Thankfully the furore surrounding the birth of Prince George has finally died down and, with luck, Kate and William can get on with their lives without such an extreme media spotlight glaring. They have entered that phase that has become known as “The Babymoon”. This term was originally coined by the splendid anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger (who I saw last in Edinburgh in April – in her mid-eighties and as lucid and sharp as ever) to mean a time immediately after birth when the parents hunker down and spend time getting to know their baby. In fact, it is believed that fathers find the transition to fatherhood far easier if they do spend two weeks minimum at home after the birth. The babymoon term has been “stolen” by various travel companies to entice pregnant couples away to enjoy one last holiday together prior to the baby’s arrival, but we won’t dwell on that!
In many cultures, the birth mother has always been encouraged to spend 40 days and nights at home with her baby, handing over all responsibility for the home, work, other children etc to the rest of the family/community. And a doula would, no doubt, have been one of the experienced women of the village – a woman who could come and sit with the mother, answer the questions, support the feeding and offer practical and emotional support. It saddens me that we have moved away from this so much. I see far too many women who are isolated, unsupported (once their partner returns to work), struggling to do too much in the belief that they should be able to do it all. They are exhausted, which is understandable given that they are doing the most important and most challenging job of their lifetime (caring for a newborn) whilst undergoing sleep deprivation. We need to nurture and support our postnatal women. We have much higher rates of postnatal depression than in those communities where the “lying in” period is encouraged. One of my great go-to doctors for all things pregnancy, birth and postnatal, Sarah Buckley, recommends that no new mother should get out of her pyjamas in the first couple of weeks after birth, because if she is dressed she will feel like doing too much! And, I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment. One mother I supported to breastfeed her second baby described how, with her first, she had given birth and come home one day and done the weekly shop in Sainsbury’s the next. It was not entirely surprising that the breastfeeding relationship had been a difficult one. I hope Kate and William have closed the doors, shut away the visitors and are enjoying as much skin to skin contact with George as possible, sleeping when he sleeps, being fed nourishing meals provided for them by loving family and allowing time to do its healing after the pregnancy and birth.
Second to that, I hope that Kate isn’t in a hurry to reclaim her pre-pregnancy body. Some of you will have followed the anti-OK magazine campaign on Twitter and the like. To focus on Kate being back in shape just a day after giving birth was shameful. I was delighted that Kate didn’t hide her post-pregnancy bump when she emerged from the Lindo, though many people were very surprised that it existed! Our media is so swamped with stories and photos of celebrities back in their Size 6 jeans and wearing their Jimmy Choos on a night out just a couple of weeks after the birth that we have totally lost any sense of perspective – of course a woman who isn’t wearing several layers of Spanx or similar supportive garments is going to have a lovely soft pot-belly for a while. Given that I had an emergency caesarean mine took quite some time to settle and it did feel like a strange unknown. What I didn’t know at the time, but am just blown away by now, is that my body had put down specific fat stores for breastfeeding that would only be burnt effectively by feeding, not by exercise. Amazing! Milli Hill, founder of the Positive Birth Movement, has just written an excellent blog about post-pregnancy body image, http://www.bestdaily.co.uk/your-life/news/a502357/women-need-to-see-more-real-post-birth-bodies-like-katys-and-kates.html – I urge you to follow her on Twitter, or to read her blogs. I have to admit that nobody warned me that my body wouldn’t pop back after birth, but it makes utter sense that if your body spent nine months growing a human being, that it is probably going to take at least that amount of time to return to a vaguely familiar form and perhaps that shouldn’t be our main focus – maybe we should devote our attention and time to our newborn and give ourselves a bit of a break where perfect bodies are concerned. Walking and fresh air is great for the postnatal Mum, once the initial couple of weeks or more have passed, but do we really need to do more than that?