A multitude of changes occur in a woman’s body, mind, and soul during the weeks following the birth of her baby. Though the body will return to a non-pregnant state, a woman will never be physiologically or emotionally identical to the way she was before pregnancy. This is a GOOD thing, regardless of what our society sometimes tells us about motherhood. Embrace the beauty of your new body, the magnitude of your ability, and care lovingly for yourself during these first weeks. This will help you to heal, adjust, and build a strong bond with your baby. The moment of birth is the creation of family, no matter how big or small, and will forever change each of you.
Before I go on, I will recommend glowingly that all pregnant and newborn parents read the book The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff, and follow Eliane Sainte-Marie’s blog, Parenting For Wholeness, to tap into your own natural and intuitive childrearing wisdom. It lives within us all.
Maternal Physical Regeneration
You have been initiated into motherhood. Your body has overcome unbelievable feats over the 10 lunar months preceding birth. Now, quite suddenly, your womb is without child and a whole new set of physical requirements are being asked of you. The postpartum period is a normal physiological process during which a woman’s body regenerates itself. During the first 6-8 weeks postpartum, a birthing woman’s body is working hard to rapidly re-establish homeostasis. As such, many adjustments are being made to each of the body’s systems.
Physical adaptations include uterine contraction and involution (returning to a non-pregnant state); breast engorgement as colostrum subsides and milk first comes in; bleeding and yoni discharge, known as lochia, as the uterine lining sheds; return of vaginal, perineal, and abdominal muscle tone; healing of any physical birth trauma or lacerations; and organ function returning to a non-pregnant state.
Given the extent of our transformation during and after pregnancy, the body takes ample time and adequate rest, nutrition and hydration to heal optimally after the birth of a baby. Without this, recovery may be prolonged or incomplete.
Emotional and Spiritual Shifts
Welcome to motherhood, the journey of immense growth, love, and challenge! Emotional and spiritual adjustments are ongoing, and include the range of feelings associated with bringing a new life into the world; separation of body and soul from the motherbaby dyad to two distinct beings outside of the womb; settling into the role and demands of being a new mother, whether it is your first or subsequent child; finding a new rhythm for daily life; working through possible birth trauma or unexpected outcomes; and the shift in relationship dynamics between partners.
Many women and families benefit from gathering together postpartum resources before the birth. Enlisting the help of family and friends, hiring a postpartum doula, setting up a meal tree, and joining support groups for postpartum mothers are all wonderful ways of supporting your first days with your miraculous new family member. Keep a running list of anything you may need assistance with so that you can share it with others who ask how they may help (and believe them when they say they WANT to help)!
Postpartum Bonding and Attachment
The first days of parenting are magical and powerful, and may also be overwhelming or even disappointing for some women. Putting strong foundations in place for healthy bonding between a parent and newborn will have lasting benefits. Trust your intuition and hone the skill of listening openly to your heart and your baby. This will help parenting flow naturally. Have faith in yourself and trust your inner guidance.
There are many wonderful practices that have been important to development and supported humans throughout natural history, and that we have fallen away from with the advent of industrialization, much to our loss. We can reclaim these practices.
Babywearing is a natural and ancient approach to parenting and babies love the feeling of closeness and safety. It assists with neural development, counts as tummy time, and is a marvelous way of building secure attachment. Co-sleeping and bed-sharing, when done safely, may be right for your family and can be a wonderful way to bond and maximize restful sleep. Bed sharing is especially helpful for nursing mothers.
Comforting your baby with love, confidence, and being attentive and grounded in response to their cries will not spoil them. On the contrary, these are deeply engrained, healthy human responses. Respectful communication and reading one another’s cues are important to establishing a respectful lifelong relationship between you and your child. Skin-to-skin time, loving touch, and gentle verbal engagement all assist attachment and development.
Involving Partners and Loved Ones
If a partner is present in the home, there are plenty of opportunities in the day for them to be actively involved, particularly in supporting a new mother to rest and reintegrate. Partners and other family members can offer caring, loving support to the mother of the baby and the whole family will benefit. Partners may care for older children, prepare meals, clean the home, and bask in the beauty and rawness of this transition. Take the opportunity to comfort and soothe your baby with your voice and with loving touch.
Skin-to-skin time and babywearing will provide your infant with comfort, give you an opportunity to connect and bond, and offer the mother some time to take a bath or spend a moment doing something she loves. Bathing the baby, whether together with a parent or using a sink or infant bath, is a fun and pleasant activity for partners or other trusted loved ones to engage in. Natural infant hygiene or diapering times are a great way to learn your newborn’s rhythms and can offer an opportunity for eye contact and talking to your child. Walks and gentle introductions to the world offer opportunities to create lasting bonds between baby and caregiver.
Postpartum Suggestions and Support
Information about our own bodies and practicing self-care empowers women to be autonomous and look within themselves and their communities for support. This is a sustainable way of living that will nurture growth and carry through to all aspects of your life.
You may assist your body in healing by trying some or all of these postpartum suggestions:
- Sleep when baby sleeps and rest often
- Ask for help with household tasks and hire a postpartum doula
- Organize a meal tree
- Use the time while nursing to meditate or to connect and be present with your baby
- Consider honouring the first 40 days as sacred time using Hen Ou’s guide, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother
- Minimize uterine bleeding by not overexerting yourself
- Massage your uterus to assist with involution (the uterus returning to a non-pregnant state)
- Rinse your perineum with warm water after voiding and allow to air dry
- Herbal baths and sitz baths are helpful for healing physical birth trauma, as is homeopathic Arnica
- Eat plenty of whole foods with lots of iron to replenish blood stores and support nursing
- Herbal teas and infusions, such as ginger, shepherd’s purse, and comfrey teas, can assist with regenerating the body
- Nursing mothers: drink about 3 litres of water daily to assist with milk production
- Read Robin Lim’s amazing book, After the Baby's Birth: A Complete Guide for Postpartum Women
Take Time to Integrate
It is immensely important to care not just for your baby, but for yourself as a new parent during the first weeks and months postpartum. It can be so easy for many new mothers to ignore their own needs and shift their focus entirely to the care of their baby and others living in their home. Finding a sense of balance in this time will serve you all well, though admittedly it can sometimes seem elusive. However, you cannot give from an empty cup; please make time and space for yourself wherever you can.
Forgive yourself when motherhood looks different from how you might have imagined! Journal, meditate, connect, and ask for help. Reach out to local support people during this profound transition to motherhood. And once you and your baby are ready to leave the home, attend my FREE Yoni Talk gatherings in Toronto to gain support and wisdom from other parents and build your community.