The Value of Postpartum Support

by Amanda Rose, Postpartum Certified Doula,

Although women have been giving birth since humanity began, it has been a constantly changing rite of passage around the world. Historically, there has been much focus on medically defining the standards of birthing practices, in the attempt to better contain the event. Over the past half a century, however, there has been an ever more popular movement to reclaim the mystery of birth and the autonomy of the birthing woman. With the mainstream media and more medical communities now embracing the evidence-based demand for low intervention, “hands off” birthing practices for the majority of pregnancies, the focus is now shifting to the events that occur after a baby is born, from the first minutes and hours into days and weeks, and up to three months or more. The importance of this time is becoming so well known that it is being called the Fourth Trimester, and it is catching the public eye as a period whose significance has been neglected.

The Postpartum Period, which begins immediately after birth, and lasts up to twelve weeks, heralds the growth of a family and can be an indication as to how the developing months and years will unfold. Whether having given birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home, by vaginal or cesarean delivery, with no interventions or many, or by adoption or surrogacy, there are created parents and offspring, possibly siblings and more. All these individuals will be needing some level of support in their new and expanding roles.

Postpartum Practices in traditional societies greatly emphasized “mothering the mother”- completely nurturing her in the first weeks so that she was able to heal fully and establish a strong breastfeeding relationship with her baby. This helped ensure survival for both mom and baby, guaranteeing their vitality in the community through their physical and emotional health. Modern practices in industrial societies moved away from these Postpartum Traditions as families lived further apart and there was less a sense of interdependence in communities. Mothers were often giving birth without constant physical and emotional support, then returning home soon after delivery, no matter how taxing or traumatic, to pick up their responsibilities where they left off.

Today’s families and mothers are realizing that these modern Postpartum Practices are not truly supportive of a sustainable family life, and they are redefining how the Postpartum Period should look and feel. Rather than being pressured into immediately bouncing back to a pre-pregnancy lifestyle, the fact that a woman and her family are forever changed and need to find a new balance is beginning to be honored more. The mother must fully heal from the pregnancy and birth, whether that takes days, weeks, or months. The family as a whole does well to embrace, as much as possible, the slowing down of life that is necessary to establish new relationships, patterns, rituals, and traditions. These tasks are easier and better fulfilled when the family has a strong support system giving them time, love, and energy. Postpartum Support comes in all forms, such as friends and neighbors bringing meals, family coming to visit, or hired help.

Most Postpartum Families need time for resting, meals, and dialogue; keeping the house in order, nurturing the siblings, education on newborn care such as feeding and soothing techniques; encouragement and emotional support, assistance with shopping and transportation. Sometimes families have experienced a loss, and are needing all of the above as well as bereavement support. All families are needing someone who will listen to them without judgment and will embrace them where they are in that moment.

Hiring childcare providers and house cleaners can greatly relieve the challenge of carrying out routine tasks that may at first feel daunting to a growing family. Having someone help to keep the home clean and organized and siblings well cared for allows parents to rest more. After a birth, the more time the mother is able to devote to rest and healing, the sooner she will find her balance. Also, if desired, being able to focus almost exclusively on breastfeeding in the first days and weeks can really establish a strong relationship that benefits the entire family with health, confidence and more. Although these hired helpers take care of many practical details of life, the emotional side of the Postpartum Period may go neglected unless there is a larger support system.

Friends and family can offer the essential social support that Postpartum Families need to thrive, although they may come with their own biases on parenting and life, some of which may feel affirming and welcoming, and some which might feel judgmental or condemning. It is important for individuals to remember that the presence of those surrounding the Postpartum Family can very much shape the emotional foundation of healing, for better or worse. Because of this, setting and maintaining strong personal boundaries is a very important skill for the Postpartum Family to have.

The Postpartum Doula is a well-rounded, non-medical hired helper, who embraces the practical and emotional needs of the whole family during their Postpartum Period. The work of a Postpartum Doula promotes physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social support. The Postpartum Doula’s goal is to nurture the entire family’s bodies and minds. This is achieved through educating, modeling, and providing information regarding holistic care which includes pregnancy and birth recovery, newborn care, sibling integration, partner support, boundaries, and communication. The Postpartum Doula also assess situations as they arise and provides on-the-spot referrals when a specialist is needed.

As more families realize the importance of honoring the first days, weeks, and months after their babies are born, there will be an increased demand in competent, evidence-based, quality care provided by professionals during the Postpartum Period and beyond. Compassionate care from family, friends, and neighbors will help further enhance the health of our growing families, and everyone will be able to contribute to the security and sustainability of our families and communities.