The standard, average suggested recovery time for vaginal birth is about six weeks. Surprisingly, it's suggested to be about the same for a c-section at 6-8 weeks. I could use this blog space to call out the absurdity of the short recovery time guidelines suggested for both kinds of birth. But I'm not.
Let's talk about the reality, which is that on average, women recovering from birth (vaginal or cesarean) are seeing two weeks or less of "recovery" and "downtime." I use quotations because often, recovery and downtime is spent doing anything but. Even first-time parents, who are not bound to the duties of caring for other children, are doing more, being left alone earlier, and returning to work sooner than is recommended. Given the state of postpartum care, or lack thereof, it's no surprise that the United States sees some of the highest rates of maternal postpartum death and postpartum depression, mood, and anxiety disorders.
Of course, the reasons behind the disappearing postpartum are manifold. For some, it's a financial necessity to return to work. For others, it's a lack of network of family and friends to provide support and help. The overarching cause, however, is a cultural one. In the western world, the postpartum time is undervalued, misunderstood, and sometimes disregarded altogether.
What Can We Do?
It's time to take back postpartum. Reclaim what is necessary for appropriate recovery; understand and call attention to the needs of the infant and the parent; declare that the number one priority for postpartum is health and wellness, which takes longer than two weeks and requires more support from professionals and loved ones.
Of course, the solutions (there are several needed) to this problem are not easy. The system needs to change, of course. But it has to come from a holistic cultural shift, and that begins with parents' voices. When more parents demand that more is needed for healthier postpartum, the chances to get what is needed improve. Starting with yourself, at the ground level, you can:
- Learn about postpartum health! What does it look like? What's needed? How long? You can get a good overview with this information from Healthline. Learn more about the most common concerns parents have during postpartum with this survey summary from Childbirth Connection.
- Share your newfound postpartum information with others. Tell your friends, your partner/spouse, your family members, social media -- anyone who will listen! Make it your mission to inform others about what's missing from postpartum. #2weeksisnotenough
- Learn about the options you have with your place of employment. Find out what's covered and what's not. Learn about FMLA. Prepare for extra financial support or strategic budgeting if you will be missing out on income.
- Plan for support. I cannot stress this one enough. In the American culture, support doesn't typically show up out of nowhere. There are no Santa's elves, magic fairies, or Snow White's dwarves. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by an engaging, proactive, and supportive network of friends and family -- that is awesome! You will benefit tremendously, and easily get the postpartum support you need. If you fall into the other, much larger, camp, you'll need to do some leg work. Asking for help can be hard. Start with one or two friends or family members -- ones you know who will be good at mobilizing others on your behalf. Talk about the things you think you'll need/want during postpartum -- food, rest, light housework, errands, older child care, etc. Give them a timeline of when you think the help will be needed most. In other words, if your mother is coming to stay for two weeks, ask for help to begin after she leaves. If you're uncertain about receiving help from your village, look into hiring a postpartum doula to make sure the best kind of support will be there for you.
- Take recovery time seriously. Whether you have a vaginal birth or cesarean, your body and mind need time to recuperate, adjust, and adapt. Let go of pride and guilt and accept help that's offered and given. Put off the long list of to-dos in exchange for a very short list of must-dos (which should primarily include eating, sleeping, and baby snuggling). Consider your health is inseparable from your baby's -- and together, your health is paramount.
It Takes More than a Village
The Healthy People 2020 goal for maternal, infant, and child health is to improve the health and well-being of women, infants, children, and families, which includes specific measures to improve postpartum health. Improving postpartum health requires a system-wide approach from all players, including maternal child health care professionals, maternal child media sources, as well as from parents and families.