As a society we are very focused on pregnancy and birth - and rightly so, it’s a huge life event after all. But not much is spoken about the period that immediately follows. The more clients that I support, the more I notice that this time comes almost as an unexpected shock, mostly because of the focus placed on birth as the main event - when really, birth is just the start, the beginning of your parenting journey. I've outlined some points below to consider so that you can prepare a little before you have your beautiful baby in your arms.
Parents often hunker down and consolidate during this time, adapting to their new dynamic, lack of sleep and riding the hormone rollercoaster. This time can be exhausting and isolating for some and relatively plain sailing for others – there’s a wide range of ‘normal’.
For many women this might be their first break from work and the lack of structure can be an uncomfortable shift. Add to that our society’s expectation of being ‘busy and productive’, and it can be hard to switch off. But try. The period after birth is a unique opportunity to bond with your baby and slowing everything down is a wonderful way to cement your new relationship.
- try to limit visitors with their strange noises and smells, your baby doesn’t need to be ‘socialised’, he needs to gain confidence in his new outside world and anchor onto his immediate family.
- let things go. Housework can wait, it really doesn’t matter and it certainly isn’t going anywhere. Calls don’t need to be returned, mail doesn’t even need to be opened. Nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait a while. If things not getting done is driving you crazy then there are always options - hire a cleaner, order in a meal service, accept the help of friends or hire a post-natal doula. Do what you can to protect yourself and this time.
Nutrition and Hydration
A balanced diet that includes easily accessible, whole, nutrient dense foods are key at this time. Eggs, bone broth, smoothies, ghee are all great options to include. There are also some specific ‘milk boosting’ ingredients like brewer’s yeast, fenugreek, barley, oats etc which can be included in recipes like lactation cookies – give them a go and see if they’re helpful. Some foods may irritate your baby so pay attention to any response (wind or unusual nappies) and adjust. Flexibility is the key to parenting, after all!!
Care ‘Down There’
Your body has been through A LOT. My old homeopath told me that recovery from birth takes around a year and I believe her. Much of the recovery happens automatically – organs settle back into place, hormones return to their normal pattern – but there are a few things that can help you along the way:
- ‘padsicles’ can sooth a sore a swollen perineum. A padsicle is a large maternity (or overnight) pad that has been soaked with healing ingredients and frozen. Common ingredients are witch hazel, aloe vera and a few healing essential oils such as lavender and rosemary. A quick google search will help you find 'recipes' and instructions for making these up, I recommend making up a batch and leaving them in the freezer them before your birth.
- herbal baths and compresses are an amazing aid to recovery of your perineum or c-section scar. I give my clients the postnatal peri-kit from Blissful Herbs in Melbourne. It contains soothing herbs such as chamomile, lavender, rosemary and witchhazel. It’s effective and provides the benefit of self care during this time. The kit, along with other wonderful products, can be found at blissfulherbs.com.au
- once you get the all clear from you doctor/midwife you can start pelvic floor exercises. One of the best tips I ever got came from my doula in the UK: she said that I should find a prompt during my day and do them then. She had 6 kids so she did hers whenever her hands were in water… which was often! But it could be whenever you sit down to breastfeed, change a nappy, see your baby smile etc. As your baby grows older you could choose other reminders such as: whenever you stop at a red light, get food ready, hear your dog bark, get a text, check Facebook – whatever works! Doing these exercises 'little and often' will bring you major benefits for the rest of your life.
Trust Your Intuition
It can be hard to do as a new parent who feels like they’re learning everything from scratch but please be brave enough to trust your instincts. You have more knowledge than you might realize – you are uniquely connected to your baby and your intuition counts for much more than a lot of the advice that can be found in books or online. It will serve you well as you walk this parenting path but learning to listen to it can take some practice.
I know some days you won’t get dressed or find time for a shower but if you can grab 10 minutes here or there for a bit of meditation then it would really pay dividends in terms of connecting to your intuition. You don’t have to even know what you’re doing or have a regular practice but if you can, try looking for a few guided mediations online and listen to those, use a meditation app or even just set a timer, close your eyes and focus on your breath. The difference to your day could be just what gets you through it.
Talk to Someone
I get it, everything takes effort, but it's important to speak with someone if you're at all worried about how you're feeling. There is a difference between 'postnatal depression' and postnatal expression' (also called the Baby Blues) and the best thing to do is seek help if you're not coping. It doesn't matter who it is - it could be your partner, your doctor, your doula or even a friend - but talk to someone. Sometimes just letting it out and feeling heard is enough, sometimes more support is needed. And that's ok.
This too shall pass
Whether things are going well or whether you are just managing to get through the day (or night) - please remember that 'this too shall pass'. Your child continues to grow and adapt and learn and soon everything will change - again. And it will be wonderful and challenging in a whole new way - and that will also pass in time ;)