In our fast-paced world where we have to live up to so many roles, where a woman’s life is divided between work, family, studies, marriage and more. it is so important to slow down and look after ourselves, especially after giving birth. At this time, not only is a child born, but a mother and a father as well. It is a time for bonding, a time for becoming a family.
The first 6 weeks of motherhood is a very special time for a woman. In many cultures they believed it to be sacred and had rituals and traditions to protect mother and her new born child. The people around the new parents did everything possible to make it a time of healing, rest and nurturing the mother so she can do the same for her baby. These customs are disappearing in modern societies due to many factors, but mainly because nuclear families are more common these days. Especially if you live the expat life, you don’t have the protection and the necessary support of the extended family around you to help in this sensitive period.
In almost every culture, the suggested time for healing and adjusting to the new responsibilities for moms is 30 days or 6 weeks. There are good reasons why the traditions were established. There are many happenings both on the emotional and physical level that mom and baby have to deal with. Their surroundings had to assure that both mom and baby will recover from birth, gain strength fast and be healthy. Taking a rest was compulsory in the past but they did have the help from their community so they could concentrate solely on the baby and themselves.
Nowadays it is a different story. In our modern society, many women are not as lucky as our ancestors in having the luxury of being fully attended to. Some women rush back to work because they have to, some feel pressured to get back to their daily chores as soon as possible. It is very important that if one is not taking the advantage of the whole 6 weeks, at least during the first period of postpartum period of the first 10 days, mothers should rest completely. We are independent strong women who can easily multitask and face any challenges that life throws at us, but this time is the time when we are at our most vulnerable: when we should put away our pride and ask and accept help. So you can be kind to yourself and take the time to heal and to adjust to parenthood.
Here are some of the many changes a new mother has to deal with after childbirth:
Giving birth is a very intense process, it is exhausting and painful. There is a huge amount of physical stress that has been put on your body during pregnancy and childbirth.
Your uterus weighs much more than it normally would and its capacity is about 500 times bigger just before you give birth. Involution of the uterus takes weeks and during this period you can experience very unpleasant after-pains. Also, this change in size and weight can cause hemorrhoids which are also unpleasant and can hurt a lot.
The pelvic floor muscles get stretched out and weakened during pregnancy and delivery. They return to near their normal position but it needs time and exercise to restore muscle tone. One can gain extremely good results from pelvic floor muscle exercises. These can begin on the first day of childbirth while lying in bed. It is suggested even before and during pregnancy as well to strengthen the pelvic muscles. Weakened pelvic floor muscles can cause sinking of the vagina, or the anus and can even cause urinary incontinence (involuntary urinal leakage or urinating); these problems appear more commonly if you had more than one or very difficult delivery. Additionally, delivery can be hard on your bladder too, causing some swelling and loss of sensitivity, and because of that you might not make it to the toilet on time or not without leaking.
Abdominal muscles are stretched out too. You have to be careful what kind of exercise you choose to do to restore them .Obviously you have to erase from your brain the image you have about exercise for this period; you are only allowed to do some light stretching, postpartum yoga or postpartum exercises. Only after your postpartum doctor’s checkup should you return to a light version of your personal exercise routine with your doctor’s approval. During the first 6 weeks you shouldn’t stress your body with physical activities or heavy lifting so you don’t do damage to yourself or hinder your healing process. In the beginning, lifting your child and taking care of him/her will be very exhausting as it is.
If you gave birth vaginally, the area will be swollen and bruised and will need time to heal. So does the cesarean cut.
At this time, you will experience vaginal discharge called lochia for some weeks. The discharge will change color and intensity with time. Swollen ankles are not uncommon either from the extra fluid retrained during pregnancy. Beginning breastfeeding, plus carrying your baby you might experience back , shoulder and neck pain.
Without any question, the postpartum period is a deeply emotional time and the new mother goes through countless emotions sometimes even in a matter of one hour. Feelings like euphoria, stress, happiness, being overwhelmed, depression, nervous of responsibility, joy, anxiety. You will be sore and sleep deprived, and therefore irritable and you hormones will be rocketing high then suddenly fall down.
Mood swings are experienced by many moms, and it is very common to feel a little blue a couple of days after childbirth.
If this feeling doesn’t get better after a couple of days or you think it is getting worse and you feel you can’t look after your baby please talk to a doctor about it, because you probably experiencing postnatal depression and that should be treated. It doesn’t make you a bad mother and it doesn’t happen because you don’t love your child. Many studies suggest that even the lack of family support – that you more likely experience here due to the fact that your family and close friends are living in another country- could put you at risk of PND.
Suggestions for this sensitive period
It would be wonderful if all moms could/would take advantage of this suggested resting period after giving birth. But in reality not all moms can or would spend 6 weeks in bed with their baby (especially if your bundle of joy is not your first one) and have no other responsibility but concentrating on healing, caring and bonding with each other.
Even if you can’t take a whole 6 weeks make sure that in that time period, you care for yourself, rest as much as you can, take a nap with your tiny one, the housework can wait. Of course you can tidy up a little but the up keeping of your household shouldn’t be a major concern of yours right now. Let your husband discover the domestic tools in the house or if you can, hire help such as a cleaner, a postpartum doula, or a babysitter for the next couple of weeks. Do not strain yourself physically as it hinders the healing process.
Do not cook if that is possible, ask family members or friends to help you out with that.
Talk about your feelings to family members, friends or share thoughts with other moms at baby clubs. It always helps to know that these things are happening to other moms as well, you are not the only one and that you are not alone.
Spoil yourself if you can. In Haiti and in India new moms get massages in this 6 weeks period of time to help them in the healing process and in relaxation. Stress and tension can interfere with the milk supply and it is widely known that they effect wellbeing as well.
Eat healthy food that is not a strain on the digestive system so your body has more energy to focus on rehabilitation. Your digestive enzymes have been affected by the stress of giving birth and need some time to stabilize. This food should be preferably prepared by others so you have more time for the baby and yourself. In Hungary, in the past the best friend cooked for the new mom for 40 days, in China it is usually the mother in law who stays for this time and takes care of everything.
In the United States there are many food delivery services who offer nourishing meals for postpartum moms. Something that can be very useful if one is missing a support system around her during the time she is homebound. Unfortunately I believe we are missing this service in Hungary.
Almost every culture has a special diet for after childbirth. They are very different in many ways due to cultural differences but there are some „rules” that seem to be common:
Warm food: till now I mainly came across cooked warm homemade meals as postpartum food. In many cultures they believe that in this period moms have to be warmed up since they became cold from blood loss during child birth.
Easy on the stomach: they make food from easy to digest ingredients. They avoid things that give you gas and cause bloating.
Rich in protein: protein is an essential nutrient that is responsible for many critical roles in our system, it is used in many biological processes, it makes enzymes that help fight infections and also helps muscle growth. Many proteins are also rich in iron and that has an energy boosting effect, so our ancestors were onto something here.
Lots of fluids are suggested: we all know how important that is for the milk production.
Lots of fiber: it is not only filling but helps with a very common and painful problem after childbirth: constipation.
I would love to hear back from you to let me know about the food you consume in your country for fast rejuvenation of the body in this period. In fact I am putting together a cook book that will contain postpartum meal recipes as well so I would really appreciate if you would send me some recipes from your country/culture so I can share them with all of you.
And for us who would like to be in your places one day, baby dust to us all!
Venusz Vidak is a kindergarten and nursery teacher, a Montessorian, a baby massage instructor, baby-mommy yoga instructor and a yoga teacher for children(3-14). She has almost two decades of experience in childcare and worked in several international kindergartens and nurseries abroad and in Budapest. She feels extremely lucky to be part of hundreds of families throughout her teaching carrier. Her new adventure and passion is a new Baby&Me-Baby&Toddler Club that she hosts every Thursday. If you have any child related questions don’t hesitate to contact her.