What the F is Wrong with the Postpartum Care in the U.S.?
Over the past five years, I’ve shifted the focus of my work to women- pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. While I certainly have my opinions about the care our society has for women during pregnancy and the actual birth process, the support, or lack thereof, that we offer up to new moms immediately following the birth of their first or fifth child is a disgrace.
We live in a world in which there is almost an absent support structure that encompasses the mental, the emotional, and the physical aspects of women transitioning through the postpartum period. However, there is a heavy burden of pressure placed on women to keep it all together, make sure they have the next best stroller or gorgeous nursery, and to bounce back at breakneck speed.
Many women are doing all they can to figure out how to adjust to life plus one and not royally f*** up this new baby in the process. It is a lot of pressure to have the entire wellbeing and survival of a new human on you. It doesn’t make life any easier when mother-in-law throws her parenting tricks in your face, nor is it the next best thing when your girlfriend from college didn’t have to get back to work six weeks after giving birth. Sometimes you want to cry your eyes out when baby girl has been crying for the past hour, and then dad picks her up and she is a different baby. There are times you long for your alone time, but you are literally only three weeks out of a cesarean birth and still cannot manage outings out of your home independently. There are times when you just put on a clean shirt only to be spit up on again, but this time you just rub it in to your skin and clothes. After all, it’s not that much.
These new moms are overwhelmed and isolated with some GREAT expectations placed upon them. These new moms have gone through a lot and will continue to progress through this rite of passage with or without our help. Becoming a mother does not happen overnight, it is a transition that takes days, weeks, or even years.
Due to my continuous inquisitive nature, I have started to worry and to look into the postpartum phase (the fourth trimester) a little more. Just as I have been taken aback by the state of the current prenatal care and support in our country, I have been floored by the way our society brushes off the health and wellbeing of the new mother.
It does not matter if this is the woman’s first or fifth child, this mother needs emotional, mental, and physical support.
Many of the women that I treat share their stressors and concerns with me. These range from their partner not touching them, not feeling beautiful, breastfeeding and pumping issues, the amount of time they have before returning to work, all things money related, feeling isolated, not having a normal conversation for days, and so much more. If you have had a baby, then I’m sure you can relate to one of the things I just mentioned, and you may even have your own ‘Top Ten’ list.
Did you know?
The United States is the only industrialized nation that does NOT require employers to offer paid maternity, paternity, or adoption leave. During the 1980s, the trend of women waiting to have children until 30 years of age increased. Shortly thereafter, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was established. This is job protection (12 weeks) if you work for a company of 50 or more people. Research continues to show that this really has made no difference and that women still feel pressured to get back to work. In fact, many women will work as long as they can into their third trimester in order to accumulate more days off on the other end. Many women return to work in eight weeks or even six weeks because of societal pressures and financial obligations.
In industrialized countries such as the United States, 10-15% of women experience depression during pregnancy or after childbirth. The first thing our society does is prescribe pharmaceutical drugs rather than physical help, talking with a professional, or even adjusting the diet to boost certain nutritional needs.
What do other countries or traditions do?
They recognize the postpartum period as a REST PERIOD and a time for HEALING.
- Lying-in Period.
- Nutritional and diet adjustments.
- Belly Wrapping.
- Meal Services.
- Community Participation.
In our society, if a woman were to ask for help, she may be viewed as weak and almost selfish. This is bullshit. Out of all the women and mothers I know, it takes some major humbling and courage to ask for help. And to me, that is one strong ass woman.
If you are in a fitness community, then I’m calling you out! Do not let another woman experience the postpartum period alone or without a safety net. Set something up ahead of time for a meal tree. Call or email after the birth to check in and volunteer to do anything, even if it is to take out trash or do dishes. Do whatever it is the new family needs you to do so that the woman can embrace being a mother.
-LINDSEY MATHEWS, DC
Resources:http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/ https://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-128.pdf https://birthfit.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/9789241563567_eng.pdf