The postnatal period is another stage in the parenthood continuum. You carry your baby, give birth to it, then you breastfeed it and care for it throughout their lives. Many call the stage following childbirth the fourth trimester, even if the pregnancy is in and of itself over.
In this article, I am thrilled to present to you the findings of my master’s degree thesis in clinical sciences I completed at the University of Sherbrooke. I wrote it on the needs of primipara mothers (first baby) after a short hospital stay.
You will see that the needs of new mothers, which I will talk about below, are not really different from one woman to another. I will deal with physical and psychological needs as well as support needs.
After childbirth, the uterus weighs 1kg, the cervix will take about 20 days to return to normal, and stretched ligaments will take several weeks to retract and support the pelvic floor.
At the outset, it’s essential to consider that a mother of a first baby will have an average period of labour and delivery of about 10-14 hours. So it’s easy to understand that the needs they have during the postnatal period will be different than those felt by mothers who gave birth to their third baby after three or four hours.
The postnatal period represents a significant physical recovery phase. New mothers expressed the physical need to sleep elsewhere when I interviewed them in the hospital after childbirth and then one week later in the home. Many factors can explain this, as a pregnant woman’s sleep is difficult throughout pregnancy, especially towards the end with her enormous tummy. Her sleep can be disturbed by insomnia, frequent urination, physical ailments…which means her energy reserves are not high, and the physical requirements of childbirth deplete them even further. So it’s easy to understand that, in the face of these stressors, she will express the need rest, relax and recharge her batteries.
At the physical level, we know that a new mother’s respiratory function will go back to normal in about four weeks. For her heart function, it can take a good six weeks to go back to normal. For water retention, it can take between a couple of days to 2-3 weeks to eliminate the surplus via frequent urination and abundant sweating.
Ideally, you have to encourage the new mother to lie down as much as possible during the first days postnatal. This is to avoid overloading muscles, which have not regained tone and support.
The need to eat to regenerate her tired body and the need to move (restart her daily activities without pain) are both also important.
Her intestinal function will return to her normal elimination pace over time, depending on her system. No two women are alike in this regard.
Regarding psychological needs, it’s clear that the vast majority of new mothers feel the need to be alone with their baby and partner (need for intimacy) to build links in the days after childbirth. She wants to discover her baby as a family, rediscover her partner, and learn to discover the other in their new parent status.
The data collected show that during the first five days, physical needs are a higher priority for a new mother: need to sleep, rest, peace, respite, to eat and to relieve pain.
Furthermore, the need to communicate her experience, her story, and to talk about her concerns seem to be a priority for new mothers when staying in the hospital. That said, at home a week later, they prioritise the need to learn, acquire knowledge and skills over more physical needs. Reorganising her new routine with her baby is a concern shared by almost all mothers I interviewed. Feeling reassured and encourage are also part of the psychological needs they expressed. A new mother needs caring, gratitude and tenderness, to feel that what she accomplished was grand and beautiful. She has to feel she is supported, helped and protected. She has to distance herself from the notion that she is not perfect or able to do everything for her baby. She appreciates being reassured about her learning process, and those around her should keep repeating that perfection and performance are concepts that should be forgotten.
Concerning the need for a support network for parents, new mothers prefer it when help is offered, not asked for. Knowing that she has people around her she can depend on, count on seems to have a positive effect on mothers adapting to their new role. Formal help from the health network offered directly in the hospital or at home during postnatal visits is very much appreciated by first-time parents, mainly for the teaching and encouragements.
The data collected show that during the first five days, physical needs are a higher priority for a new mother: need to sleep, rest, peace, rest, peace, respite, to eat and relieve pain. Be careful! Limit the number of visitors at the hospital and back home. Choose the times you want to have visitors.
Then, with increased stress and learning demands after returning home, I noted that psychological needs become more critical. A new mother needs to feel reassured, encouraged, listened to, understood and supported in this transition to becoming a mother. She needs the right people to help out, and this is beneficial for the new parents. Having a trusted person, when required, is a priority! It’s not always easy to ask, but it’s incredibly helpful!
I hope this article has helped you demystify the primary needs of first-time mothers experienced in the immediate postnatal period. This should help you better handle this period, and understand that you may not always be confident or secure. Time heals all…and the role of mother is learned day by day throughout life. So take it one step at a time and adapt as best you can.
The Baby Expert
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