Medically reviewed by Dr. Unsa Mohsin.
Maternal Health refers to the health of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, and after the child is born (post-partum). Most people fail to recognize the enormous impact a mother’s physical and mental health has on the love and care she can offer her child after birth. It is also true that many women go through a particularly depressive and difficult phase during their postnatal period (the period following childbirth). However, there is very little awareness about why women struggle to the extent that it harms them both physically and emotionally. Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are undoubtedly extremely overwhelming experiences. Yet, only a tiny fraction of women find supportive environments during their postpartum days. This supportive environment is crucial for women to be able to come to terms with the physical as well as psychological changes that they experience where a lactation councillor role is important.
Recent times have seen an increase in awareness about the importance of maternal health and its benefits, and significant progress has been made in the last two decades. Despite this, about 295 000 women have died during and after pregnancy, and during childbirth in 2017. This number is unacceptably high and so much can be done to lessen it. In fact, most maternal deaths are preventable with timely management by a skilled health professional and in the midst of a supportive environment.
Every female has a unique experience with pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. The way everyone reacts to this experience is also different. Dealing with a newborn is already a difficult task, but what makes it harder is the unnecessary expectations from friends, and family. Not to mention the expectations a mother often has from herself as well. Naturally, most women are unable to live up to these high and bizarre expectations. This inevitably creates a vicious cycle of disappointment that most mothers find themselves trapped in.
One of the most common examples of this tussle between expectations and reality is the not-so-simple task of breastfeeding. A large percentage of women are very sure during their pregnancy that they want to, and will be able to, exclusively breastfeed their child after he/she is born. But, they’re unaware of how incredibly tiresome the process of breastfeeding really is. Moreover, many people are also oblivious to the fact that the mother’s mental and emotional wellbeing has a huge impact on the production of breast milk as well. Therefore, when the time comes, numerous women are left astounded at how challenging the process of breastfeeding actually is.
For decades, researchers have presumed a connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression. Many have suggested that being unable to breastfeed may be a direct trigger for postpartum depression or anxiety. It is safe to say that breastfeeding is much more complex than what most people deem it to be. However, the good news, that most people are unaware of, is that there exist trained health professionals to specifically help women through this entire process. This is where I will be introducing the concept of lactation consultants.
According to research, most women have stated that they found the process of breastfeeding much more difficult than childbirth itself. This is exactly why it is so important to spread awareness about not feeling ashamed to ask for help for breastfeeding, whether at home or professionally.
A lactation consultant is a health professional who specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. These professionals are trained to assist mothers in preventing and solving breastfeeding issues such as low milk supply, breast pain, nipple inversion, engorgement, candidiasis, milk stasis, mastitis, overactive letdown, and Raynaud’s of the nipple. The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLE) is a body that certifies lactation consultants who meet their criteria and have passed their exams. The entire purpose of these consultants is to help mothers through the process of breastfeeding, which in turn has a great impact on their mental and physical health as well. We should always remember that our mental health is just as important as our physical health, if not more. Ignoring it will ultimately manifest in other ways that produce further harm. As the saying goes ‘ be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it’.
(Maternal Health, n.d.)
(“Breastfeeding Difficulties,” 2020)
(“Lactation Consultant,” 2020)