Hello! I’m Amanda and I blog over at Green Tea + Cotton. I’m a military spouse and veteran, mother to 4, cotton loving, green tea drinking and lover of books. I’m excited to bring a little taste of that to Kristle’s Clarity.
Today I’ll be contributing to Kristle’s Newborn Series by talking about Postpartum Physical and Mental Health. What you will read below is taken from my research during 4 pregnancies and births, 4 years of Psychology research, my own personal experiences, and information and stories that my pregnant friends have dealt with.
As always, consult your physician before starting any new exercise, diet, holistic or traditional medicine regimen. Some information may contain information that has not been evaluated nor approved by the FDA. Any of these items are not to be used to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Please discuss any of these items with your doctor. This is simply information that has worked for me, my family, and friends.
Postpartum care – physical and mental – is something that is not talked about as extensively as vaginal birth, c-section, type of car seat, bottles, diapers, clothes, maternity clothes, crib or no crib, and every other parenting decision. Since we don’t talk about it, many of the things that happen directly after birth up to a year can take many unsuspecting women by surprise. As you read, I hope you will find information that will help you in your own journey or help a friend in the finding their own direction to healing.
Let’s get physical, physical! Ok, not really, but let’s talk about postpartum physical health.
Most of us know of the amazing changes and not so amazing changes that happen during pregnancy but what about those changes that happen the minute the baby is born? Many of these changes can be seen, some cannot. All affect you inside and out.
As soon as you go into labor and give birth, there are four hormones that are very much active: Oxytocin – the love hormone; Endorphins – pleasure hormone; Adrenaline/Noradrenaline – Excitement hormones; Prolactin – the mothering hormone. These hormones combined give you the quintessential picture of a mother. It is the line that each of us cross.
Each hormone also plays a role in physical healing. Oxytocin helps with pain relief and heals wounds. This is critical for both vaginal and c-section deliveries. Oxytocin has anti-inflammatory properties which lends itself very well to helping wounds (vaginal tearing or c-section incision) heal. Also, when was the last time you saw the love of your life and felt immediate pain? You wouldn’t because oxytocin makes us feel better. Makes us feel good. Endorphins are natural pain relievers. This is why immediately after birth you don’t feel any pain. You received a rush of endorphins which has helped became an innate pain blocker. Adrenaline, especially after birth, gives us that baby high. Adrenaline works for us in good times and bad. It keeps us going. It also helps us block the feeling of pain but too much can have a counter-effect. Finally, prolactin. Prolactin helps give a sense of calm. It helps counteract the rush of adrenaline you just received. All 4 together get you through labor, birth, and the early stages of postpartum.
So what can you do to help your physical recovery in the postpartum period? Food, rest and exercise. These combined will help keep your hormones balanced and help you recover. I will never say recover faster because recovery is different for each person. I will advise that if you feel your recovery is not going as fast based on your past recoveries with any other injuries (broken bones, colds, sprains, etc.), please call your doctor and do not shy away from giving them any of your thoughts or feelings.
Foods that are great for healing:
Water – Drink up! Especially if you are breastfeeding. Water is good all the time. Find it boring? Spice it up with some sliced fruit – lemons, raspberries, strawberries. It’ll help keep your intestines lubricated so that your stool will be more malleable and not hard for that first postpartum bowel movement.
Bone broth – Think Vietnamese Pho. Here is a great recipe. You will get hydrated and get all the minerals from the bones. Not to mention you will get the iron from the meat. Add some other herbs and vegetables if you’d like. Either way it is super yummy!
Dairy/Yogurt – Calcium and probiotics. Probiotics also help with vaginal health and nobody wants a weird yeast infection happening so quickly after birth. Think strong bones.
Fruits and Vegetables – All kinds. Plan your meals around them. Eat more of these as the nutrients help your out in all kinds of ways – hormones and wound healing. Plus the fiber helps out with making things much easier on the first bowel movement.
DO NOT BE SUPERWOMAN. Let the laundry go. Let the dishes pile up. In fact, when you have visitors over…PUT THEM TO WORK. They can hold the baby but also make sure you are being taken care of too. If they don’t want to help out at your home, don’t let them come over. Trust me on this one. If you make this known right from the beginning, your healing will be so much better. Your body just went through something so exquisite, amazing, and painful that the more rest you get, the better you will be to answer those late night crying episodes.
Do not jump into any exercise program until your doctor has cleared you. Usually you will be cleared for full exercise again at your postpartum checkup. Until then – Take it easy!
Depending on how traumatic your birth was to your body (and I don’t mean PTSD trauma. I’m talking about injury/tearing/surgery is trauma to the body), you may have to wait a week or two before you can even muster up the strength to go on a ten minute walk.
Some exercises that you can do:
Pelvic floor exercises – kegals. I am aware that there is some debate about this exercise so please talk with your doctor and do your research to come to the conclusion of if you should do them or not.
Walking around the neighborhood. Be aware that if your bleeding becomes heavier or redder that you may be overdoing things and you need to take it easy – listen to your body.
Pelvic tilts help exercise your lower tummy and back and can help reduce back pain.
Practice sitting up straight. It’ll help your abdominal muscles with out exercising them too much.
Postpartum Mental Health is not something that is talked about very often. It is usually a handout given to you by your doctor and again asked at your postpartum checkup with another checklist sheet. Some people brush it off, care takers and loved ones don’t believe you at times, and just like other mental disorders in our society, can be a taboo subject. When hormones are not in sync, birth experiences were not ideal or traumatic, you have/had prior mental health issues, postpartum mental health is something very real and something you shouldn’t ignore.
Knowing the symptoms will help you and your loved ones understand when something isn’t happening correctly during the postpartum period. Some people have success managing their postpartum mental health with food, exercise, essential oils, or modern medicine. Some people need a combination of therapies. In either case, knowing your options and talking with your doctor will help.
Postpartum Mental Health issues and symptoms:
Baby blues – Baby blues are quite common and are normal hormonal fluctuations that happen to many mothers. Crying or mood swings are common. Symptoms should subside within a few weeks. If your are continuing symptoms past 2-3 weeks or feel depressed, set up an appointment with your doctor.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) – This is major depression and has all the symptoms of depression but only occurs after childbirth. It can strike at any time after delivery and last up to a year. Symptoms include specific fears (harming baby, child’s health, your health, harming yourself), feeling overwhelmed, feelings of guilt, not feeling bonded with baby, feelings of confusion or scared, feeling irritated or angry, feeling of emptiness, can’t concentrate or focus, feeling disconnected, thoughts of leaving. Symptoms, not all symptoms, need to be present every day for at least two weeks.
Postpartum Anxiety – Also known as Postpartum OCD. Symptoms include racing thoughts, feeling like you have to be doing something all the time, disturbing thoughts, afraid to be alone with baby because of your thoughts, having to check things constantly, can’t eat, can’t sleep, a sense of dread, knowing something is wrong,
Postpartum Psychosis – Symptoms include having more energy than you’ve ever had in your life, feeling like you understand everything/everything in life now makes sense, keep hearing or seeing things that others do not, belief that you can’t trust family or friends, feeling you are suddenly unique or special in some way, cannot remember how to do things you once did, having strange sensations, getting into fights or conflicts with others you never have before, losing track of time, feelings of being controlled by some outside force. Postpartum psychosis is rare but does happen.
Since postpartum mental health affects the primary engine of your being, getting help when experiencing any symptoms is key to success. Like I said earlier, some people can manage their depression with food, exercise and holistic health. Some foods that may help are food high in omega-3 oils, protein, hydrating, and lots of fruits and vegetables.
Exercising, once cleared, is not only good for your physical health, it is good for your mental health. Exercising helps to release endorphins which can give you a positive feeling.
Holistic health can include massage, acupressure/acupuncture, and essential oils. Each can help with relaxation which may have a direct effect on how you feel your symptoms. There are many ways to incorporate these into your daily living: massage from your partner or sitting in a massage chair, doing your own acupressure, or diffusing oils. If you decide to use any essential oils, please talk with your doctor and research fully for any contraindications to any medication you may be currently taking.
Postpartum physical and mental health doesn’t need to be a taboo subject. It can be one that we talk about as much as we talk about pregnancy and birth. If you have a friend that may be dealing with some of these symptoms, be there. Let her know what you are seeing. Be supportive. If you are a woman experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t be afraid to reach out. The beauty is we are all women who have gone through something transformative. That transformation is something that will and can bring us closer together to lift each other up.
To continue the conversation, what things helped you with your healing? Were your doctors helpful? Did your family support you? Leave your stories in the comment section. Together we can find out how much closer we are when we share our stories.
La Leche League