Friday, June 08, 2007

Tip for the New Mother #4 -- Your Health in the First Year

Ideas about when a new mother should return to her normal activites have varied throughout history. According to the culture or the time in which you give birth, a mother is given particular advice about this matter. Also, this depends on the mother's individual state of health, as well. So, given all of these variables, one woman may follow different counsel than another woman -- past or present.

When I had my babies back in the early eighties, the American ideal was to get Mom and Baby up and out of the house as soon as possible. It was often pointed out that in some societies, women give birth in the field and then keep on working. The implication was that we should do likewise. I have met a lot of moms from a lot of different cultures, but I've never personally encountered anyone who got right up from childbirth to harvest peas. So, if you actually have done this, please let me know!

My peers and I thought nothing of taking our babies to church or even out shopping before two weeks from delivery was out! I knew one very faithful mom -- a preacher's wife -- who conducted a woman's Bible study from her bed the next day after giving birth! A few women came over, including one who was interested in becoming a Christian came over, and she taught them right in her room! I still appreciate her heart to help others.

When I was born the thinking that both Mom and Baby would benefit from staying in and resting for a month. I think things are swinging back in that direction, now. The latest I hear is that some doctors are advising moms not to bring Baby to church for about four weeks.

When I was born, women stayed in the hospital for at least a week after a normal delivery. When I had babies, three days was the norm for a normal delivery. A few years after that, women were sent home within hours of giving birth. Statistics came out that these quick hospital stays endangered the mother's health, and hospital stays went back up again.

Of course, when my father was born in 1919, women gave birth at home, with doctors in attendance. But, I don't think women were rushed out of bed very quickly. Many people enjoy home deliveries today.

I think I've mentioned this before in an earlier post, but it bears repeating: It takes about a year after childbirth for your internal organs to knit themselves completely back together. Throughout the first year, no matter how great you may feel, you must be mindful of this fact.

This bit of advice was given to me after the birth of my second child. How do I know this advice is true? I ignored it and suffered some unpleasant consequences. This wasn't too bright on my part, especially since my babies were only fourteen months apart. Overall, I felt fantastic. Yet, my insides still had a lot of recovering to do, as I found out.

Here's what I learned after ignoring this point to my detriment: It's fine and even beneficial to ease back into your life's routine as your doctor or midwife approves. Once you have your doctor's or midwife's ok, the right kind of exercise will do wonders for you. But, please be careful. In the first month, avoid any quick and jerky movements and unnecessary bending. Move slowly and gently. Do this in addition to following any precautions your doctor or midwife has advised. Throughout the first year, avoid lifting heavy objects. Of course, you will be lifting Baby. But, when it comes to things like re-arranging the furniture or setting out to become the world's weight-lifting champion -- don't!

Throughout your childbearing years, watch out for things like anemia, cavities in your teeth, a cold that lingers on too long, allergies, corrections that need to be made in your vision, etc. I know how it is to be so busy taking care of everyone else that you neglect your own body. And, I know how expensive it is to keep up-to-date on all of your health needs. But, think how much more effective you can be in loving your family if you take care of little things that can easily be treated.

Regarding your iron level: Men and post-menopausal women don't generally need supplemental iron. Nor, do they need a diet heavy on iron-rich foods. In fact, there is some evidence that this can be harmful. Iron can build up in your arteries and cause heart problems. That's why you see many multivitamin formulations now that do not include iron.

However, women of childbearing years often have low iron stores due to menstruation and childbirth. Many, if not most, teen girls and women of childbearing age sit on the borderline between having a normal blood count and being anemic. I know that my daughter and I both have experienced this. So have several of our friends.

Watch out for these signs of a low blood store: unusual fatigue, feeling winded easily, palpitations, feeling cold, heavier than usual periods, etc. The unusual fatigue could be the only symptom that you feel, so don't dismiss unwarranted fatigue without finding out the root cause. Talk to your doctor to make sure that you are truly low on iron; diagnosing yourself would not be wise. Also, don't fall into the thinking that if you need to add a little extra iron to your diet, that a whole lot must be even better for you. Too much is as harmful as too little. And, don't assume that if you need extra iron this year that you will always need extra iron; have this checked periodically so that you don't overdo. But, if you truly are low in iron, it will do wonders for you if you add iron-rich and Vitamin C rich foods to your diet or if you take a multi-vitamin with iron.



Mrs. Brigham said...

Thank you for sharing such great wisdom once again. :o) My midwife advised me to keep my daughter inside as much as we could for a good four to six weeks as she was a preemie and born during cold/flu and RSV season. I do think her advice was excellent as my little girl has not spent one of her days sick as of yet.

My mother-in-law has told stories of women she knew in Korea getting right back into the rice field with the hours or days old babe in a sling on their backs to work again. Could you imagine doing that?!?! I could hardly walk correctly even a week after my daughter was born, let alone harvest rice. The women in these cultures must be in better shape than their western counterparts! Come to think of it, I do believe I read something in a history book about Empress Maria Theresa giving birth and getting right back on her horse to continue doing whatever she had been doing.

Your lovely and informative articles always teach me something new and make me think. Thank you again for sharing your wisdom! Have a blessed weekend.

Sherry said...

Great advice. Two weeks after my first was born my mother went home & I was going to be supermom. I got up and did all sorts of housecleaning, though none of it was very heavy. My bleeding had almost stopped, but the activity started it up again. So don't over do things! I also found that continuing my prenatal supplement while nursing really helped me.

Anonymous said...

I remember when my third child was 2 or three weeks old I went to the supermarket with him (my elder children were being minded). As I pushed the heavy trolley with my baby in the cradle part, an elderly lady stopped me and asked what on earth I was doing pushing such a heavy load so soon after giving birth. She said I should have been resting and that modern girls 'got up' far too soon. The funny thing was that I thought I was having an easy day with only the baby to mind and no toddlers to cope with as well!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Mrs. Brigham,

How interesting aboutyour mother-in-law! I do think that women must have been tougher in some cultures!

Hi Sherry,

Yes, I experienced the same thing. At two weeks, I was feeling great. But, I jumped up and cleaned house in a hurry when people were about to come over, even though my dear mother was staying with me to help out I caused myself to hemmorage (sp?) right then, and then to have continued heavy bleeding for a prolonged time. Now, my womb has "dropped" a bit. Praise God it isn't causing me too much discomfort. However, the dropping of your internal organs, especially the womb and bladder, during your childbearing years can cause you major problems in mid-life and older.

Hi Kate:

Yes, when you have toddlers already, a day out with just the new little one seems like a treat! But, it's still good to be careful in your movements.