Postpartum care starts when you are pregnant! Women who have a healthy pregnancy and labour find that they are able to recover better during the postpartum period.
During pregnancy and labour, there are numerous physical and hormonal changes that occur. These physical and hormonal changes help optimise your body to house, feed, nurture, and protect your growing baby.
For some of us, these changes may cause some discomfort such as pelvis, back and neck pain, swelling, dizziness, skin and hair changes, fatigue, constipation, nausea and vomiting.
Thankfully, most of these discomforts can be managed and relieved with exercise, good nutrition and massages!
For healthy pregnant women, regular exercise will help with your mental and physical well-being. It can help ease constipation, backaches, and swelling, keep your cardiovascular system strong, reduce your risk of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and prepare your body for labour and birth. Being physically fit during pregnancy will also help with your recovery postpartum.
Some examples of exercises that are beneficial during the prenatal period are walking, swimming, yoga, Pilates, GYROTONIC, strength training and stationary bike cycling.
Pregnancy massage is also a wonderful self-care tool which can help improve relaxation and reduce stress. It also can help to reduce swelling by improving circulation and reduce back and joint pain by relieving muscle tension.
Good nutrition is also essential to optimise the growth and development of your baby and to maintain your own health during pregnancy and postpartum. Ensuring you get an adequate amount of macronutrients, such as protein, fat and carbohydrates, and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, can help prevent or reduce dizziness, nausea, constipation, fatigue, skin and hair changes. A good prenatal vitamin and a balanced whole foods diet will help ensure that you are getting the nutrition you need.
The immediate first 3 months postpartum has also been dubbed the fourth trimester. During these months, there are a lot of physical, hormonal and mental changes with the first six weeks often being the most challenging. Your hormones will be adjusting with rapid increases and decreases, your organs, muscles, tendons and ligaments will also be returning to their previous positions and your breast milk will start to come in. The first few months are also full of big moments as you adapt to your new life with a new child. By understanding this period and knowing what to expect, it can help you be more prepared, recover faster and be kind to yourself throughout the whole process.
The fourth trimester should be devoted to caring for your child and your body and adapting to the changes in your new life. The area that tends to take the most toll from pregnancy and labour is our abdomen and pelvic floor. The human body is resilient and returns to its former function fairly quickly. Adequate rest with postpartum confinement, and postnatal massages are also useful to help this process along.
While postnatal care in Singapore is often only with your obstetrician, it is recommended to also do a pelvic floor and abdominal assessment with a pelvic floor therapist 6 weeks postpartum. The pelvic floor therapist can then prescribe massages, exercise therapy, manual therapy or surgery if needed. Some signs that you might need more help include incontinence, muscle and joint instability, back pain and/or a larger than normal belly (diastasis recti) many months postpartum.
A focus on diet and nutrition is also important during the fourth trimester for healing. While weight loss may occur naturally, the fourth trimester is not a period to be concerned about weight loss. Adequate nutrition and calories are needed for your body to heal and to provide breast milk for your baby. If you have been observing good nutrition during pregnancy, do continue postpartum. You should keep taking your prenatal vitamin. Certain minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, B vitamins, Vitamin D, Iron and Omega 3s are especially important postpartum.
Most importantly, do take the time during your pregnancy to create a postpartum plan. The plan can help you identify what your needs will be postpartum and what resources are available to you and your family to adjust to life with a new baby. The plan may include needs such as meal preparation and chores, support for older siblings, newborn feeding support and self-care. By identifying and engaging the resources before they are needed, this will help reduce stress and ease the transition during the postpartum period, allowing the mother to get the rest they need.