5 Areas to Plan a Healing Postpartum (& 2 Books to Read)
This fall, I decided to stop attending births. If a mom approaches me for an unassisted birth, I will jump heart first.
I stopped because I wanted to focus on postpartum care.
It is, after all, what I started as. A postpartum doula.
Don’t get me wrong - I LOVE birth. I love the beauty in such a spiritual event. The fierceness of a mother as she brings her child into the world. The energy of birth - and the immediate postpartum.
However, as grand as an event it is - postpartum is just an after thought and often neglected. And it shows in that 1 in 4 women will end up with postpartum depression - which, while hormones are involved, lack of care postpartum increases the risk.
But its not just that - lack of adequate care can interfere with the bonding period, slower healing, and difficulty with breastfeeding (just to name a few).
Physical health affects mental health and vice versa…and in the postpartum period, a period of recovery from birth, our society is currently walking a tight rope without a safety line or net.
So what can we do?
Before I move into these ideas, I want to talk about the energetics of the postpartum period in TCM. During pregnancy we gain additional blood volume (almost 50% more) and then postpartum, that goes away. This can lead easily to a deficiency of qi (life force or energy flow) which makes the mother more susceptible to cold and wind. More yin than yang so to speak. I am not a TCM practitioner, I have just had the blessing to study it a little during my time in school and on my own path to becoming a better postpartum doula (and of course, taking care of myself)
5 Areas to Plan A Healing Postpartum
1) Nourishing Foods
Food is medicine should be a guiding principle is everyone lives. What we put into our mouths has the power to heal….or keep us ill. While we are postpartum, every single cell of our body needs deep, nourishment. I like to go one more step in that the food should be warming - to avoid cold and wind from the qi deficiency.
Look at vegetable based soups, bone broths, meats that have been stewed, steamed veggies (especially with ghee), rice….even a good quality dark chocolate should be available to every mother. Many of these can be prepared ahead of time and frozen in serving sizes…or if you get a meal train, ask for these food specifically.
You want to avoid raw foods particularly, because these foods can be harder for a recovering body to digest and can introduce cold to the body.
Ideally, the mother would rest while food is prepared and fed in bed with baby BUT that isn’t always possible or desired. Listen to your body - and at least give it a shot for the first week or two postpartum!
2) Nourishing Infusions
These are long steeped teas. This helps to extract the vitamins and nutrients from the plant. I like to make them at night and then drink them the next two days (some days I drink the whole thing in a day).
You can read more on my post “My Favorite Nourishing Infusions”
3) Rest and Stay Warm
We do not have infinite energy, especially during our postpartum period. Everything requires energy…especially healing. When we have a new baby we have a whole new set of demand and life changes upon us, which is taking our focus and energy (not necessarily a bad thing)…so we should be resting as much as we can and want.
One great piece of advice I heard was staying in your pajamas during the first few weeks so that you stay in, or that when people come and visit - they will see you are resting.
Prepare for this in pregnancy by creating a book list, puzzle books, savings shows or movies to watch, and arranging for other responsibilities to be managed by others (there will be plenty of exceptions but sit down and see what your partner or visitors come should do).
Not only will this help you recover, this will allow for some much needed and deserved bonding time with your new baby - and your partner, if they are around.
Staying warm, as you know from this far into this post, is also helping the qi and holding off cold/wind conditions. Warming foods and drinks are only part of the solution, staying warm - such as away from rain, drafts, chills etc, - will allow your energy to be focused on healing, not trying to warm back up. In some cultures, the mother is discouraged from getting her head wet during the postpartum time to avoid cold! We know the importance of keeping our deer sweet newborns warm, we need it too.
This is also where the beautiful traditions of belly binding and postpartum moxibustion come into practice…I hope to write about those soon!
I am a firm believer in the lying in period - a period of 6 weeks where these guidelines are followed so that may be something you can consider for your postpartum period. Even if you can’t follow it “exactly”, any time you give yourself to observe the guidelines will help.
4) Limit Visitors
I get it. Grandparents LOVE to come and visit their new grandchild. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, your neighbors….the list could continue on and on and on. It is definitely a tricky area to navigate because we probably feel like we don’t want to hurt their feelings.
However, to be brutally honest, you should only be focused on yourself. YOUR feelings matter WAY MORE than anyone elses. YOUR needs are above everyone elses.
Additionally, continuing being honest here, sometimes have our parents around is a terrible idea. Whether its lack of respect for you and your parenting decisions, to lack of education surrounding currently newborn care….that is not something you have to deal with. Not.at.all.
Ask them to come after the 6 weeks are up. I know many grandparents who will not be happy with this but again their feelings do not matter. Yours do. If you are worried about feeling guilty about that - pause for a moment to let that sink it. Do you really want them there because you would feel guilty if you didn’t let them?
Meal train food can be quickly dropped off with a thanks (hopefully no one expects you to host them).
For those that do come - put them to work. Laundry, dishes, tidying up, scrubbing toilets…. remember I mentioned letting others manage responsibilities. If someone is telling you they are coming, see if they can pick up something (like chocolate) for you!
It is not your job to host them. You do not need to entertain them. If they come expecting that, send them on their way.
Seem extreme? Well, we have become a generation of where we put others thoughts/feelings/needs above our own. Something we DO NOT need to be doing while recovering and bonding with our new one.
5) Postpartum Doula Care
I, of course, couldn’t write a list about postpartum planning without mentioning doula care. How does this differ than just random friends and family popping in. We are there solely to serve you and your family. We are there to do whatever you need us to do. We are there to feed you (although a doula bringing food varies on what doula you hire). We are trained in postpartum care. We are trained in newborn care. We are training in breastfeeding help. We love you but we have no expectations from you.
We don’t care if your hair is crazy and your pajamas haven’t been washed in a week. We will make sure you are adjusting, bonding, and feeling supported.
We advocate for you. If you have family that is arguing about how to do something with a baby, we step in to take emotions out of it and present the best information (from both knowledge and wisdom). We can be that person your mom gets mad at because she wants to tuck the baby in on their stomach with a big bulky quilt and stuffed teddy bear.
I love being a postpartum doula. I love watching mothers with their new babies and I love seeing their shoulders relax when we are working on positions for breastfeeding. Not because I am some super genius that knows everything, but because the mother is feeling supported and heard.
My favorite idea, when it came to affording a postpartum doula, was to ask for it as a baby gift. The cost of a doula will vary greatly in regions and might come in packages or an hour by hour rate. I had a client who was able to hire me because her mother wanted her to have a “baby nurse” and paid for it. Good thing too because my first trip there I noticed signs of an infection and off she went to the ER (and stayed overnight). Its just something we are trained to notice.
If you are in my area, and are interested in hiring me, head over the consultation page and check out my postpartum care package…and what other postpartum services I offer.
You can also read by post on “What Herbs Should I Have for Postpartum” to prepare for using plants during our recovery.
Now - the 2 books.
1) Natural Health after Birth by Aviva Romm
Written by a CPM and herbalist now MD, this books covers from really discovering the postpartum period, to nourishing yourself in that first year. Herbal and essential oil recipes to create a beautiful postpartum medicine cabinet but also lots of great information on exercise, sex, and really nourishing yourself.
2) The First Forty Days by Heng Ou
While there were just a couple things that didn’t sit restfully with me (like talking up Ayru-doulas, which is barely accessible even where she lives to the food delivery services she talks about getting for mothers - which isn’t available in most of the US), the information is good. She specifically covers the energetic aspects of the postpartum period - because its in her family and her aunt is a healer. Lots of great recipes, beautiful photos…and again lots of information.
I have also heard good things about The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson but have yet to read this myself.
What were your must haves for postpartum recovery?
Postpartum Maternal Health Care in the United States: A Critical Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595301/