Together pregnancy and birth are processes that come with high anticipation for what is to come in the form of a new human life. They are heavily prepared and planned for. Ask a few expecting mothers and they will likely confirm having had at-length conversations with other moms about the expected changes to her body, the proper foods to eat, the correct exercises to perform, the upcoming pains of labor, etc. What is less commonly discussed however, maybe due to its lack of glamour, is what happens to mom’s body and mind after labor and delivery.
Let’s spend some time talking about this.
Progesterone and estrogen are essential to maintain a healthy fetus throughout pregnancy. After baby is delivered, there is no need for mom’s levels to remain elevated. With the hormone-producing placenta being removed, levels of progesterone and estrogen suddenly drop. This allows for the uterus to progressively regain its normal size and for a process called lochia to occur. Typically lasting 4-6 weeks, that menstrual-like blood flow is the body’s was of cleaning the uterus as it is shrinking. Varying from mom to mom is the discomfort and sometimes pains associated with that process. Not only are there hormonal changes for the uterus, there are also hormonal changes for mom’s milk to help feed and nurture baby. Colostrum, or the world’s best superfood is delivered for baby right after birth. Engorgement then ensues thanks to the hormone prolactin, also with its own breast discomfort which usually subsides quickly.
As all those changes and more are happening, such as the soreness typically associated to the vaginal area after birth, of high interest are the mental changes or what is commonly known as baby blues. It is again due to the drastic hormonal changes. Progesterone is a known antidepressant. Dropping to about a third of its pregnancy levels, that is the past 9 months for mom, it is easy to understand why mom might feel down and more susceptible to being stressed.
And with stress comes cortisol, a sneaky hormone that should normally be decreasing after birth.
The thing with cortisol is that it interferes with milk production, impeding with mom’s ability to provide nourishment for her beloved newborn. Unfortunately, that is not likely to help mom relax as she might begin to think something is wrong with her and her milk supply.
As you can see, all of these changes happening at once is why it is so crucial for new mamas to have support - no matter how many times they have already gone through pregnancy. With lack of support, comes stress, which brings the stress hormones, and can drastically change mom’s emotional state making the baby blues lasting more than the typical 10 days that physiologically “makes sense” in medical textbooks. With lack of sleep, the body is less in its “rest, digest and repair” or parasympathetic state, and mom’s body aches take longer to heal. Her body absorbs nutrients less, which can change her and baby’s digestive systems, etc.
How can we make things easier for moms during all these transitions?
We need to encourage them to ask for help and for support, either familial and/or professional, and be there as a friendly adult ear for them to talk to. Volunteer to do the laundry, cook a few meals, throw a blanket on top of their shoulders. Let’s show them we appreciate them and are there for them.
Moms, you are beautiful and strong. Everything you are going through is of the utmost selflessness and generosity. Who else can go through all those bodily and physiological changes in such a short period of time? You are doing a great job taking care of your little one because you are doing the best you can. We encourage you to take care of yourself too. And if you can, do not be afraid to delegate what you cannot or do not have time to do.
Raising a child is a team effort of which you are the obvious captain, just not a lone ranger.