Written by our specialist Olivia Crocker
Giving birth is such a significant event in our life, and it’s only right that we give it much thought, attention and planning. Something often overlooked that deserves equal consideration is our post-partum period; what happens in those weeks after we’ve given birth? How can we nourish and care for our body, mind and spirit while also tending to the needs of our newborn baby and whatever other responsibilities we have?
Although in the UK we have access to a certain level of paid maternity leave that usually means we can spend at least some months at home with our babies, there is considerable pressure for women to resume their normal lives not long after giving birth.
I often think of a woman at a local toddler group who I’d seen heavily pregnant the week before. Only days after giving birth she was doing the hokey-okey in a church hall cradling her newborn in one arm and holding her toddler’s hand in the other. At the time, I remember feeling in awe of her, up and about, active and continuing her life as normal. I still am amazed by the ability of many women ‘to just get on; with the tasks and responsibilities of daily life in the midst of something as profoundly massive as having just given birth.
But in many non-western countries this isn’t the case. Cultural traditions including those from India, China, Korea and Mexico preserve the sanctity of the post-partum period, with post-birth care being an integral responsibility of families and communities. Among these different cultures there are many common threads, but the one I want to emphasise here is the way in which the woman in honoured and cared for.
As part of this the mother is encouraged to undertake a ‘confinement’ period of around 40 days while those around her take on her other responsibilities and prepare special ‘warming’ foods and drinks, so she can rest, heal from pregnancy and birth, and bond with her baby. It is a protected time where visitors come to serve and support the mother, unlike our culture where a stream of guests make themselves comfortable on the sofa and cuddle the baby while the post-partum mother makes them cups of tea!
Back in the UK where this level of extended support is less common, it can be a real challenge to find ways of reducing these responsibilities in order to focus on our essential needs in the weeks after giving birth. Yet, I think it’s important that we try to reclaim this period for the sake of our physical healing, our mental and emotional wellbeing and our overall long-term health.
So how can we create a more restful post-partum period for ourselves? As a doula this is something I’m really concerned with when it comes to supporting the women I work with. Some of the things here are from personal experience, whilst others I wish I’d thought of back when I had my daughter and are a memo to myself to do next time round. It’s typically British to feel challenged by the thought of asking others to do tasks for us, but I encourage you to try it out
Create a network of support and plan in advance:
During pregnancy create a network of family and close friends who can offer support during this period. Ideally organise a support rota to minimise your need to do these tasks. This can include anything from bringing round meals, doing your washing up, tending to your toddler’s needs, collecting older children from school, holding your baby so you can have a relaxing bath or nap. I was amazed and impressed when I went round to a friend’s house a month after she had a baby and found another friend was already there cleaning her bathroom!
Before your baby is born, ask people to bring you a cooked meal that you can simply heat up instead of gifts for the new baby. The best thing I received was from a friend who coordinated a food rota so that every day for 2 weeks a different friend delivered us a fully cooked meal. This meant we barely had to leave the house to buy food and didn’t have to spend time cooking, which was also an amazing gift for my husband as we could all maximise on time together during his paternity leave.
In retrospect, I recommend organising a rota to cover a full month. Also, make it clear to people that this isn’t necessarily an invite to stay for the evening! You’re not being rude – you’ve just had a baby and their kind gesture is greatly appreciated.
While pregnant get a big cake tin, fill it with an abundance of delicious and nourishing snacks and store it next to/under your bed or wherever you’ll be most of the time. That way you won’t be caught out hungry in the middle of the night or during an epic cluster feeding session, especially if there’s no one to deliver emergency snacks straight into your mouth.
To avoid unannounced visitors, put a polite sign on your front door asking them to send you a text to arrange a time to come over. If having visitors to see the new baby is a necessity for the sake of family unity then create your own ‘visiting hours’ so that only a small amount of your day is spent hosting people.
Don’t change out of your pyjamas. Guests are more likely to treat you like everything is back to normal and may be less aware of your need for rest when you’re in proper clothes. You could even stay in your bedroom so when they come it’s easier for you to vocalise your need to rest
When you do have visitors, ask if they’d mind doing a task for you, such as a bit of washing up, hanging up a load of freshly washed clothes, some hoovering etc.
Lower your standards!
Make sure one room feels like an incredible haven of beauty and relaxation while you let the rest of your house falls to ruin. Spend all your time in the beautiful room, only leaving it to go to the toilet. Get someone, anyone other then you to deal with the chaos.
Use a sling:
Get hold of a sling, something like a supportive stretchy wrap, and learn how to use it while you’re still pregnant by attending a local sling meet or watching a YouTube video. Most people find that their baby wants to be cuddled all of the time. It’s a great way for your partner/relative/friend to settle your baby so you can have a nap, bath, massage etc and NOT a way for you to do the washing up 4 days after giving because you’re hands free when the baby is sleeping in the sling.
Hire a post-natal doula:
If your finances extend to it then hire a post-natal doula. The sole focus of a post-natal doula is to nurture you and provide whatever support you need so you can rest, recover and bond with your baby.