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I struggled to keep up with the nurse at the pediatrician’s office as she led us down the hall. Why was she walking so fast? Didn’t she know I had just given birth?! Being out of the house felt like being on another planet. I couldn’t understand why I should be dragging my brand new baby and my postpartum body through the clinic at all.


My legs felt like Jell-O. I had the worst brain fog ever. I was hungry, thirsty and severely sleep deprived. I was flushed and sweating as I attempted to answer all the questions about my baby.

Just a few days ago this tiny little person had still been a part of my own body. And yet in those early check-ups, I felt excluded from this recent childbirth process. I knew this was routine newborn baby care. But everything about it seemed wrong. All I could think about was how much I wanted to be at home in bed. And that’s exactly where I should have been.

Our country is a fantastic place to be a mom. But our culture lags behind compared to other developed countries when it comes to postpartum care. A University of Salford study has shown that complete recovery from childbirth can take up to a year. Yet, many mothers are expected to be fully functioning and back to pre-baby responsibilities within six weeks.

We often have to seek out our own resources for breastfeeding support or specialized providers if we experience complications.

We have accepted the postpartum care available to us as standard practice. But it’s time that mothers really evaluate their postpartum care needs and take action to be given the care we deserve.  And we can learn a lot about how things could be by taking a look at how other cultures take care of mothers after childbirth.

Beliefs and practices of other countries

If we follow the best practices of some other countries, we could conclude that the only place a new mom needs to be during the weeks (yes, weeks!) of the postpartum period is in bed with her baby.

In the Netherlands, most births occur at home. As a part of their mandatory private medical insurance, mothers are provided a kraamverzorgster for usually 49 hours over eight days.

This maternity nurse is responsible for helping the mother bond with her baby and oversees her recovery. She provides much-needed breastfeeding support during the first few very challenging weeks. And she works with obstetricians and midwives should complications arise.

While the Netherlands is unique in maternal home care as standard and covered by insurance, a culturally accepted postpartum rest period can be found in cultures around the world. Mothers in China, Mexico, and Bali, for example, are expected to stay in bed recovering and bonding with their babies for up to a month while family members and friends manage the rest of the house.

In the U.S., even if our families and friends support our recovery after childbirth, our culture doesn’t view it as a priority. So even if we are encouraged by those around us to rest we often still feel we must be back up and running our households as soon as possible. If we need to see a healthcare provider or lactation consultant, we usually see them in an office. Such emphasis is placed on the baby’s health, the mother’s is often overlooked.

Why it matters

My son’s pediatrician told me, “Happy mom, happy baby,” after taking thirty seconds of his appointment to ask how I was doing. And she was absolutely right. Studies show that when a mother is suffering from mental illness, her baby’s social, emotional, language, attention, and cognitive development are adversely affected.

15-25% of women in the U.S. develop postpartum depression. The statistics are similar in other developed countries. So, it may seem that emphasis on postpartum maternal care makes little difference in postpartum depression rates.

It is logical to conclude, however, that because we receive extreme societal pressure in the U.S. to be back to “normal” six weeks or less postpartum, the numbers do not reflect the mothers suffering from mental illness in silence. The stigma surrounding mental illness and fear of being seen as a “bad mother” prevent many women from being honest with themselves and their doctors.

Contributing to our prevalence of postpartum depression is the pressure for American moms to breastfeed without in-home support once they leave the hospital. We often hear that “breast is best” and research supports that philosophy.

But many women cannot or do not breastfeed for a variety of reasons which takes a toll on their confidence and mental health. Providing thorough, in-home breastfeeding support as standard postpartum care would both increase breastfeeding success and reduce rates and severity of postpartum depression.

Mental health isn’t the only factor to consider. While other countries take steps to ensure physical recovery goes smoothly in the first couple weeks, American women often don’t see a healthcare practitioner until six weeks postpartum. Even then, a pelvic exam is not performed unless a woman thinks there is cause for concern.

She has little way of knowing what’s going on with her uterus or pelvic floor muscles. And while maternal mental health statistics may be somewhat difficult to solidify, mortality rates taken from the WHO 2013 report are more concrete. Sadly, they reveal that the U.S. has shocking maternal mortality rates compared to those of other developed countries.

2013 Maternal Mortality Rates

Maternal Mortality Ratio (per 100,000 live births)Number of Maternal Deaths
Netherlands610
United Kingdom860
Germany747
United States281200

 

Let that sink in for a minute: 1,200 women died during childbirth in the U.S. in 2013.

A friend of mine is finishing school to become a midwife and women’s nurse practitioner. She sent me some resources for this article in an email and stated, “Basically, it’s a big problem.”

After reading statistics like that I couldn’t agree more and I hope others will too.

It is a very big problem.

Healthy mothers mean healthy children. Healthy children become intelligent, productive, compassionate citizens. Taking care of women during and after childbirth is an obvious step to take to improve many of the challenges our society faces. Unfortunately, the next few years could very possibly see a drastic downturn in government support for appropriate healthcare.

It’s up to us to take responsibility for seeing that women and children get the postpartum care they deserve. Fortunately, there are quite a few things we can do individually and locally to make a difference with this important issue.

What we can do about it

Education

Take some time to become informed. Reflect on your own childbirth and postpartum experiences or those of mothers you know. Think about how things could have been different and the impact it would have made for both mom and baby.

Here are some great resources to get you started:

The First Forty Days by Lori Bregman

Mothering the New Mother: Women’s Feelings and Needs After Childbirth by Sally Placksin

Mothering the Mother by Mothering The Home for Natural Family Living

Postpartum Doulas

Our U.S. equivalent to the kraamverzorgster in the Netherlands is a postpartum doula. More and more women in our country are understanding the importance of having an unbiased, unrelated professional help in the home during recovery. Unfortunately, this much-needed service can be pricey. But, it’s definitely worth researching in your area to find the available providers. And if you really want to make a difference, consider becoming certified as a doula.

Speak Up

Have a discussion with your healthcare providers and let them know your concerns. Talk about some of the mortality statistics and get their input on what could be improved. Let your local and regional representatives hear your voice.

Get the community involved in establishing a group of professionals dedicated to postpartum care. And if you don’t want to stop at the local level you can send your concerns to the Obama Foundation. Changes could really gain some momentum if enough people speak up about the benefits of improving how we care for our mothers.

Just think, instead of struggling to keep up with nurses in clinics we could (and should) be receiving care from the comfort of our own homes. By becoming informed and making changes lives will be saved. It’s time we take matters into our own loving, nurturing, strong mama hands and demand the care we deserve.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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