We need to fundamentally reexamine how new moms are cared for after childbirth.
We can't keep putting mothers last.
You've just been through the most physically demanding and life-altering event you'll ever experience. You have been stretched, pushed, pulled, and ravaged in seemingly superhuman ways to bring your baby into the world. Your altered body prepares to feed and slowly begins to heal, causing your hormones to ricochet through you like pinballs.
And on top of all of that, you are suddenly thrust into an entirely new role, a tiny life placed in your full-time care—a life that doesn't sleep regularly and requires specific methods of feeding every few hours around the clock.
In a viral Facebook post, blogger Anneliese Lawton described her own experiences with postpartum care—or the lack thereof:
"After my boys were born, there were appointments.
To check their latch.
To check their weight.
To check their hearing.
To check the colour of their skin for signs of jaundice.
There were appointments.
There were regular pokes and prods.
Their well-being was front and centre.
I'd say, when it comes to our health-care system, they were well taken care of.
Then there was me.
A first-time mom without a clue.
Engorged, bleeding, and stitched up.
Sent home with some painkillers and stool softeners.
Thrown into motherhood with the expectation my instincts would kick in.
That I would know how to handle colic and late night feedings.
That breastfeeding would come as nature intended.
That my husband would sense my spiral into depression.
That I would know how to live in my new and very foreign body.
That this stomach wouldn't make me feel hideous.
And my mind wouldn't make me feel less than they deserved.
No one poked me.
No one prodded.
No one checked my stitches, my healing, or my sanity until eight weeks postpartum.
And even then, it was a pat on the back and I was sent on my way.
Our world forgets about mothers.
We slip through the cracks.
We become background noise.
And in that, we learn our role... our place in our family unit... to always come last.
Folks, we can't put mothers last.
Our babies need us.
To be healthy.
To know that we are worthy.
To know that Motherhood, while natural, can sometimes feel like the least natural role in our life
And that deserves attention.
Mothers deserve attention.
We need our world to fuss over us the way they fuss over ten fresh fingers and ten fresh toes.
We need to be seen.
We need to be heard.
We need someone to not only ask if we're okay but to check time and time again, just to be sure.
We're not just a uterus.
We're not just a lifeline to a new and precious soul.
And we need someone to make sure we're ok, too."
And Lawton's experience was in Canada, whose policies towards new moms, at least when it comes to maternity leave, are generally more supportive than in the U.S.
In an ideal world, mothers would be flooded with care and support following childbirth. Instead, most American women are sent home with their babies and not checked on again for six to eight weeks.
Those first six to eight weeks are a make-or-break period for breastfeeding, a prime time for postpartum depression or psychosis to start setting in, and when sleep deprivation begins to take its toll. In different times and places, the "village" of fellow mothers and elders would care for new moms during this period. But in the U.S., most moms have been left to figure things out and fend for themselves.
Thankfully, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends that all who give birth "have contact with their obstetrician–gynecologists or other obstetric care providers within the first three weeks postpartum."
"This initial assessment should be followed up with ongoing care as needed, concluding with a comprehensive postpartum visit no later than 12 weeks after birth," the ACOG says.
"The comprehensive postpartum visit should include a full assessment of physical, social and psychological well-being, including the following domains: mood and emotional well-being; infant care and feeding; sexuality, contraception and birth spacing; sleep and fatigue; physical recovery from birth; chronic disease management and health maintenance."
In addition, the "fourth trimester" period should be marked by "individualized and woman centered" care.
Dr. Alison Stuebe, who co-authored the revised ACOG guidelines that came out in May 2018, told Parents.com that the advice came "in response to the fact that maternal mortality is rising in the U.S., and women are more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes after the day of delivery than during pregnancy or birth."
"We also know that problems like postpartum depression and breastfeeding difficulties are more likely to get better if mothers get support in the first few weeks after birth, rather than muddling through until six weeks postpartum," Dr. Stuebe said.
It hasn't always been this way. Traditionally, women received 30 to 40 days of rest after giving birth—a period during which other mothers helped her recover. But our modern world doesn't provide that kind of "village" support, and many women face financial pressures to return to work too soon. The U.S. is one of just a handful of countries that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave, adding insult to the injury of the lack of support for new moms.
We have a long way to go in understanding and providing the care that new moms really need. Creating an earlier postpartum checkup is a start, but it's time for a larger societal conversation about how we can make sure support for new moms is a priority, not an afterthought.