5 tips for a healthy recovery after having a baby

A guest post by Raunak Karim, who blogs for psysci, a psychology and science blog that examines the latest research in mental health and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives.

The new baby is here! Panic stations engaged. Do we have everything ready? Is he or she a healthy baby? What does the baby need us to do right now?

Wait! Stop.

We all get so focused on the new, little life that we often forget mum also needs some TLC after having a baby. Having a baby can be one of the most physically traumatic experiences for a woman to go through. Bits stretch and tear, things elongate which really shouldn’t and don’t forget the soup of hormones that churns through you before, during and after the birth. However, these five simple tips will go a long way in helping you have a healthy, happy recovery.

Hydrate

Dehydration can seriously weaken an already fatigued body. To the mum who’s just completed the physical marathon of childbirth, hydration is so important. The body’s fluid levels will be severely depleted postnatally, and are likely to diminish further as lactation begins. To restore fluid levels, plain water should be readily consumed, and diuretics such as caffeine avoided where possible (although sometimes your need for caffeine might be your top priority!). Increasing your fluid levels will help alleviate constipation issues and work to ensure sufficient fluid levels are retained when lactation begins.

Nutrition

Along with adequate and quality fluid intake, careful selection of nutritious meals are vital for a healthy recovery. Protein-rich foods and foods with high fibre content should be sought, along with a good multivitamin rich in B and D groups. Prior planning is recommended to prepare and freeze meals before childbirth and have them readily available for when you’re weak and in need of good nutrition. Good nutrition is imperative for both breastfeeding and formula feeding mums, in order to recover from the childbirth ordeal.

Sleep

Sleeping has phenomenal restorative properties for both the mind and body. Getting adequate sleep is vital for new mums, especially as the baby blues and interrupted nights may be just around the corner. It is recommended to sleep at the same time baby sleeps in order to keep up the quantity of hours you need to heal and handle the pressures of having a newborn baby. Of course that is not always possible, but remember that if your baby is sleeping, it doesn’t mean you should be doing the washing up. Don’t be afraid to ask visitors to look after the baby while you sneak off for a power nap.

Rest

Obviously, sleep might not always be ready and available for new mums. Instead, plan to rest. Ensure you have adequate time off work or study and don’t feel tempted to fill those days with jobs and tasks. Take the time to rest and recover from childbirth, even if it means sitting in your armchair all day long with baby in your arms. Rest is vital for a healthy recovery, and allows you time to form a strong, lasting attachment with your baby.

Ask for help

It was once said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, if not a village, it certainly takes help! To ensure you have a healthy recovery, physically and emotionally, don’t be too proud or embarrassed to ask for help. Childbirth takes a huge physical toll and an even bigger emotional toll on mums. Pain, swelling, limited movement, fluctuating hormones and postnatal depression may all be factors in your recovery. There is nothing more important for your recovery than acknowledging these factors and asking for help.

Yes, it is important to focus on baby’s needs. He or she, after all, can’t do much independently in the early days! But you also need to remember your needs are just as important. You need to do everything possible to ensure a speedy, healthy recovery so you and baby can get on with getting to know one another.  

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Living with postnatal anxiety

This is a guest post by Tina from Adventures of Mummy and Me. Please check out her blog and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or Pinterest.

It’s 4am, and I’m laying in bed, staring at the ceiling. I’m physically exhausted, my head hurts, and my eyes sting – but I can’t sleep. I haven’t actually been to sleep yet tonight. Or is it this morning now? I don’t even know what day it is anymore.

I’ve just got up for possibly the 4th time in the last hour to check on Chase. Each time I’ve got up, it’s taken me around 6 minutes to walk the three steps back into bed. And now I’m back in bed, I’m worrying again.

Why might you ask? Because I suffer from postnatal depression and anxiety (PND/PNA).

These invisible illnesses make doing even the simplest things, such as checking on my 18-month-old son only a few feet away from me – seem as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.

I want to start out by saying that this has been a really tough post to write. Generally speaking, when I’m writing, the words just flow out of me. But this one post has taken over a month of writing, editing, erasing; then back again full circle. Namely because, if I’m honest, it’s a subject I don’t like to talk about out loud. I guess I have this naive conception that if nobody knows, then it can’t be true. I wish that were the case. When in reality, it’s a fear of perception and acceptance that stops me speaking. So I’ve decided it’s time to open up, and to share my story with you today.

Meeting the midwife

Scroll back to two years ago, and I’m sitting at my dining room table meeting my midwife for the first time.  She’s just finished completing my 16-week pregnancy health assessment, and is giving me “the talk” after the results flag me as high risk for postnatal depression and anxiety.

At the time, I remember thinking to myself: perfect. Once again, another healthcare professional looking at my history of depression and anxiety, and immediately thinking I’m unstable. My “history” spans out over 15 years, and generally speaking, I self-manage my mental health pretty well. But on the few occasions I’ve needed extra help, I’ve asked for it.

Although any new mother can develop postnatal anxiety, it’s been found that those with a personal or family history of either depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are particularly vulnerable. Which is why those with a history, like myself, are flagged up during the pregnancy health assessments as someone to keep an eye on during pregnancy and initial postnatal care.

Giving birth & going back to work 

Following quite a traumatic birth experience, I was surprised to find that I didn’t have any issues bonding with Chase. If anything, the only problem was my lack of mobility due to having an emergency c-section. After about four months, when I was fully mobile again, I started to feel a bit alienated being at home all day alone with my baby. I’ve never been girly, or one to have a lot of female friends, so I found the mum groups I attended overly feminine and cliquey. I realised I was struggling when some of my depression tendencies starting rearing their ugly heads. This prompted a long discussion with my husband, which resulted in me returning to work sooner than planned at six months post-birth.

At first, this all went really well, but after a few months in the office I started to struggle again. Whilst I was on maternity leave, there were some significant changes made within my company. Changes which, in the end, affected both my job role and the way I had been accustomed to working for the past few years. I trudged through for a long time, believing that it was just an adjustment period because I’d been away for so long. What I didn’t realise was that by compartmentalising the stress and anxiety I had at work, I was actually increasing my anxiety levels in other areas of my life. The main one being in relation to Chase.

Noticing a problem 

It was around five months after I went back to work that I realised I wasn’t getting better. If anything, I was getting worse. Chase was coming up to a year old, and I would constantly worry about him at night – getting up multiple times to check on him to ensure he was still breathing. My usual hobbies such as reading and watching films just bored me, and the closest I came to exercise was walking downstairs to the coffee machine and back again. I sought advice from my GP, who referred me to a local counselling service.

Despite numerous prompts from my husband, I had no intention of moving Chase from our bedroom. Everyone I spoke to told me I was being silly – a typical first-time parent overthinking it. But I genuinely felt terrified about his wellbeing if he wasn’t in the same room as me. During the day, when I was occupied with work, and he was with my husband (he’s a SAHP), I was completely fine. However as soon as nighttime came, and it was time for me to relax and sleep, the silence would kill me.

By the time I eventually saw a counsellor, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Anxiety overdrive 

Every time I get into bed, I have flashes of Chase becoming ill or involved in an accident of some sort. I know now that these thoughts are common concerns that parents have. The only difference being that most parents have these thoughts as a fleeting moment. An errant thought, gone before it can be fully processed. But my over-anxious brain doesn’t work that way. It overcompensates, analyses, and looks for ways to make sense of the flashes. Even when they are, in reality, highly unlikely situations.

It’s then, when my brain can’t put the pieces together of “How?” and “Why”, that it overthinks the situation. And that’s when the thoughts of “Did I put him into that compromising position?” come to play.

Which is crazy. I would NEVER do anything to put my son into harm’s way.

But that’s not how the brain of someone with PND/PNA works.

It actively LOOKS for ways to make sense of the thoughts, and therefore puts the only “logical” response into your head. That you must have done something to cause it. And this feeling opens up a whole can of worms for me. Most notably, I have obsessive-compulsive (OCD) tendencies. Meaning that I have to do specific things, in a specific order – with the fear that if I don’t, something bad will happen.

All time low

That nervous breakdown I mentioned? Yea it happened. But in a way, it was a good thing. It made me realise that in order to get better, I needed to take action, and focus on me and my family.

My GP signed me off work with immediate effect, and my intention was to do my counselling sessions, and spend more time doing everyday things with my family – like going for a walk, playing in the garden, or building bricks in the playroom. This was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. The colder and wetter weather didn’t help, but the main issue was my sleep. I had insomnia due to the anxiety, and would often have panic attacks in the middle of the night because of the OCD. My GP prescribed sleeping tablets, but unfortunately they didn’t help in sending me to sleep any earlier – they just made me sleep until midday the following day, and then sit on the sofa in a dazed state for the rest of the afternoon.

It took a few weeks being at home to start getting a balance back in my life. To become more involved in day-to-day activities, and to actually WANT to participate in them. After five weeks at home, I opted for a phased return to work. Being honest, I wasn’t completely ready. But with only one income, and minimal savings, that decision was unfortunately taken away from me.

Fighting back 

Now, two weeks into my phased return, I’m starting to feel better. I have good days and bad days. Bad days are still tipping the balance, but nowhere near as much as they were before. I’ve started doing housework again – forcing myself actually. I’ve found this can help manage the OCD better than just ignoring it. Think of it as refocusing the thoughts elsewhere – it does help.

The anxiety is still there. Very much so. But I’m not naive to think that it will disappear as quickly as it came. And I think that’s the difference now. I understand my illness better, and know that it is an illness, and not a fault.

I’m still not sleeping great, but on the upside, I’m not checking on Chase half as much as I did before. And I’m even thinking about the idea of moving him into his own room. Maybe. I have however, cleared his room out so that the idea COULD become reality when I’m ready.

I have a few sessions left with my counsellor, which I’m hoping will help me through the first few weeks of the New Year back at work. Then I guess I’m on my own. Well, not really. I have my happy, loving son and my devoted husband at home to help me through this. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

The Pramshed
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Mothers don’t sacrifice themselves. Not even for Sherlock Holmes.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains a moan about a key plot point of Sherlock, Series 4, Episode 1. If you haven’t caught up on that yet, you might like to come back later. If you’ve seen it or don’t intend on seeing it, read on … you don’t need to watch it to understand my rant.

Right. So in this episode, Watson’s wife Mary, who has just had a baby, takes a bullet for Sherlock and dies. Sherlock is generally a show that I feel has pretty good writing and convincing plots. But this little twist, designed to give us all the feels, just rang false for me. I couldn’t get with the empathy.

After thinking about it for a bit, I realised why. Mary had just had a baby. And Sherlock, though a very close friend, was just this fairly annoying bloke who solves mysteries with her husband. I simply can’t fathom why a woman with a baby would make a decision to put her life at risk to save an arrogant man who was standing there DARING someone to shoot him. Call me a judgey mum if you like, but in my experience, mums don’t take their lives so lightly.

When you have a baby, especially in the early days, that baby is the centre of your universe. They become your reason for getting up in the morning. They might make you forget to eat, but they are also the reason you remember that you need to feed yourself. In the early days, caring for your baby is the rhythm of your existence, and your need to be with them is visceral.

I suffered through some dark times with my babies, including PND, and it was because of them that I didn’t give up on myself. I may have felt hopeless and at times that I was not bonding with my baby, but my thoughts were still all turned on the baby, and I battled through the bad feelings to survive and to make sure my babies were cared for.

I can forgive Mary for trying to “disappear” to get away from the bad guys that were hunting her. But when she sacrifices herself, she was already in the clear from the assassin-types. Then Sherlock was just standing there asking this lady to shoot without moving out of the way. Perhaps he already had a death wish. And she’s all like, “I could push him out of the way, or tackle the shooter, but nope, I’d rather jump in front of the bullet”.

I don’t know if the man who wrote that script is a dad or not, but I just don’t think parents are that slapdash with their lives. And that’s why the plotline is, in my opinion, totally unrealistic.

Perhaps my Sherlock outrage says more about me than anyone else, but it has got me thinking about how loving our children means loving ourselves. I think it’s wrong to unnecessarily expose oneself to danger when you have kids to look after. And that’s a lesson that I should apply to my daily life as well. Obviously I don’t have much opportunity to jump in front of bullets anyway, but there are more mundane things I could do (and maybe you, too, if you feel the same), to look after myself. I should do it just for myself, but looking after myself is good for my kids too!

So here are a few things, serious and less so, that I’m going to be careful about, so that I can look after my kids and myself.

Dangerous holiday destinations

I have a friend who enjoys visiting places that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office would prefer you avoid. More power to him and his sense of adventure. But for me, I have become a total travelling sissy since having kids. I’ve been travelling to utterly rural and random caravan parks in the hopes that no one wants to make a violent statement in those sorts of places. I obviously can’t avoid London, but I don’t see any reason to go somewhere doubtful if I don’t need to.

Health stuff

If I have the slightest doubt about my health, physical or mental, then I take myself off to the GP. There is no point waiting around and wondering if things will resolve on their own. Better to have peace of mind. And I’m extra mindful of how lucky we are in the UK to have the NHS. I can get peace of mind without emptying my purse!

Looking after myself

I’m giving myself permission to spend time exercising and worrying about what I’m eating. These things take my attention away from my kids but ultimately make me fitter so that I can be around for them in the long term and, in the short term, be healthier to enjoy my time with them.

Doing stupid stuff

Should I try to jump off the back of the Routemaster bus before it has stopped? No I should not. Should I drink an entire bottle of vodka on a rare night out? No I should not. My kids stop me doing those fun things that I might have risked when it was only my arse on the line.

Don’t be a hero?

I often think about what I would do if I found myself in a crisis situation – a crash or a violent incident. While I would like to think of myself as someone who would help others where I can, I know that my biggest priority would be keeping myself safe. Not for me, but because I don’t want my kids to be without their mum.

Going out to meet my problems

I used to be a fatalist about just about everything. I used to think “Oh well. It’s no big deal. If I die, to die would be a great adventure (you know, like in Peter Pan).” Now, instead, I think how to solve my problems without risking my wellbeing. Not that many of my problems involve life and death. But I do think about these things…

And Mary should have too.

Two Tiny Hands
A Mum Track Mind

Being kind to yourself at Christmas

Some of you might have seen the news around this time last year when people started talking about “emotional labour”. This is the concept that on top of the everyday work that women do – whether that is in or outside of the home – we do the extra work of looking after others emotionally. This Guardian article puts it better than I could:

We remember children’s allergies, we design the shopping list, we know where the spare set of keys is. We multi-task. We know when we’re almost out of Q-tips, and plan on buying more. We are just better at remembering birthdays.

I don’t like to make generalisations, but in many relationships, it is the woman that deals with all the admin for children’s schooling (parties, filling in the forms, getting the right outfits on the right day, baking the endless cakes).

I find at Christmas in particular, it is women who get it all sorted out. We figure out what to buy for whom and buy it before our partners have realised it’s December. We send Christmas cards, we arrange drinks or dinner with valued friends, we sort out travel arrangements, and we pack the bags if we’re going away.

Sometimes I think it would be utterly hilarious to let my husband pack the children’s things for a weekend away. Not to rag on him – he does all the cooking in our house and contributes a fair amount to other domestic chores – but he’s clueless at stuff like that. He’d remember to pack clothes but forget things like their cuddly toys to get them to sleep.

All of this remembering who needs what and when can be extremely tiring. This is why I’ve been thinking about how we can look after ourselves at Christmas while we’re usually so busy looking after everyone else. So I have compiled a little list of things I can choose NOT to do, to give myself a little break and be kind to myself this Christmas:

  • Christmas cards. I have duly purchased cards and planned to send them off to my carefully compiled list. But between real life and blogging life, I don’t know when I’m going to have the time or energy to sit down and write ‘Merry Christmas’ and an address 20 times over. My real friends will understand if I don’t get round to it. I will do it if I have time, and forgive myself if I don’t.
  • Sitting in front at the Nativity play. My school operates some sort of system where certain classes’ parents get priority seating on certain days of the Nativity play. I can only make the day where I will have to sit in the back. I’m not really sure what happened to good old “first come, first served”. But not everyone can sit in front. I refuse to feel guilty about this. I will be there, and that’s what counts.
  • Attending events that no one will notice you’ve missed. I felt incredibly guilty last week when work commitments meant I couldn’t attend my 2yo’s nursery Christmas party. I went last year. It was fun. I got to watch him do some party games, eat some party food, and then watch him cry when Father Christmas came to visit. I’m going to forgive myself for not watching him do this again this year. My husband went, so he did have someone there, and my son will never remember the occasion anyway.
  • Watching my weight. I have some weight loss goals. I’ve been doing okay with them. But December is not the time to keep losing weight. Or even to not gain a bit of weight. It’s all tiring enough without abstaining from food and drink when everyone else is indulging. I’m going to live it up and be miserable and boring in January just like everybody else.
  • Keeping up with the blog. I would like to vaguely keep posting until we properly break up for Christmas, but honestly I’m not really feeling it at the moment. Christmas is hard enough without churning out sparkling content. That’s why you’re getting this amazing list about what I’m not doing. I’m relatively confident that all my bloggy dreams will not be dashed by slacking off at Christmas.
  • Baking. Unless you luurve baking because it relaxes you. I like baking, but only when I have loads of time to spare. In previous years, I have always baked some Christmas biscuits to decorate and share with work colleagues, friends and/or family. Not this year. I will buy some boxes of Cadbury’s Roses and everyone will be equally happy (if less impressed by my domestic goddess-ness).
  • Skipping self-care. When I get busy, the first thing that goes is my self-care. Uncut hair, unpainted nails and no makeup for me! But not this Christmas. These things make me feel like me. They make me feel relaxed and happy. So I’m going to make time for them. Even if that means an extra episode of Twirlywoos on the iPad for the little ones.
  • Buying lots of presents. I’ve sorted out the presents, but I’ve not been as extravagant or creative as usual. Simple and thoughtful is good enough. People don’t have to gasp in wonder at their presents.
  • Worrying about how Christmas day is going to go down. Some of us have more responsibility for this than others. I’m lucky enough to NOT be responsible for making the dinner. But I have in previous years worried an awful lot about how much fun will be had by me and others, and gotten upset when things didn’t go well (cue my children having ALL the tantrums and me MISSING the Doctor Who Christmas Special). Well, unlike last year, I am no longer breastfeeding. So I’m just going to drink as much wine as I like and go with the flow. And I can catch up with The Doctor on iPlayer later.

Do you feel a bit burnt out in the run-up to Christmas? What do you do (or not do) to make it easier?

Tammymum