“Stay on top of your pain medications.”
“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
“Don’t climb stairs, drive, overexert yourself, etc.”
If you have had a baby or even a surgical procedure, you have probably heard some of the above statements. These things are said by well meaning doctors, nurses, and family members. After all, they just want you to feel better, right? The saddening thing about this advice is if you have had a surgical procedure, you are likely able to heed it. But if you have just had a baby, – even if it was via c-section, a surgical procedure, mind you – you’re screwed.
Who is going to remind you to take your meds or bring you lunch when your support system is at work because they cannot afford to take time off or they already used their allotted week of paternity leave?
When I had my first child, it seemed like someone was always around, making sure I was eating enough, helping me with the baby, just checking in to see how I was doing. But then along came the second child. By then, you’re supposed to have everything down, right? You’re a real pro. While I felt more confident this time because I knew what to expect, I was really given a glimpse into the abysmal state of care for postpartum moms after I had a complication.
A few days after I got home, I was hit with episodes of violent shivering followed by hot flashes so intense, I would sweat through my clothes. I thought this was all par for the postpartum course (hormone fluctuations, for the win!) until I developed a fever, for which I went back to the hospital. The hospital staff, though, told me it was hormones. I spent the majority of my first week home dealing with fluctuating fevers while shivering and sweating, all while trying to heal and care for a newborn – alone. Finally, my fever spiked to 103°F. It turns out I had a nasty UTI even though my urine tested normal at the hospital a few days prior.
Throughout this entire ordeal, I struggled. When I would have a shivering fit, it would last for at least 30 minutes and keep me curled up in the fetal position – not ideal for trying to nurse a newborn, cooking yourself food, or even getting out of bed. Like most new moms, I asked for help. And like most new moms, I was told, “Sleep when the baby sleeps. Just stay in bed with the baby.” Or, “I wish I could, but I can’t.”
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Except when you have no one to help you, how and when are you going to eat? If you have a birth complication or are sore and trying to heal, something as simple as getting up off the couch to tend to your baby can take several minutes and be quite painful. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but here in the United States, the village has a population of one.
Think about this: Millions of moms in the U.S. aren’t offered paid maternity leave, and as a result, as many as 1 in 4 go back to work 10 days after giving birth. This, among other issues, is why thousands of people are marching in Washington, D.C. and around the country on May 6th.
3 Ways to Help a Postpartum Woman
While it can seem hard to help someone who just had a baby if you cannot physically be with them, there are a few simple things you can do to give a new mom the support she needs.
Listen. Whether it’s her first baby or her fifth, a new mom is going though some stuff, and there is going to come a time when she’s going to want to talk it out. She might be feeling totally overwhelmed, frustrated that her baby has reflux, be tired and sore, or just want to vent. Whatever the case, be her sounding board. Listen to what she is saying, and acknowledge her feelings. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to voice my feelings, only to be met with, “You need to clear your head, and sleep when the baby sleeps.” If I could do that, I wouldn’t be talking to you.
Chances are, this mom has heard this generic advice more times than she can count, and it’s not helpful. Instead, listen and try responding with, “What can I do to help?” Or “I’m sorry you’re going through that. It must be very frustrating.” Or even a simple uplifting, “You’re doing a good job. I know it’s hard.”
Send Help. If she asks for help, see what you can do to make it happen. It might be hard to take time off work, but do you know someone – maybe a family friend or another family member – that could spend a day or two helping? If you can’t take days off work, maybe you can spare a couple of hours on the weekend or in the evening to help with the baby while mom takes a shower/eats. Or, you could send a cleaning service or a postpartum doula to offer assistance.
Make Food. Finding time to eat properly – let alone cook – can be a source of anxiety for a new mom. Bring her some of her favorites, send her a pizza, or if you know what restaurants she likes and they deliver, send her something. Coordinating a Meal Train is another helpful way to bring people together and ensure the new mom gets the nourishment she needs.
Let’s work to increase that village population. Helping a postpartum woman can be as simple as listening or making her a lasagna. Want to do more? Attend the March for Moms event or a sister march near you on May 6. Can’t make it, but still want to do something? Donate here.
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Written by guest author Casey Newman. Casey is a PR/marketing professional with a passion for maternal issues and member of the ImprovingBirth Board of Directors. She enjoys spending time with her family, supporting various causes, and angrily tweeting about baseball @caseybnewman.