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Yuzi postpartum doula sits with a new mother on the floor and helps with changing baby's diaper.

Why Postpartum Care is Important: Mental & Physical Health Benefits

  • Author: Michelle Homan
  • Published On: Feb 7, 2024
  • Category: Postpartum Care

Welcoming a new baby into the world is a joyous and transformative experience. While the focus often revolves around the baby's well-being, it is equally crucial to prioritize the postpartum care of the mother. The postpartum period, also known as the “fourth trimester,” is a time of profound change for women. Proper postpartum care, encompassing physical recovery, mental wellness, and social connection, plays a foundational role in one's journey into parenthood. The research is clear; "Women’s health after delivery is the most important factor affecting the health of their children (Journal of Perinatal Education).”

"Women’s health after delivery is the most important factor affecting the health of their children."

In this article, we will explore the importance of postpartum care, addressing various aspects such as physical recovery, emotional support, breastfeeding, rest, common concerns, partner involvement, and the long-term benefits that arise from prioritizing postpartum care.

What is the postpartum period and how long does it last?

The postpartum period, also known as the Fourth Trimester, is the period of time after childbirth during which mothers go through immense physiological and emotional change, recovery, and adjustment to one's new identity. At a minimum, this period encompasses the immediate twelve weeks after birth, however many women continue to experience changes and issues from childbirth or pregnancy at one year postpartum and beyond.

Why is postpartum care so important?

Whether you deliver vaginally or through cesarean section, your body needs time to heal from the profound strain of childbirth, related injuries, and any complications. Shortly after delivery, the body undergoes a steep and swift decline in estrogen and progesterone levels. In fact, for most birthing people, this is the most dramatic hormonal change they will ever experience in their lives. These hormonal changes often impact one's physical and emotional state. During the first year or so postpartum, your body is also adjusting back to its pre-pregnancy state.

After vaginal birth, pelvic floor weakness is quite common (~35% among women that have delivered vaginally). Diastasis recti, also known as abdominal wall separation is another commonly experienced condition post pregnancy. Both of these conditions can result in prolonged issues and discomfort if left untreated.

On top of this, caring for an infant is hard. Really, really hard. During the time you are mastering (or remastering) many new skills at all hours of day and night. Sleep, an incredibly important aspect of recovery, is hard to come by and short-lived when it does.

As such, postpartum care is important for all mothers, regardless of whether it is their first or fifth child. Each pregnancy, recovery, and postpartum experience is unique.

Can postpartum care help with postpartum depression?

Yes, postpartum care plays a crucial role in identifying and addressing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can also impact fathers and non-birth parents. By ensuring regular monitoring of parent's emotional well-being, healthcare professionals can provide the necessary support, resources, and interventions to help manage and treat postpartum depression and other forms of mood disturbance.

Additionally, research has shown that there is a clear relationship between sleep disturbances and postpartum depression. According to Dr. Raffaello Antonino, Counseling Psychologist at Therapy Central in London, "women who experience poor sleep in the postpartum period are at a higher risk of developing PPD"

"Women who experience poor sleep in the postpartum period are at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression."

What are some practices that new mothers and their families can incorporate postpartum?

It is essential for mothers to prioritize their own well-being as they care for their newborn. To do so, a support system is a must. Rest, nourishment, hydration, social and emotional support, and gentle movement are key factors in postpartum wellness and discussed below in more detail.

Physical recovery after childbirth

Healing from childbirth and beyond

From muscle strain to tears and stitches, your body will likely need some time to recover. Vaginal discharge should be expected for the first few weeks, starting heavier and tapering off over time. Contractions known after-birth pains are also common in the first few days after delivery. For vaginal births, sitz baths, ice packs, and witch hazel pads can be used to soothe discomfort. C-section mamas should avoid going up and down stairs if possible, and avoid carrying anything heavier than their baby. A heating pad can be used to relieve discomfort at the surgical site. Discuss pain management options, such as OTC medications, with your health care provider. Rest whenever you can (naptime, anyone?). Gentle massage and chiropractic adjustments can also help to address ongoing pain and misalignment throughout the body. As your body sheds fluid in the first few weeks postpartum, you may also experience night sweats and frequent urination. Remember, don’t hesitate to discuss any and all symptoms you are experiencing with your doctor.

For pelvic floor pain or weakness

Emotional well-being and mental health support

Recognizing postpartum mood disorders

The postpartum period is an emotional rollercoaster. Hormonal changes, sleep deprivation and all of the new responsibilities of caring for an infant can make you feel like you are not yourself. It's normal to feel overwhelmed, but it's important to recognize when those feelings go beyond the usual baby blues. Postpartum mood disorders, like postpartum depression and anxiety, are real and should not be ignored. They are also extremely common: According to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, up to 85% of women experience some type of mood disturbance after childbirth.

During the postpartum period, about 85% of women experience some type of mood disturbance. For most the symptoms are mild and short-lived; however, 10 to 15% of women develop more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.“

Seeking professional help for mental health

Repeat after me: asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. If you're experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, or having thoughts of harming yourself or others, reach out to a healthcare professional or tell someone you trust immediately. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication, therapy, or both. Remember, taking care of your mental well-being is incredibly important, not just for you but for your new baby as well.

Breastfeeding and lactation support

Common breastfeeding challenges and how to overcome them

Breastfeeding can come with its fair share of challenges: sore nipples, engorgement, mastitis, issues with latching and more. Do not ignore breastfeeding issues! This is not something you should be suffering through. Seek help from your healthcare provider, a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support group. Many of these resources are now available virtually as well.

It can take time to establish a good latch. Try different positions until you find the one that works for you and your little one.

Addressing common postpartum concerns and challenges

Dealing with sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is practically synonymous with new parenthood. The constant demands of a newborn can leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. While it may seem impossible to catch up on sleep, finding ways to prioritize rest can help you navigate this challenging phase. Enlist the help of your partner, family, or friends to share the load and allow you to get some much-needed rest.

Managing postpartum weight and body image

The pressure to bounce back to your pre-pregnancy body can be overwhelming, but it's important to approach postpartum weight and body image with kindness and patience. Your body has just gone through a remarkable transformation, and it takes time to readjust. Focus on nourishing your body with healthy foods, engaging in gentle exercise when you're ready, and embracing the journey of self-acceptance. Remember, your worth is not defined by your appearance.

Partner involvement and support

The importance of partner involvement in postpartum care

Having a supportive partner can significantly impact your postpartum experience. Partner involvement provides emotional support, practical assistance, and can help alleviate the overwhelm that often comes with caring for a newborn. Encouraging your partner to play an active role in postpartum care can create a stronger bond as you navigate this new chapter together.

Ways partners can support the new mother

Partners can offer support in various ways, such as assisting with baby care, household chores, and providing opportunities for the new mother to rest and recharge. A simple act of kindness, such as making a meal or taking care of errands, can go a long way in showing your support. Remember, you're a team, and sharing responsibilities can help lighten the load and create a more balanced postpartum experience.

Long-term benefits of postpartum care

Impact of postpartum care on future pregnancies

Taking care of yourself during the postpartum period not only promotes a healthy recovery but can also have long-term benefits for future pregnancies. Proper postpartum care sets the foundation for your overall health and well-being, ensuring that your body is prepared for future pregnancies. By giving yourself the time and attention you need now, you're investing in your future reproductive health.

The role of postpartum care in overall maternal health

Postpartum care is not just about the immediate recovery after childbirth. It plays a significant role in your overall maternal health. By prioritizing self-care, rest, and addressing any concerns or challenges, you're setting yourself up for better physical and mental well-being in the long run. Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it's essential for you to be able to care for your child and thrive as a mother.

In conclusion, postpartum care is an essential aspect of a mother's journey into parenthood. By providing adequate support and resources during the postpartum period, we can promote physical healing, emotional well-being, and a smooth transition into motherhood. It is crucial for society to recognize the significance of postpartum care and ensure that all mothers have access to the support they need. By prioritizing postpartum care, we can empower mothers, nurture their health, and ultimately contribute to the well-being of both mothers and their babies in the long run.

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