Outside of a classroom, the fourth trimester isn’t something that is typically discussed in depth. It’s not uncommon for women to be given bits and pieces of what to expect during the postpartum period, left to fill in the blanks. Often when people hear the term “postpartum” their mind wanders to Postpartum Depression, giving it a negative undertone. With all the excitement of preparing to add a new member to your family it’s easy to get distracted from the reality that it may not be perfect and it might take some work to enjoy it. It may be hard, both physically and mentally. It may be exhausting and even downright overwhelming.
You get lots of positive attention when you’re pregnant from family, friends, and even your healthcare provider. Everyone wants to know how you’re doing and tell you how great you look. Your prenatal visits are consistent and become more frequent as your pregnancy progresses. Then, all of the sudden, that attention shifts from mom to baby. On top of healthcare visits going from weekly to a basic 6 week follow up, people tend to be more interested in the new baby than the new mom. It can sometimes leave you feeling isolated, insignificant, and maybe a little discouraged. It shouldn’t. A lot can happen in those 6 weeks between birth and your follow up with your provider and you deserve just as much, if not more, support after birth as you do throughout pregnancy.
Building a good support system can make such a significant impact on how you look back at your postpartum experience. Support doesn’t always look like hugging or taking over for someone. Sometimes support looks like lending a hand when your mother or sister in-law come to meet your baby. Sometimes being supportive can mean your best friend bringing over a meal for the family to take a little something off your hands. Family and friends get so excited to meet a new baby and often want to show their support, but not quite sure how to. Don’t be afraid to speak up when people say, “if you need anything” or “if there’s anything I can do for you.” It’s not selfish to be open about your needs and trying to meet them.
One of the hardest, and most significant, obstacles of enjoying your postpartum period is self-care. With all that entails in caring for a newborn, it is easy to push your needs aside. It’s not uncommon to skip out on a shower, lose a few hours of much needed sleep, or forget to eat. It might feel like eternity since you’ve had some adult interaction. One of the most common phrases that I’ve heard during pregnancy is “if you ever need a night out” or “I can’t wait to babysit.” Cash that offer in! Take a nap. Grab some coffee. Go grocery shopping alone. Anything. Just make it about you. To some, an extra long shower seems pretty minute... To a new parent, it could be everything.
One in five women will develop Postpartum Depression. There is no telling who will develop it but being aware of, and possibly adjusting, your environment can reduce your risk. While building a support system is the best strategy, unfortunately, for some that is easier said than done. Not everyone has an overwhelming amount of family and friends to turn to. That is where postpartum doulas come in and become your support system. They are diverse, nonjudgmental, and some even consider them incomparable.