Why Radical Self-Care Matters After Giving Birth
We’ve all heard that after having a baby, we should be flat on our back for 6 weeks. Or something like that.
If you’re like me, you might have found that idea unbelievable. Maybe it inspired a little bit of panic in you. I know it did me.
After my last baby, I had serious cabin fever … and soon after birth, no less! I was an independent woman and I didn’t need to sit around for weeks after having a baby. That’s what I thought, anyway.
A little context: I had just given birth unassisted and was feeling pretty on top of the world. I could do anything!
So about 2 days postpartum, I popped my tiny newborn in a pouch sling, put on a jacket and decided I was going for a walk. I walked the three blocks to the bookshop we owned, sat down on the stool behind the counter, and suddenly felt more drained that I had ever felt in my life.
I remember a customer asking about the baby and then asking why on earth I was there. Suddenly, their voice sounded like it was miles away and coming out from a tunnel. All I could do was nod.
Cabin fever evaporated immediately and all I could think about was crawling into bed. Independent woman transformed into deeply tired woman. So I asked my partner to drive me home.
While someone from another culture would read this story and immediately be horrified, it’s not an entirely unusual story in our western part of the world. We’re taught that resting is important, but not really told why or how much or when. And it’s definitely not as important as being ambitious.
This experience taught me that while we are definitely superhuman badasses while giving birth, we too are reborn with our tiny babies and it’s okay to sink into that transformation. In fact, it’s necessary.
Our world and society wants us to have-it-all, be-it-all, and do-it-all. And tells us we must do all of this all the time. But our mental health issues are skyrocketing. The more we do and race around being superheroes, the less we feel happy and present in our lives.
Giving birth is an initiation. It’s a rite of passage. The person who shows up for labor isn’t the same person who starts life with a baby.
We change drastically and it’s necessary for us to do so. It’s not easy and it can be a kind of refiner’s fire.
Birth can be really challenging. Some births end with the feeling of triumph and some leave us feeling traumatized and deflated. But one of the hardest parts of it all is the moment you’re tucked into your own bed at home and everyone leaves.
Our society overemphasizes how exciting it is to be pregnant and to have a baby. Once the baby has been born, however, we don’t have the traditional cultural structures in place to help us integrate our experience, learn how to parent a newborn, and step into our new role as a renewed being. We’re left to just figure it all out ourselves.
Postpartum depression and anxiety are an increasing part of our world and our experience of being a new parent. It’s not something to take lightly. (And if you’re reading this and you feel like you’re dealing with PPD/A, please reach out to a good therapist - it’s not shameful or wrong and it can be improved with help!)
The postpartum period doesn’t have to be lonely or isolating.
Ideally, before birth you can put into place a plan to help you have the nourishing and blissful experience you deserve. But if you’ve just given birth, don’t despair. You can still create an postpartum experience that nourishes your soul and bonds you deeply to your baby.
HERE ARE A FEW IDEAS TO CONSIDER WHEN CREATING A PLAN FOR YOUR POSTPARTUM EXPERIENCE.
Your body just went through an incredible transformation for 9 months - give it time to heal, repair, and renew.
Traditional cultures create rituals and comforting retreats for new mothers that often last 40 days.
If you can, take a look at your placenta - there’s a matching wound inside your uterus that needs time to heal up.
This is a special time in your life that you can never experience again - try mindfulness exercises before and after birth to help you stay present.
Ask for friends and family to sign up to deliver meals, care for older children, and clean your house.
If you can afford it, schedule people to come in and help - whole food caterers, house cleaners, a nanny, a postpartum doula, etc.
Your job is to fall in love with your baby’s smell, memorize those new little one’s eyes, and figure out breastfeeding/lactation/other feeding methods.
Your gut instinct is usually right on target - listen to it, trust it, and get help from professionals when you need it.
Babies are all different and they come with different needs, personalities, and reactions to the birth experience - you’re probably not doing it wrong, it’s just an adjustment for both of you.
Don’t worry about scales, measurements, or clocks - put them away for now (unless you have a baby with medical needs, of course, and then just do the best you can to have nurses or your partner focus more on the technical stuff so you can focus on falling in love).
You were born for this - even if your brain isn’t sure what to do, your instincts will guide you - trust your feelings.
Babies are highly intelligent and will help you out - listen to your tiny one’s cues and don’t worry about spoiling them (there’s no such thing).
Feel out what is restful for you - stay in bed, set up a comfy chair with an ottoman, make a nest in the sunroom or a closed-in porch.
Indulge in rest and tell society’s nagging voice in your head to take a break - this isn’t a want, it’s a NEED.
Follow your beliefs and ideologies when it comes to feeding and parenting, but know when it’s time to be flexible and try something different.
Respect your own needs while caring for a newborn - get someone scheduled to hold your baby while you nap, shower, bathe, or just sit outside alone for a few minutes.
Turn off your work email, don’t answer your phone if you don’t need to, and allow yourself to retreat from the rest of the world - just for a while.
If you run a business, hire a virtual assistant to run things while you’re on maternity leave or plan things ahead of time so you can disconnect for a while.
If you can’t completely detach from your business, at least push pause for a week and then do only what is absolutely necessary for the following 5 weeks - work will be there when you get back.
Put a sign on your door, send out emails, post on social media - tell your friends and family that they can celebrate with you later and this time is special and important for bonding and healing.
Ask your partner or family member to be your postpartum “bouncer,” if necessary - you don’t need to share your baby if you’re not ready to.
Traditional cultures often have a celebration for mother and baby after the 40 days is up - you can do something like this too, if that feels right.
Prepare your older children ahead of time so they respect and understand that this time period is special and important.
Involve your other children in bonding with baby, but also explain how both of you really need rest - ask them to be gentle and calm with both of you.
Start building your village before birth, whether that’s in-person, online, or (ideally) both - you’ll need their understanding and support while you navigate new parenthood.
Put away the computers, phones, articles, books, and videos - unless, of course, you’re using them for relaxation purposes.
Focus on building up the hormone oxytocin in your body so you can bond and heal deeply - the more you rest, retreat, and give yourself self-care the more you’ll produce this amazing hormone.
Try to eat nourishing whole foods, but also don’t stress about it - you don’t need to be perfect to grow a healthy baby.
Set yourself up before birth so you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the kitchen after birth - freezer meals, DIY dried soup mixes, and ask for others to bring food.
You don’t have to be a perfect parent or to get it all right - your baby needs your love and the self-care you give yourself will allow you to more fully give that love.
And above all, know that you are worth this deep bonding, healing, and rest.
You deserve it and your baby deserves it. Midwives and wise women throughout history have always emphasized how important this time period is and it’s only been recently that we’ve forgotten about their wisdom.