Many expectant parents are doing the best they can to learn how to care for their baby when he or she arrives. What they often don’t realize, however, is that the newborn is not the only one who needs a lot of care after the birth.

Problems Facing New Parents

Families in Western society tend to face three primary problems:

  1. Lack of experience
  2. Lack of support
  3. High expectations

It’s not surprising that new parents in Western society often feel overwhelmed.

The fact is that after childbirth, there are TWO important beings who need to be cared for, and one of those two people is the new mother.

The Reality of the Postpartum Period

Pregnancy and childbirth take heavy tolls on a woman’s body.

During the pregnancy, her body borrowed from itself to supply the baby with its nutritional needs, and those stores need to be replenished. Her uterus and abdominal muscles have been stretched until they are very thin and fragile. The birth will leave her with swelling and pain in the perineal area and often stitches as well. Over the next few weeks she will suffer from prolonged vaginal bleeding as well as cramping as the uterus returns to normal shape.

Finally, the hormonal rollercoaster caused by pregnancy and birth can cause mood swings, weepiness, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Women who have had c-sections are also recovering from major abdominal surgery, and need to rest, take care of their incision, and not lift anything heavier than the baby.

The Care And Feeding of the Newborn Mother

Despite the level of care and recuperation required in the postpartum period, many new mothers find themselves overworked and underfed. They often find themselves playing hostess to visitors, and spend their postpartum period offering people drinks and hiding stray socks under sofa cushions.

This could not be a starker contrast to the treatment of new mothers in many other countries. Many cultures have a laying-in period covering the first 4-6 weeks after birth, where the mother is expected to relax and allow friends and family to fuss over both her and the baby.

  • Chinese culture refers to zuo yuezi, which traditionally lasts 45-60 days post-partum. This tradition follows the belief that new mothers require care, must be kept warm, must rest themselves as much as possible, and must be fed special foods.
  • In India and parts of the Middle East, the new mother is bathed, rubbed with oils, and heavily decorated with henna art before she leaves the birthing room. She is expected to rest and bond with her baby, and the decoration of her feet and legs is partially intended to deter her from getting up or trying to clean.
  • Mexican culture honors La Cuarentena, a time in the first 40 days after birth when the mother is effectively quarantined. She is kept warm, kept off of her feet, and expected to bond with her new baby while her mother or a mother figure cares for her.

There is no need for a new mother to be quarantined, but new mothers do need to rest and be taken care of, as much as their babies do. Women who don’t have enough support from family and friends are more likely to suffer from Post Partum Depression and be unsuccessful at breastfeeding.

Expect And Arrange For Help

If you are expecting a new baby, start lining up friends and family members to help you in the weeks after the baby’s birth.

Practical Support

An experienced set of hands (or several!) can be a God-send in the days after the baby’s birth, especially if you and your partner are new to parenthood. Even if you are a second or third-time parent, you may want someone to help take care of the older children so you have more time to concentrate on getting to know your new baby.

Social Support

Many women feel trapped at home all day, and while babies provide a great deal of joy to the new mother, they are not great conversationalists. Fight off loneliness and boredom by arranging visits with friends, or babysitters so you can go out with your partner – even if it is only for an hour or two – on a regular basis.

Nutritional Support

New parents don’t usually have time to cook, and yet nutrition is vital in the post-partum period. A new mother needs calcium, vitamins (especially B vitamins), iron, and omega 3 fatty acids to replenish her stores post-pregnancy. A new mother needs three well-balanced meals a day, plus snacks and lots of water, and she occasionally needs someone to provide those for her – and give her time to consume them!

General Self-Care

It can be hard to put yourself first when there’s a new baby in the house, but new parents need to take care of themselves so that they will be able to take care of their baby. New mothers need  time to sleep, time to shower and dress, time to eat, and time for gentle exercise to help restore their body to health.

The key is to find someone who can give you that time.

Who Can Help

Look at your local roster of friends and family and ask how they can each help you. If you have a mother or mother-in-law with whom you get along, and who shares your ideals of child rearing, she can be a vital addition to the household in the early weeks – especially in the middle of the night!

On the other hand, don’t invite anyone who adds to your stress levels or who may “take over” leaving you feel frustrated and helpless. Ask those people to provide frozen lasagnas or casseroles instead, or ask them to babysit for an hour or two so you can pop out of the house for coffee with a friend.

You should also consider hiring a Doula. Doulas are experienced at newborn baby care, the initiation of breastfeeding, and they know how to pamper a new mother. Doula price ranges vary greatly. Some will work for lower pay simply because they feel that all new mothers deserve a doula.

Spouses who work can still do a surprising amount to help a new mother recuperate. Sometimes just holding the baby for an hour or so upon returning home from work can be vital for a new mother’s sanity. Give her time to care for herself, and don’t ask too much of her.

Remember, the postpartum time is a time of rest and recuperation… but a newborn can be anything but restful.

by Carol Millman