By: Sophie Gilbert, Penfield Children’s Center

Giving birth to a baby is the start of a new journey. The changes that come with giving birth are beyond words, with hormonal shifts, changing lifestyle and activities, relationships with partners, and other challenges. But there are also opportunities for love, happiness, and growth with your new child and family. As a new mom, it can be difficult to know how to handle obstacles and cope with new environments, however, it’s important to continue to take care of yourself and your mental health in the postpartum period.

Francine Cosner, MD, Obstetric Laborist at Cleveland Clinic Foundation, recognizes the need for more medical attention in the immediate postpartum period. Traditionally, the schedule after birth has been a 6-week postpartum check-in with a doctor. Now, the American College of OBGYN is pushing more to recognize the value of a 4th trimester of the pregnancy cycle. Dr. Cosner believes that there is tremendous value in a 2-week postpartum check and more immediate care after giving birth for a few reasons.

First, a two-week post-birth check-in with a doctor gives the patient a chance to go over any lingering questions they might have, and an opportunity to recognize things that may or may not be normal in the recovery period. “At two weeks it’s really nice to have a formal but easy and maybe even virtual visit where you are just checking in with your doctor.” It can be reassuring, and extremely helpful in keeping patients safe after they give birth. “This is a fairly simple thing that can have a lot of value.”

Second, Dr. Cosner says that it is helpful to have someone checking in on the patient, whether that’s friends, family, or a 2-week postpartum health screen with their doctor. Sometimes women are able to recognize postpartum depression on their own, and other times, partners or family members recognize it. Dr. Cosner recommends bringing up the possibility of postpartum depression during your prenatal care, and before you leave the hospital. “Have a discussion with a partner or family member so they know how they can be of help if recognizing postpartum depression becomes a challenge.” If you have had a history of depression or anxiety, been on medication, or have had postpartum depression with past pregnancies, you are more at risk. Dr. Cosner thinks that talking about postpartum depression needs to be more of a routine topic so that people don’t feel shame in exploring their options or reaching out for help.

Third, Dr. Cosner emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself after delivery. “Delivery can be a marathon for a lot of women, and the next thing is, you’re in this world of constantly caring for a helpless being, and your focus is on the baby. Oftentimes, women forget to take care of themselves. If you have the opportunity to take time for yourself – whether that’s having someone watch the baby while you shower or taking a nap – do it!  In order to be a good parent to your new baby, or your other children, or to be a good partner or family member, you need to take care of yourself so you can do a good job. “Sometimes it’s better for everyone if you can take some time to take care of yourself,” said Dr. Cosner. “It’s not being selfish, it’s self-care.”

Finally, Dr. Cosner touched on the topic of breastfeeding. A lot of times, breastfeeding takes training, and adjustment, and can be uncomfortable at first. “For some women, the effort and distress it causes are not worth what you’re getting. It’s great if it works, but if it’s causing more trauma to you and your family, the benefit that you think you are giving the baby might not be worth it.” Be practical! “Breast is best, but not in every single situation. Give yourself a break”.

Although the postpartum period can be thrilling, exciting, and full of new adventures, it’s also important to be practical and make time to continue to take care of yourself and your mental health in order to be 100% present as a new parent.

In what ways will you continue to practice self-care as a new mother?