Question: I had a baby a month ago. When will I start feeling good - or even like my old self - again?
Liz Wilkes, director of My Midwives, says:
The birth of your baby is something that most women prepare for, dream about and also worry about for most of the nine months of pregnancy. But for many, that day of birth – while very special – fades quickly and the realities of being a mum settle in.
The postnatal period is the first six weeks after birth and it is a period where women often struggle physically and emotionally. It is really important before jumping into diagnosing serious problems that we look to the low intervention, old fashioned good sense strategies to help.
Breastfeeding and caring for your baby may not come naturally. Every baby is an individual just like every mother, and what is right for one person may not necessarily work for the next. It is very important to have both expert professional assistance and significant social support.
Midwives have significant expertise to work out the unique needs of each woman and baby and work with this to support women in their mothering. The focus for the midwife is physical wellbeing for mother and baby – growth and weight of baby, physical recovery for mother – as well as feeding, care of baby, settling of baby and the emotional aspects of the post birth period. A private practice midwife can see a woman as often as required, with Medicare picking up a significant portion of the bill.
After hospital discharge women may see their GP or obstetrician at six weeks, but it is very important to have a midwife available to you – check with your hospital or obstetrician what is available. Find someone to visit you at home at least every few days for the first week and then weekly after that. If you cannot locate this through your hospital or existing care provider, google private practice midwives in your area and this will give you ideas.
While having a midwife available is important for your wellbeing, the support of your social network is the most important thing. Now is the time to abandon household chores, cooking and cleaning and sleep when your baby sleeps. Well-meaning family members will visit but should be warned in advance that they will be given jobs to do whilst they are visiting. It is not the time for them to sit and nurse the baby whilst you run around cleaning.
Leave a list on the kitchen bench and ask everyone to do a job and tick it off. Organise at least 2 weeks of in home help from a mother, sister, friends, in laws or – if none of the above are available – hire a postnatal doula or ask your care provider where you can access extra help. Shopping can, and should, be done online. Cooked meals can be dropped off by working friends who may not be able to help out any other way. Mothers with other babies can come and take two babies instead of one out for a walk while you rest – you can return the favour to other friends in a few weeks.
This quiet period should be at least the first six weeks after birth, when you recover physically and get to know your baby. Your emotions will change markedly over this time but it is important to recognise that the feelings will not last.
Professional help from a midwife is the first step if things start to go wrong. Your midwife will refer you to a lactation consultant, psychologist or other specialist as needed.
Enjoy this period as much as you can – you will only do it one time for every baby.
Liz Wilkes is a midwife and director of My Midwives. She is the media spokesperson for Midwives Australia and believes every Australian woman should have adequate support during pregnancy, birth and in the postnatal period.
This article first appeared on The Advice Army.