Postpartum: It's Not A Disease (Take 2)

I remember the first time I heard the term “postpartum” used nonchalantly on a run. I stopped my friend and said, “Wait, I’m confused. Are you talking about the postpartum period or postpartum depression? Because, they are TWO totally different things.” My friend replied, “Depression.” I found myself saying, “Whoa back, you have to think about how you’re using this term, culturally and socially.” It was at that very moment that I started thinking about how I was going to change the course of my career as a Midwife, and begin a cultural shift in how we view and use the term “postpartum” in our conversations with other moms, girlfriends, husbands, wives and our children when they become parents. 

Fast forward a year.

I’m on the phone with my friend and she asks, “Why are women calling postpartum depression “Postpartum” when it’s not a disease?” Why is a great question. Yes, Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a serious condition that needs professional attention, care and often medication to get a woman back to her true form of health. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is hugely missed by providers and families in the US due to lack of support and education to women after they leave care at 6 weeks postpartum. I’d like to propose that as providers we’re missing much more than the diagnosis of PPD beyond 6 weeks postpartum, but we’re actually missing the opportunity to encourage the growth and improvement of maternal health by not providing women with the care they crave as they enter Motherhood.

Essentially, what I’m really saying and want you to know this much to be true. Postpartum: it is not a disease. 

The current model of Maternity Care in the US, from where I stand in the System, is a “disease” model. This reflects onto our culture as moms, in both the way we talk and act. I decided the work I wanted to do with moms, post clinical work, would be born as a “Health” model. Below, are a few examples of health I currently address in a Postpartum Health Model for mothers 6 weeks - 5 years postpartum:

  • Physical: Hormonal changes, nursing, recovery from birth, adapting diet to prevent colic and stress in her own life, exercise postpartum and how to prevent pelvic floor and bladder damage, and the list grows.
  • Emotional: Postpartum depression screening, relationship with spouse, relationship to children, stress levels, career health/stress, time management.
  • Intellectual: Career and leadership, research on current trends for improvement of health for moms and working moms, creativity, and activating passions you had prior to motherhood that you can’t seem to find time to do now.
  • Spiritual:  A question I often ask is, “How’s your heart?” When a woman doesn’t know how to answer, I know the connection to her soul and heart health needs some work. We address this through meditation, connection with her spouse/girlfriends, getting time alone in nature, aka what I call “soul food.” What feeds your soul?

I propose we set a new Gold Standard for Postpartum Health, as providers, a healthcare system and a culture. We have the opportunity, right now, to begin making changes and improvements in Maternity Care based off what women want, not what the system wants. The Postpartum Period is a time in a woman's life where she can create a “health” system and live vibrantly, as well as passing her knowledge and strength onto her children, spouse, and onto her career and community.

Let’s help her get there.