When I had my oldest daughter Grace, I felt like I was as prepared as possible to become a mom. My husband and I had been happily married for five years, I had a ton of experience taking care of children, we were financially secure, and I was at the end of my training to become a pediatrician.
As I look back on this day, almost 15 years later, what really stands out is that I had no idea about what to expect it was going to be like to be postpartum.
It seemed like everything was much harder than it should be.
We had everything planned out and ready before I delivered, including her name, pediatrician, nursery, clothes, supplies (three baby showers were thrown on my behalf!), and breastfeeding equipment. I knew exactly how long I was going to take for maternity leave (ten weeks) and we had daycare for Grace lined up for when I returned to work as a pediatric resident.
My husband and I took a prenatal class at our local hospital. We must have learned a lot about what to expect during labor and delivery, but all I can remember learning is "T.A.C.O." This acronym was to help my husband remember how to report the circumstances around my water breaking to my obstetrician: T = time, A = amount, C = color, O= odor. Ironically, my water did break before I went into labor, but it was such a small trickle that I thought that I was just peeing myself every so often! I ended up having to be induced for "prolonged rupture of membranes," but my labor and delivery went very smoothly.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding did not go so smoothly. When we were discharged from the hospital two days after Grace's birth, I needed to use a nipple shield to help her to latch and had to pump after every feed. She required supplementary bottles of pumped milk after every nursing attempt due to jaundice.
The day after we got home (my third day postpartum) we had five visitors come to spend the day with us: my mom, my in-laws, my best friend, and her husband.
All That I Remember About Grace's Third Day Of Life Is The Following:
- Hiding on a couch up in the loft of our condo, topless, and trying to get Grace to latch on to feed.
- I'd get uterine cramps that felt almost as bad as labor pains every time my milk "let down."
- Having to wear those huge postpartum maxi pads (I still don't know what they are actually called) and "granny" panties.
- Feeling pressure from my guests to bring my newborn baby down so that they could meet her and pass her around.
- Feeling like it was my job to entertain everyone who was downstairs (and that I was letting them down).
- Feeling like it seemed like everything was much harder than it should be.
- Grace and I both cried a lot — she was hungry; I was so tired and overwhelmed!
As I look back on this day, almost 15 years later, what really stands out is that I had no idea about what to expect it was going to be like to be postpartum. I had spent so much time during my pregnancy preparing for Grace's needs as a newborn that I had not prepared for my own needs as a mother. I spent time and energy doing things like memorizing what T.A.C.O. stood for, but did not think, or even know to expect, that I would have my own postpartum needs.
As I imagine myself sitting up in my loft and trying to feed my hungry newborn baby, I want to scream at everyone who was there to go home. I want to grab my husband and bring him up to the loft to be with me and support me. And I want to be able to give my 28-year-old self a huge hug and tell her that her feelings are valid, that it is super hard to have a newborn, and that it's totally okay to ask everyone to leave to be able to focus on breastfeeding. When I think back to this day, this quote by Maya Angelou often comes to mind:
"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."
I share my story often as I now know that I am not the only woman who was unprepared for (and had unrealistic expectations for) the postpartum period. Since having Grace I have met countless other moms who had similar postpartum experiences. This was exemplified in Aeroflow Breastpumps' recent survey of almost 400 mothers about the "First 42 Days" of postpartum recovery.
Key Findings From Aeroflow's Survey Include The Following:
- Almost half of respondents did not feel prepared for what to expect and how to care for their bodies in the first six postpartum weeks.
- 2/3 felt that the postpartum period was more difficult than they anticipated.
- Common postpartum struggles included breastfeeding problems (66%), postpartum depression and/or anxiety (48%), lack of social support and isolation (39%), newborn care (28%), and complications and/or concerns with postpartum healing (24%).
- 9 out of 10 felt that our current system of educating mothers about what to expect during the postpartum period, along with available resources, needs to be improved!
Based on these survey results, it's clear that we still have a long way to go in terms of preparing pregnant women for their postpartum journeys. We need to increase awareness of the postpartum period as being a time of great physical, mental, and emotional transition for new moms and help mothers to prepare "postpartum plans" in addition to "birth plans."
Mainstays Of Preparing For Postpartum Recovery Include The Following:
Figure out who your "village" is going to be to help you after your baby arrives. This is usually some combination of family, parents, friends, and neighbors. Once you've identified your village's members, chat with them, and brainstorm how they will be able to help you. This can be with simple things, like coming over to help fold laundry, or more complicated endeavors, like arranging a "meal train" so that you will not have to worry about cooking for the first few weeks at home. Forming a village might be a little more complicated in the era of "social distancing," but your friends and loved ones can still do things like shop and drop off groceries, order takeout, and mow the lawn for you.
Taking care of yourself will help you to heal and recover and make you a better mom.
Learn about all of the changes your body will go through. Common physical postpartum symptoms include vaginal and rectal pain, bleeding, uterine cramps, and edema (swelling). Prepare ahead of time for the items that you will need for your own physical recovery, such as sitz baths and Peri-bottles. Frida Mom and MOMBOX sell ready-made kits for postpartum recovery and Aeroflow Breastpumps sells both postpartum recovery garments and breastfeeding/lactation supplies. Lastly, the book The Forgotten Trimester, by Megan Gray, MD, is an excellent guide to postpartum care.
Explore your postpartum resources ahead of time. UNC's 4th trimester project's New Mom Health website has a wealth of resources for new moms. Other helpful websites for new moms include Postpartum Support International and kellymom.com. There has been an increasing number of virtual support groups for new moms during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well. If you are planning on breastfeeding, it's a good idea to research local lactation consultants, and you may find ones who offer prenatal visits to help prepare for breastfeeding ahead of time.
Postpartum doulas can be a wonderful source of support as well. Many doula companies are offering virtual support during the pandemic and, depending on the area of the U.S. you live in, some are able to come into your home to help with both newborn care and household tasks.
We need to increase awareness of the postpartum period as being a time of great physical, mental, and emotional transition for new moms and help mothers to prepare "postpartum plans" in addition to "birth plans."
It's Important To Have Realistic Expectations For Both Yourself And Your Newborn Baby, Including The Following:
- Neither of you are going to sleep through the night for a long time.
- You are not going to "bounce back" to your pre-pregnancy weight anytime soon.
- If you are breastfeeding, plan to be half-naked for several weeks as you and your baby learn to breastfeed.
- You should not have to entertain family and friends when you have a new baby!
Lastly, remember to love and take care of yourself. Make time for small breaks doing things you love. This can be as simple as sitting outside in the sun, going for a walk, taking a bath, or getting a massage. Taking care of yourself will help you to heal and recover and make you a better mom.
Anyone who tells you that the postpartum period is easy is lying, has never had a baby, or had their baby(ies) so long ago that they've blocked this period of time out in their memories!
It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.
Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.
Read with a Purpose
Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.
Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.
When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.
Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.
You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.
Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.
Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.
If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.
Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.