Ask any mother what one of the first things to fall off the table is when you have kids, and I’d wager my weekend sleep-in that she’ll say ‘self-care.’
This is especially difficult when you have a fresh newborn at home who, quite literally, needs you 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
You know how the flight attendant always tells you to put your own oxygen mask before taking care of your child’s? It not only makes sense, it’s critically important.
You cannot take care of someone else if you can’t breathe. If you don’t take care of your own needs, everyone around you will suffer. Conversely, if you take care of yourself, everyone around you benefits because they are getting the best you.
For this reason, maternal mental health has an impact on the entire family. It’s that whole ‘if mommy’s unhappy, everyone’s unhappy’ thing, and vice versa. So, when a community takes care of a new mother – and part of that is helping her with self-care – it is also taking care of her entire family.
Postpartum care traditions are a part of many different cultures around the world and there’s good reason. it’s about so much more than just physical healing.
“Giving birth is a deeply transformative, soul-shifting act,” says Lindsay Forsey. Forsey is a doula and the founder of Tenth Moon Mothercare, which creates care packages for new mothers.
Postpartum care is about much more than just the physical recovery from pregnancy and birth.
“A new mother finds herself in an entirely new existence, first-time moms, especially,” says Forsey. “She needs time and care in order to flourish in this uncharted space, and… guidance and assurance to cope with the inevitable challenges she’ll face as a new mom.”
Make a postpartum plan prenatally.
Don’t wait until your baby arrives to figure out how you’ll manage with a newborn. Speak to your village of care, whatever that looks like: your partner, family, friends, and neighbours.
Find out how they can offer support, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Most people love it when they are given specific tasks to do because it makes them feel useful. In fact, you are often doing them a favour because people want to help, but might not know how.
Identify the best people for each task, from laundry and meal prep, to a shoulder to cry on. Other tasks to assign might include running errands, stocking the fridge and pantry, taking an older child to the park, walking the dog, or dragging a duster around the house.
“Life with a newborn is wild and unpredictable. Motherhood was never intended to be a solo mission,” says Forsey. “It takes a village to carry new mothers through this remarkable life change as much as it does to raise their sweet babes. Taking care of mothers may not be inherent in North American culture the way it is in others, but our desire to help one another is innate. Sometimes people just need a nudge.”
She adds that if you don’t have many people to ask for help, visit a local women’s centre or connect with a neighbour you trust. You can also reach out to local doula groups, as many will provide their services – including postpartum visits – on a sliding scale. You don’t have to do it alone.
Nourishment, Rest, Calmness.
In those early postpartum weeks, focus on nourishing your body and mind.
Keep your kitchen stocked with good, whole, and hearty food, so that it’s always easy to find something healthy to eat. Remember ask people to bring food – and clean up.
Turn your room into a cozy, soothing space. Bring in extra pillows and blankets, set up some relaxing music, and always have a supply of water and snacks nearby. Even though it seems tricky, put yourself in the mindset of trying to spend as much time resting as possible.
If you can, limit your visitors for the first little while. Those early postpartum days are exhausting, emotional and intimate. This is your babymoon period and it’s meant to be a time for you and your newly-defined little family to connect and settle in to your new identities.
If you do have visitors, make sure they’re the ‘good’ kind: people who make your life easier, not more difficult. I give this list of guidelines for visitors to all of my prenatal and postpartum clients to post on their fridge. It can go a long way in helping to make the ‘good’ visits happen.
Honor Your Body.
If you’re breastfeeding, the early days can be challenging and frustrating. If you are a first-time mother, both you and your baby are learning a new skill. It can take you by surprise how demanding it is – your days and nights will revolve around it. Without good support, it’s easy to get discouraged and many women stop nursing because it can become painful.
Get support! Hire a professional to come and help you with breastfeeding — it can honestly make all the difference, turning a frustrating and painful experience into an empowering and enjoyable one. Use a natural nipple balm in between feedings, and keep breasts free and open to the air when possible.
The same goes for your vagina if you had a vaginal delivery. Go underwear- and pants-free as much as possible during that first week. Sit on a towel, pull the bedspread up, and let ‘er breathe. It’s the fastest route to healing. Obviously, it’s not practical to go pants-free all time time but do it when you can.
In the same way you stock the pantry with nourishing foods, it’s good to be prepared with items to help ease the discomforts of childbirth. Here are Forsey’s top picks for natural, healing care.
- Witch hazel is a plant-based astringent and a postpartum must-have. It’s a gentle and natural way to soothe the perineum, as well as hemorrhoids and varicose veins, and it can be used as a spritz or applied to a maternity pad. Some women find added relief if the soaked pad is cold. I suggest starting by putting one in the fridge. If the cooling sensation is welcome, you can try putting them in the freezer.
- Taking herbal sitz baths is another way to encourage gentle perineal recovery. Herbs such as calendula, comfrey and marshmallow are known for anti-inflammatory properties and have been used for generations to soothe irritated skin and heal wounds.
- Mineral baths (magnesium sulphate and other salts) help to ease aching muscles and adding essential oil, such as lavender, encourages relaxation and calm.
- Sweet-smelling coconut oil is lovely for massage or moisturizing the postpartum belly. It can also be used to soothe nipples.
- Snacking on prunes and sipping coconut water will help to encourage easy postpartum bowel movements. The coconut water will also keep you well-hydrated if you are breastfeeding.
Do Unto Yourself as You Would to Others
Your life has changed dramatically, and you are in a period of transition. Be kind and generous with yourself, as you would be with a dear friend who has just had a baby. Ask for what you need — a bath, a dinner-bearing friend, someone to hold your baby while you nap, a shoulder to lean on or an ear to bend. Treat your body and soul with patience and respect. In fact, make it a promise to yourself.