Postpartum Practices In The U.S. Suck

Do you know why maternity leave is typically six weeks long?

Because that's how long it takes — on average — for a woman's cervix to close after giving birth, that's why.

The standard six-week maternity leave has nothing to do with the time that a woman's body actually needs to heal and restore itself after giving birth in an uncomplicated, straightforward vaginal birth, let alone a complicated birth or, heaven forbid, a C-section. Nor does it take into account how long a woman may need to actually get breastfeeding established successfully for both her and her baby's health, even though we all know "breast is best."

No, instead we have allowed maternity leave — a privilege that few women in the United States are even privy to in the first place — to be dictated on how long it takes the hole of her uterus to close back up. That's all, folks.

Historically, postpartum women got way more attention than they did while they were pregnant. They were cared for, cooked for and coddled. Countries have different customs for what food a pregnant woman should eat, like the high-fat, high-protein diet observed by the Chinese culture or the special fortifying soups of the Korean culture, but regardless of the diet followed, the message was clear — new moms need lots of rest, time and attention to heal.

Contrast that philosophy with the pregnancy and postpartum practices of the U.S. Here, it's the period of pregnancy that gets all the attention and after the birth? Well, to each her own. Figure it out, just like your mom did and your next door neighbor did. It's cruel when you think about it, and I honestly think that many of us mothers get caught in a vicious cycle because if we had to survive tooth-and-nail through leaking boobs, mastitis, tears and panic attacks about going back to work, well then so should everyone. Or, we secretly wonder if we are just abnormal that the postpartum time feels so bone-crushingly hard.

I don't want to beat a "dead-America's-postpartum-practices" horse idea too much here, but America's postpartum practices suck. And if we don't talk about it, more and more women will enter into that elusive postpartum time wondering if everything they are feeling and experiencing is normal.

"American mothers internalize the prevailing attitude — 'I should be able to handle this myself; women have babies every day' — and if they're not up and functioning, they feel like there's something wrong with them," said Dr. Margaret Howard, the director of the Day Hospital for Postpartum Depression in Providence, Rhode Island.

The truth is, there is no bouncing back after Baby. There's crawling, surviving and hanging by a sleepless thread, but there's no bouncing. And if you are at all able, don't buy into the idea that you have to bounce back or even trudge back at six weeks after birth because someone once deemed it so. Even if you have to take a financial hit, take the maximum amount of maternity leave you are allotted. Because your health may just depend on it.

More on maternity leave

When it comes to maternity leave, always have a plan
Benefits of longer maternity leaves
Tips for going back to work after baby


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