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My Story: Postpartum Recovery

September 19, 2014

By Ana Vela

My Story: Postpartum Recovery | The author, Ana Vela, holds her newborn baby, Mariana, against her chest.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Shaffer Photography

I spent so much time planning for my first baby, from reading books and articles to talking with my doctor to talking with friends and family. Yet I didn’t take the time to learn about the postpartum recovery process. Perhaps it was because I was a bit scared. Or perhaps it’s because I assumed I was stronger than most women and would recover quickly. I completely underestimated the challenge this recovery period would be.

The postpartum recovery period is defined as the six weeks after delivery. An article in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health discusses postpartum effects lasting until 18 months after delivery. A woman will experience physical, emotional, and mental challenges during this time.

As someone who was unaware of what to expect during postpartum recovery, here are some tips I would like to offer for anyone about to go through this process:

Focus on your physical recovery.
Pregnancy and delivery was hard work for your body, and there is a whole list of symptoms you will experience afterward. Although you want to take care of your baby, it’s important that you focus on your own physical recovery.

At first, I felt very guilty that I was relying on my mother and husband to care for the baby so much in order to sleep (my mother stayed with us for the first two and a half months of our daughter’s life). Do not feel guilty. If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for your child later.

One of the ways you can take care of yourself is to avoid going out to public places with your baby during the first weeks after giving birth, as you are both vulnerable to getting sick. Although I was going crazy from being indoors, knowing that my child was healthy at home was worth it.

Learn to ask for and accept help.
If you are like me, independent and in need of being in control, be prepared for the opposite. I have never felt so helpless before. I needed assistance with everything: bathing (extremely embarrassing for me), cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, getting groceries, and taking care of my pets. Family and friends will offer to help, and it’s okay to accept it and depend on them. Although it was difficult for me to feel so vulnerable, I realized that it was more important for me to spend my energy on what mattered most—the baby.

Prepare to continue feeling emotional.
I wasn’t very emotional during my pregnancy, but certainly was during my postpartum recovery. I wasn’t expecting to feel such a range of emotions—sensitivity, sadness, anxiety, regret, anger, impatience, etc. Once I even cried with my baby in my arms because I couldn’t help her get rid of her hiccups.

It’s okay to feel this way. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of women experience these types of symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you experience more serious symptoms that prevent you from caring for your baby, as these may be signs of postpartum depression.

Acknowledge that everything will change.
I was obsessed with wanting to be the same person I was prior to having a baby. I wanted to continue being dedicated to my career, my social life, my hobbies, maintaining my household, and even my weight and active lifestyle. Everything changes when you have a baby. I became stressed out that I couldn’t balance everything in my life anymore, and didn’t want to be criticized for it. After talking with friends and family, I learned to come to terms with these changes. Reconsider your priorities in order to enjoy your new life.

Follow all your health care provider’s instructions during the recovery process to ensure you avoid complications to your health, and enjoy the time with your new baby. Keep these tips in mind to help better prepare for the postpartum recovery process, and good luck!


How can we tell our son we won’t have more kids?

August 22, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can we tell our son we won’t have more kids? | A smiling toddler swings from his parents' arms.

Question: My wife and I decided not to have any additional children after our first child, and she had her tubes tied. Now our 6-year-old son is asking when he’s going to have a sibling. How can we tell our son that we can’t have children anymore because we chose not to?

Answer: It’s wonderful that you and your wife want to be honest with your son and tell him the reason(s) why you both decided she would have a tubal ligation (which is the medical term for having her tubes tied). However, your son is young and likely doesn’t fully understand the human reproductive system or the complicated reasons couples choose to prevent reproduction.

Take a step back and think about his perspective. He wants a playmate, a sibling to look after, and a new friend. Give him an answer that he will understand at his age.

“Mommy and Daddy love you so much that we don’t need another child.”

You may also want to assess the reasons he wants a sibling. How are his relationships with friends or cousins? Does he bond with one or two other children whom he considers his best friends?

Feed his desire for a dependable playmate by encouraging friendships outside of school. Schedule play dates and talk to your son about what it means to be a good friend. If he’s close with his cousins or kids of family friends, let him know that they are like his brother or sister.

If he wants to look after someone, pets are a great addition to the family (as long as there are rules on who is in charge of feedings, grooming, and messes).

When he gets older and learns about the reproductive process in school, you can give him more information if he asks. At that point, you can tell him that Mom had surgery so she wouldn’t have more kids. Depending on his maturity, you might talk to him about the reasons you both chose for not having more kids. The truly honest answers can wait for a time when he’s emotionally and physically mature enough to understand both the surgery and the reasons for it.

The information on building friendships comes from the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher book, Through Elementary and Middle School. It is available for purchase on Amazon.


How can I wean a breastfeeding baby?

August 8, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can I wean a breastfeeding baby? | A baby breastfeeds from her mother.

Question submitted on Facebook: How can I wean a breastfeeding baby?

Answer: There are many factors to consider when weaning a breastfeeding baby. Think about timing, nutrition, and the reasons why you are starting to wean your baby. And remember, take it slow and be patient.

If you start introducing your baby to solid foods at about six months, he or she may start to naturally wean. If not, your baby might start to wean on his or her own when entering the toddler phase, since he or she might not want to sit still for the duration of feeding.

If your child doesn’t start to wean on his or her own and you have been introducing solid foods and sippy cups for liquids, start the process slowly. Decrease the number of daily breastfeedings you provide and replace that meal with solid food. Over time, you can continue to cut out more breastfeeding sessions and replace them with solid food meals. Plan activities after these meals so your child will immediately engage and be less likely to notice that he or she didn’t breastfeed.

Talk to your baby’s doctor about getting him or her the proper nutrition as you start to wean from breastfeeding. The Mayo Clinic has excellent advice on weaning a baby, so visit their website for more tips and considerations.

For more information on breastfeeding, formula feeding, and providing a healthy start for your baby, see the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher book Through the Early Years.


5 Ways to Avoid Unsafe Toys

July 31, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

5 Tips to Avoid Unsafe Toys | Photo of a toy with a close up of the warning label that reads: Warning: Choking hazard. Small parts. Not for children under 3 years.

Buying toys is so much fun. I love to buy toys for children’s birthdays and usually stay away from gift cards or cash. While it’s fun to buy gifts, I am very careful when purchasing toys for children. There are many things to look out for when purchasing a toy. Here are five tips to avoid buying unsafe toys.

  1. Consider Age. Always look for the recommended age on the toy’s packaging. Remember that a child under three years old continues to have a tendency of putting objects in his or her mouth. Make sure that you purchase a toy that is intended for your child’s age.
  2. Look for Small Parts. Inspect the toy and see if it contains parts that can easily come off. If they are off the toy, can these parts fit through a toilet paper roll? The diameter of a toilet paper roll is similar to the mouth and esophagus of your child. The loose part is a choking hazard if it goes through the roll.
  3. Buy BPA-Free Plastic. BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been used in the production of certain plastics since the 1960s. Some research experts found that exposure to BPA may cause health effects on brain development, behavior, and the prostate gland of a child, even in infants and fetuses. Look for BPA-free labels on toys you plan to buy.
  4. Avoid Batteries. Battery-operated toys are fun, but there is always a risk of shock, battery acid leakage, or choking. Make sure you inspect the toy and ensure that your child cannot get to the battery (these toys should have a safety door that requires a screwdriver to access the battery). Button batteries are smaller, more powerful (most are made of lithium), and therefore dangerous. If swallowed, they can send an electric current through the body that can cause a severe burn if not treated quickly. Try to especially avoid these batteries.
  5. Natural is Best. Look for labels that indicate organic or natural base dyes/coloring. Stay away from heavy-painted toys, toys containing glass, and fragile toys. Simple wooden blocks are still fun—kids use their imaginations and build amazing structures and stories to go with them.

Remember to consider these and other tips for finding safe toys. There are different concerns depending on the age range of the toy, so do some research before you buy.


Nursing Troubles

July 29, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Nursing Troubles | A baby nurses from his or her mother.

Before my son was born, I had his feeding regimen all planned out: I would nurse exclusively for the first few weeks and then introduce a bottle of pumped milk so my husband could participate in nighttime feedings.

Of course, nothing went according to plan.

Because I had gestational diabetes during my pregnancy, my son had to drink a bottle of formula right after birth to regulate his blood sugar. A few hours later, he started having breathing problems and had to be rushed to the NICU where he was hooked up to all kinds of machinery.

In the meantime, I started pumping to build up my milk supply and tried to nurse during my visits to the NICU. Every time I tried to get my son to latch on, the poor little guy would get tangled up in wires and howl. Frustrated, I’d give up and feed him a bottle of pumped milk instead. I quickly realized that this most “natural” activity was a skill that both my son and I could not grasp.

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately two-thirds of mothers who intend to exclusively breastfeed do not meet their goal. Many, like me, encounter nursing difficulties in the hours and days immediately after delivery. Thankfully, there are resources available to help a mother who desires to nurse but is having trouble:

  • Postpartum Nurses. Many of the nurses who care for you in the hospital after labor and delivery have additional training in breastfeeding support. They can show you different nursing positions and provide an extra set of hands to guide your baby to a proper latch.
  • International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). If you need additional help, consider seeing a lactation consultant. These health care professionals have the highest level of training in breastfeeding support and can help with a wide variety of breastfeeding problems. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, their services may be covered under your insurance plan. Most hospitals and even some pediatricians’ offices have a lactation consultant on staff. Or, if you’d feel more comfortable in a private setting, you can find a lactation consultant who will come to your home. Check out the International Lactation Consultant Association to find a consultant in your area.
  • La Leche League. Founded by a group of Illinois women in 1956, this international nonprofit organization strives to help nursing mothers through support, encouragement, information, and education. Accredited La Leche League Leaders lead breastfeeding support groups all over the world and provide assistance via online forums.
  • Other Mothers. Don’t forget this valuable resource! Mothers who are currently nursing or have recently finished nursing are full of strategies and techniques that worked for them.

As for my son and me, we ended up having a lactation consultant come to our home so she could work with us in our own environment. She was wonderful and also included my husband in the nursing process. For a while, nursing was a three-person activity. My husband would help support my son while I focused on getting him to latch. Eventually, though, my son and I got the hang of it and it became second nature.

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.

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