A Review of ‘The First Forty Days - The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother’ - by Heng Ou

I learned of this book soon after finishing my training to become a doula and immediately put it on my ‘To Read’ list. Postpartum care and support is a passion of mine and I was so keen to read a whole book dedicated to it!

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As a society, I think we really underestimate the 4th trimester period. We typically place most of our focus on pregnancy and birth, leaving little attention for the sensitive time that follows. We expect women to ‘bounce back’ and move on from birth pretty quickly, resuming their previous roles with this new one neatly slotting in. But this pressure to just ‘get on with it’ comes at a time when we typically have less support than ever - we no longer have the same family and community support that was available generations ago, our lives are ones of increasingly lost connection. This expectation gap can lead to maternal depression, a lack of bonding within this new family and even a breakdown in relationships. 

I do believe that is changing and there is an increasing awareness of ‘the fourth trimester’, its importance and how to navigate and prepare for this special time. This book is a practical guide that supports this shift and shows the reader that this time can be one of rest and nourishment. It’s a message I urge you to hear.

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The book itself reflects it’s message - it’s beautifully presented; hardback with gloss and matt parts to the cover which feel solid and soothing, inside the layout is clear and the pictures are colourful, gentle and artistic. The book just feels nurturing and it’s delightful. 

Reflecting on her own experience, the author describes the traditional Chinese ‘zuo yuezi’ (literally ‘sitting the month’) or ‘confinement’, its benefits and how to blend and adapt it into our modern, Western society. She encourages the reader to take what works for themselves out of the book, and so do I. Not all of it will be relevant to mainstream readers (the placenta smoothie recipes won’t be for everyone, for example) but the book is packed with wonderful advice and it is presented in a gentle and supportive way. 

There are ‘Five Insights’ from the postpartum period (Retreat, Warmth, Support, Rest, Ritual) that create a theme that runs through the chapters. It has it’s roots firmly in Chinese culture but there is a modern twist that makes it accessible and there are some wonderfully practical parts, especially those in the ‘The Gathering’ chapter which covers assembling resources, setting up communication and going through rituals to honour this time. 

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Almost half of the book is given over to nutritional information, recipes and instructions designed to warm, rebuild and nourish the mother - everything from chicken broth to body scrub, from lactation tea to ginger fried. Some of the recipes won’t appeal to everyone but there’s plenty to delight any palate and the advice can be used to create a platform for a postpartum meal plan.

This book can be read cover to cover or dipped into in an ad hoc way, there’s value every time you pick it up. And I encourage you to pick it up often! It would be interesting to anyone wanting to get the most out of this special time - expectant mothers (new and experienced), their partners, doulas and other support people. I genuinely love it and hope you will too, I highly recommend it and will be lending it to all my future clients.