by Justyna St. Onge, LICSW, Postpartum Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor
What if we planned for the postpartum period the same way we prepare for birth? I remember planning for my birth in a multitude of ways. I took birth education classes with my husband, hired a birth doula, and researched and read about birth. I packed my bag with all the essentials for the hospital, and took time to set up a registry of “must-have” baby gear for my shower. In my mind, I was prepared for birth and all that comes with having a baby. What I didn’t realize until later, was that I hadn’t given much time or thought to how I would care for myself and my family in the postpartum period.
The postpartum period is the time after birth when a new mother is recovering physically and emotionally from pregnancy and birth. It is a time of transition in the lives of new families who are integrating their new roles as parents. Parenting a newborn is a major undertaking and can come with unexpected challenges. Basic emotional and physical needs of the mother have to be met so that she and the family can move into thriving rather than just surviving the postpartum period. This is true for the first baby as much as it is for each subsequent birth. In my research and trainings, I’ve learned that some cultures highly prioritize the first 40 days as a time of cocooning, healing and rest, and family together time. It’s honored as a time when the birthing person is healing and bonding with the baby.
In western culture, we are bombarded with images of mothers doing it all while making it look easy. However, this time, more than any other time, is a time to rest and recover. You need to lean on your community and circles of support wherever you may find them. The amount you can rest now, (which maternity leave policy in America makes very hard to do) has long-term payoffs for months and years to come.
So what are the components to a nourished and supportive postpartum plan? Recovery from birth requires rest and healing. Take care of yourself so you can rest and take care of the baby. The foundations of postpartum healing are rest, nourishing foods, warmth and connection to community. Planning and thinking about the elements of a positive postpartum period can be very helpful when challenges arise. Those things can be so much more beneficial to your long-term wellbeing than a perfect crib or a new paint job for the nursery.
REST: New parents get less sleep than they are accustomed to or need. REST - not just sleep - is important in establishing health and healing in the new mother during the 4th trimester. Sleep deprivation can be common and has many emotional and physical consequences. Often times parents are told to sleep when the baby sleeps. This can be challenging, but put tasks and to-do lists on hold. The cumulative effect of sleep deprivation can take an emotional and physical toll on the new parents. Sleep deprivation impacts mood, emotional stability, milk supply and overall energy level. Rest can look like sitting on a comfortable couch while sipping nourishing teas or broth without the distraction of phones, devices or anything else stimulating. Staying home is an important aspect of resting. If you plan to have a baby shower, consider asking friends and family members to give the gift of a postpartum doula who can provide postpartum and well baby care. A postpartum doula can provide an extra hand while you rest, shower, and tend to the baby as well as meal prep and often general lactation support. A postpartum doula can also help you develop a postpartum plan that meets the needs of your individual and unique family.
NOURISHING FOOD: Food is a major contributor to restoring vitality and supporting healing in the postpartum period. Eat nourishing and comforting foods that are easy to digest. There are some wonderful resources/books on food and healing during the postpartum period i.e. The First 40 Days by Heng Ou and The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson. The foods we eat can impact everything from recovery, energy level, milk supply and mood. Often times, new mothers can be so depleted and busy that they forget to eat themselves. Before the baby comes, stock the freezer with ready-made meals that can be easily reheated when the baby arrives. Consider having a friend, work colleague, or family member set up a meal train so that you don’t have to worry about cooking in those early weeks. When people ask how they can help or what they can bring, tell them to bring a meal!
WARMTH: For women to recover from their birth with health and vitality, they need warmth during postpartum period. The body loses warmth during the birth process and can experience drastic temperature changes. Warming mothers after birth is a common practice in the Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic tradition. Warming practices include eating and drinking warm foods and liquids, using warm herbal sitz baths to help soothe and heal, using a heating pad or hot water bottle on the belly and sacrum, avoiding iced and cold food/drinks, eating and adding warming spices to foods such as cinnamon, ginger and turmeric. For more information about the concept of warmth in postpartum refer to Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, and postpartum traditions from around the world.
COMMUNITY: Parenting shouldn’t happen in isolation. Parenting requires community and connection. Think of the people in your life that can support and help you in little ways. This is different from visitors who arrive at your door and require a certain level of hosting. Levels of support could include neighbors, work colleagues, family members and friends near and far. Asking for help can be challenging, but most people want to be involved in supporting a new family or have been on the receiving end of this assistance and want to reciprocate - so don't be afraid to be specific! People often ask what they can bring or how they can help. It would be helpful to identify a list of visitors prior to baby’s arrival who might help with delivering meals, holding the baby while mom showers, or simply keeping mom company. One of the biggest sources of support for mothers of infants is a network of other mothers. Get familiar with groups that meet regularly such as RI New Moms Connection, a local breast feeding support group, mom and baby yoga or the local baby wearing group. Find your group through local resources such as providencemomsblog.com or momunity.co.
The early weeks and months after the baby is born is a huge time of transition, not only for the baby, but also the the new parents. Preparing for your postpartum period while you are pregnant can help ease the transition into parenthood in a calm and thoughtful way. This transition can be blissful and filled with love and joy over the arrival of the new baby. Yet, the postpartum period can also be a time of learning, processing and adjusting to the worry and responsibilities involved with parenthood. Creating a plan or guide can help you begin to think and prepare ahead of time to help ease the transition from pregnancy and birth to postpartum.
Justyna is a postpartum doula who tends to new mothers and empowers families to thrive through their period of transition into parenthood. For further information on how to create a personalized postpartum plan or for information on holistic postpartum care, please visit motherborne.com or contact Justyna at 203-927-0687.