No doubt a woman’s body is completely and utterly fascinating and incredibly strong. After all, we create, nurture, and sustain life. But this does not mean that we are immune to the effects that all of this life-giving superpower entails. The postpartum period is difficult for all of us moms.
The business of baby-growing takes a serious toll on our bodies, as does childbirth, breastfeeding, and caring for our children.
Between sleeping in short stretches or not at all, anxiety about your new role and responsibilities, and the internal chaos of hormone fluctuations and nutrient depletion, the postpartum period is no cakewalk. Effects are compounded the more children one has, the closer those children are together, and the older the mother’s age.
The postpartum period refers to the time period anywhere from six weeks, and up to TEN YEARS after the birth of a child. TEN YEARS-say whhaaat?! This is a highly sensitive time for mothers, both physically and emotionally. Yet, new mothers are often treated as an afterthought. No one stops a postpartum mother to comment on how cute her pooch looks, or offers a closer parking space to mothers who are carrying an impossibly heavy infant car seat, while holding the hand of a toddler, and simultaneously chasing a 4-year-old. In most cultures around the world, new mothers are placed in the highest regard, even catered to as if they were Queens, with mandatory rest and relaxation guidelines. In my experience, other than my 6-week checkup, and a brief paper screening filled out at the baby’s first pediatrician appointment, the mother herself is not seen as a priority. We go from weekly doctor’s appointments with detailed inquisitions about our feelings and daily habits, to static.
From hemorrhoids to hair loss, the postpartum struggle is REAL. Our bodies, hormones, brains, and routines are completely turned upside down after bringing a child into this world. Aside from the stress that caring for an infant without pause places on your psyche, your internal system is thrown for a major loop as well. Weight is redistributed unevenly so that your once familiar body feels foreign. Nutrients consumed are first and foremost allocated to the baby, rather than to the mother. In what alternate reality does another living being own your food, sleep, time, and space? Motherhood.
Let’s talk postpartum hormones for a minute.
A pregnant woman spends 40 weeks redistributing her hormones and nutrients so that her growing child develops properly. It’s no wonder that the postpartum period is full of excessive anxiety, hyper-sensitivity, tears, difficulty with decision making, and losing our train of thought on repeat. We’ve learned that baby brain is a real thing, not that I needed further evidence than my own state of mind. The other day I left the house without shoes or a coat on. In the middle of snow-covered-sidewalks-winter. Talk about putting the needs of others above our own.
So what can we do postpartum to get us back to our pre-pregnant selves?
The best thing you can do is take care of yourself.
Did you read that? We’ve heard it a thousand times before, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. Mothers are notoriously masters of self-neglect. All women immediately after childbirth are depleted of nutrients and blood, so continue taking those prenatal vitamins and make healthy choices about what you put into your body. Knowing that what you eat affects your mood is powerful knowledge. What you put on your body is an important thing to pay attention to as well, since many skincare products contain hormone-disrupting ingredients. Prioritizing sleep, although near impossible at times, is essential. Get more on helping your baby sleep, HERE. Making time to exercise through yoga or barre classes is a great way to combine relaxation, me-time, and movement. And check your thoughts. Most mothers are just as much of a hot mess as you are. Some are just better at hiding it. Don’t compare yourself to those moms at storytime with the well-behaved, multi-lingual, potty trained 15-month-olds. Sometimes it feels as though the difficult postpartum period will never end. But take it from me, before you know it, you’ll go from wiping their butts to wiping your own tears because they no longer need you.
If you feel that you are struggling with deeper feelings of depression, there are numerous organizations and providers out there to help. For further information, check out http://www.postpartum.net/.