Prenatal classes? Check. New-born essentials? Check. Baby shower and maternity shoot? Check, check. Nursery set-up? Done and dusted. Readiness for life postpartum? Hopelessly unprepared.
For all the pregnancy bibles and Lamaze sessions that fill up our free time in the run up to childbirth, motherhood rarely turns out as you might have intended or expected. For a start, odds are that you’re either dealing with the pain of perineal stitches or the body-numbing aftermath of a C-Section. Movies may have painted a pretty picture of mums basking in a post-delivery glow, but the truth is that any mum who has just given birth is likely to be sweaty, tired and sore from trying to latch a new-born.
In my experience (now spanning eighteen months)—recognising and recalibrating to the chasm between expectations and reality is the first real step towards becoming a mother. Yes, the journey is beautiful; but it is your own and is ultimately the sum total of your decisions, starting with breastfeeding. Various people will inevitably weigh in, right from your tiny tot’s paediatrician to your neighbour’s grandmother. What they might not say just as easily, is that it is okay if you choose a different way to feed.
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Breastfeeding is not intuitive, but a process that is perfected over much trial and error, with collateral damage aplenty from clogged ducts to leaky breasts. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t seem your happiest self while breastfeeding. You’re functioning on minimal sleep and feeling the pressure from every angle, most of all from yourself. Life gets a whole lot easier when you come to the realisation that decisions need not be black or white. As mothers, the choice is not between exclusively nursing or shifting entirely to formula. There are several hybrid options that fall in between for tailoring a feeding plan that works for both you and your baby.
In my case, I let things get to an overwhelming stage, when my body was simply unable to keep up with the demands of a growing baby. By then, Jr stubbornly refused to take to the bottle, so eventually I found a way to balance breastfeeding with a weaning process, which involved mixing formula with compatible meals such as ragi porridge.
Whether you are breastfeeding exclusively or part-time, do pay heed to your own health and diet, ensuring that you have your fill of vitamin supplements to offset the ongoing depletion of your essential nutrients. You might have skipped pregnancy cravings, but as you’ll discover, breastfeeding cravings are unavoidable. Feeding sessions are followed by a ravenous hunger, which more than offsets any calories you would have burned whilst nursing.
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If you’re worried about getting back to your pre-pregnancy shape, now might not the right time. I learned the hard way that more than just working out to shed that pregnancy pouch, postpartum fitness is about battling fatigue—both physical and emotional. Some days, that simply meant listening to my body and resting it out; on others, it required immense patience on the part of my family, who were cognizant of the common pitfalls of postpartum hormonal changes. A molehill could trigger a mountain and set me off in a river of tears. Acknowledging the all-too-real struggles of postpartum anxieties was the first point of treatment for me. Channelling those tumultuous emotions in the pursuit of a productive and self-taught passion (cooking and baking), the second.
That a new mother should require as much care as a tiny infant is not a new revelation, considering that our culture—like many across the world—have traditions involving a period of self-confinement for new mothers right after giving birth. In India, this practice is known as jaappa (transliterated as japa). In Latin American countries it is referred to as la cuarentena (forty days), which ironically is the source of the English word “quarantine.” Adhering to this ancient tradition, right down to following the sage wisdom of my japabai (an all-knowing lady from Bikaner, Rajasthan), was possibly the best postpartum decision I made. Not only did it serve to protect Jr, easing his entry into a new world, but those long weeks of rest were also critical for my own healing process too.
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My postpartum self-care routine extended to numerous other avenues, including measures to mitigate the effects of hair loss. Don’t be alarmed to see clumps of hair over your bed and the bathroom floor, three to four months post-delivery. This shedding is temporary (driven by the drop in your oestrogen levels after childbirth), with most women returning to their usual hair growth cycle anywhere between six to twelve months after birth.
In the interim, we can do plenty on our part to maintain lush hair post-pregnancy. Trichologist Khushboo Thakker Garodia advises swapping chemically-processed hair serums for pure hair oils and natural hair packs such as aloe vera gel and/ or fenugreek seeds soaked overnight in water. It is then strained and made into a paste with curd the next morning for application on the scalp and hair tips. You can leave this “mask” on for twenty minutes or so, using the strained water to rinse your hair before washing with normal water. Repeating this process twice a week could help hair growth significantly, especially when coupled with foods rich in protein, iron and good fats. Think anything and everything, from avocados, nuts and seeds to eggs, coconut and ghee. In fact, adding just a tinge of gheeto your rice and dal, not only helps to metabolise fat better but works wonders in restoring the shine in your hair too.
Life, postpartum, is ultimately a process of unlearning and new learnings peppered with memorable quirks that you and your partner might nostalgically look back on one day. During this time, I hope you might be fortunate enough to forge friendships with other mothers in a similar boat. As I discovered – often through resource groups across social media – it is these empathetic connections that can strike a difference between a postpartum experience that is lonely compared one that is companionable, well-informed and even enjoyable.
Ayushi Gupta-Mehra is an economist, F&B consultant, self-taught cook and founder of The Foodie Diaries®. Follow her adventures on Instagram @The_FoodieDiaries and @Mummylogues
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