In many cultures, the first 40 days after birth is considered a sacred time of great bonding, healing, and growth for both birth-giver and baby. The first ten days should be spent exclusively in bed, the next ten days in, near, or around your bed, the third ten days in your home, and the last ten days in and around your home al while resting, getting plenty of skin-to-skin contact with your baby, and being served highly nutritious meals. . This can seem like a lot or even too much down time for some, but I have a feeling that cultures that support this experience of the postpartum period are really supporting something quite important of time to heal, care, and give emotional support throughout the fourth trimester.
Today, in western cultures, our society hasn’t laid an easy path for this to be possible for new parents. In the US, one quarter of all new mothers go back to work in the first two weeks after giving birth. TWO WEEKS! You may still be wearing an adult diaper for your lochia within two weeks of birth! Bodies are just not ready for that quick of a turn-around. This is not the fault of parents but of the system that values productivity, doesn’t support Maternity/paternity leave, and doessn’t pay employees high enough wages to be able to save for this time. Our current systems really don’t prioritize health, well-being, or the futures of families.
I want to encourage you to find ways to make the first 40 days as nourishing as possible for you and your family despite what restrictions on time, finances, and resources you may have. Meal trains, care plans for older children, financing a postpartum doula, access to low-cost lactation support, and accepting support from friends and family can be some of the first steps in setting up your fourth trimester for a more nourishing time. This isn’t a time of your life to be “polite” and turn away help. When someone offers to tidy up your kitchen, throw in some laundry, or prepare your breakfast for you, take them up on it! Just say yes.
Amongst many different things you can do for yourself postpartum, eating highly nutritious meals is important in supporting your body through healing, lactation, and recovering from growing a baby throughout the past 9 months. Talking about “diets” and “eating well” can be quite triggering and difficult for a lot of people so re-considering how we frame the language and approach to it can take away a lot of the stress it may cause. List your preferences on your meal-train so your friends and family can support you with your favorite protein and iron-rich meals. Try to always have lots of yummy (easy to prepare and eat) snacks on hand, and make sure to eat as much warm food as you can. Some snack suggestions are nuts, grapes, berries, bananas, apple slices, rice cake with nut spread or avocado, greek yogurt with honey, dried fruit, or crackers with your favorite spread. Don’t let this worry you too much. If there are vegetables, a protein, and whole grain, involved you are doing great.
So we’ve already covered how many cultures approach the first 40 days postpartum, but unlike in these cultures, here in Germany you may not have 40 days to rest and recover with the care of your elders and family. Can you still rest and use a similar model? Of course! If you can plan for at least 15 days of rest, you will be much better off than without. Consider taking 5 days in bed, 5 days on your bed, and 5 days around your bed. Ideally this would include limited guests, plenty of warm nutritious food, sitz baths, naps, and short strolls around the neighborhood if you are getting very antsy. This rest will give your body a better chance of healing well, boding with your baby, an opportunity to establish a feeding rhythm with your babe and space to concentrate on you and your new family. If you experience more exhaustion than normal or an increased lochia (the blood on your maternity pads) than you are probably over-doing it. Try to rest more and take things slow.
Organizing childcare for older children
If you have older children you may be worried about how to handle a newborn plus an older child just after birth. Securing a plan for labor and your older child can take a lot of stress off but so can making plans for them after baby comes. Depending on if your older kids are already in day-care/school you can plan for friends or your children’s friends to have “play-dates” in the first few weeks after your new baby arrives. Overnight sleepovers can be a great way to ensure that you have some rest and bonding time with your new baby. Another option can be allowing your partner to bond with your new baby for a few hours a day while you have a cuddle and share time with your older children. Having your second or third child can be tough on older siblings, but they will get through it and learn a whole new love for your family in the process. Whichever path you choose, just know that there is no right or easy way to bring another child into a family. You are doing your best and this is a transitional phase for everyone involved.
Postpartum Doula Support
Many people could truly benefit from the support of a postpartum doula. We parent the new parents and help you with things like newborn baby care, tidying your home, cooking and freezing meals for later, help to process the flood of emotions and hormones you are experiencing, help with errands and outings that may be necessary, and much more. If the only thing stopping you from the care you would like is finances, there are ways to fund a birth or postpartum doula. Many people work with registries in baby showers where you can ask your friends for the gift of doula support. Or perhaps you have family that lives far away and may be interested in funding the support they may not be able to give in person. And some doulas even work on payment plans or sliding scales to make their care more affordable for everyone.
Most of the pregnant couples I work with spend a lot of time and energy preparing for the end of their pregnancies and births. Though this is a great idea, I encourage them to also plan for after their baby arrives earthside. If you need more ideas or resources on how to stay well and nourished or you would like more support throughout your fourth trimester, get in touch and I’m sure we can work something out. You’e got this.