Thoughts on the post-partum time

OK, this article made me mad. As if new moms aren't under enough pressure already, the subtext of this article suggests you should be ready to get back to your exercise program two weeks after popping out your kid.

Where to start with my objections?

1. The critical postpartum recovery time: Some traditional cultures, such as in China and Mexico, consider a new mother to be weakened for four to six weeks following birth. During this time, she mostly stays indoors, and receives nourishing foods, and her kin take care of her family, household, new baby, and her. The understanding is that the community is making an investment. Giving the new mother plenty of rest following birth will ensure she is well-prepared, mentally and physically, to care for her child. To abandon the new mother in her weakened state risks her health, and the health of the growing infant. In China, the womb is considered to be very vulnerable during this time as it is still open, and damaging influences, such as cold, can easily get in. The Chinese also understand that making and delivering a baby requires a huge expenditure of blood and energy, all of which comes from the mother. Failing to replenish this expense risks poor milk flow, psychological distress, and prolonged poor health. 

To suggest that running a few miles two weeks after delivering a baby is a worthy goal goes against this traditional wisdom, and places the mother (and by association, the child) at risk.

2. Sometimes athletes need to chill out. Seriously, y'all athletic types can get obsessive and treat your sport like a necessary drug, to the point where you ignore all that is sensible about your health. The gal profiled in this article tried to run a mere three days after having her child. That is absolute madness, in my opinion. She says she discovered it wasn't a good idea and listened to her body, but she probably thought she was hearing her body before she set out. My obsessive athletic patients often have this characteristic: unless the pain or fatigue is so bad they cannot move, it "isn't too bad" and they can do their sport. Anything worse than "not too bad" is "a severe emergency!" because they can't do their sport. There is a whole range of body sensations starting with mild discomfort or fatigue, through moderate pain that lets up on stopping an activity, to severe pain that prevents activity. Obsessive athletes can lose sight of these nuances and view their sport through an all or nothing lens. Suggesting to dedicated athletes that "if it feels o.k." they might resume training as soon as a couple weeks after having a baby is going to be perceived by some as a license to overdo it and cause injury. For the first four weeks, exercise should be pleasant strolls about the neighborhood, not three mile runs.

3. The pressures on expectant and new moms are out of control, and it makes me quite angry. Not only does medical science keep heaping upon expectant mothers that the health of their child is completely under the control of their choices even before conception, and thus any hiccup their child might have in development is squarely on them; not only do we now have competitive birthing, where new mothers feel shamed if they had to have a c-section or epidural; not only do we as a nation completely abandon new mothers socially and financially, leaving them alone with their infants in their own weakened state during a time when mother and baby should be lavished with care and attention; now we are heaping upon that pile a helping of guilt if the new mother doesn't feel ready to be a runner within a couple of weeks? "Well, the new mom in this article is back to running! I feel awful, but I should try. I'm sure I can do it." Yeah, and drop all the baby weight, and use only cloth diapers, and make all your own baby food, too. It is completely ridiculous. 

In my ideal world, every new mother would receive the four to six weeks of total care at home for herself, her infant, and her family that were traditional in China, and is still traditional in Mexico. I've heard so many stories from women who were left alone in the postpartum time. It can be very traumatizing, and can prolong recovery from the birth experience. The postpartum time is for resting, healing, and replenishing the huge expense of child creation. It isn't for putting on your running shoes and getting your mileage back up.