You probably had a long list of projects you planned to get done during your maternity leave. However, you now realize that you forgot one thing: This is not a vacation. Instead, it is a time to heal, to get to know your new baby and to learn how to be a mother. So forget everything except these three things.
The healing part is very important. Your body has been through a massive change over the past nine months; don't expect to return to normal for a while. While our society considers women "healed" at six weeks—when many women get the green light to have sex and return to work—it will really take the next nine months to return to normal. So relax. And follow this advice:
• Sleep when Baby sleeps. You will probably never be as tired again as during the first few months of motherhood. Forget about "getting things done" while the baby sleeps. As soon as she starts snoring, you need to hit the sack, too. Gradually, as you regain your strength, you'll be able to stay awake longer.
• Do your chores with Baby. Babies love to watch you. They don't think that laundry, cooking or shopping is boring, especially if you talk to them.
• Get out of the house every day. Even if it's only for a walk around the block. The sunshine and fresh air will do you a world of good.
• Give in to take-out. Now is not the time to become a gourmet cook. If your partner can't take over the cooking during the week, show him how to make large batches of food like pasta sauce, chicken casseroles, lasagna, etc., and freeze for during the week.
• Lower your standards. Your house doesn't have to be spotless. If you can afford it, hire a cleaning service. If not, just focus on the clutter control. And make your bed in the morning—at least one room will look neat.
• Take care of your perineal area. If you tore during delivery or had an episiotomy, sitting in a few inches of water several times a day not only keeps the area clean, but can soothe any pain. You can reduce swelling with ice packs or chilled witch hazel pads.
• Eat right. That means following the same healthy diet you followed during pregnancy and abstaining from alcohol if you're breastfeeding.
• Watch out for problem signs. If you suddenly start bleeding heavily again, develop a breast infection, or feel pain in your pelvic region, call your health care professional.
The "baby blues" are not a myth. After the giddiness of the birth wears off and the reality of motherhood—complete with little sleep—sets in (helped along by plummeting hormone levels), you may feel down, weepy, depressed. This is completely normal and usually disappears within about 10 days. If those "blue" feelings persist, however, or become more intense, you may have a condition called postpartum depression. Other symptoms include:
• Feeling restless, irritable or anxious
• Loss of interest or pleasure in life
• Loss of appetite
• Less energy and motivation (not related to lack of sleep)
• Problems falling asleep or staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning.
• Feeling worthless, hopeless or guilty
• Feeling like life isn't worth living
• Showing little interest in the baby
• Unexplained weight loss or gain
If you have several of these symptoms for more than a week or two, call your health care professional or ask someone to call for you to make an appointment. Support, therapy and, if necessary, medication can restore you to your old self. Postpartum depression is not a normal phase. Please get help, if you need it.
Returning to the Bedroom
It's been six weeks and during your postpartum visit your health care professional cleared you for takeoff, uh, sex. But here's the thing: having someone else touch you after handling the baby all day is probably the last thing you want. Plus, you may still be sore down there, particularly if you tore during delivery. So don't rush. Instead:
• Explain how you feel to your partner and say that you need more time.
• Find other ways to be intimate. Ask for a massage or even a foot rub. Read each other poems (if you're not too sleepy). Hire a babysitter and go out to lunch (you'll probably be too tired to make it through dinner). Even just spending 15 minutes a day talking to each other without the baby can help remind you that you were a couple long before you became parents.
When you do have intercourse again, use birth control. You can still get pregnant even if you're breastfeeding. And when it's time, consider using a water-based lubricant. Changing hormone levels may leave you drier than normal down there.
So here you are, six weeks into the wonderful world of parenting. The good news is that you're doing great; the bad news is that the next 18 years will be a nonstop cycle of learning, with knowledge that becomes obsolete almost as soon as you master it. Still, raising your child into an independent, responsible adult will also be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do with your life.
© 2009 National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.