For some strange reason, we are led to believe that we bounce back from child birth; bounce back into our pre-pregnancy clothes, bounce into motherhood easily without actually having the time to learn how it all works, and bounce joyfully into this new life as a parent. The reality is starkly different.
Motherhood is a bittersweet transition into a life where your body shape has changed, your relationship with your partner has changed and your view of yourself, and the world, has changed. Let’s not take it so lightly, let’s be a little kinder to ourselves and our fellow new Mums.
We might be bombarded with images of celebrities weeks after giving birth, back in their jeans, rocking their ‘post-baby bod’, but what they don’t share is the sleep deprivation, the short tempers, the noisy siblings waking the baby, and maybe even the nanny who looks after the night feeds. There is so much we don’t see in this heavily curated and image saturated world that we live in, but it doesn’t stop us from believing that we are a little bit average at this motherhood gig.
The good news is there is now research to prove that it can take up to a year to recover post birth. A study that was done by researchers at Salford University in Manchester, England found that the ‘six week’ recovery is a complete myth and for the majority of women it takes much longer to feel normal again.
The study was seeking to determine how long post-birth recovery really did take, so participants were interviewed at two to three weeks after giving birth, three months, and six to seven months after birth. Many women felt that the standard six week check, which marks the end of pregnancy care, was too soon and they did not feel they were fully recovered. The leader of the study concluded that it can take up to 12 month before a new mother feels like herself again.
Part of the issue is that new mothers are being discharged from hospital too soon after birth and do not have time to learn the basics – often they are sent home before their milk comes in, and in some cases before they have a chance to be shown basic tasks like how to bath their baby. Giving birth in a private hospital provides the opportunity for a longer stay, but this is out of reach for many average Australians, with the cost of health insurance and the separate cost of an obstetrician being between $5,000 and $10,000.
In past generations there was more of a community approach, with extended family and friends supporting new mothers. This ‘village’ approach has fallen away, leaving many women home alone with their babies for long hours with no support. Therefore, a greater swing towards online social communities to fill that void.
While the physical recovery may occur within that six to eight week window, this is just one facet of recovery. Women need to make an emotional and psychological transition to motherhood, which can be difficult, especially when the woman is very independent, both emotionally and financially. Motherhood disrupts this independence and can deeply affect a woman’s feelings about the overall experience of motherhood.
Post-birth recovery can be difficult, not just physically, but on many levels. The research has shown that the six-week recovery is a myth. With all this in mind, be prepared to feel off kilter while you adjust to your new life. If you feel more than ‘off kilter’ for longer than two weeks it’s worth paying a visit to your GP or mentioning it to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, so you can be sure you are getting the support you need.