February is the LONGEST month and that is why it has only 28 days, I learned that breastfeeding my newborn daughter with 2 yr old twin runny nosed sons hanging on my sore and exhausted body. Pregnancy, delivery, nursing and most importantly post partum hormones wrecked havoc with me physically and emotionally. Of course you don’t see that image in magazines. Instead we find the latest Hollywood accessory appears to be a baby and of course the flat tummy a few weeks later to go with it. Let me give a brief rundown on why women need to give themselves and their bodies a break during this postpartum frenzy.
1. Hormone Roller Coaster
One way to look at your hormones is like a roller coaster where the first 9 months your hormones are slowly building, higher and higher where they peak just before birth. After the baby is born and the placenta, which makes all the hormones, is removed, there is a complete nosedive of these hormones. They may be 6-20 times the normal level at birth then plummet to almost nothing. This free fall will certainly put most women in a state of emotional and physical chaos. Estrogen levels may drop to menopausal levels, especially if breast-feeding, causing hot flashes, moodiness, severe dryness and decreased libido.
2. Many Hormones Players
Most women know of estrogen and progesterone changes but what you may not realize is there are many hormones at play.
Postpartum thyroid changes, referred to as postpartum thyroiditis, can affect 5-10% of women. Symptoms can range from hyperthyroid (anxiety, palpitations, fatigue and weight loss) to hypothyroid symptoms (fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin and depression), Many women will have permanent changes in their thyroid after birth so a blood test is recommended if you see these changes
Cortisol is a stress hormone, which is increased after childbirth. This can give you energy but also make you feel stressed.
Relaxin increases during pregnancy and is the hormone that increases the size and elasticity of muscles in the body to help you to deliver your baby. That hormone takes about five months to leave your body, so you’re much more prone to sprains and hurting yourself than you would be normally.
Breast-feeding has it’s own hormones. Prolactin, the hormone that causes milk production, is an appetite stimulant. Breast-feeding uses a several hundred extra t of calories and increases metabolism so many women find it easier to lose weight while breast-feeding. Others are hungry all the time so they don’t lose weight until they are finished breast-feeding
Oxytocin increases with breast feeding which is also the “chillax” hormone or bonding hormone. Many women love the increase in this feel good hormone.
3. Post Partum Blues are Real.
80% of women will experience post partum blues in the first 2 weeks after birth. The feeling may persist or become severe in 12-20% of new moms and become post partum depression, which requires immediate medical attention. This is not something to dismiss or think it will get better on it’s own, especially if you feel numb or disconnected from your baby or afraid that you may hurt him or her. There is a hotline that you can call 1 800 944-4PPD or get support from postpartum.net
4. Manage a Realistic Body Image
Celebrities are a rare breed often known for their bodies so it is not realistic to live up to the photoshopped images that you see in the tabloids. Pregnant women will also lose often clumps of hair several months after delivery. While pregnant, hair grows like crazy, but when the hormones are decreased then that new grown hair will fall out. Check out the real photos of motherhood to see what most women look like and celebrate your battle scars (stretch marks) for allowing you to give birth.
5. TREAT YOURSELF
Sometimes I think as soon as the baby comes so does the guilt. Women tend to feel guilty about everything we can and can’t do. It is important to learn to treat yourself so that you can better care for your baby. This may be a pedicure, new outfit (even if it is a few sizes bigger than you want), a massage or a nap.
Ask friends to help you watch the baby so you can escape for a just a little while
Hire help. I learned very early I’d rather pay a babysitter than pay a therapist because that sitter gave me sanity as well as a better relationship with my husband. Sometimes you need both a therapist and a sitter.
Intimacy can be tricky since some of your favorite erogenous zones may be filled with milk and libido running low. Many women don’t feel the need as they have lost of physical affection from the baby and may just want to be left alone. Sometimes men are weirded out after their lover becomes a mother and can have their own inhibitions. Having fun with date nights without sexual pressure is important. When you decide to be intimate have a lubricant handy as there is sure to be some dryness.
Don’t forget contraception options and BREASTFEEDING IS NOT CONTRACEPTION!
Have date nights and girl’s nights on a regular basis. Find support and be kind. It really is like they say before take off. Put the oxygen on yourself first before a child so you can take care of them.
It will get better!