PARENTS

The Changing Conversation Surrounding Postpartum Health

It's definitely for the better.

10/25/2017 15:03 EDT | Updated 10/25/2017 15:03 EDT
Getty Images

While "what to expect when you're expecting" is a standard, albeit evolving topic of discussion among expectant families, "what to expect after baby is born" and the topic of postpartum health has had much less of a foothold in mainstream conversation.

While some cultures place a significant emphasis on how both the mother and child are doing, the modern tendency in North America has been to focus on the health of the baby, and on mom getting back into pre-baby shape.

But that's not the case around the world.

Getty Images

In China, many mothers have a "fourth trimester," where the emphasis is placed on recovering from the trauma of birth, restoring balance, and learning the art of parenting from experts, explains China Simplified.

The tradition, known as zuo yuezi or "sitting the month," requires postpartum confinement for the new mother, and strict instructions to stay warm indoors, often not to shower, and to eat specific warming foods designed to encourage milk production.

At confinement centres, new mothers are 'hand-washed by two nurses, who wipe them down with washcloths steeped in Chinese medicine about once a week.'

As NPR reports, in recent years confinement centres have sprung up, ranging from basic to boutique. At a five-star centre in Beijing, new mothers are "hand-washed by two nurses, who wipe them down with washcloths steeped in Chinese medicine about once a week," a tweak on the traditional "no washing" policy.

Finnish mothers, meanwhile, are reported to be among the happiest in the world; it follows that the support and care shown to them by their national government could play it to that overall sentiment of well-being.

Getty Images

Finland's now famous baby boxes are part of a government-funded program dating back to the '30s, that distributes a box of necessities for newborns to any expectant mother who visits a doctor or pre-natal clinic before the fourth month of pregnancy.

The box contains an assortment of essentials such as diapers, clothing, outerwear, linens, toys, as well as bra pads, condoms, and a small mattress, which placed in the bottom of the box itself becomes baby's first bed. The project has even made its way to Canada, though not through the government.

A simple search on social media shows far greater popularity for the hashtag #postbabybody vs. #postpartumhealth

More common in North America is a focus on recovery from pregnancy and delivery in a strangely glamourized way. A simple search on social media shows far greater popularity for the hashtag #postbabybody vs. #postpartumhealth, but the conversation is changing.

But Canadians are becoming increasingly aware and vocal about the importance of postpartum health, and Jamie Kalynuik owner of Toronto Yoga Mamas, has borne witness to this welcome shift.

"In the past five years we have seen a significant increase in conversations in our studio around postpartum health," she tells HuffPost Canada. Some of the services on offer include massages, acupuncture and yoga specifically geared towards postpartum.

Richard Baker via Getty Images
A young mother grabs a few minutes to exercise her pelvic floor muscles three weeks after giving birth. From a documentary series about the first year a child's life. (In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

"Mamas are talking about this topic in our mom groups, in our yoga classes, and the pelvic floor physiotherapy services in our wellness centre are being booked out weeks in advance."

Postpartum pelvic floor physiotherapy helps repair trauma to the pelvic floor suffered during pregnancy and delivery, where muscles are often stretched and torn. If the muscles are not properly rehabilitated, new moms can develop incontinence, lower back pain, and discomfort during intercourse, as well as prolapsed organs in later life.

We know what keeps moms from seeking help, and it's this feeling of, 'I'm so ashamed and uncomfortable.'

Another issue facing new moms is postpartum depression (PPD), which can affect one in seven women, according to the American Psychological Association. As with mental health in general, the stigma surrounding PPD can keep many women from speaking out about it.

"We know what keeps moms from seeking help, and it's this feeling of, 'I'm so ashamed and uncomfortable,'" Karen Kleiman, founder and director of the Postpartum Stress Center in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, told HuffPost Canada last year. "Women are still afraid to talk about what they're feeling, and providers are still not asking the right questions."

Thankfully, we are seeing the stigma surrounding PPD beginning to lift, thanks in part to outspoken celebs like Chrissy Teigen who are vocal about their own struggles with anxiety and depression.

Neil Mockford via Getty Images
Chrissy Teigen with her daughter Luna, on Sept. 12, 2017 in London. (Neil Mockford/GC Images)

"When I was in the midst of everything, I could never imagine myself on the other side of it ... but the bad days do not outweigh the good days anymore," the model and mom of Luna, 1, told Refinery 29 in April.

There's also plenty of resources to be found that combat the feeling of going it alone, from public health nurse visits (check with your provincial health ministry for more information) to online mom groups such as The Rebel Mama and forums from Baby Center, where conversations about PPD or pelvic floor issues are as common as a thread on stroller-accessible coffee shops.

It's clear the dialogue surrounding postpartum health is changing. Respect and supporting women can help empower them to know and understand their minds and bodies, and to take charge of their health. The conversation has undoubtedly begun, and through education and openness, hopefully it will continue.

Also on HuffPost: