The Undervalued Therapeutic Power of Postpartum Rest

The Undervalued Therapeutic Power of Postpartum Rest

When my youngest daughter (now in her 30s) was about 8 months old, I developed very sore nipples.

I was working as a midwife at the time, and I was completely perplexed and dismayed to be having sore nipples, for what I thought was no reason at all.

I called the La Leche League to see if they had any ideas about causes or cure, and the first response on the other end of the phone was, “Have you been getting your rest?”

Oh, how I hated those words. I wanted a much fancier diagnosis than, “You’re tired, dear”.

The truth was that I’d just come from a very long birth and had been up two nights in a row. I had been rushing around, trying to pull my own household together, and do postpartum care for the new family, too.

That LaLeche League Leader gave me such a gift, by causing me to pause, and realise that I wasn’t taking care of myself; my nipples were the first alert that things were falling apart.

I notice that my clients have the same dismayed reaction when I bring up the subject of rest. Isn’t there another way? Isn’t it possible to have those three birthday parties I have scheduled for my 4 year old? Can’t I pick someone up at the airport, go to the library, and cook dinner for six in the first week after giving birth? Whaaaaaaaaa.

We live in a culture that does not value or respect rest. If you’re resting, you must be lazy and incorrigible. We have been raised on Tampax ads that say, “Go play tennis, golf and volleyball when you’re having your moon time. An active woman is an attractive woman”.

I love the Orthodox Jewish practice of giving women a bed of their own, from the time their period starts until 12 days later, and arranging a complete day of rest from all household duties on Saturday. We would all be well advised to adopt these customs.

Some of the problems that are cured by rest in bed are:

  • Breast problems of all kinds, in nursing mothers
  • Heavy or prolonged vaginal bleeding, in post partum or peri-menopause
  • General crabbiness or depression

For building up milk production, go to bed with the baby for 24 hours. You should wear only panties, your baby only a diaper. For you, have a tray with fluids, magazines and flowers beside the bed, and have all diaper changing needs for the baby close at hand.

Another adult in the house can bring in the meals. After 24 hours of this bed rest, there will be abundant milk.

I’ve had one client who said it didn’t work. When I went through what she had done, it turned out that instead of following these instructions exactly, she went to her cousin’s place for the day and lay on her couch.

No, no, no!

The naked skin and the privacy are a big part of this “babymoon” formula. Don’t modify it.

When you read this, you’ll probably think, “This would be a luxury for a new mother”.

But it’s actually very basic, and pays huge dividends for the family and the larger community. Some cultures understand this and make sure the new mother is given a 40 day period of rest and care when she has a new baby. Interestingly, when I looked on Google Images to find a photo to go with this post, the first 3 pages of pictures were of new mothers and babies ALL sitting up.

I hear many dramatic stories, from midwives and nurses, about women who had to be operated on after giving birth because they were bleeding heavily and had “retained pieces of placenta” or “retained clots”.

My personal experience is that ALL post birth bleeding is remedied by resting in bed. The lochia is red for the first two days, changes to pink and serum-like around the third day, and then becomes brownish and quite smelly for about two weeks.

If it turns red again after going through the pink and brownish stages, it means the mother is doing too much. She needs to follow the ‘babymoon’ lie-in instructions above. Remember, this is not a luxury, it’s basic. The family needs to be told that if they don’t help the new mother to rest in bed, they will end up visiting her in hospital.

We need to give up the notion of the ‘supermum’. Do whatever it takes to get your rest time after the birth, and then you will be back to your busy life sooner. When women have homebirths, they usually feel so well that they want to get up and ‘prove’ to the world that they can do anything.

Be mindful of the Zen maxim: “If you have something to prove, you have nothing to discover”.

The really smart women don’t even get dressed for weeks after the birth. If you’re all perky in a track suit, people will expect you to run; so find the nastiest old nightie possible and wear that, to convince family and friends that you need their assistance.

If you can’t figure out how to ask for help in the early weeks with a new baby, make 20 copies of this list and hand it out freely.

Rest, high protein meals, and lots of skin to skin time in bed with baby – these are the basics of getting motherhood off to a good start.

Written by Gloria Lemay. Visit her website here.

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Birth Attendant and Mother


  1. “Dramatic stories”!?! How insulting! 4 weeks after I had my baby (by emergency forceps) I hemmoraged twice due to retained placenta still attached to my uterus and had to have surgery to remove it. I was home with my baby alone at the time and was nearly unconscious by the time the ambulance arrived. I had hemmoraged during the birth so they couldn’t see what was left in. I was fully supported and rested and had stopped bleeding after 3 weeks so no not EVERYTHING is cured by a rest!

  2. I think this is a great article to highlight the importance of postpartum us. It is something I personally struggle with after my two previous births and will make a conscious attempt to better this time with my third.

    However I found it very odd that the author is trying to insinuate that the orthodox Jewish tradition of separating women for their “uncleanliness” is somehow an enlightened view towards nurturing woman. The men cannot touch the women because they think they are dirty – that is why whey are given separate beds. Excused form housework? It is so they don’t defile the food and home with their dirty period fingers.

  3. I am a retired GP. Before becoming a GP, following graduation from Edinburgh Un in 1961, don’t laugh, I worked for ten years in the hospital system. For a full year I worked at Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, in Edinburgh. All mothers had ten days rest in bed, with physiotherapist, and walking exercises, at prescribed times. Their babies were only seen by the mothers at feeding times. Nursing staff looked after the babies for the whole of the rest of the day.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! These days, they want to turf women out of the hospital bed as quickly as possible. It’s no wonder we try to be superwoman from the start, because we begin the whole process being hurried up and turfed out. When a woman gets home, she’s rarely going to remain in bed for a week, let alone 10 days. Housework will drive her mad! I wish I had the knoweledge to do this with my children. But, I would want the babies in bed with me.

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