Why the postnatal period is so important…and why we shouldn’t rush it…
For many the postnatal period holds much excitement and anticipation; you can’t wait to get home (if you’ve been in hospital) and start your new life together. You are excited to show your new bundle off to anyone that comes to your house to see you…and you’re already thinking about lazy strolls in the sunshine with baby…
However, often when new parents get home, the reality of being solely responsible for this little human starts to kick in.
You come home with this totally dependent little person…you have started a role that you have received no training for…the hours are crazy long and you are tired beyond belief, a little or a lot overwhelmed and the realisation that you may never have a hot drink again is just too much…
…and the crying…no one said that babies cry so much…and are so helpless…
Then there’s the visitors…you thought you wanted them…but the reality is that they come to your house, at hours of the day that suit them…they sit and drink your tea and no mention is made of helping out with a bit of cleaning or cooking…in fact you’re expected to wait on them hand and foot…NICE!
It is a massive period of adjustment and couple that with sheer exhaustion…it’s a lot of stress for new parents to have.
In the Western culture we have it all wrong with regard to new parents…other cultures do things a little, or a lot, differently and the period after the birth of a baby is a sacred time with rest and recovery at the forefront of care and family members are seen taking control of the cooking, cleaning, housework, childcare of the baby’s siblings etc so that mother can recuperate and have that all important bonding time with baby.
I remember with my first baby, I was under the impression that the sooner I was ‘out and about’ with baby, the better it was…not to mention the whole fitting back into pre baby clothes thing…(ARGGGH THIS MAKES ME SO MAD). In fact I was out for a walk in town with my new baby not 48 hours after I had had her…it’s little wonder that I experienced quite a significant amount of discomfort and the walking didn’t help the vaginal bleeding I was experiencing. or lochia if we are using it’s proper name!…I know now that I should not have succumbed to the perceived social pressures to ‘return to normality’ and taken the time to rest, rest, rest, but I wanted to be SuperMum and show everyone that I was able to adjust quickly and get on with being a new Mummy.
It’s funny though…we are told to ‘rest’, ‘not allow too many visitors to come over’ and to ‘leave the housework’ but these little nuggets of advice all too often come without the offer to help out as needed. A congratulations on the birth of your baby card and a visit to meet baby are not really suitable ways to help a mother (and a father) to transition to this crazy ride called parenthood.
Yes, I understand that women may not want to rest or allow others to take control of the cooking, cleaning etc but is that not a direct result of the culture we live in? We don’t allow parents to transition…they go from being just them…to labour and birth…to being new parents and are expected to get on with it. Yes, no one may directly say ‘it’s no big deal…just get on with it’ but it’s the perception and I have spoken to many a new mother who feels that there was real social pressure to return to the way they were ‘before’ and get on with life…almost slotting this new little person into their life rather than taking the time to adjust and adapt.
I recall that years before marriage and babies were even on my radar, a friend told me about her family member that had had her baby and then gone to bed with her for almost a fortnight…just resting, bonding and taking the time to become a new mother. My, how we laughed at this…she did WHAT? How hippy dippy was all that! she was actually taking care of her physical and emotional needs as a new mother? Pah!
I often think about that conversation with the knowledge and experience I now have and it strikes me that she wasn’t worried about what society thought…she was taking the time to do what she needed to do and just slowed down a little to allow the transition to parenthood to happen. She was embarking on her journey into motherhood in the right way and fuck what society had to say about that…and as I recall, ‘society’ (read ‘her family’) had a lot of opinions on the way she approached the postnatal period, but she was doing it right…and there is research emerging all the time to support the importance of allowing a mother, and a father, to take time to recover, adapt and bond with their new baby. It is this period that allows the starts of a solid attachment which has strong influences and benefits for both baby and parents… so why do we still put so much emphasis on ‘getting back to normal’ when our normality has changed forever! What even is normal anyway?!
All of this is part of the reason I am so passionate about postnatal care, with a special interest in supporting those who don’t necessarily have access to a support network. The thought of new parents returning to an empty house with a brand new baby and being completely overwhelmed by the whole experience makes me just feel sad. Unconditional loving care of the mother and these new parents is so bloomin’ important and if we can take care of their emotional and physical wellbeing, they can begin to acclimatise to the new world they have just been thrown into!
I know we are far away from being like the cultures that allow a new mother to spend time resting and recuperating, but if you are reading this and are pregnant or a very new mother..allow yourself to be looked after…better yet, if you are pregnant, when you are making your birth preferences document…add in one about your postnatal care and put into place support and care so you can do that all important adjusting and bonding with baby. Equally don’t feel any guilt about doing it…it is for the good of you and your baby. You are a Queen, a rockstar, a legend that has just grown an actual human, birthed this little human and are now going to look after this little human! You are deserving of being looked after, you really are.
Sending peace and love