“Stay in your pajamas for two weeks after you’ve had the baby,” advised my sister shortly before the birth of my first child. Once you get dressed, she reasoned, everyone thinks you’re back on the job. Ten children later, that advice has proven true with every one of my births.
Obviously, post-partum problems are not usually so simple. If you’re facing some unanticipated after-birth obstacles, we’ve talked to medical staff and moms to help unravel the mysteries of what life is really like on the other side of pregnancy.
Managing Guilt & Body-image Issues
“You just can’t know what your world will look like after the baby comes,” says 29-year-old Savannah Burton, mom of 12-week-old Ethan. Burton was shocked at how unrealistic her expectations really were, and the self-professing Type A says the biggest challenge was the lack of control. “I like things how I like things, but when you’re nursing a baby every 90 minutes, you realize you have to give up your ideals.”
Guilt was another concern that crept up on this Memphis mom. “I felt guilty because I missed my work,” says Burton, who confesses she had the wrong idea about what it’s like to stay home with a baby. “I thought maternity leave was going to be a break but it isn’t. There’s no schedule, no control, and you just wing it every day hoping to get to that time of night when you can lie down for a minute.” Though Burton misses her social interaction, she knows she’ll never get back time with her baby.
For mom Jen Wagner, body image is another challenge for new moms. “The whole body thing is just crazy,” says the 34-year-old mother, who has three children ages 6, 3, and 1. She notes the glam celebrity moms, who look great thanks to personal trainers, yoga instructors, and reliable childcare.
"I tell myself there is a short window when I am having babies and going through these feelings, and it is a time to embrace real life,” Wagner says, “and remember all the other things I have to feel beautiful about.”
The Fix: “We cannot counsel enough beforehand that you have to be forgiving of body changes and grant permission for your body to be different,” says Mid-South OB-GYN Dr. Candace Hinote. Moms need to be reminded that even if that goal on the scale is reached, favorite jeans still may not fit right.
“You will get to a place where you like the way you look again but it takes time,” adds Dr. Laura Bishop, an OB-GYN with the Ruch Clinic. “Remind yourself that your body gave you a baby, and the baby is worth it.”
Coping with Depression
Perhaps the most common issue new moms face is post-partum depression. Bishop urges moms to be on the alert, as all the components align to form the perfect storm. “Sleep deprivation, fluctuation in hormones, and body image issues when the weight doesn’t fall off immediately all combine, sometimes hurling a new mom into a downward spiral,” she says.
Because of the sudden change in hormone levels, it’s not uncommon to experience some sadness after the birth of a baby, but new moms should pay attention if the sadness lasts longer than a few weeks. “New moms who are overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety or despair should call their doctor,” says Bishop. Women who have been prone to depression before pregnancy are particularly at risk. “Remember, it is okay to pick up the phone and call your doctor before the first six weeks.”
The Fix: While exercise is an important part of post-partum recovery, new moms need to take it slow. “Your body is a good guide, and it is more important to stay hydrated and rested than exercise the first six weeks.”
Rest and recover is the post-partum mantra for moms. “Pace yourself, being careful not to leave the hospital too quickly or return to work or your routine too soon,” says Hinote, citing other cultures such as India where new moms don’t leave home for over a month. “Take care of your baby and let the world take care of itself.”
Though not always discussed in mom circles, urinary issues are high on the list of postpartum problems.
Rose, a first-time mom who had her only child in her early 30s, was shocked when just a cough or sneeze caused considerable leakage. “I had many challenges during my pregnancy, from swollen feet to sciatic nerve pain,” says Rose, a Midtown mom, “but they were all replaced by a single malady that was worse for me than any of the others: urinary incontinence.”
The Fix: With the guidance of an OB-GYN, Kegel exercises combined with frequent emptying of the bladder, can eventually correct the problem.
“Though urinary incontinence (trouble “holding it”) and retention (trouble urinating) are both conditions to watch for, new moms should also call their doctor if they experience a burning sensation when urinating which could mean a bladder infection,” adds Hinote.
Perhaps an even less talked about is vaginal prolapse, a bulging or sagging of the bladder, rectum, urethra, or small bowel which is caused by weakness of the pelvic or vaginal tissues and muscles.
“No one talked to me about it,” Wagner admits, “and a week after the birth of my second child I felt a heavy feeling and noticed a small bulge when I stood. I got a mirror and immediately called my doctor in tears.” Naturally, Wagner’s OB-GYN asked if she felt depressed. “I said, ‘No, I’m happy about everything except for this bulgy, intestine thingy sticking out of me!’”
The Fix: With the guidance of her doctor, Wagner discovered two resources that helped her work toward correcting the problem. First was the instruction of physical therapist and athletic trainer, Tasha Mulligan (hab-it.com), whose passion is educating women on pelvic health and how to strengthen pelvic muscles. Mulligan’s website and DVD were pivotal for Wagner. “I am not asking women to perform tough holds, stretches, or lifts; only to look at the habits they can correct throughout their day that will make the difference in pelvic health,” says Mulligan.
Wagner’s OB-GYN also recommended sea sponges, a tampon-like product available at Jade and Pearl (jadeandpearl.com). “The sponge changed everything and since my doctor recommended it, I knew I could trust the more natural approach taken by the creators of these products.” Wagner used the sponges after both her second and third births and was delighted with the results. “It took seven months, but it did eventually correct the problem,” she says.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is a given for new moms, but there are some small changes they can implement to set themselves up for success.
"First, moms should not co-sleep no matter how tired they are,” says Hinote. “It is a safety issue and the American Academy of Pediatrics has been very straightforward about co-sleeping. What’s more, she adds, is that since sleep is so rare with a new baby, the baby should be in its own sleeping space so that mom can relax.
The Fix: While many moms make the mistake of catching up on housework while baby naps, Hinote urges communicating instead with family members on how they can pitch in.
"In the months leading up to delivery, have conversations with your spouse about, say, three things you need,” she says. If waking up to a sink full of dishes will reduce you to tears, let your spouse know. Laundry is another hot button issue that can easily overwhelm — come up with a system and ask for help. And if tripping over toys scattered around the house triggers tears, designate a basket for a quick clean up.
"It is a transition, and transitional moments are always very stressful,” says Hinote. “Celebrate the small victories, even if it’s just ‘Oh, it doesn’t hurt when I pee!’ Take a deep breath and recognize the growing pains — the discomfort is just part of it.”