Self-Care After the Birth

by Premsangha Prakasha, from BirthWays Newsletter, Spring 2013

The postpartum period can be experienced in many different ways by mothers and families. As with our pregnancies and births, each is utterly unique, yet we all have some experiences in common.

For most parents, especially first-timers, the postpartum period is very surreal. Inwardly, time feels warped. Most of what we usually identify with is stripped away as we take time to stay home, recover and bond. Some parts of our identity are forever changed. Outwardly, we have this new, incredible, miraculous and utterly dependent being who has just appeared in our lives. One day we are not yet parents, and the next day we are. It is a tremendous transition to undergo all at once.

The postpartum time asks a lot of us: to grow, stretch, rest, resource, reach out and go inward.

Here are some guidelines that I followed and that I like to offer to my yoga students and doula clients. Many are based on the practices of ancient healing traditions, like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

•  Plan for a ‘lying in’ period
Many traditional cultures call for a 40 day period of rest following birth. For some, it is 100 days. Laura Todaro, my homebirth class teacher, suggested staying in bed for 2 weeks, which I found to be about right. Follow this by staying at home for another two weeks or more. First outings should be very small— literally just a walk around the block, and not alone, if possible. These incremental steps out into the world are important for both mother and baby.

•  Take a media fast
Aside from sending out an email or phone call about your exciting news, stay away from your computer and phone for a little while. Turn off the ringer on all your phones. Put a vacation response on your email. Be discerning about what you chose to see and hear. Ten days, five days, two weeks? Decide what feels right to you and your family.

•  Create a Sacred Space
The whole family is vulnerable during the huge adjustment period after a new baby is born. Be discerning about who comes into your space. Just like your birth, be sure that the people who are around you are there to unconditionally help and support you; that you won’t need to host or ‘take care’ of them, or worse, ward off negativity.

•  Eat Warm, Nourishing foods
From traditional health perspectives, after a woman gives birth, there is an excess of the qualities of ‘space’ and ‘air’, both of which need to be countered with ‘earth’. The digestive system is slow both physiologically and energetically, so favor foods that are warm, easy to digest and high in nutrient density. Choose soups and stews, bone broths, slow cooked oats and grains, and well-cooked root vegetables. Coconut milk, avocados and eggs are great for building energy and strength. Adding some fermented foods, like a bit of yogurt or pickled veggies, can help with digestion. Have plenty of warm liquids on hand- thermoses of tea all over the house! A wonderful resource for nutrient dense, easy to digest, prepared food is Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley. Check out the book Nourishing Traditions to learn about the philosophy.

•  Ask for and Receive Help
This is a great time to practice asking for and receiving help. I say ‘practice’ because this is challenging for most people. You have done an incredible feat of carrying and birthing your baby- it’s time for you and your family to be taken care of as much as possible! This is totally normal and expected in most traditional cultures. It’s a strange modern thing for us to be so on our own. Let the village come together for you, if possible:

  • Ask a friend to organize a ‘meal train’. It’s becoming so common now, that there are websites to make the organization easy; try mealtrain.com or mealbaby.com
  • Hire a postpartum Doula, if you don’t have friends and family around- or even if you do!
  • When people ask if they can help, say “Yes!” Keep a list going of things you could use a hand with, then you can give them specific ideas of ways to help. This usually makes it easier for the helper and more effective for you!

• Know your Internal and External Resources
Make a list of your Internal and External Resources so that you can turn to it when you are feeling stretched thin:

  • Internal: What makes you feel calm, relaxed, joyful, connected to yourself and others? Yoga? Meditation? A warm bath? Candlelight? Listening to particular music or recordings? Quiet? Being in the Sunshine? Rest?
  • External:  Who can you call or talk to for support? Friends? Family? Therapists?

Plan to work these things into your days. Even just 5-10 minutes once or twice a day can make a big difference. They are essential for healthy healing and parenting!

Jessica Premsangha Prakasha is a certified yoga instructor, doula, certified massage therapist, somatic educator and mama. She has been practicing meditation and various Hatha yoga forms since childhood and began teaching yoga classes in 1999. Premsangha’s passion for working with pregnant women around birth has grown tremendously since she started teaching prenatal yoga classes in 2007, and was greatly fueled by her own experience with pregnancy and the home birth of her son, Jai, in January of 2009. Find her at premsangha.com.

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