With over 60,000 babies born in Ireland over the past year, it’s safe to assume that there are a lot of tired new mums out there, with many still in the all-important post-birth recovery stage known as the ‘fourth trimester’.
Yet, according to a survey My Expert Midwife and BabyDoc, three-quarters of Irish women don’t consider a recovery plan for the six weeks after they give birth.
The postpartum period is often overlooked by busy new mothers, who are recommended to take a minimum of 30 minutes a day for themselves to aid recovery. According to experts, not taking the midwives’ advice on this can have an impact both physically and emotionally.
“New mums are tired, elated, sore, bruised, swollen, bleeding, lactating, emotional - the list is endless. As they care for baby, they need to be cared for too. If you ran a marathon, you would surely feel it in the days and weeks that follow - post-birth is kind of like that, except tenfold,” says midwife Jess Sheridan.
My Expert Midwife’s report, which involved over 1,000 Irish women who recently gave birth, looks into how much time new mothers dedicate to self-care and how long it takes for them to feel like they are in a good physical and emotional state post-birth.
The research found that it took six weeks for 36% of the new mothers to feel like they were in good physical health after birth, while 28% said it took up to three months and 12% didn’t feel back to themselves physically for six months.
Only 54% of respondents dedicated time to themselves in the days following giving birth, with three-quarters of those women using the time to have a quick shower or sleep.
“For many new parents, the transition to parenthood can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally,” says co-founder of My Expert Midwife and star ofLesley Gilchrist.
“As a society nowadays, we do find it hard to prioritise our recovery and needs over that of our children but it really is so important to do that to ensure that you’re both able to enjoy parenthood.”
Jess Sheridan agrees. “When you are caring for a new baby, you may feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day to spare some precious time for yourself, especially if you are looking after an older child or children, a single parent or also managing other commitments,” she says.
“However dedicating time for you is an essential part of your recovery programme. Remember, sleeping and bathing are basic human needs! Take 30 minutes a day to really focus on you.”
Over half of respondents also didn’t have a birthing plan while pregnant, with 21% saying that their labour didn’t go quite as expected. Experts recommend having some sort of plan going into the birthing process in order for women to familiarise themselves with the medical terminology that will be used and also to help inform the midwives looking after the birth of their wishes.
“Completing a birth plan allows time for you and your birth partner to really explore your options and choices for labour, birth, and afterwards. It also helps your midwife to understand those choices too, especially if you’re in advanced labour,” says Lesley.
Jess says: “As midwives, we want all women to feel empowered, supported, and informed throughout labour and delivery, and having a plan to refer back to offers great guidance for us to see if we are achieving this.”
Influencer and mum of two Shoshannah Wood, who is currently expecting her third child, spoke to those compiling the report of the importance she is placing on giving herself time to heal after birth - following a tough experience the first time around.
“On my first baby, I had an awful delivery followed by blood transfusions and lots of hospital visits. I was very unwell but still gave myself no time to heal. I stayed up all night every night holding the baby and feeding her, I wouldn’t allow bottles or let anyone help, I wanted to hold her at all times and never relaxed. I took no care of myself at the time and it resulted in me becoming very physically unwell,” Shoshannah says.
“On my second baby, I understood the importance of the saying, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. I took time to heal, let my husband help a lot more, I rested, I bathed and I ate. I let go of control and I also got professional help from experts to help with the areas I struggled in parenting.”
According to the report, new parents will get just four hours and 44 minutes of sleep a night on average during the first year of their baby’s life, losing the equivalent of 50 nights of sleep in the year. McAuley's superintendent pharmacist Emily Kelly’s advice is easier said than done: sleep when the baby sleeps.
“For mine, it was from 6pm to 9pm or 10pm, it felt like a bad time in the house to sleep but without it, it was very difficult to do the night feeds and as I had a bruiser who breastfed every two hours, it really was the only long stretch we got. Especially in the current climate, you’ll find that you are not missing out on anything, so sleep,” she says.
“Try and go into a different room from the baby for that one sleep. Without hearing their little noises, you might sleep sounder even for that one nap. Lack of sleep can affect our bodies, moods, cognition, stress hormones, cortisol levels as well as our appetite. Sleep deprivation can tip some mothers into a postpartum anxiety or depression episode and some women even find that their intense distress subsides after getting a good chunk of rest. This is not the case for all women dealing with a post-natal mood disorder of course.”
After broadcaster and mother-of-three Suzanne Kane had her first child Oisin, who is now six years old, she experienced what she nicknamed the ‘baby navy’s’.
“It wasn’t post-natal depression but not light enough to be the baby blues. I really struggled with the picture I believed should be playing out in front of me and the true reality,” she says.
“On Sadie, my third, who is now 16 weeks, I felt all of the happy hormones. But at 14 weeks I absolutely crashed. I was absolutely depleted. I had spent a full pregnancy living through a pandemic, not allowing myself to let the outside madness creep in. I literally held my breath for 38 weeks.”
Lesley agrees that the term ‘baby blues’ doesn’t always reflect the impact that the rollercoaster of postpartum emotions can have on a new mum’s life.
“Once your baby is born your pregnancy hormones, progesterone and oestrogen are no longer needed in the same amount so drop considerably in the first 24 hours. But, this sudden drop in those hormones can cause huge fluctuations in your mood and emotions, leaving many feeling overwhelmed, tearful and anxious,” she says.
“If you’re one of the 8 out of 10 women to suffer from this you’ll feel that the word ‘blues’ doesn’t reflect the impact that it has on family life. Rest assured though that this phase only lasts a couple of weeks as your body adapts to the ‘new normal’ levels of hormones. If you find that this period is lasting longer than three weeks and is accompanied by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless then please do seek help from your GP, midwife or family members as this could be symptoms of postnatal depression.”