Adjusting to parenthood is difficult for any woman. Medically, there are three areas that can make the adjustment particularly challenging. This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, I have noticed these conditions are more prevalent than any others in my medical practice.
1. Fatigue: it appears that being fatigued is a rite of passage that most mothers must pass through. It is not uncommon for a new mom to experience fatigue for the first six weeks or so after delivery. With the recovery from delivery, getting use to a new sleep schedule and nursing a baby, a mama is bound to get fatigued. You should see a health care professional if the fatigue lasts longer than six weeks; is disabling; worries family members or prevents you from performing normal activities. When any of these criteria is met, it is worth consulting a health care provider to rule out anemia or hypothyroidism. Both conditions can be tested for by a simple blood test.
Postpartum anemia is a very common cause of fatigue among new mothers. A woman who was anemic in her last trimester will most likely suffer from postpartum anemia. A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, lentils, beans and organic meat will help alleviate anemia. I never recommend organ meats as a way to replenish iron stores. The liver is an organ of detoxification. Meaning that all the toxins the animal has ever been exposed to is broken down by the liver. I do however recommend supplemental iron in addition to dietary modification in most cases. Not all iron supplements are created equal. Most supplements contain ferrous gluconate or sulfate. These forms of iron are not well absorbed by the body and are more likely to cause constipation and abdominal discomfort. I prefer a chelated form of iron. This is much better absorbed by the body without any side effects. Ideally, iron should be taken with Vitamin C and on an empty stomach to increase its absorption.
Other ideas to alleviate fatigue include co sleeping in the same room as the baby and sleeping during the daytime when the baby naps.
2. Post partum depression: affects as many as 10 – 20 percent of mothers . It is a more serious form of postpartum blues. About fifty percent of women experience postpartum blues with irritability, crying easily, feeling overwhelmed, confused and anxious. Symptoms usually begin a few days after birth and can last up to six weeks. This is believed to be due to hormonal changes, fatigue and interrupted sleep.
Women with postpartum depression usually have difficult time bonding with their child and may experience sadness, fatigue, irritability and disinterest in life.
If you think you may have post partum depression consult with a licensed health care provider for proper diagnosing. Having a strong social network is important for alleviating post partum depression. This includes joining a moms group or just creating time to connect with other moms, friends and family. Moderate exercise such as walking is great or joining a stroller exercise group. It is okay to ask for and receive help. Get as much rest as possible and find some time for yourself to recharge.
It is important to have a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables and good sources of protein and essential fatty acid. Choose an essential fatty acid supplement that is free of heavy metals and high in DHA. Good dietary sources of essential fatty acids include fish oil, chia seeds and hemp hearts. A gluten and dairy free diet has been shown to help alleviate depression. There are several herbs such as: panax ginseng, rhodiola, shisandra and ashwagandha that are effective and safe for nursing mothers. Talk to a licensed health care provider for a treatment option that is best for you.
3. Low milk supply: most women are able to make more than enough milk for their child. However there are several reasons for low milk supply such as anemia and hypothyroidism in mother, supplementation with formula, scheduled feedings, pacifiers, nipple shields and medication.
Eating a well-balanced diet full of good protein sources, fruits and vegetables and oatmeal daily helps with low milk supply. Also, a good latch is paramount to having adequate milk supply. Herbs such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, vitex, milk thistle, hops, shatavari, alfalfa, goat’s rue, raspberry leaf have all been shown to be helpful with milk supply.
It is always beneficial to solicit the services of a good lactation consultant to help with latch assessment and offer additional suggestions.
Are there other challenges you have encountered?