What is the ‘postnatal recovery period’ and why does it matter?

It is generally accepted in most Western cultures that the postpartum or postnatal period refers to the six weeks after a mother has given birth.  This is wrong. That is an arbitrary amount of time that society has chosen to cling to like this invisible finish line which marks the moment in which you will stop feeling exhausted, depleted, alone, and broken. (Ok, not everyone feels completely wrecked, and some women DO bounce back within a few weeks or months of giving birth. I say we start funding research into their superhuman DNA and find out exactly what their secret is!) In some wellness circles, we talk about the 4th trimester- referring to the 3 months after birth. This is certainly more realistic in terms of healing physically from a “normal” uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. But the physically strenuous process of labour and birth is only one aspect of its challenges.

The reality is that many women feel like they have not processed or healed from the birth for up to a full year afterwards, sometimes longer. I’ve spoken to women who admit they didn’t even START to come to terms with their birth experience until their children were in their early teens. In some traditional cultures, the mother spends the first few months after birth strictly resting, eating, sleeping, and bonding with her baby. She doesn’t cook, she doesn’t exercise, she doesn’t work. Her community and female elders take care of her every need. She at once becomes the mother and the child. She is nourished in every way.

In many African communities, such as those in Kenya, child-rearing is the responsibility of the entire community, and it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a mum breastfeeding another mum’s child while she rested.

But this is something we simply don’t do here. For the most part, this sense of community coming together to celebrate and care for the mother  – simply doesn’t exist.

And especially not for 90 entire glorious days.

Yes, some may have their mother or other family members helping with cooking and tidying up for a few weeks. What we don’t typically have is someone giving us emotional or spiritual support, someone giving us regular ‘breaks’ for self care, or someone dedicated to providing the necessary nutrients we need to replenish our bodies and souls. Someone who can hold space for us without dismissing our emotions with a well-meaning: “That’s just the baby blues. It’s normal. It will pass.”

It might.

But it might pass like a kidney stone.

And brushing off someone’s mental health when they are already not feeling adequately supported, is a recipe for untreated postnatal anxiety and postnatal depression.

So why do some mums seem to glide through this transitional time with ease while others are left carrying the heavy burden of their experience? Why do some of us feel like we have been reduced to absolute rubble? To be honest, the variables involved are too many to even list. But there are a few things we should consider when answering this question, and when trying to support a mum who is struggling to heal.  Here are 5 of them, in no particular order.

  1. Lack of proper nutrition before and after birth.
  2. Lack of family support or professional support (or the perception of no support).
  3. Lack of healthy stress coping techniques.
  4. The division of the mind and body in modern healthcare.
  5. Overwhelming social expectations for new mums.

So what can we do?

Well, there is hope. More and more health professionals are acknowledging the significant impact stress has on our bodies and our minds, as well as the importance of nutrition, mental and emotional support, and cultural influences on overall health.

Integrative or holistic GPs , naturopaths, and many Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners are leading the way in bringing this information into their clinics and to the public. And you don’t need a referral to see them!

The best way to know exactly what you need is to seek the help of one of these professionals, or of course, you can start by speaking with your family GP. The only thing you need to do is to recognize that your healing journey is deserving of every ounce of support and love that you can allow it. And so are you.

I’ll leave you with this thought:

Mum guilt is real. It can leave you frozen in your tracks, feeling guilty for even fathoming what you might need for your own happiness and well-being. If you’re also exhausted, you may feel like you wouldn’t have the energy to get what you need, even if you wanted to. If you are a mum who is struggling mentally, physically, or emotionally, there is likely a very simple solution or set of solutions that can help you. And I 100% encourage you to ask for help with that. Speak up about what you need. If you don’t know what you need, reach out to someone who can help you figure it out. We are here. You matter. YOU matter. Be kind to yourself.

Dr Sarah Hennessey (TCM)
Ba.HSc, MAcOM

I am a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and an AHPRA registered acupuncturist and herbalist.  
I run my clinic, South East Natural Health in Carnegie, Victoria, with a focus on postnatal care and women’s health.

If you feel like you need immediate support, please contact:

South East Natural Health

at Summer Healing Yoga

Level 2, 61 Koornang Road

Carnegie, VIC 3163

Entrance on Rosstown Road

0490 520 054

contact@southeastnaturalhealth.com

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South East Natural Health

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