Postpartum care is so close to my heart. Many cultures – particularly non-Western ones – are steeped in the tradition of offering postpartum care. This support of new mothers focuses first and foremost on healing her. Through emotional, physical and spiritual support, she becomes empowered to step into her new role and offer the best care to her baby.
In contrast, in the U.S., our focus is not on the mother, but the baby, after birth. Friends and family ask how the baby is eating, how the baby is sleeping, if the baby is gaining weight. Meanwhile the mother, in her most raw, vulnerable and exhausted state, is left to fend for herself. Worse, the absence of questions about the mother – how she’s adjusting – reinforces the message that how the mother feels doesn’t matter.
But in reality, a baby cannot thrive unless the mother is thriving. By failing to support a new mother, we jeopardize her health and the health of her family for years to come. (For more on that, check out The Postnatal Depletion Cure by Dr. Oscar Serrallach.)
In a perfect world, we would all have postpartum doulas on hand for the first six weeks to provide meals, childcare, massages, help with cleaning and chores and morale support for mom. Sadly, that’s just not an option financially for mot people. The good news is there are things you can do to set yourself up for success postpartum that don’t cost a thing.
Commit to the 3 rules of postpartum care: Rest, Rehydrate and Roast the mom. Rest is so critical to healing, but so often, women either have to or feel pressured to be up and moving around immediately after childbirth. If you can, stay in bed. Make sure that you hydrate, especially if you’re breastfeeding, and try to stay comfortable and warm. You can find more advice for caregivers and partners on how to support a woman after childbirth here.
Eat real food. Proper nutrition is so important all the time, but particularly postpartum. According to Ritual, the postpartum period is actually even more nutritionally demanding than pregnancy itself. Ideally, new moms would have fresh meals prepared for them three times a day. If you don’t have that luxury, plan ahead. While you’re pregnant, double your recipes and freeze half to set aside for the weeks following childbirth. This option isn’t perfect, but it’s so much better than eating junk food, not eating or spending hours on your feet in the kitchen. Here’s more on foods to eat and foods to avoid postpartum. And don’t forget to take a quality multivitamin or even better, a postnatal multivitamin for at least six months after birth.
Get help from guests. Keeping a household running with a newborn around is tough. My midwife stressed during my pregnancy that the ideal ratio is three adults for every newborn in the weeks immediately after birth. If that amount of help isn’t happening for you (or even if it is), I highly recommend asking for help with chores and/or errands from your friends and family. Keep a running chore list on your refrigerator and don’t be shy about it! Odds are, they’d love a way to show their love and support. If you feel uncomfortable asking, enlist your partner’s help. You also could have a sign-up sheet for chores, errands and/or meals at your baby shower or mother blessing so that expectations are set in advance. You can access an online sign-up sheet template that I created here. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help, and we need to normalize this type of support for parents!