Postpartum is the period that follows the birth of a baby. According to a bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO), postpartum occurrences fall in the following categories across the world:
- Postpartum blues incidences among new mothers range from 300-700 per 1000 mothers on global scale. These last from a few days to weeks and have few negative effects on the mother and can be dealt with assurances.
- Postpartum psychosis, which has a global prevalence ranging from 0.89 to 2.6 per 1000 births, is a severe disorder that begins within four weeks postpartum and requires hospitalization.
- Postpartum depression can start soon after childbirth or as a continuation of antenatal depression and needs to be treated. The global prevalence of postpartum depression has been estimated as 100‒150 per 1000 births.
Before I begin to give a personal account on the same, let me give you a peek-a-boo into our days and night post the baby.
The first night with my baby girl (after being discharged from the hospital) was like a trailer to our parenting journey. My husband and I were juggling between changing wet (peed and pooped) nappies and preparing formula (milk substitute) for our girl. The morning routine included all members of the family surrounding the baby (remember, it takes a village to raise a baby!) and watching over the mother -in law massaging those tiny hands and feet. The baby girl reciprocated by giving us bewildered looks and sometimes soft cries, signaling us to end the massage. We then graduated to giving the baby a shower. It required delicate handling with utmost care and gently pouring the water and soap over the petite body. On most days, my baby girl managed to nap for over two hours after a soothing bath (in the first month only!). This gave me time to eat and shower as well.
After having spent a good two months with the three of us, and having imparted the training, my in laws decided to return home (Bhopal). My husband also returned to work after a hectic one month. I geared up to take care of my little one, one day at a time. I started nursing my baby girl and relied less on formula feeds. I vividly remember the initial nursing sessions. It was hard for both of us, the baby girl and me. While the baby struggled to latch properly, each session for me was about battling a tearing pain in the soaring nipples. I was advised by the elders in the family to continue the process because it was about demand and supply (the more the baby sucked, the more will be the production of breast milk).
It is strange how everyone after the birth of the baby prioritizes its needs and a mother is lectured about the importance of breast milk. So much so, if the baby is cranky, the fingers turn to the mother and her milk supply is questioned! It also comes across as a surprise after having been pampered for the last nine long months.
My days were now longer than usual when my girl stopped taking naps during the day. She had probably formed an association with bathing after naps. Unfortunately for me, the chilly January mornings were not conducive for showers (until before noon, but by then husband had already left for work). Alone with the baby, unable to leave her, who would begin to cry her lungs out, I sat in front of the TV watching series to distract myself from negative thoughts. I lost my appetite and mostly worried about catering to the needs of my little girl. Every evening around 6 my daughter would cry continuously for hours, for no good reason (the witching hours in which the baby is crankiest). My sleep cycle, eating cycle and peace of mind, all went for a toss.
I remember one of our dining scenes, where I had started crying in front of my in-laws and husband without a specific why! I could not concentrate on anything whenever my baby cried. Even though there were a million things on my to-do list, the stress and anxiety prevented me from doing anything productive. Some days I would lie next to my sleeping baby and not move an inch, fearful that it would wake her up. I yearned for some reassurance, but all I would get were, “hamare time mei esa nhi hota tha” (In our times, there was nothing like this); “You are blessed with a gift, enjoy and don’t complain”. What was worse was that even my friends with babies, who I already turned to for comfort, asked me to suck it up.
I finally decided to get help. I decided to go to my parents’ house for some days. Back home, the gleaming sun and the warmth worked wonders to soften the stiffened emotions. A sumptuous breakfast prepared by my father started my day, later in the afternoon when the baby slept, I was served hot piping paranthas with oodles of butter, by my mother. The dinner plate was collectively prepared by both of them and culminated with a compulsory glass of warm milk. Eventually, things started improving and I returned home with heart filled with so much love. I realized the comfort of the home where we grew up, could not be matched by any materialistic pleasure. The unconditional love and support of the parents is a blessing at any age for the children.
Once I returned I met my doctor who diagnosed the symptoms as postpartum blues. Medically speaking, the feel good hormones of pregnancy change after the baby is born. Unfortunately, the level of female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, drop drastically right after the delivery, and there is a rise in the prolactin and oxytocin levels. The much relieving diagnosis though came a bit late. It had been three months since I had felt low and therefore I decided to not take any medicines (but I wouldn’t mind if I had to).
Now when I look back, these are the things that could have been done differently:
1. Self-care – A body massage for the mother is as important as it is for the baby. If you cannot get a full body massage, try regular massages on the head and the legs (my mom’s touch was magically soothing).
2. Get help – Hire a 24 hour maid or a 12 hour maid or a cook, to allow yourself rest. Our moms lived in a joint family structure and had friendly neighbors who eased daily chores so don’t even compare.
3. Ask the doctor – The body aches and the soaring nipples are a painful reality in the starting months of nursing. Get in touch with your doctor to get some relief. “Hang in there” is good advice but there are remedies to feel better as well.
4. Nurse smart – Nursing the baby for breast milk is most definitely immunity boosting but a mother can pump and store the breast milk as well. Also, a top feed sometimes will not harm the immunity as much and the mother’s body can relax in that time.
5. Lean on your partner – When the nights are long and lonely, it is advisable to wake your partner up to just talk or help with small tasks. Most of us feel guilty about doing this, but should not. It’s his baby as well, and he’d want to help. Make him a part of the journey.
On the brighter side, there is this unconditional love you receive from your baby. The first time your baby smiles to you is a memory precious enough to have kids. The small hands and tiny fingers reach out for your warm cuddles. At this point onwards, everything else starts to matter less. There are nights and sometimes even days, when I have stayed up looking at her peaceful sleep and it is in those moments that I expressed gratitude to God for blessing us with this overwhelming happiness. While parenting days go from high to low, some social media quotes keep my sanity in check. I will sign off with one from Instagram that I came across this morning – “The funny thing about kids is, they are the reason we lose it and also the reason we hold it together”.
Until then hang in there!