How to Survive and Thrive Postpartum
Whether your 2 months postpartum or 5 years, it doesn't matter. Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, or any number of health issues can come up. Often, but not always, this is because we get to a point where our nervous system and other systems in the body get depleted or can't handle another bit of stress. We often think of these issues happening in the first few months after a baby is born, but more often than not they come up after 6 months to 5 years after. Apparently according to Dr. Serrallach, author of the book Postpartum Depletion Cure, the average in Australia is 4 years postpartum and some women are still dealing with issues at 10 years postpartum.
In my experience of being pregnant, so much focus was put on having a healthy pregnancy and an ideal birth. Most birth preparation or pre-natal classes will have you create a birth plan and go over what you should know about giving birth. They may cover some of the basics of bringing your baby home from the hospital and the first few weeks of having a new born. But rarely do I hear of these classes having their clients create a solid postpartum plan.
Now when I see a pregnant mother and she's open to some advice, I often mention to not worry too much about the birth - but to have a solid postpartum plan that takes into account how both mother and baby are going to be cared for: housecleaning, a solid nighttime parenting plan that hopefully gets both parents some solid sleep, meals etc.
I'd would recommend a postpartum doula to just about every new mom unless you know for sure that friends and family are going to be on the new mother's beck and call for the first 4-8 weeks. A new mother needs mothering and care just as much as the new born does. Pregnancy and birth can take a lot out of a woman, depending on how they both went and her state of well-being pre-pregnancy. Nursing and taking care of a new born can also take a lot out of a mother.
In many traditional cultures, a woman either moved to her parents or had her mother move in with her for a min. of 40 days after the birth of a child. This made sure the mother was well taken care of and had ample time to recover and adjust to the new way of life. In these cultures, from what I have heard, postpartum mood disorders rarely happen.
Dr. Oscar Serrallach has coined the term Postpartum Depletion Syndrome, the common phenomenon of fatigue and exhaustion, combined with a feeling of “baby brain.” (Baby Brain is a term that encompasses the symptoms of poor concentration, poor memory, and emotional lability.) At the severe end of Postpartum Depletion he mentions is depression and anxiety. Mothers need to be cared for in order to replenish their stores physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
As a mother you are wired to put your baby first regardless of what your needs are. In my experience this can be a slippery slope towards a state of illness and health issues - physically and mentally. Learning how to put yourself first, take care of your basic needs as well as finding the practices and activities that fill your cup is so important. Learning how to ask for help so that you can find some time for self-care and self-nurturance is a huge step towards both surviving and thriving.
If you are already experiencing a health crisis postpartum or want to thrive in the postpartum here are some recommendations from my experience:
- hire a postpartum doula or if your child is old enough have them go to a friend, families house or a dayhome a few days a week so that you can focus on self-care and replenishing your system. I didn't have a postpartum doula with my first, and I wouldn't plan to have a second child without hiring one.
- if your baby or child is still waking up several times in the night, create a nighttime parenting plan that gets each caregiver some solid uninterrupted sleep. I've seen the most successful parents create a plan that each partner gets at least 6hrs of solid sleep. You need to check in and tune in to what is going to work best for you and your family. If everyone is feeling happy and healthy stick with what your doing, but if you are feeling exhausted and out of sorts then this needs to be looked at. I personally had to let go of my ideals around co-sleeping and sleep training. My son ended up in a crib and we sleep trained him at 10 months old because the sleep deprivation took me into a horrible spin of insomnia, depression and anxiety. A happy and healthy momma is the best kind.
- check out the work of Irene Lyon (irenelyon.com). She has a focus on healing the nervous system and past traumas. My experience is that having a child can bring to the surface any childhood trauma you might have trapped in your system. She also offers great practices that help you to manage and release stress.
- I found Acupuncture and Chinese medicine were great ways to replenish my stores. Find methods of relaxation that work for you. Restorative and Yin Yoga are great. Dr. Serrallach also highly recommends Heart Math (www.heartmath.org) as a practice that creates relaxation.
- Daily practices of gentle to moderate exercise including yoga can be great for releasing stress and elevating mood. Strenuous exercise is not generally recommended. Walks in nature are naturally good exercise, mood enhancing and stress releasing.
- Start a meal train. There are a few good websites out there to help with this. Have friends and family make you meals you can freeze to take off some of the stress of cooking and feeding yourself and your family.
- See a therapist or counsellor. Therapists trained in Somatic Experiencing have been highly recommended for those experiencing anxiety and depression or any other nervous system issue. I've been going to an Art Therapist and find the mix of therapy and creative expression to be very healing. Changing habits and thought patterns to ones that serve and support you is important.
- I've recently stumbled across a modality new to me called Belief Repatterning (https://beliefrepatterning.com/). I've been finding it very useful for healing my anxiety and depression. Its a practice rooted in Cognitive Psychology and Education. It helps you unplug from beliefs and patterns that are serving you and in a very natural way start to create new habits and patterns that do serve.
- get your vitamin levels checked. Dr. Serrallach mentions in his book that it is often iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B9, iodine, and selenium that get depleted in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Find supplements that work for you to replenish your stores and add things to your diet that restore vitamins and minerals too.
- The stress of a new baby and the learning curves that come with it can be really hard on your digestive system. It was helpful for me to get my food allergies tested and to put some focus on healing my digestive system by changing my diet, adding in bone broth (which is also good for replenishing minerals in the body), and doing a candida cleanse. Next I will be taking a supplement that heals the gut and lots of probiotics.
At the end of the day, it's been reprogramming myself to put myself first. To be okay with prioritizing my own self-care and trusting that I can be a much better mother and partner when I am happy and healthy. My village doesn't look like how it might have hundreds of years ago but it still supports us as a family. My son has an amazing dayhome he goes to a couple days a week which is his little village. I get to focus on my passions and self-care which is what replenishes me. (or catch up on housework which is what happens some days.) My mother and sister help out when they can if I have appointments or classes to go to or if me and my man just need a night out.
No matter what someone tells you, you are not a bad mother for choosing your health and happiness over your ideals. If you are barely surviving and can't even think about thriving postpartum something has to give. Reach out for help, talk to other mothers about what helps them survive and thrive, open your mind to doing whatever you have to do to get by. And my prayer for you is that you not only survive the early (and later) years of motherhood but that you thrive.
I'd love to hear your experience and suggestions on surviving and thriving the postpartum. Please post in the comments below.