Postpartum: What to Expect and Helpful Insights
The postpartum or postnatal period refers to the six weeks or so immediately following delivery. During this time, the mother’s body reverses the physiological changes that occurred during pregnancy. Chinese medicine recognizes the postnatal period as a critical phase in the lives of both baby and mother. It takes several months for the mother’s endocrine system to return to its pre-pregnant state. This hormonal adjustment period may be lengthier in nursing mothers, as compared with non-nursing mothers.
In Chinese culture, new mothers follow a tradition called zuo yue zi, which is roughly translated as “sitting the month.” According to this custom, a postpartum mother stays home for one month to recuperate while family members help take care of the baby, cook nutritious meals, and brew healing herbal concoctions. Though this may not be an option for most new mothers, respecting the immediate postpartum period as a time of great physiological change, protecting mama from unnecessary stress, and properly nurturing the body to prevent future illness is attainable.
It is not uncommon for women to discover new health issues after having a baby. For instance, uterine prolapse and thyroid disease are common postpartum concerns. Some women even experience the return of ailments that have been dormant, such as eczema or allergies. Let’s face it, having a newborn is stressful! New moms have to contend with feeding their babies every couple of hours, which completely uproots their sleeping schedule — all while recovering from the physical exertion of labor, as well as blood and fluid loss during childbirth.
According to Chinese medicine, if a woman takes good care of herself postpartum, she has the opportunity to restore her body to a place of optimal health and hormonal balance. In fact, Chinese medicine is quite effective for treating conditions like postpartum fatigue, mastitis, insufficient lactation, and the “baby blues” in a natural way with minimal side effects. Acupuncture and gentle herbal remedies can also relieve concerns like night sweats, spontaneous perspiration, and heart palpitations, which signal an underlying imbalance.
Here are some simple tips you can follow to stay as healthy as possible during the postpartum period:
- Take it easy. Hang out in your pajamas all day. It’s okay to be “lazy.” You just delivered a new life into the world and your body has gone through a massive change (think on the level of metamorphosis). Rest or nap while your baby is napping. If your baby is not a great napper, ask someone else to watch the baby for an hour so you can snooze.
- Prioritize self care. Don’t feel bad about doing things for yourself or by yourself. Get a massage or acupuncture treatment, or go for a walk. A happy mother makes for a happy baby.
- Minimize visitors. In the beginning, it will seem as if all your friends and family want to swing by to meet the little one. Resist the urge to fill up your social calendar. If you have visitors and they ask what they can do to help, kindly suggest that they bring prepared food.
- Minimize stress, whether it is physical or emotional. Recognize what causes you stress or doesn’t benefit you, then let it go or find a constructive outlet. Pent up frustration or resentment will adversely affect your health.
- Get help. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Enlist help for chores like the dishes, laundry, and general housekeeping. If you’re nursing, don’t be a martyr. A friend of mine assigned her husband all the diaper duties: She joked that she was in charge of the “in” department (nursing) while her husband was in charge of the “out” department. Another girlfriend let her husband feed their son a bottle of breastmilk in the middle of the night in order to get a longer stretch of sleep.
- If funds allow, hire a baby nurse or postpartum doula. This can be either for daytime or nighttime help, or both. Even a couple weeks of help can give you an opportunity to recuperate. Having friends and loved ones chip in for a baby nurse or postpartum doula could make for a wonderful alternative baby shower gift.
- Go on a date with your partner. Remember to devote energy towards nurturing your relationship.
- Eat well. Think broths and stews. Incorporate warming foods like ginger into your dishes. Drink warm or at least room temperature water and avoid ice water, which is a huge disruption to the delicate postpartum system.
- Stay warm. Unless it’s summer, bundle up before you go outside. Minimize your exposure to wind and cold weather. Zip up your jacket (even if you’re just walking ten feet from the car to the house) and wear a scarf.
- Keep your feet covered. According to the theory of reflexology, areas on the feet correspond to the body’s organs and systems. Instead of walking around barefoot at home, don a pair of slippers or cozy socks to protect those soles.
- Cultivate a support system. Join a local parents group. If you are experiencing challenges with breastfeeding, attend a lactation support group. It helps to connect with other parents who are going through or who have gone through something similar.
- Recognize when you need professional help. Did you know that the mood changes often referred to as “postpartum blues” (or baby blues) occur in 50-80% of mothers? This includes sadness, weepiness, depression, anxiety, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, irritability, poor concentration and mental confusion. These mood changes may be transient, lasting only a few hours, or they may persist for a few months. True postpartum depression, which is a type of clinical depression, affects 11-18% of women who give birth. Its clinical symptoms are similar to major depression. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, yet sadly, only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever receive professional treatment. Resources like this can be helpful. Know that you’re not alone and reach out for support.
- Pause and focus on your breath. If at any moment in time you are feeling “off,” draw your attention to your inhale and exhale. Is your breath fast or slow? Short or long? Shallow or deep? Choppy or smooth? Here are some simple breathing exercises you could try.
- Consult an acupuncturist. Chinese medicine excels at treating postpartum fatigue and the mild form of baby blues.
- Find a way to laugh every day. Laughter brings joy and is healing.
For most new mothers, postpartum isn’t long lasting. If this period lasts longer than expected, is causing mental stress, or has a negative impact on your life and your family, seek professional help.
We at Naturna are committed to supporting the health of our patients and their families during important transitional periods like postpartum. For more information and to book an appointment, contact us here.