Cafe Recap: Girlfriend’s Guide to Postpartum

Our panelists: Jilayne Luckey (Mama and PPMD Support Group Leader), Nycole Fox Formo (Mama and PPMD Support Group Leader), Julie Brown (Mama and RN), and Danielle Hunter (Mama), and our moderator, Lauren Barnes.

Childbirth is very intense physically on our bodies. Six weeks is the typical time for a postpartum followup appointment with your OB or Midwife. At this point most women are told that they can resume their everyday lifestyle, with the exception of very strenuous exercise. In reality, our audience felt that it took about 2 months or more before they felt normal again vaginally. Another unexpected postpartum symptom: night sweats. The hormones in our body cause many women to wake up completely sweaty during the night. Keep a towel or change of clothes nearby!

In terms of breastfeeding, our bodies go through several stages. Julie explains that when the placenta is delivered the body starts producing colostrum (a yellow, nutrient-rich milk). Even without feeling full, it is very important to nurse at this point as it will help increase your milk supply. A few days after birth (up to about 5-6 days with a C-section), your milk will come in and your breasts will feel full and heavy (sometimes engorged). It is totally normal to be confused or unsure about your milk and whether it has come in or not. Contact a lactation consultant for reassurance or help with breastfeeding.

Jilayne advises to keep in mind that even after several pregnancies, there can be physical symptoms you're unprepared for after birth. Some experienced mothers are met with the attitude that they know what they're doing and don't need help. With several children to care for, this is not true! Each child and birth are unique and bring their own challenges. Danielle was surprised that the recovery with her second birth was so much different than with her first.

Changes in appetite, hair loss, continually sore joints, mood swings, several weeks of spotting or bleeding, and strange dreams are other normal physical symptoms of the postpartum period.

Emotionally, there may be several hardships to overcome. Many women do not feel the immediate bond with their newborn that they expect. Nycole talks of the vulnerability that you are exposed to by the tremendous feelings you have for your child. Expectations can be hard to overcome if things do not go as you think they will. Babies can be very unpredictable and this is hard for some women who like to be in control. Reaction versus response is an important distinction. If you can accept your reaction you will have a better time responding appropriately to your child's needs.

The birth of Jilayne's third child, her son, was very difficult emotionally for her. Much of the first three months she does not remember, as she was struggling. At about three months postpartum her husband recognized her depression and acknowledgement of this was huge for her. She found herself acting in ways that she didn't want to, yelling at her children more than necessary, but she couldn't find the strength or grace to handle the situation as well as she wanted to. She bonded well with her son, but felt that she had no right asking for help since she had wanted this child and brought this upon herself. Her advice is to please remember that your are the best mom for your child, and there is no shame in asking for help (no matter how many children you have!).

Danielle was expecting her newborn to be the struggle, but instead found that her preschool daughter was the one exhausting her emotionally and physically. Asking for help with older children can be very important in allowing you to care and bond with your newborn.

Julie says to give yourself a head start with breastfeeding, take a local class and educate yourself as much as possible. Read, talk to other mothers and be aware of any potential problems or hardships. Mastitis, thrush, an incorrect latch, supply issues and more can all make breastfeeding more difficult. Learning proper breastfeeding positions, especially for newborns, is important for breastfeeding success as well. Follow this link for a video that gives instruction on hand expression, a helpful technique for new breastfeeding mothers. Another resources is La Leche League (local link). Also keep in mind that breastfeeding can be difficult physically and emotionally even if everything goes well. The first few days after birth are difficult and it is normal to feel overwhelmed with breastfeeding and other parenting issues.

Julie recommends the following local resources for postpartum breastfeeding help: VBH has lactation support 7 days a week. You can request an LC to come see you. Centra's Lactation Warm Line: 434-401-9344 (outpatient) Centra's Baby Cafe: every Tuesday and Thursday from 10-12 noon in the Center for Family and Childbirth Education. (Outpatient). Central Virginia Lactation Consultants: (Lisa Settje) 434-239-2852 Best Start: (Jane Bradshaw) 434-384-6262 La Leche League:(Lisa:434-316-6040; Catherine:434-229-0852)

On the other hand, formula feeding can also be difficult for mothers emotionally. Sometimes a mother wishes to breastfeed, but is unable to for whatever reason. Remember that doing what is best for your baby is what is important, and try not to let yourself listen to those who don't support your decisions. Find a support system that is positive and will help you move forward with the best choices for your newborn.

Being aware of resources for grief, breastfeeding and other postpartum issues ahead of time can help you choose those resources if you need them later. Educate yourself to the issues and the possible outcomes of your birth, be honest with yourself, and get help however you need it. Nycole suggests the book Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child.