Life After Baby: Thriving in the Journey to Parenthood

by Jenny Everett King- Childbirth Educator and Prenatal & Postpartum Yoga Teacher

Recently I asked a group of mom friends, “What do you wish you had known about parenting before your baby was born?” Here are just a few of their responses:

  • That when your child is born, especially first children, the whole world shifts (it’s a bit like the way it shifts when someone dies – only the outcome is more positive) and it’s normal to feel like everything’s tilted, like in those V8 commercials, for awhile until you adjust to the HUGE change that just happened.
  • You will scare yourself by how much you worry about your baby, and while you will continue to worry more now than you ever did before you were a parent, the scary-obsessive worrying will subside enough that you feel halfway normal again.
  • I wish someone told me how crazy my hormones would make me! Everything made me cry the first few weeks. Commercials, cards in the mail, looking at my baby sleeping, being home alone with the baby for the first time.

A common thread runs through these responses as well as many others I received, namely, a feeling of being completely overwhelmed. Perhaps more than anything else, what characterizes the early weeks (and often months) of parenting is a feeling of being in WAY over your head!

I can remember taking my daughter home from the hospital, amazed that the staff would just let us walk out the door with such a tiny, vulnerable life. When I thought about the fact that my husband and I were the two people in the world ultimately responsible for her, I was terrified. I see this same fear reflected in the face of nearly every new mom I work with. It’s there regardless of age, income, or relationship status. It’s there in women who have had years of experience with small children. It’s there in the families who have spent years trying to conceive as well as those who were shocked to learn they were pregnant. To an outsider, this kind of fear in a new parent may be concerning. New parents often feel like they have no idea what they are doing! However, personal and professional experience alike have shown me that this feeling is a fundamental part of becoming a parent. Just like the intense sensations of childbirth, the majority of the time, the emotions of the early parenting weeks are normal, natural, and healthy.

For the mother, physical recovery from pregnancy and birth are a lengthy process. Her body must literally transition from “pregnant” to “parent.”  The uterus takes weeks to return to its non-pregnant size, the joints of the hips may take weeks to mend, the uterus bleeds daily as the placental site heals. In the meantime, her breasts go through dramatic and amazing changes to provide continued nourishment for her baby. All of these processes are generated by sharp changes in hormone levels, which affect the emotions as well as the body.

Partners also experience their share of strong emotions in the weeks following birth. Many have just witnessed the person they love most endure the difficult, ecstatic, life-changing journey that is birth. But more than the that, the profound responsibility of having a child can weigh heavily on fathers in particular. It is crucial to remember that partners go thought their own transition  to becoming a parent, and like any change, emotions may be mixed. Anatole France writes, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Many parents experience a sense of loss over their lives prior to having children, and why shouldn’t they? The days of sleeping late (or a full eight hours), of acting spontaneously, of leading a self-determined existence are long gone. If feelings of loss surface, it is important to acknowledge them personally, to have a support network of friends and family, and to speak with a professional counselor if the feelings become overwhelming.

What do new parents need to thrive during the major transition of the postpartum period? First, the basic needs must be met: adequate fluids, nutritious food, and as much sleep as possible. (Of course, it’s highly likely that no amount of sleep will feel sufficient!) In addition, the whole family needs support from other responsible, understanding adults, who can help with cooking, cleaning, and baby care on occasion. It is helpful if parents recognize in advance that the postpartum period is challenging for everyone, and that feeling overwhelmed or fearful does not mean you are a bad parent. A support group of other new parents can help normalize these feelings, as well as offer friendships with other mothers and fathers at the same life stage. And of course, help keep the whole family healthy with natural wellness care! Planning for the changes inherent in the postpartum period will help the whole family thrive during the amazing journey to parenthood.

Healing Hands Chiropractic offers many treatments to build health during pregnancy and postpartum, including Webster Technique chiropractic care, Mother Massage®, Mama Prenatal and Mama & Baby Postpartum yoga, and a free weekly support group, Mommy Connection. We partner with Elliot Hospital’s Postpartum Depression Task Force to raise awareness and offer emotional support to new families.

Massage During & After Pregnancy

by Shalon Da~Nai Spaulding, LMT
Massage Therapy is beneficial to everyone, especially the expectant mother.  Pregnancy is a time of great change for a woman.  From the continuous changes in her body to the overall transition as she journeys toward motherhood, there is much to process.  It is a time of great joy and excitement, but with that can also come physical discomfort and mental or emotional stress.

Prenatal massage
is customized to alleviate the physical discomforts of pregnancy and prepare the body for birth. During pregnancy the center of gravity shifts as the baby grows.  This causes changes in posture, starting at the pelvis and affecting  the neck and shoulders.  Muscular tension and inflammation are common side affects of this shift.  The body produces the hormone relaxin to help joint mobility.  Relaxin causes all ligaments in the body to soften, stretch and weaken.  As a result, women may develop carpal tunnel syndrome, pelvic pain, and/or other joint pains.

Pregnancy affects nearly all systems of the body. Sinus congestion and constipation are often an issue. Breathing and digestion are affected as the baby grows, compressing and displacing organs within the mother’s body.  Skeletal position also changes. As the baby grows, it lifts and widens the rib cage up to 3 inches.  The pelvis also widens to prepare for birth.  All of these changes may affect each mother uniquely, and massage can help ease the ensuing discomforts.

Stress during pregnancy is common, as it is a major life change.  Many practitioners believe that everything the mother feels, the baby also feels.  Stress affects hormone levels within both mother and child, and this can affect fetal development.  The best thing an expectant mom can do for her baby is to stay relaxed and promote feelings of love and well being within herself.
Studies have shown that women who received pregnancy massage not only experienced lower levels of stress hormones and fewer common discomforts, but also had fewer complications during labor and fewer premature births than those who did not receive massage.*
*Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 20, 31-38

Benefits of Prenatal Massage:
~Reduces stress levels
~Eases back and pelvic pain caused by changes in posture
~Reduces swelling of feet and ankles
~Improves skin elasticity, reducing stretch marks
~Improves sleep
~Improves digestion

~Reduces sinus congestion
~Relaxes and soothes baby

The effects of pregnancy do not end after the baby has been delivered.  The body takes time to shift back to its original alignment.  Trigger points that developed may still cause pain, stiffness and weakness in the muscles.  The body continues to create the hormone relaxin for up 4 months postpartum, and this perpetuates the excessive flexibility and weakness in joints. It can be hard for a new mother to focus on anything but her new child, but it is important to realize that time spent caring for herself enables her to care for her baby in the best way possible.

Benefits of Postpartum Massage:
~Brings the body back to pre-pregnancy alignment
~Helps with tension and muscle pain of the neck, shoulders & low back
~Aids in returning the uterus to normal size
~Soothes digestive trouble
~Energizes and helps to eliminate fatigue
~Balances hormones & sleep cycle
~Decreases stress and the effects of depression

Shalon Da~Nai Spaulding is a NH Licensed Massage Therapist.  She is Certified in Pregnancy Massage and Postpartum Massage.  Shalon also offers labor support techniques and Infant Massage classes.

All practitioners at Healing Hands Chiropractic specialize in prenatal and postpartum care, including chiropractic, acupuncture, reiki, and yoga. We also offer workshops in pregnancy, childbirth, and wellness.