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Postpartum Health: What You Need to Know

The pregnancy journey doesn't end after the baby exits your body



You are a pregnancy and birthing expert by the time you go into labor. You've studied and trained for this special day. You've read the books, followed the blogs, attended all of the classes and tracked every stage of your baby's evolution in utero—now all you have to do is give birth. Right?

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Wrong. The pregnancy journey doesn't end after the baby exits your body. You've still got the postpartum experience to navigate. While growing and giving birth to a child takes lots of preparation, the impact and intensity of the postpartum period should not be underestimated. A woman's body goes through extreme changes during pregnancy and birth and finding its new post-pregnancy norm involves more changes and adjustment.

The Postpartum Period

The first six weeks after giving birth to baby is known as the "official" postpartum period. But don't be fooled. Moms may be affected physically and emotionally throughout the entire first year. During this time, once again, your body changes as it begins healing and shifting hormonally.

You may experience some of the following during the postpartum period.

• Vagina discomfort

• Extensive bleeding

• The uterus contracting back to pre-pregnancy size/C-section incision healing

• Hormonal shifts that can cause mood swings and feelings of being overwhelmed (postpartum depression)

• Breast changes and leaking due to milk coming in and breastfeeding.

Supporting New Moms During the Postpartum Period

During the early postpartum period, it is vital for a new mom to feel supported. Marjon Murphy is a postpartum doula and owner of Baby Wellness Bend. A postpartum doula takes care of mom, baby and the household during the first weeks after birth. According to Murphy, breastfeeding support at home is the number one need during the early postpartum days. She says that breastfeeding is a learned skill that most new moms have trouble mastering while in the hospital.

Murphy explains that new moms are often bombarded with information right after giving birth when their brains aren't capable of absorbing it. "In the privacy of her own home, in bed and in pajamas... we go over everything in steps. Day by day we take a good look together at baby, and I help with positioning, latching and milk supply."

Along with breastfeeding support, Murphy's postpartum doula services include answering questions about breast and bottle feeding, feeding times, sleep or skin issues, and she even supports mom with baby's first bath. Additionally, she makes sure mom eats and drinks and has time to shower. While not everyone can afford or wants to have a postpartum doula, Murphy's offerings fulfill a new mom's greatest postpartum needs.

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Bend Birth Center is another local business that offers prenatal, birth and postpartum care through the expertise of its midwives. Postpartum services include home visits in the first week and three clinic visits at two, four and six weeks. Their care consists of nursing support and weight checks, newborn metabolic screening, medications (as needed), testing and postpartum in-house lab collection (as needed). Additionally, moms can get well-woman care without leaving their homes.

Receiving in-home support during the postpartum period is vital to a new mom's mental and physical recovery from birth. These services can be found through local businesses or organized by the mother's network of friends and family.

Postpartum & the Pelvic Floor

Changes to the pelvic floor is a little-talked-about issue that women must confront after giving birth. While many physical changes resolve on their own after the postpartum period is considered over, a woman's pelvic floor may continue to be troublesome long after the first year has passed.

Erin Novelli, MPT, Director of Women's Health Program at Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend, helps moms with their pelvic floor recovery. She explains that the pelvic muscles tend to weaken and often lengthen due to nine months of carrying the baby and the increased presence of relaxin in the body. Additionally, during a vaginal delivery, the trauma to the pelvic floor can vary from minimal to significant. New moms may experience urinary incontinence, pelvic pain and symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse as a result.

Novelli says women can take steps to protect their pelvic floor before giving birth. "Prenatal education and assessment of pelvic floor health is recommended," she explains. "This includes how to prepare your body before and during pregnancy, and what she can do immediately postpartum."

Novelli says new moms can see a physical therapist as early as they need after giving birth. "Learning what each individuals' pelvic floor function is, is the first step," she explains. "Not every pelvic floor problem is solved with just doing your kegels. A woman needs to know if she needs to strengthen or lengthen (or both) her pelvic floor muscles." According to Novelli, the physical therapists at Rebound work on retraining the pelvic floor and other core muscles.

Women who want to work on strengthening their pelvic floor at home can do so with a product called the Downunder Trainer made by Bend local Melissa Eichner. These special teardrop shaped weights come in a set of five (ranging from light to heavy). New moms can start by inserting the lightest weight and contracting their pelvic muscles to keep it in place. As their pelvic floor strengthens, they move up to the next heaviest weight. The product promises to result in less leakage and more sexual satisfaction (orgasms) for mom! Now that's a fantastic postpartum promise.

With several options to help pave the way towards optimal health, postpartum women need not feel alone on their journey to recovery.

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