Preparing Well for Postpartum Recovery

The longer that I am a mom and midwife, the more I have come to realize how important it is to adequately rest and recover after giving birth. But this does not “just happen”…it takes some serious thought and planning!! Why is it that we spend hours and hours preparing for pregnancy and birth, yet no time or focus is given to what happens AFTER the baby arrives? With this in mind, I’m hoping that these questions and comments will help families to come up with a plan on how to cultivate an intentionally restful and healing postpartum period. I’d encourage you as a couple to sit down and talk about these questions, and figure out what you could do to be better prepared emotionally, mentally and physically for the initial 6 weeks after giving birth.

If you want to read more about some of my own favorite items to have nearby during the initial days postpartum, check out the link here

Reading and Preparation:

Let’s start with some book suggestions. We spend lots of time reading books about pregnancy and birth, right?!? So why not read about how to care for oneself postpartum? Here are some titles to get you started. I’ll note that I don’t endorse everything these authors share, but I do appreciate the way they help me to think through our thoughts and expectations surrounding postpartum adjustments and recovery.

Some Facts to Consider:

As you talk about your expectations for postpartum, it’s good to think about some facts, especially for the dads who wonder if it’s really necessary for mom to spend so much time resting! I love to show the new parents the placenta after the birth, which is generally the size of a small dinner plate. Picture a wound of the same size on the inside of mom’s uterus. Seriously! That’s the wound that needs to heal, and even though the uterus continues to contract and get smaller over those first days/weeks, there is a still a significant amount of healing that needs to happen inside. Add to this any amount of blood loss, any stitches/tears, the length of labor, swelling, and the amount of work it takes to push a baby out, and you can quickly see why it’s important for mom to take care of herself! All of a sudden the reasoning behind “not lifting anything heavier than your baby” makes complete sense, doesn’t it? Along the same note, almost anyone recovering from any type of surgery is usually given a two week minimum recovery time…new moms need AT LEAST that long!

As the postpartum days progress, mom’s body is going through a lot of changes, which include a drop in hormones from the expulsion of the placenta and baby, and a surge of more hormones as her body transitions into producing milk. Keep this in mind those first days…mood swings and emotional roller coasters are NORMAL. But it sure helps if you are expecting that as part of those initial days. And it’s good for husbands to know that this is a normal part of adjustment. Mom needs rest, understanding, and sometimes NO MORE VISITORS!

Another thing to remember is that you won’t be getting a lot of sleep those first few weeks. It’s good for baby to eat every 2-3 hours to establish good nursing habits and milk supply, but it does not contribute to a restful mom. Keeping life low key, and expectations to a minimum can really make a difference in allowing this time to be as stress-free as possible. Along the same lines, nourishing foods and lots of liquids are also hugely important in helping to establish a plentiful and healthful milk supply.

Lastly, try to view the postpartum period as a 6 week MINIMUM. I understand you may not be able to take that much “time off” of your normal home duties. But the longer you can rest and care for yourself in the initial weeks, I can promise you the better off your long-term postpartum experience will be. These initial 6 weeks your baby needs you as much as he needed you when he was inside, and this means an unpredictable schedule, lots of nursing, skin-to-skin time, and lots of cuddles. A slow re-entry into normal life will be beneficial to everyone, and lowering your personal expectations of this time can be a life saver!

Initial days postpartum:

  • Consider staying in bed for several days, getting up only to use the restroom, and perhaps joining the family for one meal a day. This can be beneficial for several reasons: visitors don’t stay as long if you’re in bed, you can sleep when baby does, and it reminds everyone that you are recovering!!
  • Prepare your room or a special corner ahead of time to make it a pleasant place for recovery. You’ll relax better if you find your space enjoyable and refreshing. Think about getting some special reading material or audio books together ahead of time to enjoy while you spend hours nursing your new baby. And don’t forget to have some comfortable clothes to wear that promote easy nursing access and yet allow you to rest well!
  • Limit visitors, and the amount of time that they stay. This can be dad’s job: remember that even if your wife loves people, new moms find extra company more draining than they initial expect. Short 10 or 15 min visits are sufficient, and this allows mom to not be separated from baby too long (since many visitors want to hold the new baby the entire time they are present).
  • Have nourishing snacks, foods and drinks gathered ahead of time: a new nursing mom is ALWAYS hungry and thirsty that first week!
  • Remember that your body is going through some major changes and may need some help: have some ibuprofen, nipple cream, icepacks, heat packs, hemorrhoid balm and magnesium available in case you need them.
  • Consider some ways to have meals taken care of: freeze some ahead of time, or ask a friend to organize a meal train or signup list where friends can bring food. It can be nice for the entire family to have meals provided for the first days/weeks as the whole family adjusts to the new baby.
  • If you have older children, it’s a good idea to think about how to implement the “no lifting” rule…sometimes it can be helpful to invest in a step stool that the older sibling can use to climb up beside mom so that she isn’t tempted to lift him or her up.

First Two Weeks:

  • An old midwife’s adage is “5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed and 5 days around the bed”. While many moms balk at this amount of recovery time, it’s not a bad idea to consider! Mom will continue to bleed for around 2 weeks, and the longer she rests oftentimes the shorter the time she bleeds.
  • Continue to follow the “no lifting anything heavier than baby” rule until at least 2 weeks to maximize the uterine healing that needs to happen.
  • Keep stressful visitors to a minimum-this may mean telling well-intending friends and family that they need to wait to come see mom and baby, especially if that entails a lengthy visit of several days. Sometimes it’s hard for people to remember that mom is recovering and needs to spend time with baby, so this is NOT the time to be socializing and holding a newborn for hours on end.
  • Consider getting some household help these first weeks (longer if possible!). This would preferably be someone who can come and keep up housework, prepare food as needed, entertain older children if present, and take care of household duties so that mom can rest mentally as well as physically. As you consider this possibility, keep in mind that this works best if it is someone that mom feels completely comfortable with-sometimes this is a family member, but sometimes it is someone totally unrelated, and even hired for this express purpose. Talk honestly about what type of person would work best in your family situation. After my fourth child was born, we were blessed to have a girl who was willing to come spend 2 days a week with us during the first three weeks. This was sufficient time to catch up laundry, clean the house, and keep after work that wasn’t getting done, as my husband had a flexible work schedule the other days of the week. I found it much easier to rest when I knew the house wasn’t falling apart while I rested!
  • As you feel your energy increasing, start slow…remember that the sooner you jump in to “normal life”, the sooner everyone else will expect you to stay that way!
  • If people offer to help, take them up on it! An offer to babysit can mean an extra nap for mom, and many friends are more than willing to run get your groceries if they know you need something. Don’t turn any offers of help down!

Weeks 3-6:

  • This is when it can get hard to remember to rest. Even though you feel much better by now, remember that you need to go slow, and say no to anything extra in life, even if you FEEL energetic. Your baby still needs lots of time to nurse, and your body is still going through significant changes. One day you feel on top of the world, and the next you are in the dumps…all of this is part of your body learning to regulate it’s hormones again! There are supplements you can take to help with this-check with your midwife if you experience lots of these swings.
  • Start slow with exercise. It’s best to wait the full 6 weeks before engaging in anything specific to rehab, but I do encourage moms to get out in the fresh air and start taking slow walks if they are having minimal or no bleeding by week 2 or 3. Put baby in a stroller or in a carrier, and stroll. Don’t push yourself, just give yourself the chance to get some sunshine and fresh air.
  • Make sure you are taking your prenatal vitamins and consider adding some extra Vitamin D and Evening Primrose Oil to help with hormonal balance.
  • Try figuring out a way to get just a little bit of time to yourself each day…perhaps your husband can take care of the children while you slip out for a short walk, or perhaps you can meet up with a friend for coffee (and let her hold the baby!), or even get a chance for a short nap by yourself. These things can help with managing the mental load, and can be a big step in preventing postpartum depression.
  • Find a friend you can talk with and share with as you go through the many adjustments during these weeks. It’s always reassuring to be reminded that this stage of life doesn’t last forever, and you will sleep again someday!
  • Continue to get help with basic household duties as you can, and don’t turn down the offer of food!
  • Consider trying to get some intentional time as a couple: the unique stress of this period, combined with mom’s unpredictable hormones, interrupted sleep, and all the other factors can add some significant stress on your marriage. Getting away for an hour (with baby in tow) to concentrate on your relationship can really help you to navigate this time and grow stronger in your relationship.
  • Eat nourishing, healthy foods, and don’t worry about weight loss while your body is establishing milk supply!

 

In closing, I’d love to hear what you would add to this list? What was most helpful to you when you were anticipating the arrival of your little one? What helped you recover? Please share your tips and input!

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