All over the world and in many indigenous cultures, new mothers have been afforded a period of rest and recovery following birth ...
‘The Golden Month’, ‘The Sitting Moon’, ‘The First Forty Days’. The postpartum weeks have been viewed as an important and potent time where a woman is given time and space to recover from her efforts, fall in love with her new baby and learn to be the mother she wants to be. During this time she is nurtured and nourished by her community who gather around to support, feed and celebrate her. It is understood that this will have lifelong benefits for both mother and baby going forward.
More recently, modern-day neuroscience confirms that during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, a woman’s brain is literally transfigured during a period of plasticity that has been labelled ‘matrescence.’
Alas, in more recent times, the significance of these weeks is unrecognised and undervalued. Instead of holding, supporting and nurturing our new mothers, we encourage and push them to ‘bounce back’ into their old lives and old jeans. We celebrate those who recover the quickest and whose lives seemingly haven’t changed apart from baby in tow.
In my work as a postpartum maternal care specialist, I believe the opposite is true. I encourage the mothers that I work with to view the first few weeks following the birth of their babies as deeply significant and worthy of respect. A time when they deserve the best possible love, care and attention whilst honouring the changes and healing that is happening in their minds and bodies. A time with the potential for life-long transformation. I do this by educating and informing as to the benefits of a ‘slow’ postpartum. Taking a leaf out of the book of ancient postpartum care practices, I encourage families to create a postpartum care plan that involves deep rest, nourishing food, village support and retreat from their tasks and to-do lists for a few weeks. The benefits of a ‘slow postpartum’ are profound. Not just for a new mother but for her baby, family and community.
Pregnancy and birth, in all its guises, can be compared to running an ultramarathon. Whether you birthed your baby at home, in hospital, vaginally or surgically, your body has gone through a feat of endurance that is maybe incomparable to anything you have previously experienced. You have been taken to the brink of your stamina and now it is time to rest. To recover from the effort of growing and carrying a whole new person in your body for over nine months and to heal from birth injuries including a plate-sized internal wound where your placenta has detached. As all athletes understand, healing and recovery involve rest. Time to convalesce and be nurtured and nourished so that effective healing can happen.
Being a new mother is one of the only jobs where you are expected to be on call 24/7. Not only that, but you are also responsible for all the needs of a vulnerable new person. When we prioritise deep rest in the weeks following birth we can negate the effects of sleep deprivation and stave off the feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm that are all too common in our society. But in order to do this, we will need help, support and other pairs of loving arms to hold baby while we rest, sleep and eat.
The scene is peaceful and quiet. A mother cradles her newborn baby in her arms as they gaze into each other’s eyes. It is the beginning of a life long love affair. But this intense bonding may not always happen in the moments after birth. Like any relationship, it can take time to develop and flourish. Part of the love and protective instinct that you may feel for your new baby is hormonal. Evolutions clever way of ensuring that you keep your vulnerable and helpless baby close and safe. However, if your birth was long, medicated, surgical or traumatic, this hormonal love cocktail may not kick in straight away. That’s ok. Bonding is a journey rather than an event. The blissful, snuggly, loved up hormones of birth, breastfeeding and postpartum can be boosted by cuddling up with your new baby skin to skin. Having the privacy and space to breastfeed on demand without interruption. In fact, I often encourage my new mamas to stay naked and in bed for the first week or so with their babies to encourage the production of oxytocin, the hormone of love and breastmilk!
Some of the bonding process may be learned behaviour. How you were parented yourself or maybe how you have witnessed others in your circle care for and feed their babies. The rest? That is between two individuals who do not yet know or understand each other’s language. Your baby has never existed in the world before. Who will they be? What will they need? How will they let you know their unique personality? This takes time and space to find out. Slowing down during the postpartum weeks allows this relationship to unfold gently and without haste. Giving you both time and space to learn to dance with each other. Can you see the benefit of creating a postpartum ‘baby bubble’ at home? Putting aside uninterrupted time just to be with your baby with no other responsibilities or cares. Meeting them where they reside – the present moment.
Not everyone chooses to breastfeed and some cannot. However for those who can and want to, a slow postpartum can have many benefits for the breastfeeding relationship between a mother and baby.It has been suggested that learning to breastfeed is an art rather than a science and a skill that is difficult to learn from books or even ‘advice’. Instead, it can be trial and error. Long, long evenings of cluster feeds where baby wants to be in your arms almost constantly can feel overwhelming at times. By allowing yourself to sink deeply into these moments, knowing you have no other worries or responsibilities apart from just being with your baby while others care for you, can allow you to foster acceptance rather than frustration.
As mentioned above, rest and skin to skin snuggling will also help to boost your breastfeeding hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin. This is best done in a place of privacy and peace. In her essay ‘The Undervalued Power of Rest’, midwifery educator and activist Gloria LeMay prescribes 24 hours naked in bed for mother and baby as a panacea for almost all breastfeeding problems. Slowing down your postpartum in the first few weeks and keeping stress at a minimum will give you and your baby the best possible chance of a successful breastfeeding journey together.
I hope this information has inspired you to consider ‘slowing down’ your postpartum so that you are better able to enjoy these precious yet intense first few weeks with your new baby. If you would like to find more tips and information you can download my ‘Six Secrets to a Slow Postpartum’ Ebook here.