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Health & Prevention Report: The time after a baby is born can be challenging for mothers, but community support during that period can make it easier

Sharon McCutcheon

After a mother gives birth, she goes through a lot of physical and mental changes that can be difficult to adjust to.  This postpartum period is a critical time for the health and well being of the mom, her new baby, and her family. 

Nikki Gillespie is a Certified Birth Doula and Childbirth Educator. On this week's Health and Prevention Report, KSJD’s Tom Yoder spoke with Gillespie about the nature of postpartum and why it’s a time when the whole community can help new moms get a healthy start.

Tom Yoder, KSJD: So we're going to talk about postpartum today, I know a little bit about that. I know a little bit about some of the things that women go through after giving birth, mostly physical changes. And also a little bit of some of the pitfalls, I guess, are some things that can happen mentally, the mental health, what are some things that some of us may not really understand about postpartum?

Nikki Gillespie: I think there's quite a bit that we don't understand postpartum, that we are learning just as a whole. A lot of other countries have handled things differently than we have. For many years there, we used to live as villages, you know. And now we live in kind of secular homes and away from our families. And so we don't get the same care. And I don't think that was we were conscious of that in the making. The effect of that has been a high rate of uterine prolapse of bladder prolapse and rectal prolapse and women in the later years, typically, during menopause, when the estrogen levels have dropped, and now they're just doing more studies and more research, and people are getting trained in pelvic work to help these issues, but this wasn't a thing. Back in the day, we, our culture has just normalized it, like, oh, you know, "I sneezed and you know, a little urine came out." We've just normalized all these things. And now we're finding now there's actually things we can do to prevent and cared for afterwards. And that's one of the things also postpartum depression itself, there is a differentiation between like baby blues is kind of normal with the hormone drop, to get a little down and emotional, but postpartum depression itself, or perinatal mood disorder is a little more severe than that. And a lot of it has to do with the nervous system.

I don't know if you're familiar with Steven Porges, but he's a psychiatrist that's done a lot of research on the vagal nerve. But anyway, he's come up with this other system and the nervous system of social engagement. So we're actually coming into connection with each other, and how that actually regulates our nervous system. So actually coming into connection with each other, and babies actually regulate their nervous systems off of mother's nervous systems. If the mom is feeling overwhelmed, because she's alone at home, and dad's off at work in the village is nowhere near she is high strung, her nervous system is activated, and then the baby system is activated. And then a lot of times, especially first time mamas, will feel like they're doing something wrong, because they haven't done this before. Because they can't calm their baby or they can't calm themselves. So being around other people is really important.

So communities are one of the key aspects and caring for the postpartum mama, as well as nutritious nutritional foods, warm foods, easily digestible foods. Because the digestive system gets really sluggish and postpartum. Your blood volume goes up 50% when you're pregnant, so you're actually warm. You have all this extra blood, but that just drops after you have the baby. And so being warm and staying warm, like hot water bottles, warm baths, things like that blankets, socks on your feet.

Oh, and bodywork, like that pelvic work in the postpartum period. But also resting is key. And so like, in India, they rest for 40 days. The mom is totally cared for all she gets to do is lay there and bond with her baby. The only time she gets up is to go to the bathroom.

Yoder, KSJD: A lot of the things that you're describing are private. They're sort of like these private health issues. But at the same time, you're also saying this is a community wide issue. And we need to come together and and moms need to be a part of this bigger community of support. What does that look like in Dolores or Mancos or Cortez?

Gillespie: Yeah, well, I think we have some beautiful community. I think we have a beautiful village, you know, here in Montezuma County, and all those places. I just think it's educating. You know, Emily putting this together at the library for to get the information out there, we just want to make it widespread. So people know so they know how to rally. And I've been in the birth business since '97. And my experience here is people do show up for pregnant mamas here. And it's in the form of, you know, food chains and casserole dishes after, which is great. But I think we could go as you know, another step further, and making sure the parents have connection and layers of support. So basically, the mom has the layer of support for the baby, the dads the layer of support for mom and baby. And then dad needs a layer of support. So like, it needs to go out like that.

But yeah, I think educating the public. I think we have the tools we need. I think we're conditioned to not ask for help from people that aren't family. And we feel like we're putting people out. You know, whether that's maybe down the line forming some sort of volunteer group, you know, someone that's going to come in and wash your dishes and hold your hand, talk to you about your your birth experience tell you it's going to be okay, whether these are, grandma's taking the roles of grandmas that don't live here or on aren't on the planet anymore. It's this multigenerational thing of caring for one another, and we've lost track of that. And it's unfortunate, but I think there are ways of getting it back.

Yoder, KSJD: Absolutely. Nikki, thank you so much. It was just lovely talking with you. I love this idea that we can sort of find the old ways and make them the new ways to support moms and new babies. Yeah, it's very cool.

Gillespie: Thank you, Tom.

Yoder, KSJD: That was Nikki Gillespie. She's a certified birth doula and childbirth educator. She'll be giving a presentation called Community Supported postpartum or return to the village on Thursday, April 28 at 6pm.

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Tom Yoder is the Executive Director at KSJD and the Sunflower Theatre. He co-produces the Raven Narratives live storytelling project and podcast, produced the podcast "Fieldwork: Misadventures at the Edge of Science", and often hosts interviews on KSJD.