In part 3 of our blog series on the Postpartum Experience, we are going to look at emotional recovery. While we are beginning to talk about the emotional side of the postpartum period more frequently, many families are still surprised by the intensity of their emotions during this time.
While there are many jokes about hormones during pregnancy, the postpartum period can also see intense mood swings.
The first clear mood swing is day three after the birth. At this point, the baby is often nursing frequently to work to bring in the mature milk. The hormone increases associated with milk production, as well as the decreases from loss of the placenta, can make day three a particularly difficult day emotionally.
Day fourteen is also an emotional day for many individuals, as their body works to balance hormone levels. These are days that many women describe being anxious, crying for no reason, and feeling very overwhelmed. It is helpful if the people around them can recognize these dates and take extra care and have extra patience on those days.
Although the baby blues will affect as many as 80% of people who give birth, not all of those individuals will go on to develop a postpartum mood. For those who do develop postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or another mood disorder, the emotional recovery from birth can be extremely difficult. Access to mental health services and support from family doctors can be sporadic. It is important to recognize and be honest about symptoms.
Some individuals are profoundly disappointment after their birth experience. They may have transferred to a hospital, had complications, changed their mind about pain management, or needed a caesarean. Traumatic birth experiences can be devastating, not just to the birthing person, but also to the entire family. Emergency caesareans, extended hospital stays, or illness can change the trajectory of recovery both emotionally and physically.
Often during the postpartum period, well-meaning friends and family will say “at least you and the baby are healthy”. While everyone wants a healthy family and baby, this statement is very dismissive of the emotional state of those involved. You can have a healthy baby, and still be disappointed or upset about your birth experience.
Bonding with a baby can be a source of great joy but also great stress. Babies are extremely dependent, and while that seems like an obvious statement, many people are unprepared for what that dependency truly means. There is a popular theory about the ‘fourth trimester’ that suggests that the first three months after being born, a baby is as dependent as when they were in the womb; in many ways, it is as if the baby was not quite ready to be born.
One of the easiest ways to bond with a baby is by feeding the baby. If a person has planned to breastfeed and it is not going as well as was expected, it can be emotional as well as make it harder to bond with the baby. Babies eat every 2-3 hours and it is usually some weeks before they start sleeping longer stretches at night.
Feeds early in a baby’s life can take quite a bit of time, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour if you are breastfeeding. This can contribute to a difficult recovery as nipples may become chapped, backs may become sore, and parents may reach new levels of exhaustion. Even those families that bottle feed may find that things are not as easy as they expected. Even bottle fed babies will eat every 2-4 hours, may become fussy from gas, and can cause sore backs from holding, rocking, and bouncing for hours.
Emotional recovery can take time. Remember that your emotions are as important as your physical recovery. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the emotions of the postpartum period, reach out for help. You do not need to be alone.
Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here