Postpartum Care for New Moms
I love everything about babies. Downy soft new hair. Tiny mewing sounds. Warm and soft and chubby cheeks and arms and legs. Milk-drunks half smiles. Even baby toots are adorable. If your older kid farts, you get annoyed and make him turn on the fan. When a baby lets one rip in your arms, you squeeze her even tighter and tell her how amazing she is. Because it’s true. She is amazing!
Babies are amazing, but caring for one is not always amazing. You’re like, “who the hell thought I was mature enough to take this tiny human home?”
You are responsible for everything. Feeding, bathing, sleeping, holding, comforting. It is a huge job. Even if you have an amazingly supportive spouse, you have the boobies. You are the one who leaks breastmilk every time you hear a whimper. You are the one who has to get up at 11 pm, and 1 am, and 2 am, and 4 am.
It is exhausting in its amazingness.
Moms today think they have to do absolutely everything. There is no precedent for this in society. We have always lived in community. It is really only our hyper-independent American culture that mandates that women do the baby thing all alone, and perfectly. Other cultures still practice postpartum care for new mothers:
“organized support was generally provided by the mother of the woman who had given birth, the mother-in-law, other female relatives, or the husband. Outside of the immediate family, traditional birth attendants or older respected female community members also provided help. The support ranged from doing household chores and cooking to teaching the woman how to care for her infant. According to the researchers, instances of organized support appeared in Nigerian, Jordanian, Korean, Guatemalan, Eastern Indian Hindu, and Chinese cultures.”
Some American women are blessed enough to have mothers or mothers-in-law to come care for them after a new baby is born, but this is the exception, not the rule.
Most of us have a few days or weeks of meals (thank you, church family!), but then new mamas think they have to start cooking and cleaning and working out and being social. This is not nourishing to a new mama. A new mama is like a new baby, and needs mothering herself. This baby thing is hard.
I’ve had four babies myself, and the first was definitely the hardest. It is difficult to go from being a person who can essentially do whatever she wants whenever she wants to- to a person who is responsible for another human’s life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
With subsequent babies, the adjustment period is a little bit easier. You learn the things you can do, and the things you cannot do. I will tell you from experience, though, that the more you try to push yourself to do the things you cannot do, the more run down you will get. Chronic disease and #autoimmune disease can manifest at this point in your life if you push too hard.
You really do not have to do all of the things. Most other cultures do not expect their new mamas to push themselves. In fact, most other cultures nourish and nurture new mamas so that they feel confident and comfortable to nourish and nurture their new babies.
I talked with Rachel Drullard, certified doula, of Bellies and Babies. She has been practicing for 8 years and has assisted at births in both the USA and Mexico.
Rachel says that Mexican culture looks at birth very differently than American Culture.
“We (Americans) say that we have had a successful birth and recovery if we can get up the next day and do everything we did the day before birth.
“But successful birth is having a great baby moon bonding with baby and family. I think the key to well-adjusted families is mothering the new mother. There is a book by Sally Placksin that talks about that concept. I recommend that birth partners read the book.”
Rachel gave some excellent tips for new moms:
- Stay in your PJ’s until you are ready to go back to work outside the house or at home. Four weeks? Three weeks? I don’t care. Take however long you need.
- Leave a message on your phone that says, “Mom and baby are doing fine. We are having a great time breastfeeding and bonding.” We don’t need to be accessible all the time.
- Eat well. Every time you sit down with your baby to eat, have a healthy snack yourself. This is an important part of postpartum care.
- Reformed Metabolics’ food tips: make sure you have some protein and a serving of fruit each time you eat, like a banana and almond butter, or a pear and a slice of cheese, or grapes and tea with collagen powder. Your thyroid and milk supply need the fructose and the protein.
In Mexican culture, Rachel says that the hospitals have large birthing and recovery rooms so that entire families can be there for the birth.
Then comes the fun part. Most new mamas will go stay with their own mothers for six weeks after having a baby. (They can’t have sex anyways). There are usually aunties around to care for the other children if need be. The more experienced, older mother will teach the new mother how to care for herself and for her child. She feels safe and confident with this care.
Can you ask for someone to do this for you? Can you help someone else in this way?
In Mexican culture, new mothers will not leave their homes for the last two weeks of pregnancy and for two weeks after the baby is born. Rachel says there are some superstitious undertones to this tradition, but there is also a practical reason- a tired mama needs to rest!
During pregnancy and afterwards, women will sip hot beverages like herbal tea, believed and verified to be cleansing and supportive to the body.
Many other cultures don’t obsess about weight like Americans do (‘cept the French, bien sur). In Holland, women are not even weighed during pregnancy check ins!
To sum up, make sure that you are nourishing yourself so you can nourish that baby. Don’t worry about the things that don’t matter. If you find yourself with the baby blues, ask for help. Sleep as much as you can. Eat as much as you want. Wear stretchy pants. Push into community if you want to, and don’t if you don’t want to. There will be time for all of the other stuff later on in life. For now, just enjoy your sweet new family.
To your postpartum health,