It’s very typical for pregnant women to make plans for how they will deliver and care for their newborns. Toward the end of pregnancy, most women can answer questions such as, “Do you plan to breastfeed or formula feed your baby?” or “How long will you be able to take off of work for your maternity leave?” However, questions about postpartum recovery, such as, “What physical changes do you expect to go through after giving birth?” or “If you struggle with breastfeeding, how will you get help?” can be much more difficult for pregnant women to answer.
This emphasis on prioritizing the needs of newborn babies over their mothers’ needs in our culture can be attributed to a lack of awareness about the importance of the postpartum period for mothers’ recovery and healing. This period of time has recently been coined the “first 42 days.”
Why Postpartum Preparedness is Important
Women’s lack of education and resources for postpartum life was highlighted in Aeroflow Breastpumps’ recent survey about postpartum recovery. In this survey of 394 U.S. mothers, almost half admitted to not feeling prepared for what to expect and how to care for their bodies in the first six postpartum weeks. Two-thirds of them believed that the postpartum period was more difficult than they anticipated.
Postpartum struggles were common and included problems with breastfeeding (66%), postpartum depression or anxiety (48%), lack of social support/isolation (39%), newborn care (28%), and complications/concerns with postpartum healing (24%). Overall, 90% of survey respondents felt that the current system of educating mothers about what to expect during the postpartum period, along with available resources, needs to be improved.
The first 42 days are a period of great physical, mental, and emotional transition for new mothers. Women need to educate themselves about what to expect during this time period, including the following:
- Physical changes that can include some combination of uterine cramping, vaginal and rectal soreness and pain, breast pain, edema (swelling of extremities), and problems with bladder control. Postpartum hormonal shifts can also lead to night sweats, which can interfere with sleep.
- Mothers who deliver by C-section are at risk of post-surgical complications such as problems with wound healing and infections.
- Breastfeeding mothers may experience additional discomforts related to engorgement, latching problems, and uterine cramps due to hormones released during lactation. Breastfeeding problems can also be a source of significant stress and anxiety for new moms.
- Emotional and mood changes due to hormonal shifts. The “baby blues” are feelings of sadness that start in the first 3-4 days after delivery and resolve by the end of the second postpartum week. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and/or stress that start more than two weeks after birth are a red flag for a postpartum mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
How to Prepare for the Postpartum Period
It’s vital that pregnant women learn about resources that can help them as they heal and recover from childbirth. This is evidenced by additional findings in Aeroflow’s survey demonstrating that over 75% of new moms reported not being given any information or guidance about medical devices that may help with recovery. 25% reported not having access to the necessary care to address the struggles they encountered during their postpartum recoveries.
Preparation for a mother’s recovery during the first 42 days may include the following:
Stock up on supplies.
Stocking up on postpartum recovery supplies ahead of time. These include pads, peri bottles, Sitz bath basins, stool softeners, comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, and breastfeeding supplies (breast pads, lanolin cream, nursing bras, nursing pillows, and a breast pump, if needed). Medical devices that can help with recovery include FDA-approved postpartum recovery support garments.
Educate yourself about physical changes.
Learn to tell the difference between normal physical changes and abnormal symptoms. Concerning symptoms that require medical attention (i.e., a call to one’s OB/GYN or midwife) include passing large blood clots (golf ball size or larger), soaking through a thick pad in less than one hour, developing a fever, having worsening leg swelling, or feeling like one might have a postpartum mental health problem.
Arrange for plenty of help.
Arrange for help during the postpartum period ahead of time. This can include asking friends and loved ones to prepare meals, help with housework, laundry, and yard work, and assist with childcare. Postpartum doulas can be an excellent source of support and can help with both newborn care and household tasks so that new moms can get some rest.
Plan to give yourself grace.
Make sure to have realistic expectations for recovery and newborn care. Prepare to not be too hard on yourself if newborn care, breastfeeding, weight loss, plans to be productive on maternity leave, etc. do not go as planned or desired.
Sign up for support groups.
Learn about resources for new moms. These include support groups for new moms (both in-person and online), sources of lactation and breastfeeding support, researching counselors and therapists who specialize in maternal mental health, books, and exploring websites that focus on postpartum recovery, new motherhood, and the first 42 days.
Don’t forget to schedule self-care.
Recognizing the importance of making time for “self-care.” Taking small, frequent breaks for activities like walking, reading, getting outside, taking a bath, etc. can have a significant impact on mothers’ overall health, well-being, and postpartum recovery journeys.
In conclusion, the first 42 days is one of the most significant transitions of a woman’s life. Pregnant women need to be educated and prepared for this transition ahead of time so that they can have the resources in place to prioritize their recoveries, rest, healing, and well-being, as well as that of their babies.