What Does “Postpartum” Actually Mean?

what does the word postpartum actually mean

When I got home from my first Postpartum Doula training, I was pretty excited. And by pretty excited, I mean that’s probably all my husband heard me talk about for weeks (not that he’s a stranger to me talking about things related to pregnancy and birth… if you asked him, he’d probably tell you that’s all I ever talk about). Then one day, he looked at me and said “you know, every time you say ‘postpartum’, I think ‘postpartum depression’, and I bet a lot of other people do too.” So I kept an eye (and ear) out to see if this was the case. From my brother calling to say his girlfriend might need me because he “thinks she might be depressed” to the woman commenting that she “had postpartum after her first child”, I realized he was absolutely right. While 10-20% of new mothers actually do experience the awful reality of postpartum depression, that’s simply not what the word means.

The word “postpartum” simply means the period of time after birth. 

newborn baby
Sweet sleeping baby.

Every woman who has a baby also “has postpartum”. It’s a beautiful, emotional, often chaotic, and sleep-deprived time. There is definitely a lot of adjustment when it comes to all those swirling hormones, but it’s so much more than just a mood disorder. It’s the time you get to enjoy all your baby’s firsts. First smile, first time rolling over, first time saying “ma-ma” (or probably “da-da” because life is unfair like that…). It’s a time to snuggle and bond with this tiny human you created. To smell that glorious newborn smell. To bask in the glory of all the oxytocin (the love hormone) flooding your brain. On a practical level, it’s also the time your body recovers from the rather rigorous experience of growing and birthing a human being (or a few). Your hormones are trying to balance out, your organs are shifting to their rightful place, your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size, you might have stitches that are healing, etc. Overall, it’s the time you are returning to (perhaps your new version of) normal and your baby is busy learning what this world is all about.

baby being rocked

A postpartum doula can help to optimize this time for your whole family. 

She can’t diagnose postpartum depression, but she can be on the lookout for signs of mood disorders and help you seek out proper care. She can help you navigate the sometimes confusing breastfeeding relationship, or figure out the ins and outs of bottle feeding. She can help big sister feel important and included. She can do some laundry, help out with a few chores, or cook you dinner. She can take care of your little one(s) while you nap or shower (or whatever basic human activity your precious little bundle distracts you from). She can even do the staying-up-all-night-with-a-cranky-baby thing for you! She helps keep everything going so you can focus on what you need to be focused on: your recovery and your baby. And the best part is, she will do it all without judgment. She will meet you right where you are and support YOUR decisions for YOUR family. Every time.

Authored by Tiffany DePute

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