I was watching an interesting programme on BBC 2 last night, ‘The Baby has landed’. It was a documentary following six very different couples, during the later stages of pregnancy, the birth and then the time following the birth which as commonly known as the postnatal period.
It was striking to note how the different couples on the programme were coping and adapting to having a new baby and a new addition to a family.
My heart went out to all of them but the one couple that struck me the most was the couple having their first baby after a long labour resulting in a caesarean section for the birth. As is the norm now, they were home after a couple of days and settling back into life with a loving extended family.
Initially, as is fairly common, all was well. As time went on however, the baby became unsettled. Mum and dad became increasingly tired with broken nights sleep and then a downward spiral into the mum feeling that she was failing because she could not settle the baby. The grandmother was supportive and the partner was trying to be but he too was beginning to feel that he was doing it wrong and all this against a backdrop of advice, from well- meaning relatives.
The mum was doing all the right things, but it was easy to see that she was becoming too hard on herself and forgetting that not only had she been through labour, but had, had a major operation for the birth. I think women underestimate just how difficult those early weeks can be.
The Mother now had another life to care for as well as herself.
The baby is growing even after day 1 and will be demanding more food but also, babies cry for all kinds of other reasons such as loneliness and need reassurance. They have been so used to being in the womb for 9 months and now they are having to adapt to a new environment.
That is why skin to skin contact is so important. It actually physically affects the baby’s heart rate and breathing. It calms and soothes the baby and they are a perfect temperature close to your body. You don’t have to be breast feeding to do this and Dads can do it too.
Another couple had just had their fifth baby handled it well. Mum and Dad were back running guides and scouts after a week after the birth. It made me feel tired just watching the activity within the household. I was also a bit sad because every woman is different post birth and yet they measure their progress alongside, other women who make it look so easy. The women who make it look easy tend to be in the minority, but the woman with her fifth baby said that she liked to keep busy to stop her wanting to have another baby! This could be a trick played by the levels of Oxytocinon (necessary for bonding) in the body. The levels are so high for some women after giving birth, that they can make you believe that having another baby would be a good idea.
Also, it is this cocktail of hormones or lack of them, in particular Progesterone and emotions post birth that can contribute to some women developing post-natal depression.
Postnatal depression (PND) is the most common perinatal mental health disorder women experience in the first year after having a baby. Between 10% and 20% of women have depression and anxiety in pregnancy and after birth. PND is an illness and will get better in time. The reasons for this are multifactorial and the symptoms are many and varied.
There are lots of excellent websites that explain PND and perinatal health disorders. One being the NCT.org.uk/ and the NHS website who have a self- assessment depression screening tool that you can complete if you are not sure that this is what you are suffering from.
New mothers need to care for themselves as well as their baby and it is common sense to delegate as many of the household chores as is possible and use a good 2 weeks to rest and recuperate.
In the old days (not so long ago) the 2 weeks following the birth was known as the ‘lying in period’. Women were kept in bed and only allowed to look after the baby and themselves. This of course, contributed to a higher risk of developing a thrombosis (blood clot) or chest infection because the clotting factors in the blood become thicker and it takes a while for the blood to return to pre-pregnancy state.
Nowadays, postnatal exercises are encouraged including gentle walking and if there are any other risk factors for a blood clot, then medication and anti-embolic stockings (like flight socks) are advised.