Postnatal health refers to a mother’s health after giving birth. It is the period beginning immediately after the birth of the baby and extending for about 6 weeks. New parents may be stressed, tired and anxious due to the changes necessitated by the arrival of their baby. A newborn requires special attention and care and it is important for parents to quickly adjust to manage the demands of a baby.

Just as in pregnancy, a woman’s body changes as it recovers from child birth. Women should take time to heal and rest after the baby’s birth. Support from a partner, friend or family is important to make a smooth transition into new parenthood, allowing for sleep and recovery time. Some elements of pregnancy and birth may result in complications. A woman should talk with a health professional about the best options for treatment and recovery.

Many women may be anxious to lose the weight she gained during pregnancy. Nutrition is very important, especially when a woman is breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding has been shown to help promote a healthy return to pre-pregnancy weight while being an excellent opportunity to bond with the baby. Appropriate amounts of physical activity is also a healthy way to lose weight, although a woman should start slowly and build up over time as not to strain her body. Consulting a health care professional will help a woman develop an exercise routine that will be safe and appropriate.

A woman should also examine her mental and emotional health after giving birth. A certain level of stress and anxiety is normal for new mothers. Some women may feel sad after giving birth, possibly because of hormonal changes. However, if this sadness continues beyond 10 days, a woman should talk to her healthcare professional about the risk of Postpartum Depression.

For additional information and resources particular to women who have recently given birth, and their infants, please refer to the following: Preconception Health: A Healthy Lifestyle; Alcohol; Medications, Supplements, and Illicit Drugs and Smoking; and Prenatal Health: Healthy Weight Gain  and Domestic Violence.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides the newborn with nutrition, protection and bonding time with the mother. Breast milk is the only food that a newborn needs for the first six months of its life, making it a healthy, affordable, and accessible way to feed a baby. Although formula provides the nutrients that a newborn needs, breast milk provides antibodies to protect the baby from illness and infection.

Breastfeeding can be difficult at first, and it may take time to adjust. Some woman may also experience certain infections or soreness when breastfeeding. Women who plan to breastfeed are encouraged to continue trying and to talk with a health professional with any questions or concerns. Formula is recommended for use only if the mother cannot breastfeed for some reason or if she has made an informed decision not to breastfeed.

Certain medications, as well as alcohol and most illicit drugs, can be passed to the baby through breast milk. If a woman is taking medication, she should discuss her intake with her healthcare professional. Drugs and alcohol should be avoided throughout pregnancy and lactation.

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Maternal Mental Health

Having a baby is often a time of joy and excitement for a new mother. However, up to 1 in 5 women experience depression during pregnancy (antenatal depression) or up to one year after pregnancy (postpartum depression). The woman feels sad, lonely or ‘blue’ no matter what she does (Saskatchewan Prevention Institute, 2007).

Although pregnancy is a time of emotional and hormone fluctuation, having several of the following symptoms for more than two weeks could mean a woman is depressed:
  • less interest in normal activities
  • crying for no reason
  • irritable, angry or more sensitive
  • more tired or hyper
  • not sleeping or sleeping too much
  • problems concentrating
  • difficulties coping
  • anxious or panicked
  • thoughts of harming herself, her baby, or others
Depression during and after pregnancy can lead to negative impacts on the woman, her baby, and their family:
  • inadequate prenatal and postpartum care for both the woman and her baby
  • unborn babies can be affected by the mother’s stress hormones
  • increased risk of premature birth and/or low birth weight
  • increased risk of poor bonding between the mother and baby
  • less breastfeeding
  • depression in partners
  • possible other long-term effects on children’s health and development

Antenatal and postpartum depression can be very serious conditions affecting the health of the mother, baby and other family members. However, there are treatments and support available for maternal depression including self-care, help from family or friends, and professional help. Depression will not go away by itself. Women who think they could be depressed should contact a health professional immediately.

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Video
  • Great Reasons to Breastfeed

Maternal Depression On-Line

Maternal Depression Online is ready and is seeking participants. Please visit: https://www.onlinetherapyuser.ca/

  • Maternal Depression On-line is designed to treat women who experience depressive symptoms that occur within 1 year after childbirth. The program teaches strategies to overcome maternal depression based on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
  • Maternal Depression On-line contains 7 modules, and it is recommended that clients spend 1 week on each module. Modules consist of CBT materials that are accessed on-line, as well as activities that are to be completed off-line. With the suggested time frame, clients can complete Maternal Depression On-line in a 7 week period.
  • Maternal Depression On-line is therapist-assisted. Prior to beginning a new module, clients will be asked to send examples from the weekly exercises to their therapist through the website. The therapist will review the client’s progress and address any concerns. Clients can also email their therapist to receive additional guidance and assistance. Clients can contact their therapist when they like, and their therapist will respond once weekly by e-mail over the 7 weeks of treatment.
  • Maternal Depression On-line is currently provided to women at no cost. Clients are asked to complete questionnaires before and after they finish the program.

For more information about this program, please call or email Nicole Pugh at (306) 585-5369 or pugh200n@uregina.ca

Online Therapy Unit for Service, Education, and Research

The Online Therapy Unit is a free and confidential online mental health service, led by Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos from the University of Regina. It is dedicated to increasing access to safe and effective treatment for depression and anxiety for Saskatchewan residents. This includes women who are struggling with postpartum depression.

Client work through the material from the comfort of their own home in privacy. This service makes use of online therapy programs that were initially developed by the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia.

Resources