 40 days).
This period gives a mother time to rest and recuperate whilst getting to know their new baby, who, in turn, is given an opportunity to gently transition into their new experience of the world.
What is happening to your body postpartum?
Having previously housed an ever-growing baby, your uterus starts to contract and heal. Every time you stand up, pick up anything heavy, twist or generally move around, you are disturbing the wound healing process. You will lose blood, called “lochia” for up to six weeks as you shed the lining of your uterus. You need to give your body time to heal – and if you have had an complications and/or a caesarian – and then some! You may find perineal massage (5) particularly helpful in preparing for birth (it can help reduce the likelihood of tearing or an epsiotomy during childbirth) and Arnica helpful as an aid to healing.
A quick note on not lifting anything “heavier than your baby” – that includes not lifting your baby in a car seat, please get someone else to do it and, if you’ve had a whopper of a baby and had a caesarian (one of mine was 10lb 11oz and I’d had a caesarian) please try to take it easy on the carrying around in the early days, keep baby on you whilst sat or laid down, but try not to shift baby around very much – get some help! A good sling is a fantastic resource and chances are you have a local sling library/consultant who can support you to find a sling that works for you and give you the option to rent a sling if buying isn’t an option (and often renting a sling is a good option regardless, giving you the option to change as your needs, or tastes, change – local links at the end of this article).
It may take a little time for your milk to “come in”. This is normal. It is also normal for a baby to lose some weight post birth – breastfed babies up to 7% (6) (and some sources cite as much as 10%) of their birthweight. It takes time to establish breastfeeding. The more time you can spend resting with your newborn, practicing a good latch and ensuring you eat and drink well, the easier it may be for your milk, and breastfeeding, to become established (and for you to cope with some of the difficulties you might come across whilst establishing breastfeeding).
Your body has to adjust to a change in the levels of hormones surging around your body. This change can mean you feel weepy and vulnerable, even when everyone around you is celebrating and supportive. This is also normal (although if these feeling persist post “baby moon” please consider contacting someone for advice (PANDAS or Mind, offer support for peri (pre) and post natal mental health problems and support – please don’t suffer in silence!
All this can put a tremendous strain on you and it is important that you recognise that you need to give yourself time to adjust to this new way of being. There are various things that you can do to prepare yourself as much as possible for these first weeks and I will cover these (and any potential stumbling blocks) in subsequent posts: Writing a Postpartum Plan and Putting Yourself First In Early Motherhood (planned)
YOU MAY FIND THE FOLLOWING USEFUL
- “Postnatal Care Funding“, The Royal College of Midwives
- “Expectant Dads Get Depressed Too” https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/expectant-dads-get-depressed-too-255950
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/09/new-mothers-in-uk-have-shortest-hospital-maternity-stays-research-finds
- Mama Natural: How To Do Perineal Massage (And Why You’ll Want To) – a fantastic blog explaining what Perinial massage is with (an explicit, so be warned) cartoon video – please contact me if you’d like details of our fab Perineum Massage Oil
- La Leche League: https://www.laleche.org.uk/my-baby-needs-more-milk/
- Slings (Doncaster specific):
- PANDAS Pre & Post Natal Depression Advice and Support