Ten years ago, I gave birth and couldn’t sit properly for two weeks.
Nine years ago, I stood in line at the baby store behind a shell-shocked-looking new dad and ended up filling his basket with every single supply he needed to bring home to his postpartum wife. The witch hazel, the numbing spray, the nipple cream, the thick pads, the thicker pads, and the breast pads, too. I explained it all. Like so many first-time mothers, I was newly immodest and righteous about the whole shocking experience of childbirth, so little of which anyone had warned me about.
Now, finally, that openness is about to scale, thanks to companies like Mama Strut and Mor for Moms, that support the postpartum experience. It’s about time. Recent research shows that more American moms are having babies in their 30s than in their 20s; they have more agency and more money to spend on care than their younger counterparts. They’re also not shy: The hashtag #postpartumbody is closing in on 1 million mentions on Instagram. The result is a postpartum-product boom.
Amelia Gingold Makin founded Mor for Moms with Kiki Burger, the woman she called her at-work “bump buddy.” They worked for different companies at WeWork Universal North in Washington, D.C., and became instant work wives. “We uncovered all of the realities of pregnancy together,” says Makin. “The doctors’ appointments, the bodily fluids.” They ended up in labor on the same day—and both women were similarly shocked by how unprepared they were for recovery.
“Everything just ran out for us in terms of information,” says Makin. “This phase of confusion and bewilderment set in.” Once on the other side of the new-baby haze, they vowed to help other new moms.
Together, the friends and future business partners assembled kits of the personal items they had needed most after birth, giving them to grateful friends, and then friends of friends, and then friends of those friends, too. “We wanted to create something where you didn’t have to go online those first couple of days,” says Makin.
Over two years, and with focus grouping, they refined the care packages to eight essential products and made the business official by partnering with a community health center to provide kits to all of its expectant moms. The kits are available for purchase, too, but the founders are thinking big, working on several deals with corporate benefits departments. Feminine-hygiene pads given by HR? It’s happening: Snap Inc. has already signed on.
In California, Jill Bigelow, a former college athlete and operations and finance executive, experienced that same shock at the lack of postnatal support. “I had a birth injury with my first child, and then when it happened again after my second, I thought, This is ridiculous,” says Bigelow. “Whenever I’ve had a sports injury, there’s a care plan and equipment. Why not for birth? Where’s my compression? Where’s my ice?” So she developed her own equipment, Mama Strut, a recovery device that goes beyond other post-birth corsets on the market by providing pelvic-floor support and cooling.
The Mama Strut is so effective at reducing pain and recovery time (Bigelow herself recently used it after her third birth) that it’s being used in a medical study to help eliminate opioid use in postpartum recovery. Bigelow says that Mama Strut’s sales last year were four times the year prior, and she’s working with one of the country’s top hospital systems to launch more products and services through her company, Pelv-Ice. “We want to be the new standard of care for hospitals,” Bigelow says.
In the context of no paid parental leave, mom bias in the workplace, and a maternal mortality rate that is up 53 percent in the U.S. (versus a decline of 44 percent globally), these entrepreneurs are filling a vital need. It’s meaningful work, the founders say, but it’s also just good business. “Fifty-five percent of women of childbearing age or older have pelvic-floor damage,” says Bigelow. “If we all sprained our ankles and no one wore an ankle brace, how do you think we’d all be feeling?”
And as they grow, they’re making cultural change for all new parents. “Mental and physical health are inextricably intertwined,” explains Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a reproductive psychiatrist, CEO and medical director of The Motherhood Center, and co-author of What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood. “If you feel terrible, it impacts your mental health.”
These products also shake off the shame many mothers still feel, says Dr. Birndorf: “Women see that there must be enough other women out there with a need like their own. That normalizes the postpartum experience.”
Makin, who has started seeing orders come in from surrogate moms and lots of dads, too, is feeling that new openness and connection. She loves reading the messages that people submit for the cards on their gift orders. “They’ll say: ‘You’ve always been amazing and an inspiration. Even more now.’ Isn’t that perfect?”
Lauren Smith Brody is the founder of The Fifth Trimester consulting, which helps companies support and retain working moms, and the author of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby. Read her advice for new working parents.