This month, HiDoc Pulse celebrates motherhood with a plan to assist a woman enter a new phase of her life. This week, we explore three key areas through which new mothers can help themselves recover, so that they enjoy in good health the myriad joys of being a new parent. Download our app to experience specialist healthcare with the ease of a phone call.
BIRTHING is often thought of as a process in itself. But to approach it holistically, Associate Prof Tan Thiam Chye, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, recommends this: Consider birthing as the start of the parenting journey, a period of adjustment that takes about 1,000 days, from the time a child is conceived to the second birthday.
That duration is crucial for a family getting used to a new addition, as the foundations of a child’s health and development are established. Though most parents direct all attention towards the child, other elements, such as the wellbeing of the mother, are just as important. When a mother’s health and welfare are tended to, the child benefits too.
At his clinic in Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, Prof Tan points to breastfeeding to demonstrate his point. Informed by 15 years of experience, he notes that breastfeeding benefits the child by lowering incidences of infections and allergy diseases. In the longer term, he adds, it can even boost the child’s intelligence. For the mother, breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer. “It also burns calories (typically 300kcal per day) which in turn helps mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight in a sustainable manner.”
As part of his advocacy efforts for patient education, Prof Tan sat down with HiDoc Pulse to discuss a wide range of maternity issues and provide mothers with a solid platform to manage the health and wellness of their babies and themselves.
RECOVERY TIPS FOR NEW MUMS
Prof Tan, who is also editor-in-chief of a blog dedicated to all aspects of pregnancy called Pregnancy Singapore, recommends the following steps to aid the healing process:
● Recognise your feelings as valid and fluid. He observes that the shift of attention from mother to child after delivery can leave her feeling reduced only to the role of “milking machine” or “nappy changer”. “These feelings can take an immense toll on the mother’s wellbeing,” he notes, as her needs seem less important than that of the baby.
● Accept help from loved ones. “If there is inadequate support and help, especially from the family, it may be even harder to adjust to the new changes.” He adds that it is important for the mother not to rush the recovery process, but to take a break and care for not just the baby, but herself.
● Allow your body time to heal. A new mum also must contend with physical changes. She may experience pain for up to two months, as the womb restores itself to its pre-pregnancy size. Hormonal fluctuations that come with the process can also cause women to feel down. Prof Tan notes that mothers should give themselves a break and to not impose timelines on the healing process.
● Face up to the “Baby Blues”. Signs of postnatal blues can emerge during the post-pregnancy period what’s known as postnatal blues. Feelings of sadness in the first two weeks post-pregnancy affect a staggering 50 to 80% of mothers. “It is important for mothers to not feel ashamed about their feelings. They should confide in a trusted family member or friend so that they do not have to grapple with the baby blues all by themselves,” Prof Tan urges. While these negative feelings generally subside within two weeks, emotions that persist and become severe indicate postpartum depression — a more serious condition that calls for urgent medical attention. “Thankfully, most women do start to feel better — both physically and mentally — after the initial period,” Prof Tan advises.
The joyful event of a newborn in a couple’s life does not need to come at the expense of intimacy. As they adjust to a new reality of parenthood, sex might seem distant as the female body heals from delivery. However, Prof Tan encourages couples to engage in other forms of love and affection for each other.
● Maintain intimacy. “Acts of intimacy other than sex go a long way towards helping couples adjust comfortably to the new reality of having a child. Cuddling and massages allow couples to relax, spend time with each other and signal that neither party is being neglected because of the newborn. The child benefits too as the overall family environment is a loving one.”
● Be flexible. Sex should be avoided for at least four to six weeks as engaging in intercourse too early — especially within the first two weeks after childbirth — might result in dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse) and increases the risk of postpartum haemorrhage and infections. The timeline for resuming sex depends on couples’ levels of pain, fatigue, stress and sex drive. Couples can take certain steps to reduce dyspareunia such as controlling the depth of penetration, increasing vaginal lubrication, taking warm baths (to relieve painful inflammation) or even taking pain medication.
● Kegels. Another way that women can ease themselves back into sexual intercourse is by doing kegel exercises which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and stabilise the vaginal muscles. These exercises are simple squeezing exercises and can be done anywhere that is convenient. Over time, such exercises help to make sex enjoyable and less painful once again.
PARENTING IN A DIGITAL AGE
Teleconsultations, the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical healthcare remotely, is a new and accessible channel for patients to virtually consult with Prof Tan. He notes: “The current consultation model is very doctor-centric. Patients, especially those who have just given birth and are recuperating at home or undergoing confinement, do not like to travel long distances and wait long for consultations.”
● Ease of convenience. Teleconsultations empower patients to “see” their doctors via electronic devices, without leaving home and at a time convenient to them. Reducing travel and waiting time contributes to a stress-free experience for mothers, especially during their postnatal convalescence. “If they have gone back to work, they can consult with me during their lunch hour, and not have to worry about taking time off work or making other arrangements to take care of the newborn.”
● Aiding recovery. Patients can consult with Prof Tan on diet, exercise and travel advice as well be guided on breastfeeding techniques (such as proper latching). C-section wounds can also be remotely checked for wound infection. In addition, teleconsultations are powerful tools to identify postpartum depression, through screening and psychological counselling. With just two simple questions such as “Have I felt down, depressed or hopeless?”, Prof Tan can assess if the mother is at risk of developing postpartum depression. Visual and immediate teleconsultations reduce the likelihood of miscommunication between himself and patients, he notes, compared to emails and other forms of electronic communication.
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