My biggest advice for expectant parents — both as a veteran mom of two and a lactation consultant — is to make sure you set yourself up with tons of postpartum support. The hard truth is that the postpartum period is much more difficult than mothers realize it’s going to be. But so many expectant parents spend too much time focusing on other things, like birth plans or setting up the perfect nursery, instead of making concrete plans for surviving the postpartum period.
So I encourage moms to hire a postpartum doula/baby nurse (if able), or ask a trusted family member to stay with them to help for some time. I urge all new mothers to try to get as much maternity leave as they possibly can and do whatever it takes to get paternity leave for their partners. If they’re planning to breastfeed, I recommend all new moms have the number of a good lactation consultant on hand because almost all new mothers tend to need a little help (or just some reassurance) in that area.
None of this is just friendly “advice.” There is proof out there that these things increase the likelihood of mothers having a positive postpartum experience in very tangible ways.
For example, maternity leave of more than just a few weeks increases your chances of successful breastfeeding, and lowers your risk of postpartum depression. Paternity leave for dads not only helps mothers with the immediate responsibilities of baby care and housework, but studies have shown that it increases the likelihood that dads will contribute to household duties on an ongoing basis.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but there is data out there proving that having a lactation consultant available to help increases your likelihood of successful breastfeeding initiation and also increases the overall length of time that you might breastfeed your baby. And most importantly, having a support network of trusted family and friends nearby helps you recover physically and emotionally from birth, and decreases your chance of experiencing a postpartum mood disorder.
But (and this is a big but), no matter how thoughtful or logical my advice is, how many studies I cite, or how much “proof” there is out there, not all mothers are going to be in a situation where any of this can happen. For some, there is just no way they will be able to take my advice because their life circumstances will just not allow it.
We all know that not everyone is able to take maternity leave, and that for many, maternity leave is basically bullshit. Even when women do take it, not all can take off more than a few weeks. And pay? It’s a crapshoot in terms of whether or not a mother will receive her full salary, just a portion, or any at all while she’s on leave.
Paternity leave is even harder to come by. It’s pretty rare that dads get more than a few days off, if that.
Postpartum doulas and baby nurses — while totally worth their weight in gold — are pricey. Same goes for many lactation consultants. And while many mothers have family members who can pitch in during the postpartum period, many simply do not.
The sad, awful truth is that while all mothers deserve a good postpartum period — dripping with support and love and hot cooked meals — not all mothers can get that. Having the resources and money to have a comfortable, supported few weeks after birth is a privilege reserved for a small section of the population.
And that is just wrong. So very, very wrong.
It’s not because these mothers didn’t try hard enough or ask enough people for help. It’s because our system does not support new mothers — not in the least — and so having a positive postpartum experience is reserved for mothers who are lucky enough to be blessed with things like decent maternity leave and expendable cash for doulas, housekeepers, and lactation consultants.
If you’re angry about these things, you should be. If you’re angry about how isolated, depressed, and unsupported new mothers in this country so often feel, you should absolutely be raging. In many European countries, services like postpartum housework, counseling, and breastfeeding help are provided to mothers without question and free of charge.
But in America, none of the services that are recommended and proven to ease a mother into parenthood are guaranteed. Mothers have to seek this stuff out. If they can’t get more than a week or two of maternity leave? Too bad for them. If they are recovering from a C-section and could really use some help preparing meals or chasing after their toddler? Sorry, but if you don’t have family around or can’t afford to hire help, you’ll just have to suffer.
We can do better, America. We can, should, and must make all of these things more accessible to women. These things should not be reserved for a privileged few. All women deserve access to the help and resources that are proven to keep them and their babies healthy and happy. All women deserve to be eased gently into motherhood, surrounded by helping hands and love.