Postpartum care in the United States has become like the obligatory vegetable platter set out at parties: we know it should be there to balance out dips and desserts but no one’s really digging into it. Postpartum is much the same way. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves and the random carrot stick we put on our plate to appease our consciences is the equivalent to our 6 week visit that does very little except to give us the OK on having sex again.
Just like we need more vegetables on our plates, we need more postpartum care than what is offered to us. Certified pregnancy and postpartum athleticism coach Jordan Baesler says, “Pregnancy is temporary but postpartum is forever.”
There are countless classes and books about pregnancy and babies, which is good! We want a healthy baby, of course, but we need a healthy mom and we need a mom looking at her long-term health, because now she has to take care of a child outside of her body. Factors like sleep deprivation, lack of nutrition, postnatal depletion, stress, hormones, and the toll nursing takes on your body can severely affect you emotionally. Anxiety and depression can often find their root in nutritional deficiencies or lack of iron. Yet we write this off as just being a tough season and assume we will grow out of it. But what if we were more educated? What if we had tools to help us in this postpartum season so that we were better equipped?
How American Culture Differs in Postpartum Care
When you deliver a baby, you have a giant, gaping wound where your placenta used to be. Most societies require bed rest for weeks but here we celebrate those who seem to “recover” the fastest. We applaud women who walk the runway at 6 weeks post-delivery or are back in bikinis on the covers of magazines within weeks like nothing ever happened. As a result, we are faced with an unhealthy expectation to “bounce back” quickly, often at our physical and mental detriment. With my second child, I was at Costco three days postpartum and thought I was Superwoman. I was running on all kinds of feel-good oxytocin hormones and had no clue that I was putting myself in danger, completely overlooking the fact that “childbirth is arguably one of the most dramatic musculoskeletal events the human body undergoes.”
I’m not trying to bash our culture because it’s beautiful in many ways. But in this area, I think we are getting it wrong. Many other cultures recognize the importance for mothers to make a recovery and have for centuries. Chinese culture, for example, has what is called “zuo due zi,” or “sitting the month,” where a mother does not leave the house for 30 days to help her recover from postpartum stress. Indian, Australian, and South American cultures have certain foods they make that support healing and a strong support system of family and friends who come in to cook and clean so the mother can focus on the baby and on lying still so her body can heal.
“Pregnancy is temporary but postpartum is forever.” Jordan Baesler
After becoming pregnant with my fourth child, I began dealing with some pelvic pain. This sent me on a quest to figure out why and I was shocked at what I learned. This article states, “Over 30 million women have pelvic floor problems like urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and pain during intercourse.”
This is just something we don’t talk about enough and I wanted to learn more. A friend of mine from Scotland had her baby in the states, so her mother flew in. She was shocked to see that the only checkup her daughter received before going home was a uterus check. In the UK, mom and baby would get a checkup every day for the first week, followed by two weeks of regular visits. They would be paid for six months time off (not the six weeks you can expect here) and up to a year of maternity leave, albeit not fully paid.
Personal Testimonies From Other Cultures
My neighbor, a doula from Great Britain, confirmed this and said she could not believe how quickly women were expected to bounce back in the states. She said it wasn’t realistic and even dangerous.
My friend, Jordan, who I mentioned above, has had the unique experience of giving birth in both the United States and Japan. She is also a certified pregnancy and postpartum athlete. Her experience is detailed below:
“Unlike the maximum two day rule in the USA (unless complications or c-section) after birth, the minimum time to stay in the clinic was 4 days, but ideally they wanted you to stay about a week. They believed this allowed you to rest, recover, and bond best with the baby you just had. They did not “force” your milk to come in sooner by making you pump if they don’t see the baby gaining weight initially, but instead they monitor it, and allow your body to adjust on its schedule.
I saw a lactation consultant multiple times a day as a normal routine, and had a massage the second day. I was also asked about what kind of help I would have at home and for how long before I left the clinic. Also within that first week, they gently checked me internally with ultrasound to make sure my uterus was healing and starting to shrink. They also follow up with a 4-week appointment where they checked everything again both externally and internally. Overall, I felt more cared for—not just baby but also ME. I also felt heard instead of being talked to.”
Jordan’s advice based on both experiences? “Respect the ‘4th’ trimester. Advocate for yourself. If something feels off, have the courage to talk about it. Ask for blood work to rule out depletion. See a pelvic floor specialist for long term health, function and performance as most OB/GYNs and midwives do not have physiotherapy or functional muscle movement training. They will simply clear you when you will no longer mess up an incision.”
My advice? Look into this prior to having the baby. Just like you are researching baby names, nursery colors, and what sleep schedule you think you might use, research things you can do to help facilitate healing. Don’t try and be Wonder Woman (leave Costco to your husband for a while) and realize you already are! You are growing a human! You will deliver a human! It is HEROIC! This is an area where heroes need more help, so do your own research and take care of yourself.
Practical Tips to Help You Heal Properly After Birth
Here are a few tips I collected going into my last birth and although I wasn’t able to do all of them, I can tell you that both mentally and physically I felt much less depleted, much less jittery, and much calmer by having self-care and rest as a priority:
1. Be flat as much as possible that first week. No stairs or holding heavy items and rest as much as possible for 4-6 weeks.
2. Ayurvedic postpartum care recommends a warm environment, free of drafts and harsh lights, with lots of warm water, teas, and meals such as organic soups with easily digested vegetables. Quiet activity with limited visits from friends is conducive to this recovery period.
3. Try and get help! People will offer to bring you a meal, help you with your other kids, do a load of laundry, etc. Let them! Write down their name when they say it and set up a plan or just give an immediate “yes” and let them tell you what works for them. Remember how good it feels to help others and that you’re giving them that gift by letting them help you in a time where you truly need it.
4. Try and go to bed early and nap when you can. This is a short season and that to-do list really can wait. I always forget that. Your pelvic floor and adrenal glands will thank you later.
5. Meditate on Scripture, pray, focus on being grateful. Avoid stress as much as you can.
6. Take a high quality fish oil, drink bone broth, and make sure you are getting enough quality protein (grass-fed, organic, wild, etc). Try to nourish yourself with what you are eating and consider a grass-fed liver supplement to keep iron levels up.
7. Red raspberry tea both before and after birth can help to tone your uterus and arnica homeopath can help speed healing.
8. A good postpartum spray is helpful and soothing (A quick recipe is aloe vera, witch hazel, six drops of frankincense, six drops of lavender, and six drops of clary sage oils mixed in with water and kept in a glass bottle in your bathroom.)
9. Make an appointment with a pelvic floor specialist and/or do a program that helps facilitate pelvic floor strengthening like the MUTU system.
While our culture might not emphasize the recovery process for mothers, that doesn’t mean you can’t do this for yourself. Do not feel guilty about prioritizing your health and well-being. It’ll just take a little grit and grace, but you can do it!
For more encouragement as a new mom or a mom-to-be, start with this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: How to Get Your Hormones in Check with Ashby Duval – 070