Studies show that up to 20% of new mothers in the US experience postpartum depression (PPD) — and the numbers are probably higher since many cases are unreported. Why are so many moms having a hard time, and how can a postpartum doula help?
As The Daily Beast reports in the excellent article, “Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough on New Mothers?”
This country is one of the only utterly lacking in a culture of postpartum care … In the States, a woman is looked after, by herself and by others, only so long as her body is a receptacle for the baby …
To ask for respite is to betray not only weakness and helplessness, but selfishness.
The expectation for new mothers is for them to bounce back immediately from nine months of pregnancy and who knows how many hours of labor -- keeping in mind that one in three women are also recovering from major surgery, i.e. Cesarean Birth. Allowing for rest and recuperation is almost unheard of — instead, mothers lucky enough to have a partner with time off work are still left alone after a few days, managing a newborn and a household on her own. In addition, many women have a "back to work" date looming in just a few weeks, adding urgency to their need to rest and heal before resuming employment.
Compare this to other cultures around the world where the postpartum mother is cared for and celebrated for a month or two before she is allowed to resume normal daily activities. As Allie Chee writes in Midwifery Today, these other countries provide “constant support, physical and emotional” for the mother-baby pair, either from a female family member or a hired professional, and that “these practices are considered vital for the mothers’ short- and long-term health and her subsequent pregnancies.” As she notes, the rate of postpartum depression in Malaysia, a country with robust postnatal recovery traditions, is just 3.9%.
What is an American mother to do? Although the cause of PPD is still unknown, doctors think that PPD is probably caused by the hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth, and that “PPD may also be caused or aggravated by exhaustion from childbirth, stress, or lack of sleep in the early weeks of a newborn’s life.” WebMD suggests that mothers “ask for help from others so you can get as much sleep, healthy food, exercise, and overall support as possible.” BabyCenter.com advises new mothers to “ask for support … have your partner or a friend watch your baby so you can take a relaxing shower … get some rest … slow down.”
Who can do all these things for a new mother? The postpartum doula, of course!
The postpartum doula is experienced with new mothers and new babies, understands both breast- and bottle-feeding, is quick to see and handle the things that need doing around the house (filling a dishwasher, folding laundry, emptying the bathroom wastebaskets), can cook a healthy lunch or prep snacks, will swaddle a baby and rock her to sleep, and help mom feel confident enough to go out and grab a Starbucks or just take a shower or a delicious nap.
Experienced mothers, doesn’t this sound like a dream come true? Mothers-to-be, think about your plans for after baby and budget for a postpartum doula — you’ll be glad you did, guaranteed!