Bringing your tiny newborn home from the hospital can feel extremely daunting. You’re now tasked with keeping an actual human alive.
Umm… excuse me? Am I qualified for this?
We know how easy it is to get lost in your baby’s needs for the first few weeks of their life. You learn to feed them, comfort them, swaddle them – and heck, how do you even hold them so their little head doesn’t fall off?!
But remember mama, you’re not just bringing one new human home from the hospital. After giving birth, you’re a new person too. The postpartum period is just as much about allowing yourself to adjust to this new life as it is about your baby adjusting to the world outside your womb.
Amy Pasfield, our go-to postpartum doula (and Founder of Mother Unearthed), offered her wisdom on how to prepare for the postpartum period. She recommended devoting the first 40–42 days after birth to rest, healing, learning, and reconnecting with yourself.
You need to rest
It may seem extreme staying home for 40 days after giving birth (we see you, social butterflies), but there’s sound theory behind it.
“The relevance of ‘The First Forty Days’ is that around the six week mark, the mother has usually stopped bleeding, breastfeeding is established and, as long as she is well rested, nourished and has had a reasonably complication-free birth, she is starting to regain her energy,” Amy explained.
In many cultures, this time is considered sacred so mothers can recuperate, re-energise and connect with their babies. Take this quote from Ayurvedic Doula Ysha Oakes, Founder of The Sacred Window:
“After birth there is a sacred window of time… a time for complete rejuvenation of a woman’s physical, mental and spiritual health… a time for deep, extended bonding with her newborn… The first 42 days after birth set the stage for her next 42 years.”
But Amy noted you don’t necessarily need to be holed up at home 24/7 if that doesn’t work for you. It’s more about making a slow adjustment back to ‘normal life’.
“Understanding the detrimental effect that jumping back into your everyday responsibilities has on yours and your baby’s health is important,” she said. “There may be days where you feel you need to leave the house for fresh air or to go for a short stroll around the block. That’s okay. The point is that for the majority of the first 6 weeks it is essential you feel rested, nourished and supported. This sacred time of your life allows you to sink in and receive.”
You need to heal
Postpartum isn’t a competition to see who’s back at F45 the fastest. Your body has been through a lot, and this is the time to let it heal.
“The birth experience itself has a huge impact on the physical body,” Amy said. “Along with the vaginal or c-section wound, there is also a big 8.5-inch wound (where the placenta detaches) inside the uterus that needs to heal.
“It’s very common to see a new mother a few days postpartum jumping straight back into their routine – food shopping, running errands, cleaning the house etc. These women are often praised by the community for their ability to return to ‘normal life’ within a short amount of time, however, this is severely detrimental to a woman’s ability to heal not only physically but mentally.
Retreating to the confinement of your home for 40-42 days post-birth will:
- Allow your body to heal and recover at its own rate
- Allow you to bond and learn about your baby without the interference of the outside world
- Allow you to reserve your energy for looking after you and your baby
- Allow you to reconnect with your mind, body and spiritual health after birth.
Gentle exercise and nutritious food can also do wonders for your recovery.
You need to learn
To say motherhood is a ‘learning experience’ is a giant understatement. It’s more like completing a complex PhD every day of your life (and sometimes it can feel as draining as that). Oh, and that’s not just for your first baby. If you have more children, you’ll find that they’re all entirely different. It takes time to learn what they need and what works for them.
The 6 week period following birth is great for building connection and learning about your new baby’s needs.
“Educating yourself on the importance of the fourth trimester is essential for setting yourself up with realistic and supportive expectations of what is to come,” Amy explained. “The term ‘the fourth trimester’ was coined by paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp and suggests that you should try to recreate, for another 3-4 months, the kind of environment your baby had in the womb.
“Understanding the environment your baby lived in for nine months can be a useful tool in helping to soothe and support her through her fourth trimester. It may also help you to cope with unexpected crying or fussiness, if you know how much your baby needs to adapt to her new world. “
You need to ‘find yourself’
Yes, that may sound a bit Eat Pray Love, but becoming a mum is a full-on experience. It requires significant mental adjustment and some inner reflection.
While so many mums feel pressure to be ‘perfect’ and know how to do everything themselves overnight, Amy said that it’s important to get comfortable asking for help while you find your feet as a mum.
“In order to have a postpartum full of connection, it doesn’t just require planning and honouring the first forty days, it requires inner work around allowing ourselves to receive,” she said. “So many mothers find this hard because we are taught to do everything on our own, asking someone to do something for us that we are completely capable of doing on our own is a difficult process.”
She added, “When a mother prepares for postpartum and only thinks of what the baby will need, she is ultimately setting herself up to be a martyr whose needs don’t matter. This will leave her feeling overwhelmed, underprepared for the reality of the fourth trimester and likely resentful towards everyone who visits only to see her new baby and don’t respect her uncommunicated boundaries.”
Life with a newborn is wild, but you’ve totally got this! Take it slow, take it easy, and enjoy every minute. (Well, maybe not the particularly pooey minutes, but you get the drift.)
Comment below and tell us what you experienced, or what you’re planning for your fourth trimester.
Expert Contributor: Amy Pasfield
Mama to two darling girls, Holistic Nutritionist, and Postpartum Doula. I’m a relentless advocate for the wellbeing of Mothers, striving to create a world where Postpartum Depletion was prioritised after birth and Motherhood and Martyrdom no longer existed hand in hand. Mother Unearthed is a holistic model of care provided at a time when women need it the most.