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Postpartum Recovery for Working Moms
The job of a working mother may be the most difficult, yet the most exciting, of your life. The challenge will begin as soon as you're home from the hospital. One minute you're in charge of your life, dressing up every day and going where you please and when; the next minute you're isolated at home with a new baby calling all the shots.
If you, and others close to you, understand what to expect, you'll be better able to deal with the physical changes and the emotional roller coaster ride of new motherhood. You can expect most of the recovery to take place within the first few days after birth, but some adjustments take place gradually over a four-to-eight week period. With the support of the important people in your life, you ll adjust to your new position and quickly take up the reins of mothering and career.
Recognizing and Dealing with Common Problems
First, you re in a weakened physical state, and then you have the taxing job of caring for a newborn, which gives you no time to sleep. No wonder you re tired! You may feel that you re not as competent as you were, or that you'll never again have time for yourself. But this, too, will pass. Just keep these things in mind, and you'll avoid "New Working Mom Burnout:"
- Don't try to do it all. Get help if you possibly can.
- Make the most of your time.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat well and get plenty of rest.
Over 80 percent of new moms have this dispirited feeling. It shows itself in strange ways: For no obvious reason you may feel angry with your baby, your partner, or even a coworker. Unexpected crying is one symptom; others may be sleeping or eating problems or difficulty making decisions when you return to work. Routine responsibilities may seem overwhelming.
It helps to know that these common emotional extremes are caused to a large extent by hormonal changes taking place in your body. Sleep deprivation plus the natural let-down from the emotional "high" of childbirth also play a part. These feelings will pass, but in the meantime, here are some tips for getting though the rough parts:
Postpartum Depression: A Serious State
- Remind yourselfEven when you know these swings are temporary, you have to keep reminding yourself of this fact. Once you express and accept these feelings, it will be easier to deal with them.
- RestGet enough sleep and rest whenever you can. Try to rest when your baby sleeps. Proper rest strengthens the immune system and helps repair damage. Don't be shy about seeking relief from mothering. Every good parent needs down time. After you're back at work, try to find a quiet time each daysay, at lunch timejust to close your eyes and rest. Don't forget to eat well and exercise gently.
- Avoid stressStay away from making life changes, such as changing jobs. Consider hiring outside help if you need it and can afford it. Ask yourself, "Can someone else do this?" Try not to let things overwhelm you. Set priorities, and the important things will get done. If coworkers, friends, or family ask to help, let them!
- Be firmYou can't please everyone. Listen to friendly advice, accept what works, discard what doesn't, and then find your own way of doing things. And don't apologize for doing it your way.
- ShareTalk to your partner or to a close and trusted coworker or friend about how you feel. Talk to someone who has experienced the same problem. Join a support group.
- Write it downKeep a journal and write anything you're feeling without fear of interruption, contradiction, ridicule, or reprisal.
There is an anxiety state that lasts longer and is more intense than the more common baby blues. Postpartum depression, which strikes between 10 20 percent of new mothers, may actually begin during pregnancy and not necessarily after a woman gives birth, as many doctors once thought.
It's important that this depression be recognized and treated before it gets worse. Symptoms include restlessness, memory loss, inability to concentrate, anxiety, panic attacks, compulsive behavior, insomnia, an inability to cope despite adequate rest and recuperation, hallucinations, and a feeling that you might harm (or you do harm) the baby. If you experience feelings of intense sadness, anxiety, or despair that interfere with your ability to function:
- Consult your doctorYour obstetrician will assess your condition and may send you to a psychiatrist or other therapist, or prescribe medication if necessary.
- Before your appointmentWrite down your symptoms and consider taking someone with you for support.
- Look for professional supportFor information regarding support groups for postpartum depression, contact www.WebMD.org.
During the six-week postpartum period, your body will be:
- Losing from fifteen to twenty pounds in weight, including about four pounds of fluid
- Decreasing blood volume by one-third
- Normalizing hormone levels, urinary function, and intestinal function
- Repairing tears, stitches, strained muscles, and stretched tissues
All of these changes will cause general body aches, leaking breasts, and heavy lochia flow. In addition, you may feel burning, pain, or itching from the episiotomy.
After delivery, most women are very aware of their bodies. You'll notice the normal changes. But also be alert for abnormal changes. Call your doctordon't wait for the six-week checkupif any of the following occur:
What to Expect at Your Six-Week Checkup
- Fever over 100 degrees
- Painful or burning urination, urgency (sudden, strong desire to urinate), and unusual frequency
- Heavier-than-normal bleeding
- Vaginal discharge with peculiar color or odor
- Pain, swelling, or tenderness in legs, chest, or lower abdomen
- Chest pain and cough
- Hot, tender, or bleeding breasts
- Persistent perineal pain with increasing tenderness
It's routine for your doctor to examine you five or six weeks following the birth of your baby. Come prepared with all your questions; discuss anything that concerns you. The examination should include a check of the following:
- Blood pressure and weight
- Breasts and stomach
- Size, shape, and location of uterus and bladder
- Vagina and cervix
- Episiotomy,lacerations, or Caesarean incision
- Hemorrhoids and varicose veins
- Pap test
Normally, your regular menstrual period will return in seven to nine weeks. If you're breast-feeding, it may not return for several months or until you've weaned your baby. There may be some irregularity in your cycle at first, but gradually it will return to normal. Be aware that your ovaries may begin to function before your regular period starts, whether you're breast-feeding or not.
If you do not want to conceive another child right away, begin contraception as soon as you resume intercourse. Ask your doctor to suggest a safe type of contraceptive for your needs. (If you don't want to have another baby, your partner may want to consider having a vasectomy. Nowadays, it's only a ten minute, non-evasive, relatively pain-free, out-patient procedure.)
Sex and the Working Mother
Decrease in sexual desire is a common complaint among new mothers. It's as though Nature makes sure that mothers will concentrate their energies on their newborns. On the other hand, your spouse may feel rejected if he doesn't understand this normal development. It's a potentially rocky period, which may be avoided by talking about feelings honestly and understanding that your lack of desire is only temporary.
Postnatal Health Tips
As you prepare to reenter the workforce, remember that the first rule of postnatal care is: be good to yourself. Whether there's a crisis at work or you've had a sleepless nightafter the care of the babyyou come first. Follow these general rules, and you'll soon be feeling like your old self again:
- Drink fluidsYou need at least two quarts a day to replenish moisture loss through hormone imbalance and milk production.
- RelaxWhen time permits, or during breaks, or at lunch time, sit in a comfortable chair, turn on soft music, and practice relaxation breathing.
- Nurture yourselfSet aside time for yourself. Don't feel that every evening and weekend must be spent doing something practical and productive.
© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
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