Updated: May 17
Welcoming a newborn into the world is a joyous and transformative experience for any parent. Those cute little fingers, beautiful innocent eyes - yes, it is a true miracle. Every time a baby is born - it is surely a special moment, a true blessing... However, having a baby is not all about ecstasy and metaphysics. Postpartum period, also known as the fourth trimester, can present a heavy set of pretty intense challenges: both physical and emotional. Needless to say: it is a Mother who is on the front line.
WHAT IS 'POSTPARTUM PERIOD'?
The postpartum period refers to the time immediately following childbirth.
It is a critical phase that begins after the baby is born and 'typically' lasts for about six - eight weeks, although the exact duration can vary for each woman. It takes what it needs to take! During this period, a woman's body undergoes significant physical and hormonal changes as it recovers from pregnancy and childbirth. Of course, it takes longer if a woman had a C-section, or faced any complications.
This phase is a time of healing and adjustment, both physically and mentally. Sleepless nights, post-delivery wounds, bleeding, aches and discomforts, breastfeeding with all its challenges, expectations from the body to recover fast... plus learning how to deal with a newborn... well, that's a lot, and can be easily overwhelming.
Postpartum tends to be difficult, frustrating, exhausting, and requires patience. Next time when you see a picture of a New Mom with a perfect smile and flat belly - consider it is not the reality of all.
HOW CAN YOGA HELP?
One super important thing which I learnt through my over 15-year experience with pre- and postnatal students is: every single person is different. Every Mom goes through this process differently, and there is nothing wrong about that. I know Mothers who seem to nail it all. I always wondered how on Earth they have all this strength...
I also know those who judge themselves too harsh, even if they are doing great.
And I know people who went through severe traumas during their labours, and they need to deal with that taking care of a newborn at the same time. They struggle.
While Instagram and well positioned websites scream about benefits of post-natal yoga (mostly so you can buy their products), it is actually super rare that a fresh Mom has time, energy and opportunity to take a "yoga class". In fact, many Moms have barely time to take a shower! Navigating between a crying child, lactation, diapering and other household tasks - there is no much space left for a "postnatal yoga".
That being said - I do believe women can use yogic tools as a support, and I strongly believe it is our task (= yoga teachers' task) to teach them how!
A solid prenatal Yoga course can help them to get ready also for a postnatal challenge, much before it comes. And again, I am not talking only about asana! Yoga is much more than that!
A FEW SIMPLE TOOLS:
Breathing exercises help to regulate the nervous system. They can relax, nourish or energize - depending on a technique. They don't take much time, all you need is 5 minutes. I am not a Mom, but there are times, especially due to my diabetes, when I feel exhausted. Like literally my batteries are empty, and not even coffee could help. Breath is not a miraculous solution, but definitely helps to deal with our daily energy management.
2. Gentle stretches to let go of tension coming from feeding or sleeping on one side for too long, and the body awareness.
Being tired and overwhelmed doesn't go together well with planning a mindful strategy, however it is good to be conscious of our patterns. We tend to hold a baby always in the same way, we tend to run on auto-pilot. This is the moment to take care of "the other side" too. I know that New Moms have "more important' tasks to think of, but when you practice yoga - more often than when you do not - you can observe and intuitively correct your patterns.
3. Mindfulness and meditation.
Many Moms I work with cannot really "meditate" in the postpartum, but at least relaxation and mindfulness help them to survive this permanent state of exhaustion. Meditation and mindfulness don't come overnight though, and that's why I find prenatal yoga a crucial practice for a postnatal time. Also, meditation is not always a "silent sitting" practice. There are many other techniques: moving meditation, gazing a flame, walking with awareness, chanting... Maybe our practice changes after becoming Moms, but we still have many choices. Watching this transformation and allowing yourself to let go of "old" patterns is also YOGA!
4. Yoga Nidra and visualisations.
Sometimes tired and overwhelmed minds need a small support to relax and change the focus. Guided yoga nidra or a visualisation can take our thoughts away for a moment, and refresh the energy/mood. Regulating the Nervous System is never a bad idea!
MOTHERHOOD IS A PRACTICE OF KARMA YOGA
For me, waking up for your child every time it cries, no matter how tired or sleepy you are, compromising your comfort for the comfort of your baby, and learning to grow together in this new role that nobody prepares us for, is already a huge yoga practice. In Indian tradition we call this kind of practice KARMA YOGA - the selfless service, the act of removing your ego for the sake of dharma - I like calling it love.
Dear Moms, let me say it straight: you are not only practicing yoga - you are living it!
You are a real yogi/yogini only if you are growing in this new role with the attitude of a yogi/yogini. You care, you learn, you remove your 'small self', you trust in the process, you are becoming aware... Comparing it to making a perfect 'warrior 2' or 'triangle', you are - in my eyes - much closer to the "enlightenment" and a "higher purpose". Yoga is not a performance, it is a wisdom. Ancient wisdom of what is this life about.
You are a real warrior, so why would you need to perform it on a yoga mat?!
While I strongly believe that 'yoga' can play a significant role in a postpartum journey, every Mother is different (so is every child), and it is important to find their own rhythm. There is no rush or a due date here (at least this time;-))
• Take your time for healing. You are important, your healing is important. Take as long as your individual body needs.
• Neither body, nor mind is a machine. Everything takes time. Don't rush, and don't push yourself. You don't owe anyone any 'performance' of a 'perfect mother'. You don't need to create any illusion on Social Media or make your family and friends comfortable. Instead - learn to express your needs and ask for help.
• Take your time for bonding. Today luckily we know that it is not always as easy as they show in the movies.
• The postpartum period often brings a rollercoaster of emotions as mothers adjust to their new roles and deal with hormonal changes. Allow yourself to create a safe and comfortable space for that.
• Prioritise yourself and your baby, you don't need to prove anything to anyone!
• If you are still reading this but you are not a Mom - pay attention to others - I am sure there are some Moms around you. Be kind, be a good friend, be a good prenatal yoga teacher. Or just be a good neighbour who doesn't need to give a grumpy look at the crying baby in the elevator (or on the plane...). Yes, babies cry a lot.
LAST BUT NOT THE LEAST
The last thing... that I will actually dedicate my next article to, as it is super important is POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION. It can happen sometimes that a New Mom can experience postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a prevalent condition that affects a significant number of women after childbirth. The exact frequency of PPD can vary depending on various factors, including geographical location, cultural differences, and individual risk factors.
Studies suggest that approximately 10% to 20% of women experience postpartum depression, with some estimates reaching as high as 1 in 7 women. It is important to note that these statistics may vary, and the actual prevalence of PPD may be underreported due to the stigma and lack of awareness surrounding the condition.
Postpartum depression typically occurs within the first few weeks to months after childbirth, but it can manifest at any time during the first year. It is different from the "baby blues," which is a milder and more common condition characterised by mood swings, irritability, and weepiness that usually resolves within a couple of weeks.
Several factors can contribute to the development of postpartum depression, including hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, a history of mental health disorders, lack of social support, and stress. It is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of PPD, which can include persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, fatigue, changes in appetite, difficulty bonding with the baby, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby.
If a woman experiences these symptoms for more than two weeks and they significantly interfere with her ability to function or care for herself and her baby, it is crucial to seek help from a healthcare professional. Early identification and intervention are key to managing postpartum depression effectively.
Treatment options for postpartum depression may include therapy, support groups, lifestyle adjustments, and in some cases, medication. Each woman's experience with PPD is unique, and treatment plans should be tailored to address her specific needs and circumstances.
It is essential for society to raise awareness about postpartum depression and provide support to new mothers. By fostering understanding, encouraging open conversations, and promoting accessible mental health resources, we can help reduce the stigma surrounding PPD and ensure that women receive the support and care they need during this vulnerable period.
To be continued...
*In my personal and professional opinion Yoga cannot be reduced to only 'asana' practice.
Yoga is a discipline based on philosophy, values, lifestyle, mindfulness, and the art of living according to the principles of balance and harmony. )