How do we care for ourselves after pregnancy and the early years of motherhood? There is plenty information available to women about how to take care of themselves and their baby when they are either trying to conceive or when they are pregnant. What’s missing is attention to the next stage both immediately and longer term after pregnancy.
The postpartum time usually refers to the time shortly after birth. There is, however, also a period of around two years afterwards that is really important for a woman’s health. There is no specific name for this period, but it is a time filled with massive change. Along with adapting to the many changes in her body, her sense of who she is now, her new home life, her professional life and changes in all her relationships, there is this new profound relationship with her baby.
All of this can have a big impact on a woman’s physical health and emotional well being. Women get through this time which can be one of the most challenging times of our lives (and also most beautiful). However, just getting “through” is not the same as intentional healing, renewal, or having an empowering life transition. Many women don’t fully re-balance physically after pregnancy, become depleted and have new stresses that they don’t know how to address which can lead to ongoing stresses.
Some of the physical challenges a new mother can encounter:
- stress from adapting to a new daily routine or lack of
- the effects on cortisol from sleep deprivation
- breastfeeding issues
- weight gained in pregnancy
- changes in joint and ligaments on the body
- hormone fluctuations
- allergies developed during pregnancy
- postpartum hair loss
- carpal tunnel and back pain
- urinary incontinence
- painful intercourse
Some of the emotional challenges new mothers face:
- changes in friendships
- changes her partnership
- self worth issues around body image
- loss of personal time
- lack of mental stimulation
- changes in relationships with her parents or in laws
- balancing work demands
- altering career goals
- her self identity
There are very few dedicated resources to help women theal and recover comprehensively after pregnancy. Maternal health care providers do not provide long term support for these health or emotional issues. Other than resources for postpartum depression, there are no real dedicated organizations to help women with these challenges. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I have seen many female clients with chronic ailments that began soon after pregnancy or within the first year. In traditional Chinese culture, they understand the vulnerability of a woman after pregnancy, and they have customs within their family traditions that include herbal therapies and medicinal foods to help restore her body so that she does not develop chronic ailments like weak joints or muscle cramps, head aches, menstrual problems or anxiety. If she does develop a health or emotional problem, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner knows that the effects of pregnancy on a woman can create certain tendencies in the female body afterwards. This is usually characterized as depletion of the vital energy and essence of the body. Their appreciation and understanding of this makes it so that a woman already knows that her health after pregnancy is important. European women and most Western medicine physicians don’t have this understanding.
As much as we give attention to prenatal care and menopause as important phases of women’s health, we also need to honor the postpartum time both immediately after and beyond pregnancy.
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