How many of you began cooking, cleaning, or leaving the house within the first week postpartum? How about returned to exercising and work before 6 weeks postpartum? Perhaps this occurs because some of us have no choice, some of us may need the stimulation that was routine prior to birth, some of us may think our bodies feel OK and assume it is OK to resume pre-birth/pregnancy activities, and some of us may not think twice about it because it is an American cultural norm and expectation.
There is great lack of thoughtfulness and discussion about how to take care of ourselves during the postpartum period, and particularly the immediate postpartum (birth-6wks of newborn life). As a midwife, I counsel women to remain at home and in bed for the first week postpartum. This restful time is essential for bonding with baby, hormonal transition, healing of the body and reproductive organs, the successful establishment of breastfeeding, and nourishing the body and mind. When we return to routine activities too quickly, some may experience any or all of the following: increased bleeding, prolonged tissue healing, pelvic floor trauma and instability, breastfeeding difficulties, infection, exhaustion, and postpartum depression.
After I had my baby, I did my best to remain in bed for the first week, and limit outings during the following weeks. This was certainly a change from the busy bustle of my life prior to birth. I am not one who can easily let go and accept help. However, I knew not only was this period of rest important for my body and baby, but essential for preparing my mind for a new and slower routine. I feel fortunate to have amazing support from family, friends, and my midwives.
Here are some things that helped me most in the immediate postpartum:
There are great Lactation Consultants/Counselors (IBCLCs and CLCs) in Vermont. Breastfeeding can be a challenge, and many of the common difficulties arise in the first week postpartum. It is essential to get professional help early on.
Support from Select Family and Friends:
There is a fine balance between helpful support and overwhelming/over stimulating support. It is important to stagger visits and ask visitors to help in some capacity prior to arriving. Bringing a prepared meal is an easy way they can do this.
If you do not have great support from family and friends, consider reaching out to one of our many postpartum doulas in the area. Here is a resource with a listing of certified postpartum doulas and doula in training (who generally work for no or low cost!).
One great way to encourage friends and family to support a new mom in a structured way is through a Meal Train. There is an online resource to help organize this.
Sleep becomes further fragmented after baby is born. It is important to set time aside each day for a nap with or near your baby. If you are remaining in bed and skin-to-skin with your baby during the first week, naps can be taken more easily.
Sitz baths are excellent for healing and cleansing the vaginal/rectal areas after birth. Fill the bath or basin with Epsom salt and herbs (lavender, comfrey, yarrow, calendula to name a few), and relax in it for 20 min.
The body undergoes tremendous work and change through the delivery process and the days immediately following. It is crucial to eat a clean and healthy diet to assist in recovery and feeding your baby. Iron, calcium, and vitamin K stores are particularly depleted during pregnancy and birth. It is always best to get essential vitamins and minerals through whole foods, but it is wise to continue taking prenatal vitamins while nursing and additionally taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement.