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Take a Load Off: Your Guide to Postpartum Care

Updated: Jul 31

5 Ways that you can take care of yourself or someone you love after giving birth


Annamarie von Firley holding her infant son
When childcare meets household chores, moms can easily feel overwhelmed

You did it! Your baby is now using their lungs for their first time and based on their crying, they are putting them to use like a champ. Whether or not you were lucky enough to have a short, uneventful birth or spent days trying to get baby out into the world, giving birth is a physically and emotionally taxing event in your life. While your instinct will be to put all of your energy to keeping your little one alive and comfortable, you do need to take care of yourself. Meeting your postpartum needs is just as important as your prenatal needs. "Previous research has shown that ignoring these needs can have a negative impact on not only the mother's health but also on the health of the family. For example, insufficient sleep is heavily associated with maternal depression, which in turn can increase the risk of paternal depression and even extend to the next generation as children are at risk of behavioral problems (Goodman, 2004; Goodman and Gotlib, 1999)." [1] Consider yourself warned.



1. GET SOME SLEEP


I know that is easier said that done, especially when you are woken up every couple of hours for feeding. My milk didn't come in right away because my son decided at 33 weeks and 5 days that he wasn't going spend one more day in my womb if I continued to eat bananas every day. He is 13 years old now and will not enter a room where he can see a banana. But I digress.

Photo of Annamarie von Firley with her infant son
My son's first airplane ride

Because my milk wasn't in yet, I had to pump every 3 hours to stimulate milk production. Between pumping for 30 minutes, washing the components, and putting the milk in the freezer, I only had 90 minutes between pumping sessions to "sleep", if you can call it that. It didn't help that I was running my own fashion house at the time and could not take time off of work to get the much needed rest that I needed after experiencing severe preeclampsia when my water broke topped with pneumonia. My utter exhaustion probably contributed to the undiagnosed postpartum depression which I wasn't aware that I had until a couple of years later.


I understand that not every mom has the luxury of hiring a night nurse, postpartum doula, or has a partner that will manage night time feedings so she can get some rest. The current wisdom recommends sleeping when your baby sleeps. But as any parent of a newborn knows, that is the only time that you have to do laundry, answer emails, do the dishes, as well as all of the other myriad tasks one needs to get done around the house or for work-at-home each day. But let's figure out how it can be done.


If you have a bestie that organized your baby shower, ask them to put together a list of friends and family members who can come to your rescue. Your friend can schedule 3 hour windows of time each day where someone can come over to help you while you sleep. It doesn't have to be an overnight situation, it can be at any time of day. But for that 3 hours, you are sleeping undisturbed preferably with earplugs. They can tend to your baby's needs whether it is feeding or putting them down for a nap. When baby is sleeping, they can do the dishes, laundry, or help to tidy your home. Have her schedule these 3 hour windows for the first 6 weeks after you give birth. If you have ten people in your life that are willing to give you 3 hours of their time, they would only need to come to your house 4 times over the course of 42 days which is not too much to ask. It will have the added benefit of socializing your baby and help you be able to function better to be the ready to care for your baby the best way that you know how.



2. SPEND 20-30 MINUTES OUT IN NATURE EVERY DAY


Find a green space to be in for 20 to 30 minutes each day. Whether it is in your backyard, a pocket park in your neighborhood, or an excursion to the largest cluster of trees within walking distance, finding this time is essential to your emotional health. "Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower stress hormone levels, according to a study in the April 4, 2019, Frontiers in Psychology." [2] This "nature pill" is a non-pharmaceutical way for you to lower your blood pressure. "Levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured from saliva samples taken before and after nature outings" [2] by researchers. "We found that stress relief is significantly and most efficiently gained (18.5% cortisol drop/hour) when the nature pill lasted between 20 and 30 min, and significant benefits continued to accrue thereafter at a somewhat reduced rate (11.4%/hour)." [3] Bring your baby along so that they can reap the benefits of this "nature pill" as well.



3. TAKE A BATH


My very favorite place to be when my son was little was in the shower. No one could ask me to do anything. I couldn't feed the baby, change a diaper, answer the phone, or find a missing sock. If anyone needed something either, "Ask your father" or "You need to take care of it yourself. I am in the shower," was my gleeful response. It was/is the perfect sanctuary from any obligations. Baths are lovely as well. I do enjoy a hot soak, but our lone tub is too short to be comfortable for any length time beyond 20 minutes. "Having a loved one watch your baby for 30 minutes so you can soak in the tub or take a leisurely shower has a profound effect on your ability to relax. Add plants, aromatherapy, relaxing nature sounds, or candles to create a spa-like atmosphere in your bathroom. Sometimes a quick shower is all you need to feel human again. And if no one’s available to watch your baby, keep a bouncer in the bathroom so you can sneak in to wash your hair." [4]



4. SET ASIDE TIME TO DO THE THINGS YOU LOVE


Just because you are a mom now doesn't mean that you have to dedicate every waking moment to your child. You have permission to continue to do the things that you love whether it is a dance or yoga class, knitting, baking, or playing music. You can spend 20 minutes before bed to journal about your day or write a poem, if writing is something that you enjoy. Why not put together a scrapbook of photos and mementos to help you remember these precious moments? Whatever it is, carve out some time for you to play. According to Herbert Benson, MD, “'anything that breaks the train of everyday thought' – can induce anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that combat stress in the body.'" [4]



5. REDUCE YOUR MENTAL LOAD


Moms are expected to do it all. Raise the kids and manage the household regardless of whether or not they have a full-time job. "The mental load, also called cognitive labor, refers to the invisible, non-tangible tasks involved in running a household" such as "chores, exercise, meal planning, grocery shopping, social activities, picking up prescriptions, making vet appointments, and more. The demands of day-to-day life can be draining enough when you only have yourself to consider. Add in a partner or kids, and you might find yourself overwhelmed by the weight of burden." [5]


"Part of the mental load is also emotional labor, taking everybody's emotional temperature, making sure everybody is feeling heard and getting their needs met. It can be absolutely exhausting. And when people don't see it and don't recognize it and don't value it, it can be very demoralizing."[7]


While there is more receptiveness by men these days to contribute to household tasks, many women find that they have to push to get the man in their life to complete their chosen tasks and do them satisfactorily. "Partners might divvy up duties to share the load, so to speak. But if one partner has to constantly remind the other to uphold their end of the bargain, make to-do lists for them, or maintain a chore chart, that’s still work. When your burden goes unshared and the issue isn’t addressed, it can become an elephant-sized point of contention in your relationship — one that may leave you frustrated, distressed, and on the edge of burnout." [5]


"Even though women’s labor market participation has increased considerably, women continue to do most of the housework and childcare—in short, household labor or unpaid labor (Lachance-Grzela & Bouchard, 2010)." [6] This inequity was made worse by the pandemic. [7] "An unequal division of household labor [is] often perceived as fair, especially by men and for childcare. These findings were also found in previous research (Baxter, 2000; Carriero, 2011; Nordenmark & Nyman, 2003) and may explain why the household labor division is so resistant to change: if an unequal division is not perceived as unfair, partners likely feel that there is no need to divide household labor more equally." [6]

In addition, "men actually anticipate needing to take time off of work to give care at the same level that women do. They just don't, because our policies and our workplace cultures don't support that." [7]


You can help facilitate a transition to a co-equal relationship first by broaching the subject with your partner when you are alone and free from distractions. You can begin by "opening with a shared value: equality in your relationship. You might say, 'I know you value contributing equally to our relationship, and I think you may not realize I have more responsibilities that go unnoticed.'" [7]


It is important that you use "I" statements, such as "I feel overwhelmed when I have to do all of the planning for everyone in the household on top of the other chores that I take care of." Instead of "You don't care that I am doing all of the planning for everyone on top of everything else. All you care about is watching sports." "Emphasize that you’d like them to notice things that need to be done and contribute to the task of managing your shared home. Encourage them to use a scheduling app or set reminders on their phone to remember important tasks. Make it clear you’d like to incorporate these as long-term changes, and proceed with regular check-ins to make sure you both feel satisfied." [7]


However, it is important to allow your partner to find their own way of completing tasks. This means that you will have to give up some control over how things are getting done. "When something really matters to you, like washing clothes in cold water or choosing sustainable household products, explaining why may encourage them to make similar choices without feeling micromanaged. Doing something their way doesn’t mean doing it poorly. If they consistently put away dishes still speckled with food and soap, this might be worth a mention. But if you resentfully redo it yourself, this only reinforces the cycle by teaching them that you’ll come along and clean up after them." [7] This is called "learned helplessness". "If you don’t see many changes after a conversation or two, reaching out to a couples counselor may be a helpful next step."[7]

 

Works Cited:

  1. Fleur Lambermon, Frank Vandenbussche, Christine Dedding, Noortjevan Duijnhoven, "Maternal self-care in the early postpartum period: An integrative review", Science Direct, November 2020 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0266613820301716

  2. "A 20-minute nature break relieves stress", Harvard Health Publishing- Harvard Medical School, July 1, 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/a-20-minute-nature-break-relieves-stress

  3. MaryCarol R. Hunter, Brenda W. Gillespie, and Sophie Yu-Pu Chen, "Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers", Frontiers in Psychology, April 4, 2019, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722/full

  4. "This Is Self-Care: 10 Tips for New Moms", Kindred Bravely, https://www.kindredbravely.com/blogs/bravely/self-care-tips-new-moms

  5. Crystal Raypole, "The Mental Load: Managing a Burden You Can’t Actually See", Healthline, March 7, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/relationships/mental-load

  6. Tara Koster, Anne-Rigt Poortman, Tanja van der Lippe, Pauline Kleingeld, "Fairness Perceptions of the Division of Household Labor: Housework and Childcare", Sage Journal, March 11, 2021, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0192513X21993899

  7. "Pandemic Makes Evident 'Grotesque' Gender Inequality In Household Work", Fresh Air interview with Brigid Schulte author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, May 21, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/05/21/860091230/pandemic-makes-evident-grotesque-gender-inequality-in-household-work

 

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