Birth is a celebrated event, much anticipated and prepared for by most mothers. Months of prenatal care lead up to that first labor pang the one that tells the mother that the time to have her baby has finally arrived. Her journey from that point forward depends on many factors, including her chosen approach to birth (natural or otherwise), where she has her baby (home, birthing center, or hospital), the people she has chosen to support her, and her own ability to endure the discomfort of labor and childbirth.
Birth experiences are incredibly varied. Some women find the whole process easier than they expected, giving birth after only a few short hours of labor and two or three pushes. Others experience many hours of labor before giving birth. Most who give birth in a hospital choose to have epidural anesthesia, which makes the whole experience a lot less painful but, some argue, makes it more likely that there will be further medical intervention. Some birthing moms need cesarean section (C-section) or other forms of medical assistance. No matter how well childbirth goes, it is still the physical (and sometimes the emotional) equivalent of running two marathons back to back. In the end, the most important thing is that mother and baby are well.
Many first-time mothers find themselves traumatized by their birth experiences, but once they are busy with the task of caring for a newborn, they don't have the opportunity to process what they've just been through. After the work of giving birth is done, the stress on the mother only increases. When we talk about stress, we are describing a state in which your body is on more or less constant overdrive. On little sleep, and with a body that has been through a great challenge, you face the task of caring for your newborn baby. Where do the resources for accomplishing this stressful transition from pregnant woman to new mother come from? They are drawn from the nutrients that make up your tissues and enter your body in the form of food. That's right: You are what you eat, and the food you eat is what enables you to get up every morning and do what needs to be done. Every cell, every organ, every muscle, every bone, every fluid in your body is made up of the stuff you eat and drink. During pregnancy, your body must also supply the raw materials for the cells, organs, tissues, and fluids that make up your new bundle of joy. For mothers who breastfeed, this relationship continues with your child until he weans.
Breastfeeding is a continuous drain on the protein, fat, and mineral reserves of the mother's body. Many women breastfeed their babies for six months to a year, and some do so for up to three years. Sleep deprivation, managing life with an infant, and, perhaps, returning to work within a matter of weeks all collaborate to further deplete nutrient reserves. Stress itself uses up more of all the nutrients needed to keep the body working smoothly, particularly the B vitamins, vitamin C, essential fatty acids, and key minerals like zinc and magnesium.
A woman who has been careful about her diet during pregnancy may fall off the wagon after the baby is born. Nursing mothers often have enormous appetites. Yet a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugars, and unhealthy fats such as those found in fried foods will actually rob a mother's body of vital nutrients. Unless the mother's nutrient reserves are replenished, she is likely to have postpregnancy symptoms that will baffle most physicians.
New mothers routinely suffer from low immunity, weight problems, back pain, and gastrointestinal troubles. Emotional ups and downs are par for the course, and these along with the loss of libido that is most pronounced in breastfeeding mothers can create strife between the mother and her partner. If a woman has had a traumatic birthing experience, she may need months of supportive attention to recover.
Most women complain of foggy thinking and memory loss after giving birth, and many fight off terrifying thoughts of hurting or abandoning their babies. Colicky or especially demanding infants can drive even the most loving mothers to desperation. On top of all of this, a new mother's life tends to be a lonely one. If she is living in a one-family household with only her partner and child, without family or close friends around, the loneliness of new motherhood can be overwhelming.
You will read about women who have been where you find yourself today. Some of them are our patients, and their stories have been included to give you real-life examples of how our pregnancy recovery program helped them and can help you. Other stories have been included simply to let you know that you are not alone in your experiences. Sometimes women in the throes of postpartum difficulties simply need to know that their experiences are valid and real, and that time and perspective will carry them through. The key concepts to understand are that your newborn baby's body is entirely formed from nutrients donated from your body's nutrient reserves, and that, if these nutrient depletions are not replenished, your chances of having postpartum symptoms greatly increase. If these nutrient depletions are not identified and replenished, symptoms may last for years or even decades.
One woman told us that she had had constant thoughts of hurting her newborn baby. Every time she saw a sharp knife on the counter, walked along a steep drop, or stood next to a body of water, she could not stop thinking about hurting her baby. Her thoughts frightened her and she wondered if she was an unfit parent. Finally, she confided her thoughts to another mother. "You're kidding!" exclaimed the other mom. "I have exactly those same thoughts. I'm so relieved that I'm not the only one!" They talked about it and decided that these thoughts were not signs that they desired to hurt their babies, but that they were so afraid of harm coming to them that their minds raced to the worst possible scenario as soon as any danger appeared. Once they acknowledged those thoughts and feelings, they both felt much better.
From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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