The postnatal period is an important adjustment period for women, which lasts from after delivery until up to six weeks after birth. During this phase women receive immediate clinical care and community support to ensure the health of mother and child by providing support for breastfeeding practices, monitoring the infants’ development and counselling. Yet, maternity care is often insufficient and differs across countries. To ensure that women receive the best care, a study identified what women want most during this period.
The postnatal period can have a short and long-term effect on the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies, which is mentioned by the WHO that emphasizes the impact this period can have on ending preventable deaths. Thus, Finlayson et al. conducted a systematic review of 36 studies, published between 2003 and 2019, to analyse the expectations and values of women in the postnatal period. In total, the study included answers of over 800 women from 15 countries, which represent diverse ethnic and socio-demographic backgrounds. Of those 36 studies, 19 included first-time mothers only and 17 studies allowed mothers who had already given birth before.
The following five analytical themes were discovered:
- “Riding the emotional rapids”:
- Feelings can range from joy and love to depression, loneliness and guilt because mothers expect too much of themselves and cannot live up to that self-set standard.
- Mothers can feel like they do not have the control of the situation and are exhausted due to lack of sleep.
- “Dancing around the baby–social and relational adaptation”:
- The women’s lives change abruptly and they take less care of their own needs to take care of the baby.
- Household chores, and going outside the home become difficult to manage.
- Women have the need to create a strong bond with their newborn and often tend to neglect other relationships.
- “It takes a community to raise a mother”:
- Emotional and practical support from their family, community and healthcare personnel are crucial.
- “Re-forming the birthing body”:
- More information prior to giving birth about injuries that might occur during delivery and how women can recover from those injuries could reduce anxiety.
- Many women need to regain confidence regarding how pregnancy changed their body.
- “Putting the mother into postnatal care”:
- In addition to the baby’s needs, the mother’s needs should be noticed and fulfilled.
- It is important for mothers to receive high quality, continuing care and to have a trustworthy connection with the healthcare provider to receive information and support.
Overall, the results of this review show that women desire and value the support of their family, community and health-care professionals to help them adapt to motherhood. Therefore, it is important to educate families and the community on how they can provide the best help to new mothers and to give useful information on what to expect and how to deal with the difficulties that might occur during the postnatal period. This will help them to adjust to their new role and life while achieving personal growth, to better deal with emotional and physical difficulties, and to form a strong bond with the newborn baby.
Paper available to view at: PLOS ONE
Full list of authors: Kenneth Finlayson, Nicola Crossland, Mercedes Bonet, Soo Downe