Postpartum Care

New research suggests the length of time a woman takes off after giving birth influences her risk of depression— a finding at odds with the typical amount of maternity leave in the U.S.

University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers found the more leave time from work that a woman takes after giving birth — up to six months — the better protected she will be.

“In the United States, most working women are back to work soon after giving birth, with the majority not taking more than three months of leave,” said Rada K. Dagher, Ph.D.

“But our study showed that women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depressive symptoms.”

The study is published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law.

The first year after childbirth presents a high risk of depression for women, with about 13 percent of all mothers experiencing postpartum depression, with debilitating symptoms similar to clinical depression.  Here are some suggestions about navigating through a difficult pospartum period:

Consider talking to your boss about more maternity leave, if you can afford it.  I know this is unrealistic for so many, as laws in the U.S. do not protect new mothers like they do in most of the world. To me, that is criminal.  Still, if you feel your job will not be at risk for asking, here is a handy worksheet to broaching the topic and negotiating with your boss (as well as more family-friendly work hours in general):

Anyone reading this who doesn’t know what to give new mom?  Clean her house.  If you live far away, hire a service and pay for it, maybe put it in a nice envelope at the baby shower or as a congratulatory gift after the birth.   Do as often as you can afford, I’d suggest at least once a week for 4 weeks, or once every other week for 8 weeks.  Perhaps pull together as a group gift?

Also, arrange meals for the new mom.  Freezer meals are great, very convenient, and here are some recipes:  Bring them to her home and put them in her freezer.  Moms, don’t feel guilty about take-out.  Already prepared food is a beautiful thing, and if you have other kids, they’re gonna be ok.

I’d also recommend a little sign on a doorknob that says “Quiet, baby sleeping.”  Would make a cheap and thoughtful shower or baby gift.  Something like this, so you won’t  get unannounced neighbors and friends who want to see the baby, or when you really need to sleep:

baby sleeping

Let me say something here about the oft-neglected “4th Trimester.”  If you are feeling anxious about the prospect of family descending on you (you may not even feel it until after giving birth), try to help your family understand your need to not have houseguests or play hostess while recuperating in terms of a 4th trimester. You need time to bond with your baby, your body needs time to heal, and your family (you, partner/spouse, kids) need time to bond together and get used to each other.  Usually I’ve found it can be about 3 months, but only you know when the time is right.  

Finally, consider a post-partum doula (or hiring your doula on to help take care of you and baby).  Or loved ones of new mommas, hire a post-partum doula for her!   If you feel you may have postpartum depression, talk to your OBGYN for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.   And above all, take care of yourself.