A Military Mom's Postpartum Journey

Written by Tessarose Brown

Bringing home a baby can be overwhelming. I know that I’ve had my fair share of anxiety, confusion, and helplessness during my postpartum period, but I have also learned so much about myself through this journey.

When military life is thrown into the mix, the challenges of dealing with postpartum emotions and having a baby become even more demanding. Frequent relocations, long deployments, and not much help can make new moms feel stressed and alone. The pressure can exacerbate their feelings of sadness or anxiety after giving birth. But with the support from loved ones and their community, military families can navigate through these hardships with greater strength and resilience.

Here are some dos and don’ts that I have learned during my postpartum experience.

Do Take Care of Yourself

The fourth trimester should really be all about your recovery and adjustment to having a newborn. As military spouses, we often feel that we have to go at it alone. But I have found that there is support all around if you’re willing to let people in and help.

5/5/5 Rule

The best thing I did for myself was rest, rest, rest. I followed the 5/5/5 rule after giving birth. For the first 15 days, I took it easy and gradually did more. Here’s how it works: During the initial 5 days, I stayed in bed, only getting up for the bathroom and appointments. Thankfully, my service member and parents were there to support me, helping me with meals and the baby. For the next 5 days, I moved around a bit near my bed and did light stretches. In the last 5 days, I spent more time in the house but still took it easy resting one hour for every 30 minutes of activity.

Practice Self-Care

I know that it’s easy to tell someone to practice self-care, but it’s really hard to do when you have a new tiny human around. But you’ve got to do it. For me, self-care means getting out of the house and having lunch with a friend. I also got massages and my nails done. I made sure to take advantage of family visiting and snuggle in my bed with a new book or just binge-watch a few TV shows. Whatever you need to do to make you feel like the strong and healthy woman that you are, do it. And, don’t feel guilty about it.

Don’t Pretend It’s Easy Having a Newborn

Some military spouses make it look so easy. I’m part of several military spouse groups on social media and it seems like some just have it all together. It’s easy to fall into that trap and “fake it til you make it.” But, let’s not pretend that having a new baby is simple. We all understand that it’s anything but easy. It’s a wonderful experience, but it’s also messy, exhausting, and emotional. Dealing with the challenges of military life is already hard enough, so pretending will only add to the difficulties.

Military spouses and moms face additional stresses such as frequent moves and deployments. Pretending that having to give birth without your service member, or PCSing while 30 weeks pregnant is a piece of cake will only be a waste of energy and an outright lie. Instead, let it out and vent to a trusted family, friend, or therapist, or reach out to other military spouses for advice and solutions. Our military community spans the globe but is small. Odds are there is a spouse who has gone through or is going through exactly what you are.

Don’t Try to Do It All Alone

Enlist the help of your unit, friends, and family. Let them give you a baby shower or two! Take all the gifts and supplies they want to give you. Accept the casseroles and freeze them for later. The military mom community is so generous and helpful. I have been given diapers, clothes, and even food from complete strangers willing to pass on their extras. When you’re ready, let your extended family visit and take the chance to reconnect with your partner or take a few hours to yourself.

As a military spouse, I am most grateful for military parental leave, allowing my service member to take as much time off as I do after bringing our baby home. Having him here the whole time has been the greatest help. I have really been able to lean on him in a way I wouldn’t have had he not been here the whole time. I understand that this isn’t possible for everyone, but I’m thankful that the military considers not just female service members giving birth but also male service members who need to be home to support their spouses during this vulnerable time.

My service member and I have really been able to figure out how to work as a team and split household and parental duties in a way that works for us. Both of our daughters go to daycare, I do drop-offs and he does pick-ups. He cleans bottles and I label and fill them for the next day. He does the laundry and we fold and put it away together. We take turns giving baths. While I’m breastfeeding, he gets our older daughter dressed and ready for school. Things may change once we are both back to work full-time, but having the time together now gives me so much peace of mind that we have everything covered — together.

Do Take Advantage of Outside Resources

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) offers various specially designed programs for military families. The Children’s Waiting Room enables junior enlisted service members and their families to make health and well-being a priority. By providing child care services at the installation clinic, this program helps parents keep scheduled appointments without the stress of finding child care outside of the hospital.

Another excellent resource is the New Parent Support Program (NPSP) run by Army Community Services. Whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced one, they have something for everyone. My local NPSP offers home visits, and I had my first visit, which was great! Talking to someone about my needs and concerns was really helpful. It’s also fantastic that if you have a service member away due to deployment or training, NPSP can connect you to the resources you need.

Do Know What To Expect When Home

Here is a list of things that I made sure I knew before returning from the hospital. This really helped alleviate any feelings of uncertainty and anxiety I had about bringing my little one home.

  • Understand common postpartum symptoms. As your uterus shrinks back to its normal size, abdominal pain is common, especially when breastfeeding.
  • Learn what to do if your baby gets sick. If their temperature goes up to 100.4°F, they breathe really fast (more than 60 breaths in a minute), or their chest pulls in when they breathe, get help immediately.
  • Remember when to call your doctor. If your breasts get red streaks or painful lumps, it could be mastitis, an infection. You might need medicine to help.
  • Go to the emergency room if you or your baby have serious problems like high blood or problems with healing after birth.

Don’t Ignore Your Pain

Don’t ignore your body’s signals for rest or medical attention by immediately adopting a “super mom” mindset. Watch out for postpartum symptoms like heavy bleeding, strong cramps, severe headaches, tears or incision issues, incontinence, frequent urination, leg pain, chest pain, breathing problems, breast pain, or persistent sadness or harmful thoughts.

Serious signs needing help include struggling to bond, excessive crying, severe mood swings, doubting your mothering abilities, difficulty thinking clearly, severe anxiety, panic attacks, and harmful thoughts toward yourself or your baby.

During postnatal and OB follow-up appointments, healthcare professionals often ask about your emotions through surveys or direct questions. Take these seriously and answer honestly. Pregnancy triggers significant physical, hormonal, psychological, and emotional changes. After childbirth, emotions can range from joy to sadness, known as the “baby blues,” lasting up to two weeks. More severe postpartum depression (PPD) affects about 1 in 7 women. It can impact your relationship with your baby and your behavior. Remember, PPD isn’t a weakness, just a birth complication. Swift treatment can ease symptoms and enhance bonding with your baby.

Initially, I felt anxiety, fear, and loneliness after my first daughter’s birth. These feelings lessened, and I shared my experiences honestly with my OB and pediatrician. They reassured me and advised monitoring for more symptoms while leaning on my partner and family for support. This time, I’ve been open and honest about my mental state, which has helped me better cope with the ups and downs during the postpartum period.

Do Enjoy Your Time with Your Newborn

As difficult as having a newborn and a toddler at home has been, there has been so much joy. My family is thriving and when times are tough, I have so many beautiful and wonderful moments to look back on and lift my spirits. My hands-down favorite memory is introducing my newborn to my 3-year-old daughter. She is so excited to be an older sister and is absolutely enamored with our new baby.

The ASYMCA Has Programs That Can Help Support Military Parents

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting military families. Programs such as the Children’s Waiting Room and Operation Little Learners support military moms and service members. Learn more about ASYMCA’s programs today.