There’s no point sugar-coating it – being a new mum is tough – so where’s the help and support that’s so desperately needed? This guest post from Hannah Preston sums it up perfectly…
I like making informed decisions. Whenever I’m about to buy something new or embark on a new adventure, I do my research, whether that’s comparing reviews on Which? or asking at least five different friends for advice. I was no different when I became pregnant last year with my first baby. I read the books (I’d recommend “How To Grow A Baby and Push It Out”), I signed up to the Bounty and Emma’s Diary newsletters, downloaded the Baby Buddy app and attended the NCT antenatal classes.
I was as prepared as I could be for the pregnancy and labour, and to an extent I was prepared for those first few weeks caring for my new baby. I had nappies and sleepsuits and had been warned about the sleepless nights and that my hormones would be all over the place.
What I was not prepared for however was how I would feel physically after the birth and how long I’d feel terrible for afterwards. The lack of information and support for new mums on caring for themselves after giving birth is shocking. The only mention in my five class antenatal course was that we’d probably experience the “baby blues” on day three after labour. This made it sound like we’d have a weepy 24 hours and then be fine.
There are plenty of books, apps and support groups about looking after the baby in those first few months, but very little on postnatal care for the mum. In addition to all the overwhelming mental health issues new mums face, such as postnatal depression which is such a big topic that it deserves a separate, more detailed discussion, and dealing with constantly questioning every decision you make – is your baby too hot/cold, had too much/little sleep, eating too much/not enough? – (which I know is true for new dads too), there are a lot of physical issues to deal with that just don’t get discussed.
Even just focusing on breastfeeding, something we’re led to believe is the most natural thing in the world, there is a whole lot of unspoken pain and discomfort. You’re told that it will help you bond with your baby, when actually for a lot of women you’re too distracted by cracked, bleeding nipples and searing pain to enjoy the experience. (See Charlotte’s earlier blog post to get an insight into this kind of pain!). Although it’s not something you hear about before having a child, there are at least quite a few support groups – such as breastfeeding meet-ups at local cafes, Facebook groups and national hotlines – that you can access.
There are many other physical aspects that can leave postnatal mums in pain, worried, embarrassed and feeling alone, without any support. It’s not unusual for new mums to experience one or more of the following: mastitis, vaginal tears, pus from C-section scars, anal fissures, haemorrhoids, prolapses, infected stitches, incontinency…
Not only do new mums often have to deal with these physical pains, but they have to do so with an onslaught of guests visiting to coo over their new bundle of joy. It’s lovely introducing your little one to family and friends, but often new mums will be doing it through gritted teeth trying not to think about whether leaking milk is showing through their tops whilst having to shift from one side to the other to ease the discomfort of sitting down.
A friend recently shared this Twitter thread by Kate Clancy, an associate professor at the University of Illinois, who details her list of ailments and her frustration at how little the postpartum experience is discussed and how it’s under researched.
I shared it with a group of friends who’d also recently had babies and nearly all of them opened up and said they too had some kind of physical issue following giving birth.
I’ve talked to more mums since and it seems that a lot of us have gone through some kind of lingering pain. When talking about the pros and cons of having a caesarean, one of the listed disadvantages you hear is that there’s a six-week recovery period afterwards. This makes it sounds like you should have fully healed in those six weeks, and that if you had a vaginal birth it will take a lot less. A lot of new mums, no matter how they gave birth, are still suffering for months afterwards.
Considering so many of us experience physical postnatal problems, I wondered why it’s something that just doesn’t get talked about. I’m not suggesting mums should go round revealing intimate details. When someone asks you how you’re doing you don’t want to have to reply “it feels like I’ve had a lawnmower go through my lady bits” or “I’ve got a literal pain in the arse. How are you?”. In our society, when even farting is considered unladylike and feminine hygiene brands are only just starting to feature red rather than blue liquids in sanitary pad adverts, it’s just not the done thing to discuss ladies’ nether regions.
But there should be more support available. At six weeks your baby will have a check-up at the doctors and most mums will too. In my district however, they’ve stopped offering automatic check-ups for mums which I think speaks volumes.
When it comes to both the labour and the after-care, I’ve regularly heard new mums say “I can’t believe no one told me about XYZ” or “how is it that I never knew about ABC”. A recurring response is that if we knew the actual truth, it would put us off having a baby. I call bullshit on this excuse. It wouldn’t put people off (if it does, then maybe being a parent isn’t for you, because guess what – motherhood is tough) but instead would make us better prepared. It would mean you’d know when to go see your doctor, you’d have an idea of what to buy to help ease the discomfort, partners may be able to help out more, guests might not overstay their welcome, work might not hassle you so quickly, there’d be support groups to go to where you could chat about it without embarrassment…
As Kate Clancy asks in her Twitter thread – “Why don’t we have evidence based recommendations for postpartum mom care?”. More research should go in to understanding these postnatal conditions to find out what can be done to prevent them/help quicken the healing process. I can’t help but wonder if it was a problem that affected men too and not just women, something might already have been done about it.
There are plenty of topics that aren’t talked about when they really should be. From miscarriages to mental health, we really need to remove the stigma and start having discussions so that people can get much needed support.
I often hear the phrase “happy mum, happy baby” bandied about, so why aren’t we giving mums the postnatal care that they need and deserve?
Hannah Preston is a first time mum and can usually be found blogging about Leeds over on www.lovingleedsblog.co.uk.