“Personally, becoming a mother has been such a rewarding and wonderful experience. However, at times it has also been a huge challenge — even for me who has support at home that most mothers do not. Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother. It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together. Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost.” — Kate Middleton
Take it from the woman who posed for photos (with her hair and makeup perfectly done) just seven hours after giving birth: as a period of adjustment accompanied by both ups and downs, the reality of postpartum is quite different from how it appears.
In the United States, "postpartum" typically refers to the 6-8 weeks following childbirth. During this time, a mother's body undergoes physical healing, gradually returning to its pre-pregnancy state. She is also getting to know her baby, adjusting to a new routine and a transformed way of life. While this period can be filled with love and joy, it can also be accompanied by exhaustion and worry. On average, a mother leaves the hospital just 48 hours after giving birth, with little guidance for how to care for her newborn or manage her own recovery. Consequently, it brings uncertainties and fears, such as concerns about passing the first bowel movement or the potential risk of infection in a c-section incision; sleepless nights are common, and breastfeeding, if chosen, comes with a learning curve that can be frustrating. With the first postpartum check up usually scheduled at 6 weeks post-birth, the accumulation of these risk factors significantly threaten a mother's wellbeing. Here are a few statistics that underscore the importance of postpartum care, which encompasses support for her physical, mental, and social health.
1. 52% of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States occur during the postpartum period, within 7 days to 1 year from giving birth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 4 in 5 pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented through proper care, as close monitoring of a mother's physical symptoms and wellbeing during health visits can identify potential complications. Postpartum issues range from hemorrhaging to high blood pressure, and the combination of timely diagnoses and appropriate support during this critical time significantly reduces the risk of pregnancy-related deaths and complications.
2. Up to 80% of mothers experience the baby blues. Postpartum care ensures that mothers receive the necessary aid to manage symptoms associated with mental health conditions. The baby blues, recognized as the "least severe form of postpartum depression," exhibits symptoms such as:
Even the "mild" symptoms can impact a new mother's wellbeing; at its worst, postpartum depression or psychosis also put mothers at a higher risk of self-harm, harming their children, or dying by suicide, further emphasizing the critical role of postpartum care in a mother's and child's health. Proper postpartum care involves consistently assessing and promoting a mother's mental health with appropriate care, rather than assuming that the negative feelings are a "phase" that will naturally pass with time.
3. A study has found that mothers surrounded by a supportive community experience reduced stress levels and an improved outlook on parenting. Alongside a mother's mental and physical health, the social support she receives plays a vital role in her overall wellbeing. The community can serve as a source of empathetic support, as well as an extra set of eyes and ears, helping her recognize and actively seek treatment for any warning signs related to her physical or mental health. Community support can be comprised of a care team (doctors, nurses, doulas, and specialists) who can assist with breastfeeding and provide the necessary resources she needs to be successful in this endeavor, as well as friends, family, or cohort of mothers in the local area.
These statistics cover just a few reasons of why postpartum care is essential to the long-term wellbeing of mothers, and therefore families. For too long, postpartum care has been treated as an afterthought or viewed as a "nice to have," with our care system offering little education or guidance on how to best navigate this challenging transition. Regrettably, approximately 40% of women do not attend a postpartum visit, indicating that postpartum care is frequently neglected in the United States; often, the attention quickly shifts to the care of the newborn after birth, and mothers are left with little support. However, it should be duly noted that by meeting mothers' physical, mental, and social needs, we're equipping them to be the best parent possible; by providing comprehensive, responsible postpartum care to mothers, we're ensuring their wellbeing, and that of their children.