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The night before Anna Caldwell was released from the hospital, the realization of her new role as mommy threatened to overwhelm her. In the weeks leading up to delivery, she’d grown increasingly more confident, preparing the nursery, making plans to breast-feed and perusing current parenting literature. However, that night, “I had my emotional ‘moment’ when anxiety hit and I couldn’t control it. I didn’t want to take anything because I was attempting to breast-feed. My husband was going home to sleep because he has back problems (rods, pins and fused areas of his spine) and wasn’t doing well sleeping in the hospital’s chair,” Anna recalls. “But when he saw how upset I was, he ended up staying the night and we shared the hospital bed together and it was the best moment ever and I will never forget it.”
As mommies-to-be, nothing can truly prepare us for the transition from pushing to parenthood. We eagerly await our baby’s arrival, reading books about birth, labor and baby-care, taking classes and talking with friends, yet each woman’s response to motherhood is as individual and unique as her little newborn.
A new mom’s first line of defense is a solid network of trustworthy helpers. Know now that the laundry and house-cleaning will pile up quickly. Other areas for concern are meal preparation and care of siblings and pets. Stock your freezer with at least two weeks’ worth of meals, and prepare a pre-delivery gameplan by assigning household tasks to reliable helpers. Aide can come in the form of grandmothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, friends and church connections. When choosing your network of support people, think quality–not quantity. You don’t want a houseful of houseguests, just a few empathetic, unobtrusive helpmates who understand that ironing and folding laundry or mopping the floor are possibly the most caring gifts they can give.
These tasks, however, often fall to the new daddy. “Rob was awesome. He worked ten hours a day but still took care of the dishes, the laundry and walking our dog. We decided to hire a monthly cleaning service to take care of deep cleaning but Rob really took on many of the duties I know he hates,” shares Abbey Nguyen. If at all possible, do find an alternative person to handle the more practical chores. Your partner will be eager to be with you and the baby.
More importantly, a significant other can help an unsuspecting new mommy blindsided by emotions ranging in depth and variety that could prove overpowering. While there is much documentation and help available for women suffering from post-partum depression, what is surprising to many new mothers is the experience of loving her new baby. “I never knew I could love this hard,” confesses Rosa Gerardo. “I just stare at my son and cry. I just love him so much it almost hurts.” When Mandy and Jared Alexander brought baby Leta home from the hospital, nothing could have prepared them for Mandy’s acute response to Leta’s every coo and gurgle. A bewildering mixture of hormones, oxytocin released when breast-feeding and the climax of the arrival of the newest member of the family can virtually paralyze an overjoyed new mother anxious to do everything right. A loving and supportive partner and the help of other women who have “been there” can assist a new mommy to embrace her role and garner confidence.
Every new mother asked, “what did you need help with most?” reported similarly that breast-feeding posed the biggest hurdle. Julianna Carver explains, “I was determined to breast-feed Madeline before she was even born, but I had no idea how difficult and hard it would be for us. The nurses in the hospital were not much help and because she was born on a Saturday, the lactation nurse was unavailable. I tried and tried but felt like such a failure.” While she was fortunate enough to have help with her recovery, Julianna continued to struggle with nursing. “I had my mom there to cook, clean and help me with anything I needed. My husband took two weeks off to help and bond with Madeline, but, the one thing they couldn’t help me with was nursing. We had a doula at our birth and she came over to help. She introduced me to Soothies and a nipple shield. I also went to the Mother and Baby Wellness Center associated with my hospital and the La Leche League and got one-on-one assistance. After many days without success, the nurse at the Wellness Center finally discovered that Madeline had an underdeveloped sucking mechanism. She taught me how to help Madeline develop a proper sucking method.”
Nguyen empathizes, adding, ”I never expected that breastfeeding would be so difficult. I figured: put the breast out and let her suck away. There were times when I thought I wasn’t producing enough milk or that Isabella wasn’t getting enough because she’d constantly fall asleep while nursing. Also, being on call to nurse every two to three hours was grueling. I never left Isabella’s side for the first two months.”
As a new mommy looking forward to the (eventually!) very rewarding bonding experience and many health benefits of breast-feeding, begin planning now. Make arrangements to enjoy full advantage of lactation professionals at your hospital, enlist the help of a doula, or visit a local support organization. Also, put aside any embarrassment and simply ask a mother who’s done it before. It’s likely she’ll be all too willing to share advice from the trenches. Gerardo discovered a natural camaraderie among women taking a break to nurse in the spacious restrooms of better department stores, a surprisingly excellent place to meet up with other new moms nursing and changing newborns in the ladies’ rest area.
The best advice for a new mother? Accept the unknown. “Because I had a C-section, no one knew the extent of my recovery,” shares Nguyen. “Between Rob, my mom and sister, there was someone with me around the clock for the first week. After that, my mom went back to work but spent the night so that I would have help with night feedings and such. I think I just appreciated the fact that my husband never questioned when I’d get back to normal. He just let me recover in my own time and allowed me to relax. Of course, having my mom and sister around to help him wasn’t so bad. Had we been alone, things might have been a bit more chaotic.”
Julianna agrees. Her husband was her number one ally; “Ethan was so supportive. Madeline had colic so we would take turns rocking her, patting her bottom and walking around the house. He was a big help in that aspect.”
With the same care and attention you put into your baby registry, begin rallying the troops to help with your recovery. While details including length of time you’ll recover and any obstacles you may face remain unknown, highlight the knowns. First on the list should be meals. You may need assistance simply to use the toilet–don’t expect to be able to cook. Also, your partner will be very busy attending to you and the baby; Find others to help with the cooking, cleaning, pet care and errands. Remember, however, to space out visits from your helpers. Your new family will all need plenty of undisturbed rest and are unlikely to have the energy to entertain. Keep in mind that, historically, women around the world have always had the immediate, unwavering support of family, in-laws, neighbors and members of the family’s religious community on hand after delivery. Never before have women been expected to recover so quickly with so little help. If family or friends are unavailable, seek the help of a post-partum doula, who will gladly do light housekeeping, help with other children and provide babycare instruction She will also contribute breast-feeding support and watch the baby while mommy rests.
Post-partum doulas can be especially valuable to those with multiple births, and can teach parents organizational tricks to make the first few months a little easier.
The bottomline: don’t be afraid to reach out. And, if help is offered, please accept it.
What to Expect, and Watching for the Unexpected
Awareness of the following “red flags” and common recovery concerns can help you recognize when and how to get assistance.
Symptoms of Post-Partum Depression
poor concentration, confusion
uncontrollable crying, irritability
feelings of guilt, inadequacy
lack of interest in the baby
fear of harming the baby or yourself
fear of losing control or “going crazy”
If you are experiencing any or several of these symptoms, alert your partner and get in touch with your healthcare professional and/or seek out help from one of the services listed in the resource box. If you are extremely troubled by these symptoms, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
Tips for Recovery
What to expect: Downtime–get your rest!
How to handle it: Have your babycare books, phone and a camera in bed with you and the baby. Keep food supplies within reach: water, energy bars, cheese, dried and fresh fruit, etc.
What to expect: Enlarged uterus, approx. grapefruit size
How to handle it: Massage your uterus several times a day until it feels quite firm. By the end of the first week, you shouldn’t feel it anymore.
What to expect: Vaginal flow (lochia)
How to handle it: Until the placental site is healed, you will have a bright red flow similar to your period. Do not over-exert yourself. Rest. Use an incontinence product such as Depend. Do not use tampons.
What to expect: Pain from hemorrhoids or sutures
How to handle it: Avoid sitting. Try sitz baths 2-3 times daily for 15 minutes to promote healing. Sprays such as Americaine reduce pain.
What to expect: Sore, tender breasts.
How to handle it: Use a good-quality, supportive nursing bra without underwire.
Try Soothies and Lansinoh, and experiment with hot and cold packs.
Recovering from a C-section?
Be realistic. Remember that you are recovering from childbirth, recovering from
major surgery, and dealing with the challenges of a new baby. Take it easy; you
should be able to resume activities by 6-8 weeks after surgery.
Get regular. Pain medications like codeine can be constipating. As soon as
possible, switch to a non-steroidal, like ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil).
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