If you’re a mother in Africa, East Asia, Latin American, the Middle East, and some European countries, then chances are you’ll spend the first 6 weeks after giving birth at home recovering and bonding with your baby.
This postpartum period is traditionally a time when new mothers are cared for and supported by relatives and friends at home.
This practice allows the new mother to recuperate from pregnancy and birth, while getting to know and bonding with her baby, beginning her role as a mother feeling supported and confident.
Sounds like bliss, doesn’t it?
In today’s hectic and rushed Western culture, the idea of having time to care for yourself and your baby for a month after birth sounds intoxicating, but unrealistic. We’re expected to give birth and then jump back into life, without regard to how intense and demanding life with a newborn is. Our society focuses only on the baby after birth, not the mother.
Why Is a Post-Natal Month A Good Idea?
The first days following the birth of your baby are usually a blur. The demands of pregnancy and labour take hold – you’re exhausted and on a hormonal rollercoaster. Paired with this the raw knowledge you’re now the centre of a tiny vulnerable human’s world, it’s no wonder many women feel completely overwhelmed by their new status as mother.
The World Health Organization describes the postpartum period as the most critical phase in the lives of mothers and babies, yet it’s the most neglected. In today’s busy world, women are expected to be on their feet within days of giving birth.
In countries such as Australia, the United States and Britain, maternity and paternity leave allowances may not support women or their partners from taking much time away from paid employment. Some women don’t have relatives close by to help and others have plenty of people but few offers of help. And then there’s the expectation that we should be coping, that the baby is the icing on the cake and how we as new mothers feel doesn’t really matter.
With post-natal depression rates on the rise and new parents burning out with exhaustion, a post-natal month has never been more important. We spend so much time focused on our pregnancy and the birth, very little energy is directed towards what happens when the baby arrives, when the dynamic of your life will shift away from you and onto the baby.
Your baby will thrive having a fourth trimester… and so can you when you have a post-natal month.
Prepare For A Post-Natal Month
During pregnancy, there’s a huge focus on getting prepared for birth and for what the baby will need. The idea being that you will have a healthy baby and life goes on happily afterwards.
The reality is rarely that simple. Many new mamas barely sleep more than a few hours at a time, yet are expected to function normally, to keep things running smoothly for everyone else. You may need a c-section which means extra time recovering physically. Dealing with these massive upheavals to the life you have so far been leading can be very challenging – you might know in theory that things will change but it’s very different to be living that experience.
The shift to focus on your additional role as a mother needs to take place well before the baby is born. Explore the possibilities of your partner taking as much time off work as possible. Not only does this provide plenty of bonding opportunities for them, you can both share the responsibilities of caring for your baby together. This is an excellent way to begin your new journey as a family together.
Enlist the support of your nearest and dearest. If you’re having a baby shower, ask your friends and relatives for the gift of their time and support. They could organise a roster of meals delivered each day, a freezer filled with prepared snacks and dinners, and even help with housework and laundry. A postpartum doula or a cleaner can also help provide you with more time to rest and recuperate.
You Don’t Have To Do It Alone
One of the messed up attitudes our society applies to mothers is asking for help is a sign of ‘not coping’. The pressure is on a new mother to keep the household going, get meals and entertain visitors/other children, even though she is in pain, exhausted, or struggling with early breastfeeding.
If you have relatives or friends that offer help, take them up on it. If you’re in the position to accept live-in help, make the most of that support! Most likely your family and friends really want to feel useful to you. Explain to those who've offered to help exactly what you need from them. Many women often don't like to ask for what they really need incase they appear demanding or rude.
During the post-natal period, women tend to be so focused on their baby and getting back on their feet, it is easy to forget about their own needs. Asking for help can feel like a sign of weakness – when it should be seen as honouring the huge physical and emotional demand birth and new motherhood has placed on you.
Putting your needs higher on the priority lists helps you to care for your baby and adjust to your new role.
Nesting Isn’t Just For Pregnancy
You’ve just spent nine months growing and nourishing a baby. You probably experienced the phenomenon known as ‘nesting’ at some point during your pregnancy – a compulsion to get ready for your baby’s arrival which could keep you scrubbing shower screens long past the time others would’ve quit. That nesting instinct should be encouraged beyond birth.
Creating a space to snuggle and bond with your baby provides you both with the opportunity to get to know each other. Bonding is a physical and emotional experience. Babies want to be close to their mothers, for security, warmth and nourishment. Mothers want to be close to their babies, being primed by the love hormone oxytocin, to care and nurture their child. This closeness enhances your ability to tune into your baby.
Mother’s intuition isn’t something that happens the moment your baby is born. It builds up and is something you learn with your baby. You’re forming a relationship – take the time to really get to know one another. The confidence to trust your intuition will pay off as your child grows and develops.
You Don’t Have To Be A Super Woman
Your body returning to a non-pregnant state isn’t as simple as losing your belly. There are many physical and hormonal changes taking place as your uterus shrinks and lactation begins. You might be recovering from an instrumental birth or a c-section. The reality is even a straightforward birth can leave you feeling sore and uncomfortable.
Rest and recuperation is a necessity for healing after labour or a c-section – you risk creating more problems for yourself later if you overdo things. Many women who experience things like constipation, separated abdominal muscles, organ prolapse and stitches would greatly benefit from allowing their body the rest it needs. Doing too much physically can make those issues worse or create further problems.
Today’s society has many expectations of women and we are constantly under pressure to meet these ideals of who we should be, how we should act and the ideals we should meet. We’re rarely afforded the ability to focus on our transformation into motherhood and this can have a far-reaching impact on our own mental health, the way we interact with our children and family.
If a full month is impossible, even a few weeks is a great start. The idea is to keep your feet off the floor as much as possible. Spend time baby gazing, dozing in the quiet hours of feeding, reading that book you’ve been meaning to or catching up on a favourite TV series. You can’t put off healing until ‘later’ as that time will never come.