Rachel Stanfield-Porter packed a business suit in her hospital bag when she had her first baby – “I couldn’t meet clients in my pyjamas”, she says matter-of-factly. “At the time, I was the CEO of my own business and I had a desk, a pager and my mobile all set up in my hospital room so I could continue working. When I had my second baby eighteen months later, the hospital also set up a fax line for me”, says Rachel, founder of the Bonnie Babes Foundation.
Although Rachel claims she has no regrets, she concedes she would probably make different choices now. “I bonded well with my babies and enjoyed every moment with them but I didn’t validate my own feelings. I thought I would be letting people down if I didn’t keep working. With the perspective of hindsight Rachel would now advise mothers like herself to listen to what they want and follow their own instincts, rather than feel pressured by guilt or an arbitrary time frame.
“There is enormous pressure on women to ‘get on with it’ after having a baby”, says Dr Sarah Buckley, a Brisbane based GP with Obstetric training. Dr Buckley recalls a female colleague during her obstetric training who advised women not to take their babies out for the first six weeks. “Because I hadn’t had children then, I thought it was rather strange advice at the time, but now I realise it was as much for the mother’s wellbeing as the baby. When I have given myself this time, the nourishment has lasted me a year. With my fourth baby, Maia, I didn’t leave the house for 6 weeks”.
In many cultures, there is a tradition of caring for new mothers for forty days, with ceremonies to welcome the woman back into the community. According to Dr Buckley, who advises new mums to stay in their pyjamas for two weeks, this ‘baby-moon’ time has huge implications for women’s recovery and establishing bonding with their babies. “If we have a major operation, we are advised to rest for six weeks and it takes six weeks for the body to minimally recover after birth. When you have just had a baby you are also extremely emotionally vulnerable, places like supermarkets, for instance, can feel overwhelming. From my professional observation, women who have more rest early after giving birth, recover more fully. It really shows up between 9 and 12 months in energy levels. Being expected to bounce back after birth isn’t respectful to the baby or yourself. We need to take time to be with our babies and learning to prioritise our own needs is one of the most important things we can do as a mother – you need to be healthy to care for your baby. You can do this if you take time to rest and learn to put yourself first in those early weeks”.
Planning your baby-moon:
- Freeze meals before you have your baby.
- Stock up on non-perishables like soap and toilet paper.
- Organise help from friends and relatives – remember, people feel privileged to share the love of a baby.
- Invite supportive people to be with you as necessary. You may feel isolated at home alone.
- Avoid unwanted interruptions by making a sign ‘mother and baby resting’ with a notepad for messages and hang it on the door.
- Stay in your pyjamas. If you look ‘normal’ you will be expected to get on with it.