Hesperian Health Guides
Care for a new mother
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Mothers need care after birth just as the baby does. People are often so busy looking after the baby that the mother’s needs may be forgotten. Share this information with your family or caregivers so they can help you get the care you need.
- To prevent infection, do not have sex or put anything in your vagina until your bleeding stops. Bathe as often as you usually do, but do not sit in water until 1 week after the birth. It is good for you to wash and to keep your genitals very clean.
- Get a lot of rest for at least 6 weeks.
- Eat more food than usual. You can eat any kind of food: fish, meat, eggs, beans, grains, vegetables, and fruit will all help you heal from the birth and will give you energy to care for your baby and yourself. Eating food high in fiber will help prevent constipation.
- Drink plenty of fluids. This will also help prevent constipation.
- Be as active and move about as much as you can.
- If your breasts become very swollen, hard, and sore, feed the baby as often as possible, both day and night (every 1 or 2 hours, and on both breasts). Also, place warm, wet cloths on your breasts for 15 to 20 minutes before each feeding. You can take paracetamol for pain.
- If you do not plan to breastfeed, do not try to remove the milk from your breasts. If you do, your body will keep making more milk. Instead, wrap a length of cloth firmly around your body, over your breasts, and apply cold cloths or ice. You can also take paracetamol for pain.
- If you have any tears in your genitals or vagina, wash them every day with mild soap and clean water to prevent infection. Apply a hot, damp cloth and honey to the tear to help it feel better and heal more quickly. After a week, you can also sit in a bowl of clean, warm water with a little salt in it. If the tear causes burning, pour water over your genitals while you pass urine.
- If you use plant medicines to help your genitals heal, make sure the plants are very clean (boiled is best). Do not put plant medicines, or anything else, inside your vagina.
- Start using a family planning method before you have sex again, or you could become pregnant again right away. You can get pregnant 2 weeks before your monthly bleeding starts again. If you are feeding your baby nothing but your breastmilk, the breastfeeding will usually protect you from getting pregnant again for about 6 months. For information on family planning, see Chapter 9.
If you feel very upset or sad
Most women feel strong emotions after giving birth. If you feel this way, health workers and your family may think it is because you have a disability, especially if you find it harder than usual to take care of yourself and do not seem to be able to take care of your baby. They may not realize any new mother may feel sad or worried for a few days, weeks, or even months. When these feelings are very strong, and if you are not able to sleep or eat very well, and cry a lot, it is called depression. A woman who had feelings like this after a previous birth is more likely to feel depressed again.
You will feel better if you can talk to someone you trust about your feelings. You may also need extra help to take care of yourself, your home, and your baby.
There are also some traditional rituals and remedies, as well as modern medicines, to help you feel better. The modern medicines are expensive and can cause other problems, so they should be taken only in extreme cases. Talk to your midwife or health worker. For more information about mental health, see Chapter 3.