Imagine that you have a friend training for a marathon. She works for months and months to prepare for it. Finally the big day comes and she runs the race. As she crosses the finish line she falls and injures herself. Badly. She has torn some tendons and broken a bone or two and needed a whole lot of stitches. OUCH! She is definitely hurting. Two days later she is released from the hospital to complete her recovery at home. She still has stitches and is bleeding a bit. She’s limping from the torn tendons in her leg and has one arm she can’t use because it is in a sling. The poor girl is feeling pretty beat up, and rightfully so. Her body has been through quite an ordeal! It has been broken and bloodied and stitched back together.
All of her friends and family jump in to offer help. Her church organizes meals. Her aunt comes over to take care of her kids so she can rest. You pop by to put away laundry. Why? Because she needs to focus on recovery right now. The doctor has ordered her to rest and recover, so everyone jumps in to help.
Now imagine that instead of recovering from a fall she is recovering from giving birth. Is she given the same help and attention? Possibly, but not likely. You see, in our modern America we act as though women should just bounce right back and be ready to resume normal life almost as soon as they are released from the hospital. After all, if giving birth is so ‘natural’, then it shouldn’t be a big deal, right? WRONG! Giving birth is hugely taxing on a woman’s body and she NEEDS time to recover. Throughout most of history this truth was understood by all and traditions were in place to care for women in this difficult time after giving birth. In an article on Birth Without Fear, Svea Boyda-Vikander wrote, “While many people believe that, ‘Women from [fill-in-the-blank random ‘savage’ culture] just have the baby in the fields then get right back to work,’ in reality most traditional cultures, including those throughout South America, Europe (Greece), the Middle East and Asia, a 40-day rest period is considered mandatory after an infant’s birth. In this time the mother is not expected to leave the house, cook food, or do anything but bond with her infant.”
There seem to be four chief purposes to these traditional periods of rest: healing from birth, restoring the body, establishing breastfeeding, and bonding with baby. Each of these goals is met through different steps such as keeping the mother at home, feeding her certain foods, and limiting her activities. For example, a Babycenter article about the Latin American tradition of Cuarentena explains that, “Cuarentena is a period of approximately 40 days, or six weeks, during which the new mom abstains from sex and is solely dedicated to breastfeeding and taking care of her baby and herself.” During this time female relatives pick up the slack and take care of the cooking, cleaning, and caring for any older children.
Did you catch that? Mom isn’t responsible for entertaining company and preparing food for them, nor is she responsible for entertaining her husband. She is to take time to focus on letting her body heal. This is VITAL because let’s be frank here, our bodies are a bit of a mess after giving birth. Whether you deliver vaginally or via cesarean, there is healing that needs to happen before any activity (be it ordinary or intimate) takes place. Take it from me, the gal who ignored this wisdom and tried to jump right back into cooking and chasing after the kids!
Okay, you have decided to rest and take it easy after birth, so you’re good to go, right? Wrong. Pregnancy and birth take a toll on the body. God designed women’s bodies to put the needs of the baby first, so often a mother’s body will deplete her own nutrient stores to ensure baby is healthy. Then there is the birth process. For those who haven’t given birth before and somehow aren’t aware, birth is taxing! Beyond the calories you burn through in the process, there is going to be blood loss (sometimes a lot of blood loss). That bleeding can leave mothers anemic and weak. A different article about cuarentena in NY Times states that, “There are very prescribed rituals and foods. If there is chicken, she gets chicken soup. She is given hot chocolate – they have this whole system of certain foods that are cold and not suitable for a postpartum mom. You want to keep her body warm and her system warm…One food is atole, a comfort drink made from toasted corn and thickened with milk and sugar….It’s very good for you. The iron in it is easily absorbed.” There is some serious wisdom in these practices. Long before people even knew what ‘iron’ was in our blood, or that pregnancy and birth deplete our bodies of this vital nutrient, our ancestors established traditions that would restore it.
The time after a mother gives birth is not only about her physical recovery. This time is also essential for mentoring and guidance. While motherhood is natural, it doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, parts of it don’t come naturally for many women! How many of you had trouble with breastfeeding? In modern American society women are mostly on their own to figure out how to nurse their babies, which tends to lead to stress and struggles. In a post about the Chinese tradition known as Laying-in a new mom comments, “My mother-in-law encouraged me to eat a lot of fish soup and pig-trotter soup. She said it would help me to produce milk for breast-feeding.” Typically these women also receive help in learning how to breastfeed, diaper a baby, bathe a baby, etc. Here we have a system in place that is designed to ease a mother’s transition into her new role. She’s not expected to just know what she’s doing, or read some books and figure it out on her own. Her mother, or mother-in-law, or aunts, or female cousins are there to help.
An interesting by product of staying down to rest, staying home with baby to recover, and learning to care for your baby, is that it fosters bonding. Talk about a win-win! Mother’s body gets what it needs, baby gets what she needs, and their relationship is strengthened in the process. There is so much wisdom to glean from these postpartum traditions. Here are my tips for all of you ladies expecting new babies.
- Make the postpartum period a priority. That’s quite a tongue-twister, but making it a priority is what will ensure you make it happen. Help your husband understand why it’s such a priority, too.
- Plan, plan, plan! Now that you two are on the same page about how essential this time of rest and recovery are, make plans for how to make it work. Line up some help for those early days and weeks. Does your husband get paternity leave? Do you have friends or family who can come by and help? Can you begin setting aside some money now so you can hire some help with cleaning, cooking, or childcare after the baby arrives?
- Prepare for your needs. Let’s think practically here. It will make life a lot easier for you when your baby arrives if you prepare ahead of time. Each time you go to the store, pick up one thing you might need. Diapers in various sizes, pads for yourself, paper plates and cups (because dishes are no fun when all your baby wants is to cuddle).
- Put meals in your freezer. No matter how much help you get, at some point it will be done. Eventually friends will have to return to their normal lives and the meal deliveries will stop. When that time comes you don’t want to have to go from not cooking at all to doing everything on your own! The best way to prevent this is to get meals in your freezer before your baby’s birth. Get as much made as you can, but I would suggest aiming for at least 2 weeks of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. If the idea of doing a massive freezer cooking day is intimidating for you, take baby steps. For the next two weeks make a double batch of everything you cook and put half of it in the freezer. If you normally make a dozen muffins for breakfast, make 2 dozen this time. It’s really not much more work and will pay off in the end!
What are your best tips for taking care of yourself after giving birth?