How many of you have heard the following in regards to how much you should rest as after birth:
1. “Only do what you feel up to doing for the first 6 weeks”
2. “Sleep when the baby sleeps!”
3. “Your only job after giving birth is to sit on the couch and take care of the baby for the first 30 days. And the first 24 hours at least you should be skin to skin with your baby, in bed.”
You heard a version of #1 or #2, didn’t you? I hear you now telling me that #3 is just not at all realistic. I understand. But we need to err closer to the third recommendation, I’ll show you how you can below and how others can help (hint: You don’t need help with the baby, it’s everything else that you need help with.)
What’s wrong with the first two suggestions?
New moms nearly always overdo it in the first couple weeks. When you tell them to do what they feel up to, you’re putting the burden of self advocacy on the new mom, who is exhausted, hormonal, and often already unsure about so many things. When you tell her ‘you need to sit, nurse on demand, and nap every day’, you are giving her something easy to say to visitors. “My midwife/doctor/nurse/sister/friend said that I need to do this for 30 days.”
Sleep when the baby sleeps is a great idea for first time moms, but even then it’s not always realistic. Sometimes baby will only sleep when you’re bouncing him. Sometimes you have trouble falling asleep. Overall, you need to rest. Try to nap every day, and try to arrange care (or a movie marathon) for the older kids if you have them.
Why do you need to rest postpartum?
Birth is an enormously physically taxing act! It is a normal part of being a human, yes, in most cases you physically would be able to pick up your baby and run away from a threat in the case of a bear attack, or something of that nature. But most of us are not running away from a threat to our physical safety. We need to rest.
Resting and allowing our body to heal helps:
- Fight off post partum depression
- Our milk supply to be established
- Prevent infection of any tears that we got during childbirth
- Prevent mastitis
- Our baby to get enough nourishment. Newborns need to eat often. When our priority is feeding our newborns, we are able to offer the breast for them to fulfill their need to nurse often at.
- Enjoyment of the sweet sleepy newborn phase, it doesn’t last long and can never be replaced.
- Shortened recovery period for mom (yes, you’ll actually overall come out ahead energy-wise and productivity-wise if you sit as much as possible those first weeks)
- Shorted lochia (bleeding after birth)
- Less susceptibility to illness for both the mom and the baby
Why don’t we rest in America?
Sometimes we just don’t know that birth would be so physically exhausting, so we didn’t plan ahead. Or we have some sort of supermom complex here. We pride ourselves in being in Target or resuming the normal activities with a 2-day-old in tow. We have a ‘fake it til you make it’ attitude, and we’re afraid to ask for help because we think that others will accuse us of being lazy. The saying, ‘don’t have them if you can’t take care of them’ permeates our news stations, online discussions, and coffee table conversations.
Josi tells me: “I did not rest enough. No one told me to stay put. We had twins. I could cry thinking back how far I pushed myself. Wasn’t able to breast feed and sometimes wonder if that’s part of the reason.”
Taking 30 days off to take care of the life that was just produced is not a weakness.
Having help with your older children does not mean that you are being irresponsible by having another.
How can this be realistic?
I know. You don’t have time to take 30 days off. You don’t live near family, your husband can’t take a month off work, people don’t understand that you don’t need help with the baby, you need help with everything else. You have older children to take care of. You’re homeschooling. You’re working from home.
Here are some things you can do:
- Stay out of Target. Your baby can live in the gender neutral outfits until you get some cute pink or blue ones as gifts. Make sure you have dish soap, laundry detergent, lotion, etc, on hand well before you give birth.
- Start saving during your pregnancy so that you have some extra money to help out during the postpartum period. Help in the following ways is going to be less expensive than having your husband take off work for a week if you get mastitis and then physically can’t get out of bed due to infection and associated fever.
- Hire a mother’s helper or babysitter to take the older children out for some fresh air, pick them up from preschool, take them to a fun activity. If you can’t do this, try to arrange play dates, and ask the other mom to drive both ways.
- Stock your freezer with homemade meals. If your friends are the kind to bring you homemade meals that work with your dietary restrictions, let them organize a meal train. If they’re going to show up with takeout Pizza and Chinese for your gluten-intolerant family, stocking your freezer yourself is a great idea.
- Let the kids watch way more movies or TV than you normally would. It’s okay, it’s 30 days, not a lifetime. You are giving them a gift of a new sibling, don’t feel guilty about a Disney Jr marathon every afternoon so you can nap.
- While you’re pregnant, set up activities for the kids to do during those first weeks. New coloring books and crayons, new aps on the kindle that you can enable after the birth with the use of Free Time, a special new toys and books to be distributed weekly.
- Start with disposable diapers unless you have someone else doing all the laundry. I like the Naty Baby Care diapers, they’re a more natural alternative.
- Amazon Prime is your friend. If you’re not a member, sign up for a free trial and you’ll get things like toilet paper, printer ink, granola bars, and supplements delivered to your door in 2 days.
How can others help?
Sometimes friends and family don’t know how to help the new mom. They don’t want to insinuate that she is not, in fact, supermom. They don’t want to offend her by folding her underwear or cleaning her toilets. Sometimes they don’t know or remember what it’s like to have just gone through childbirth so they think that because she’s not pregnant any more, she’s bounced right back. Sometimes we don’t know how to help, so we do nothing. It’s time to stop that, taking care of our (our, as in society) new mothers will help raise healthier happier families.
- Ask dad to do all the laundry- wash/dry/fold/put away. This is something he can catch up in most cases on the weekends, and not having to do that frees up quite a bit of mental space.
- Arrange play dates for the older children.
- If you’re going to the store, text her and ask if she needs anything.
- Bring over nutrient dense foods – check out her pinterest board to get an idea of her eating style.
- Ooo and ahh over her baby, but don’t make her ask for him back. The hormonal bonds for both mother and newborn are strong, they physically need lots of contact during the first few weeks.
- If you see dishes in the sink, that the floor needs to be swept, or the trash needs to be taken out, just do it. She might protest, and if you can see she’s really bothered by it of course stop, but most women would love to have the help, and the protesting is just being polite.
- Bring an activity for the older children and then start it or do it with them.
- Whatever you do, don’t offer to hold the baby so she can catch up on housework. She physically should not be doing housework right now.
Changing families, for the better
When we change our postpartum practices, we start families off on the right foot. It makes me sad to see how much wisdom we’re losing, as we progress in this information age. It’s my goal to help bring some of this back by dropping my pride, and talking to moms-to-be as sisters. Please share this, and help a new mom, a new family, a new baby.
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