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Breastfeed. Be all hands on deck at home. Cook. Clean. Get back in shape. Eat healthy. Make time for your partner, your friends and your family. Crush it at work... while pumping... while looking stylish and feeling like yourself! The expectations on mamas these days are all-consuming and overwhelming, and finding your personal style that is both office and pumping friendly can be especially challenging.

Luckily, maternity and breastfeeding clothing has been on the rise and, to this day, continues to gain momentum. And thanks to big retailers and smaller brands alike, the modern mama can now create a professional wardrobe that looks and feels good and that allows her to step out of meetings to pump that liquid gold out with ease (and without having to strip down to her underwear).

Want to make your office attire pumping friendly? Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when putting your work outfit together.

1. Get a few nursing or pumping friendly clothes. While you don't have to heavily invest in items with limited wearability, I think purchasing a handful of versatile pumping-friendly pieces will take any pumping working mama far (and ensure a return on the investment). Items such as the Elif dress from Mitera, the Layla dress from Loyal Hana or the Chloe dress from Teat & Cosset. While your breastfeeding days may have a shelf life, these beautiful items can be worn beyond. No one will even know that they were meant for your breastfeeding days.

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2. Stock up on nursing basics from more affordable brands like H&M, ASOS or Old Navy that can be worn on repeat from work to weekend and that you won’t mind donating when your breastfeeding and pumping days are over. I am loving this versatile wrap top from ASOS, this crepe top from H&M worn with anything from polished pants to jeans, and this cotton nursing t-shirt from Old Navy, which could be styled under a blazer for work, or as-is on the weekends.

3. Pack a pumping bustier with you. You won't want to wear it under your clothes all day long, but once you're ready for your pumping session, it will give you the hand-free mobility you need to keep working if and when needed.

4. Always carry an oversized wrap. Like that, if you choose to wear a non-nursing friendly item to the office, you will always have coverage on hand. Consider this oversized wrap from Madewell and this spring floral style from Anthropologie.

5. It's all about boob access. When shopping for non-nursing brand items, pay attention to necklines that allow for easy access to the breast. Items such as button downs, and wrap tops/dresses work best. We love this belted shirt dress from DVF and wrap jumpsuit from Ulla Johnson.

6. Wear a nursing tank as a first layer. This will give you the flexibility to wear most silhouettes on top. This first layer will give you pumping coverage and easy access to the breast at the same time. We love this v-neck style from Ingrid and Isabel via Gap and this style from Bravado.

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Image from Simple Wishes.

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Before I had a baby, postpartum depression (PPD) was something I only heard about on the fringes of motherhood. It would occasionally get brought up among mom friends, but only in the tightest of circles and usually in whispered tones conveying depths of shame I couldn't quite understand.

Every so often, I would see a magazine article citing women who admitted (again, in voices heavy with shame) that they didn't immediately bond with their baby. That they felt soul-crushing sadness after giving birth. That they felt wholly unable to mother properly.

When PPD was mentioned (which wasn't often), it always seemed to follow the same formula: a lack of bonding with the baby, followed by extreme sadness that could last for months―or even years after birth. And long before I ever had a baby, it was clear to me that the majority of women I knew who suffered didn't want anyone to know about it.

Years later, and with two births under my belt, I'm grateful to say that I've seen some things change. Slowly, but with increasing pace, I see more and more parenting communities shaking off the stigma of PPD. I see more and more women breaking the silence and coming forward with stories of their own. I see more and more compassion for the one in every seven moms who experience postpartum depression each year—that's over 500,000 mamas.

And, even more surprisingly, I see a greater understanding of just how varied the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can be. Because, the fact is, PPD rarely looks the same for any mama―and it can be especially hard to explain feelings that feel unique to you. The experts at Allegheny Health Network get it. They've made it their mission to not only bring more understanding to postpartum mood disorders, but also to help every mom break their silence and remove the stigma of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Here's what some of the women they've worked with want you to know.

When I say "I'm feeling lonely," what I mean is... I feel alone in my suffering.

The trickiest part of PPD? You probably look exactly the same on the outside. In many cases, women continue to power through their daily routines so it can be easy to miss their suffering. "You feel like you're drowning," says Heather, a PPD survivor and an Allegheny Health Network patient. "[But] physically looking at me or at anyone that suffers from something like this, you can't see it. That's what makes it so difficult."

How to help: If you know a new mama, don't assume she's doing okay just because her life isn't obviously going up in flames. Check in. Ask about her health, not just her baby's. And let her know you're a judgment-free place to share.

When I say "I'm not feeling how I thought I would," what I mean is... motherhood isn't bringing me joy.

As moms, we're expected to feel an almost blissful happiness every second of pregnancy and motherhood. But for many women, that happiness seems to evade them―and it often doesn't come the moment they're handed their new baby―leading them to feel like they're already failing as a mother. "I felt so guilty because, here I am, I have this new, adorable baby who doesn't cry and is fantastic," says Ashleigh, a PPD survivor and Allegheny Health Network patient. "I didn't want to seem ungrateful."

How to help: Many mothers with PPD feel guilty for it. One of the best ways to lessen the load? Sharing your own story. It's normal not to immediately connect with your baby (you did just meet them, after all!), and the more stories we hear of strong connections that took a bit of time, the easier it will be for new moms to talk about it.

When I say "I don't feel like myself," what I mean is... I'm getting overwhelmed with anxiety and/or anger.

Sadness is just one of the possible symptoms of PPD. For many women, the condition manifests itself as extreme anxiety, OCD (especially worrying about bad things happening to their babies), and even rage. "Before I personally experienced postpartum depression, I thought, that's only for people that feel like harming themselves or harming their children," Heather says. But the truth is, PPD can look different for everyone―and it can affect anyone. "I never thought that I personally would have postpartum depression because I like to laugh and make jokes about everything," Ashleigh says.

How to help: Postpartum depression and anxiety doesn't discriminate―anyone can be affected. Look for signs that your new mama pal is feeling out of sorts. She might say she lost her temper or that she feels extra frazzled, not necessarily that she's feeling sad, but these can still be symptoms of a greater issue. You can have a more objective view of her feelings even when she can't.

When I say "I don't know how I feel," what I mean is…we still have a lot to learn.

So many symptoms of PPD are similar to general depression and anxiety, it can be scary for a new mom who isn't sure what's wrong with her. "I didn't know how to distinguish from it being...depression or anxiety versus it just being motherhood. I think part of the cure was just discovering that I had postpartum," says Chrissy Teigen, who is Allegheny Health Network's partner. "It was just such a sigh of relief that we can fix this."

How to help: Remember that you don't need to fix her symptoms―you just need to be there when she needs you. Be a listening ear, and remind her that there's no shame in needing help.

This article is sponsored by ahnwomen. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.
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Car seats are obviously meant to be used in the car, but in recent years the designs of modern infant car seats have made them so portable many parents keep babies in them even outside of the vehicle. Many parents arrive at a destination, take the whole car seat out and lug it inside so their babies can keep sleeping.

But now, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending against this after a new study published in the journal Pediatrics found that a significant number of infant deaths are occurring in car seats that aren't being used in the car, but rather as a substitute for a crib or bassinet, especially when babies are in the care of a childcare provider.

Researchers investigated 11,779 infant sleep-related deaths over the course of a decade and found that 348 (3%) babies died in sitting devices, most of which (63%) were car seats that were not being used for their intended purpose. The remaining deaths happened in bouncers or swings (35%) and strollers (2%).

When the pediatricians looked into infant deaths that occurred in bouncers and swings, they learned most happened when the baby was at home with a parent. But they noted that when it comes to car seats, more babies were under the care of a childcare provider. "There are higher odds of sleep-related infant death in sitting devices when a child care provider or baby-sitter is the primary supervisor," they wrote.

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There have been several highly publicized cases of this in recent years. Ali Dodd lost her 11-week-old son Shepard in 2015 after he was put down for a nap in his infant car seat while at an in-home day care. It was only his sixth day in day care.

Dodd now advocates tirelessly for safe sleep and paid family leave in the hopes of preventing deaths like Shepard's. She's pleased to see the AAP drawing attention to data proving that sleeping in inclined sleepers and sitting devices is dangerous for babies. "The more this is talked about that more likely parents will accept this as fact. Babies should always be placed on their backs, alone in their crib or Pack N' Play for every sleep time," Dodd tells Motherly.

She continues: "If my son had been placed in a safe sleep environment I would likely still be watching him grow up. That's a privilege I want for more American families."

Parents, childcare providers, grandparents and anyone else who watches a baby should be aware that car seats are not a safe place for naps when used outside the car.

Children are going to fall asleep in their car seats while in a moving vehicle from time to time, and parents shouldn't panic about that—the seats are made to be used in the car. As noted in a study The Journal of Pediatrics, when car seats are used as directed by the manufacturer's guidelines, babies have a very low risk of suffocation or strangulation from the harness straps.

The danger is when the seats are used on the floor, a table or a bed. Instead of letting a baby sleep in a car seat the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies nap and sleep "on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet." There should be no soft bedding, pillows, toys or bumpers in the crib.

Bottom line: Car seats save lives when used in the car, but they are absolutely not a replacement for a bassinet or a crib, and everyone who is taking care of babies should know this.

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It's hard to believe that summer is upon us... wasn't it snowing and dark outside at 4 p.m., like, yesterday? Now the days are longer, the kiddos are starting to wrap up their school years, and as luck would have it, all the retailers are offering MAJOR deals in honor of Memorial Day.

Need to invest in a new bike for the summer? We got you. Time to restock the kids bathing suits? Got you there, too. Desperate to get yourself a new mattress, but don't want to pay full price? Fear not, we've still got you!

We checked in with our absolute favorite brands to find out what deals they're offering, and we corralled all that info into one tidy story.

Here are all the best online sales for this week and weekend. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Home

Parachute: Get 20% off the entire site, including towels, sheets, duvet inserts, pillows, rugs and more.

Wayfair: Get 60% off backyard play items, 65% off patio furniture, and 50% off grills and fire pits.

Cost Plus World Market: Up to 50% on outdoor furniture and top sellers.

Target: Up to 30% off patio and home items, 25% off grilling favorites and 20% off select Lego sets.

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BuyBuyBaby: 20% off Bob strollers, $30 off Stokke highchairs, 20% of many nursery furniture brands and more!

Walmart: Get massive discounts sitewide, including home, kitchen, kids and outdoor gear.

Best Buy: Get up to 40% off appliances.

Maisonette: Shop the brand's biannual home sale, which is happening this weekend.

Pottery Barn: Up to 50% off all outdoor items.

Pottery Barn Kids: Up to 60% off kids furniture, bedding and decor.

West Elm: Up to 40% off outdoor furniture.

Grandin Road: Get 30% off all outdoor furniture this weekend.

Frontgate: Up to 25% off outdoor furniture, outdoor entertaining essentials and pool and beach gear.

Dyson: Get $100 off the Dyson V8 Absolute and Dyson Ball Animal 2 and $150 off the Dyson Pure Hot+Cool Link HP02.

Mixbook: Get 50% off $149+, 40% Off $99+, or 30% off sitewide with code: DADSGRADSA.DADSGRADSA.

Williams-Sonoma: Get 20% off all outdoor cooking and dining essentials.

All Modern: From May 22 (starting at 9AM) to May 28, take up to 65% off + an extra 15% off with code LETSGO.

Joybird: Get 30% off couches, chairs, ottomans, beds and more.

Houzz: Up to 80% off outdoor essentials, bathroom vanities, bar stools, area rugs and more.

Artifact Uprising: Receive a code for your free 5 x 5" Color Series Photo Book after any purchase (a $20 value).

We Are Knitters: Up to 25% off on select kits and yarn balls.

S'well: Take advantage of a rare sale from this water bottle brand.

Lumens: Save up to 50% on modern lighting, fans and furniture.

Brooklinen: Get 10% off your first order.

Snowe Home: Spend $300 in May, get a $50 credit to home essentials brand in June.

Lulu and Georgia: 15% off $300 (code: GOOD); 20% off $600 (code: BETTER), 25% off $900 (code: BEST).

Lovesac: Up to 35% off sactionals.

Sleep

Marpac: Up to $300 off Yoga Sleep mattresses and 25% off all bedding accessories, including sheets, pillows and the new weighted blanket.

Parachute: Get 20% off the brand's new luxury mattress.

Eight Sleep: $200 off and free in-home delivery.

Bear: 20% off the purchase of a mattress, plus two free pillows with the code MD20.

Tempurpedic: Up to $700 off select mattress sets, plus 25% off pillows and bedding.

Cocoon by Sealy: $150 off all Cocoon Chill mattresses plus two free pillows and a free set of sheets ($337 Total Value).

Lull: $150 off any size mattress purchase.

Sapira: 18% off all mattresses, plus two free pillows with the purchase of a mattress.

Zinus: 15% off Zinus Exclusive Mattresses and platform beds.

Helix: $100 off a mattress and two free pillows with code MDW100, $150 off a purchase of $1,250+ and two free pillows with code MDW150, $200 off a purchase of $1,750+ with code MDW200.

Nectar: $125 off a mattress, plus two free pillows.

Layla: $125 off a mattress plus two free pillows.

Wayfair: Save 31% on all Nora mattresses.

Allswell: 15% off mattresses and 30% off all bedding with code SUMMER.

Purple: Up to $100 off a mattress, plus a free set of sheets.

Tulo: With code MEMDAY, receive two free pillows and up to $378 off.

Ostrich Pillow: Take advantage of the travel pillow's 20% off flash sale on Memorial Day.

Lifestyle

Jack Rogers: Get up to 50% off the brand's iconic sandals.

Aurate: Depending on your order value, get up to 25% off the brand's fine jewelry.

Primary: Take advantage of one of our favorite kid clothing brand's massive warehouse sale, happening right now.

Anthropologie: Get an extra 25% off all sale items.

Kid Made Modern: 20% off all arts and crafts, 40% off apparel and home decor.

Paravel: Get 20% off the site's entire collection of sophisticated luggage and bags.

Antidote: Get 20% off sitewide with code MOTHERLY20.

ASOS: 25% off the entire site.

Target: Tees and tanks for the whole family starting at $4, swimwear starting at $8

Gap: Up to 50% off everything.

Old Navy: 50% off all tees, tanks, shorts and swim.

Prana: Select activewear styles are now 25% off.

Macy's: 20% off sale & clearance clothing & accessories, Jewelry, home items, watches.20% off sale & clearance clothing & accessories, Jewelry, home items, watches.

Shopbop: Up to 40% off 5,000+ styles.

M. Gemi: Get 25% off the site's gorgeous handmade Italian shoes that are currently on sale.

Mark & Graham: 20% off the sitewide with code SAVE20.

Nordstrom: Shop Nordstrom's Half yearly sale, with up to 50% off clothing, shoes and accessories.

Bloomingdales: The brand's Big Brown Bag sale is happening now, with up to 70% off site-wide.

Saks: Get up to 50% off the entire site.

Untuckit: Get 20% off sitewide, including the brand's famous no-tuck-necessary button-down shirts for men and women.

Holly & Tanager: 20% off the entire site.

Kipling: Buy one sale item get a second sale item 70% off through May 30.

Soma: Get 15% off your entire purchase or 30% off your purchase of $150 or more, or 40% your purchase of $200 or more. Get 15% off your entire purchase or 30% off your purchase of $150 or more, or 40% your purchase of $200 or more.

Beauty

Beautycounter: Get a free summer sun set with a $125 purchase.

Birchbox: This weekend only, get a two-for-one Birchbox discount.

Charlotte Tilbury: Get two free samples at checkout.

Stila: Get an extra 30% off sale items.

Algenist: Get 20% off $100, 25% off $200, 30% off $300.

The Body Shop: Get 40% of most of the site's items, and get a free American flag tote with a $60 purchase.

Make: 25% off all orders from May 23rd - May 27th with code MEMORIAL25OFF.

IGK: Get a free Airplane Mode Kit with a $40 purchase.

La-Roche Posay: 25% off when you spend $50; two free deluxe samples when you spend $65 with code MDW2019.

Clinique: Get a full-size freebie and a four-piece kit with any $55 purchase.

Shu Umera: Get a free mini paddle brush when you spend $85 with code FAST19.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy.You've got this.

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The routine use of episiotomies has been discouraged for a long time. Yet a recent report by USA Today has found that they are still being done at an alarming rate.

An episiotomy is an incision made at the opening of the vagina and into the perineum—the space between the vagina and the rectum—at the time of birth. The goal of an episiotomy is to enlarge the birth canal, providing more space for the baby to come out.

Episiotomies became very common in the mid 20th century. Providers believed that in addition to speeding up delivery, episiotomies would decrease the risk of vaginal and perineal tearing and injury, decrease the pressure put on the baby's head by the birth canal, and decrease the risk of shoulder dystocias (when a baby's shoulders get "stuck" in the pelvis, leading to a slower birth with high risk for complications).

The thing is: none of these are actually true.

Researchers have spent a lot of time looking at the differences between routine (meaning that they are standard protocol) and selective (used on a case by case, as needed basis) episiotomies.

Here's what they've found:

When it comes to shoulder dystocias, the problem is not happening in the vagina—the shoulders are "stuck" behind the pelvic bones. A larger vaginal opening does not change this.

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Lastly, episiotomies have a significant psychological impact on women—their lasting pain has proven to be a stressor for postpartum women, and I would venture to say that the emotional trauma has lasting effects as well.

Now, it's really important to note that like all interventions, sometimes episiotomies are necessary and really helpful. For example, if a special hand maneuver is needed to help deliver the baby in the event of certain complications, an episiotomy can give the provider more space to perform it. They may also help speed birth in the event that a vacuum or forceps become necessary.

The problem is that, as with many interventions, something that was intended to be used in emergency situations is being used routinely.

The World Health Organization believes that an episiotomy rate of about one out of 10 women may be appropriate, though many providers think it should be much lower still. For example, Kaiser hospitals in Northern California have a 3% episiotomy rate. For reference, I've attended hundreds of birth as a midwife and I have done maybe five episiotomies.

With all of this information then, the findings of a recent investigative report by USA Today are troubling: They found that some hospitals have episiotomy rates of 20 to 40%. A Cochran Review report corroborates this, finding a rate of 28% in some institutions.

To put it bluntly, this an unacceptable.

For a group of professionals who have taken an oath to do no harm, why are we performing an excessive number of harmful procedures? Fear and disconnection are the reasons for this.

Obstetrics is tied (with surgery) for the most commonly sued branch of medicine. And it should be—the stakes are really high. But the constant threat of legal action leads to fear, and it changes the way people work. There is the omnipresent fear that one day, someone will look back at any given birth and say, "Why didn't you do something to prevent this?"

And so we are on a constant quest to do. To speed things up, to use technology, to intervene.

Therein lies the disconnect. We are disconnected from the process of birth that happens on its own, powered by nature. We are disconnected from trusting women. And, we are disconnected from the actual human experience of transitioning into motherhood.

Let me be clear about two things:

  1. Many interventions are necessary. And when they are, it is a tremendously good thing that they exist.
  2. Not all providers are disconnected—most are wonderful, working with the best intentions and most up to date evidence backing their actions.

But the USA Today findings indicate that we urgently need to reevaluate how we are taking care of women.

Now, if you are planning on giving birth soon or in the future, these new findings are probably making you very nervous. Here's what you can do:

  1. Research. Ask your provider (current or potential) what their specific episiotomy rate is, as well as that of the place where they deliver babies.
  2. Remember that you are the "customer." You have a choice. If you went to a restaurant and they served gross food and were rude to you, you would not go back. If you have a medical provider with whom you do not feel comfortable, please do not feel like you have to stay with them. Don't worry about hurting anyone's feelings. Choose discomfort over resentment, and find a new provider.
  3. Get clear and what you want, and talk about it. Over and over again. If not having an episiotomy unless absolutely necessary is important to you, let everyone know. If you are writing out your birth plan, write "episiotomy only in an emergency scenario." When you have your prenatal appointments, talk to your provider about how you feel—if there are multiple providers, it's okay to talk to each of them about it. Don't assume that your message will be conveyed. When you are in labor, let your nurse know. If your nursing care changes shifts, let the next nurse know too. And when you start pushing, say it again. You are a lovely, polite person—don't worry about being "annoying" here. THIS IS YOUR BIRTH.

If you've already given birth and had an episiotomy, you may be completely at peace with it. It may have been necessary, and you may be very relieved to have had the experience that you had. If all that is true, then that is awesome!

But if you are concerned about the experience you had:

  1. Ask questions. In the intensity of birth, especially in the event of an emergent situation, there is potential for miscommunication. Call your provider and ask them for a birth debriefing, so that they can go through what happened and answer questions.
  2. Escalate. If you feel that you have been wronged or violated, consider speaking with a local or national patient rights organization. Childbirth Connection is a great place to start.
  3. Find a therapist. It is estimated that 9% of women experience post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after giving birth. So if you are having really difficult emotions regarding your birth, please know that they are real and valid, and you are not alone. Seek out a therapist who specializes in PTSD or women's health (or better yet, both), and get support as you work through this challenge.
  4. Find a pelvic floor physical therapist. If you have lingering pain, incontinence (peeing or pooping when you don't mean to), uncomfortable sex or any other concerns, there is help—this doesn't have to be "the way it is now." A pelvic floor physical therapist can work with you to regain your strength and comfort.

And we have to keep talking about it. Because ultimately this is a human rights issue. We need to do better.

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News

Mama, you deserve more support and way less judgment. Because the truth is American mothers are carrying heavy burdens that are so ubiquitous and yet so secretive we can only assume we are alone in our struggles.

But, mama, it's society that's failing, not you.

Motherhood is way harder than it should be because the deck is stacked against women. We live in a culture that gives lip service to the importance of family, but sees investment in children and parents as an "entitlement" too far. We operate in a business climate that prizes consumption and profitability above all—leaving families, and especially women, behind in its wake. We're citizens in a country where "women's issues" are seen as side issues, rather than foundational challenges of our society.

We, as mothers, are all too often left to figure out the biggest transformation of our lives—one rife with physical, mental, financial and relationship stress—in the midst of a radically individualistic society that at times almost blames us for having children. Can't afford childcare? It's your fault for not making more money. Struggle to breastfeed? You're not trying hard enough. Coping with undiagnosed postpartum depression? Pull it together.

The finger pointing is everywhere except where it should be: at a society and structures that haven't evolved to support women, children and families.

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In order for change to begin we have to first understand the problem:

Motherhood isn't supported: In generations past, adult children typically used to settle near their parents and raise their own offspring in highly-connected, intergenerational settings. That meant grandma would watch the baby while mama recovered from childbirth or that sisters traded childcare duties to allow time for housekeeping. While multigenerational living is actually at a high point in recent American history for largely financial reasons, the elements that define our vision of a village have been overridden by demands that cause people to work longer.

We now stand in a time where the villages that used to define the experience of parenthood have largely gone away—yet no other support has been put in their place. Grandparents are busy working long into retirement. A transient generation often doesn't have support next door. People cannot rely on "traditional" sources of backup—or relief.

With such a dearth of support and a struggling economy, the American birthrate—once a fertile outlier in the Western world—in recent years has dramatically declined. Women are choosing to wait longer to have children, and then have fewer kids overall. In many cases, they're having fewer children than they would ideally want to have because motherhood is just that hard. Even before they have children, women sense a lack of support that makes motherhood overwhelming—it's this anxiety that sells books and fuels a never-ending debate over whether women can ever "have it all."

The lack of resources is only compounded by the abundance of pressure. From over-engineering children's activities to an abiding sense of guilt for not doing "enough," American mothers often place their self-worth on the degree of their involvement in the minutiae of their children's lives.

Giving birth in America is shockingly dangerous: Discrimination against women, and women of color in particular, has led to an appalling maternal health crisis—where women's voices are not heard, women's needs are not met, and they, as well as their children and families, suffer.

Statistics prove American mothers die in childbirth more than in any other country in the developed world—and the death rates are actually getting worse, not better. According to research in the New York Times, "Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts," with racism playing a direct role.

Sexism also plays a role with 26% of maternal deaths attributable to heart conditions, which may not display themselves with the same symptoms as among male patients. "Doctors may be more likely to attribute those symptoms to anxiety than heart disease," said Kim Lavoie, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec at Montreal and co-author of a 2016 study on the topic. "So, in other words, a diagnostic bias may occur."

Postpartum women are left to fend for themselves: While newborns are typically seen at least four times in their first two months of life, their mothers routinely have no postpartum care from 48 hours after birth until six weeks. During these critical weeks of physical recovery and a psychological transition to parenthood, women are left to figure out the transition alone while navigating an exhausting, achy haze of postpartum bleeding, milk supply issues and financial stress.

The irony is this is perhaps one of the most vulnerable periods for mothers when support is often most needed. Case and point: Learning how to breastfeed, critical to keeping her baby healthy and alive for mothers who opt to exclusively breastfeed, is a learned skill. But, after her baby is born, a woman might see a lactation counselor right away, or might have to wait days to learn how to nurse — if she ever sees a consultant at all. Private lactation consultants often cost hundreds of dollars, an expense that is often out of reach during this financially stressful time in life.

No relief for working mothers: One in four new mothers returns to work out of economic necessity within two weeks of giving birth. Federally, American mothers are not guaranteed paid leave, making the United States an appaling exception in the global sphere. Recent statistics from the U.S. Labor Bureau indicate that only 12% of American workers have access to paid leave—the rest are left to fend for themselves.

The one piece of federal legislation that could make a difference, The Family Medical Leave Act, only guarantees that a new parent's job will be held for 12 weeks—but doesn't require any compensation during one of the most vulnerable times in their life. And that's only if the employee meets certain eligibility conditions to begin with, which include having worked on a nearly full-time basis for at least one year and the company having 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

After the initial adjustment, working women face the motherhood penalty—which amounts to a decrease in 4% of her earnings for every child that she has. That stands in stark contrast to the fatherhood bonus, which describes a 6% income boost the average father experiences for the birth of each child.

Motherly's 2018 State of Motherhood survey revealed that the majority of women scaled down their careers after the birth of a baby, while their partners often scaled up—a split that sometimes happens by choice, but other times happens by default, thanks to issues such as the incredibly high cost of childcare, which is not subsidized or covered fully as a tax credit, unlike in other countries.

The victims blame themselves: The worst part? Research shows American mothers largely blame themselves, experiencing waves of guilt and self-criticism for struggling to manage the inordinate task of working, raising children and maintaining a household. As it is, the burden is on these mothers in already vulnerable, challenging positions to ask for help—rather than how it should be done by offering resources and support in the first place. It's as if we're wading through a fog and cannot see that we're not doing it wrong, it's that modern American motherhood is just that hard.

But it is NOT our fault.

As Beth Berry wrote in a telling Motherly essay that has become our anthem, "It takes a village, but there are no villages. . . [mama,] you and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that's because we're on the front lines of the problem, which means we're the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won't have to. That makes us heroes, not failures."

That bears repeating: It makes us heroes, mama.

Originally posted on Medium.

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