Babymoon. In my experience as a doula and educator, I see more people focus on the lovely things that they'd like to have at their births and less on what the days and weeks postpartum will look like, beyond who will be there to help them out and how they plan on feeding themselves.
Those two things are certainly the biggest, most basic priorities for planning what your postpartum time (or fourth trimester) will look like, but overlooking the other ways that you should expect to be nourished, supported, and looked after is a setup for burnout and resentment. If you're prone to mood swings, depression, and other mental health concerns, now is the time to take extra care and caution and make self-care a priority.
I'm writing this post from a holistic and preventive health perspective as a doula and healthcare worker. I'm also writing as the mother of a newborn, in my third go-round with the babymoon business, having had three different and very informative experiences. My experience is partnered, and I realize that not everyone comes into this with that privilege. I've had one baby in a city with a very tight-knit community and an abundance of family support and two babies living rurally with very limited resources. I've also given birth in a hospital, a birth center, and at home, so I hope that I can offer a well-rounded perspective with that in mind. This post also addresses recovery from a physiological perspective- if you are recovering from a surgical birth, there are some great resources which I'll list at the end of the post. Most of what I include here will still be extremely applicable.
I also want to be extremely mindful of the fact that in the United States, you are very lucky to have several weeks off with the support of another adult after you have a baby. A comprehensive babymoon is viewed as a luxury in our culture, when the reality is that it is VERY BASIC HEALTHCARE. Humanity has honored this simple truth with its indigenous traditions across the globe as well as implementing paid family leave in virtually every countryexcept ours. It's well understood that how well a mother is nourished and nurtured into health after giving birth has rippling effects into society for years to come, but the US has yet to embrace this as a social institution. By prioritizing the integration of a newborn into your life in slow and gentle ways, and by allowing yourself to be supported by your family, community, plant allies, and spirit guides, you are participating in a crucial culture shift that is essential in healing the planet and its future generations.
Understanding the basic physiology
During the first hours, days, and weeks after you give birth, your uterus does an enormous job to contract the open blood vessels that fed the placenta and to clot off and form a "scab" on the uterine wall. So every time you stand up, twist, and create internal pressure in your torso through exertion, you are causing disturbance to the wound healing process and bringing excess circulation to that area. Now, you do want to keep your circulation concentrated to your internal organs (which means no extra movement that would pull blood into your extremeties) so that your uterus can heal, your digestion can begin to restore its pattern, and your organs can move back into their original locations. Essentially, now is the time to rest deeply and let your body recover.
It will take up to a few days for your milk to come in. THIS IS NORMAL. A big peeve of mine is watching postpartum nurses and lactation consultants project fear and stress onto first time breastfeeders as soon as 24 hours is up by encouraging them to pump or even supplement until their milk is in. It is very difficult for a healthy, full-term newborn to become dehydrated in the first 48-72 hours, and in fact, their acting hungry and demanding milk is part of what sends a signal to your body that there is a baby waiting to be fed. This is the time for YOU to be hydrating and putting that baby on your chest to stimulate your pituitary into secreting oxytocin and prolactin, stimulating your nipples, and practicing a good latch so that when your milk does come in, they get the best of it.
Hormonally, the first week postpartum has been likened to a drug withdrawal. Part of the placenta's job is to produce a huge cocktail of hormones (which still isn't totally understood), and as soon as it is expelled, those hormones drop. This explains why you might feel weepy or moody for the first several weeks, and why it's normal to feel sad despite otherwise lovely circumstances. Of course, if this persists into a matter of months or you experience any of these symptoms, it's time to get help. Diet, herbs, and the support of someone who has given birth before are all important ways to buffer this natural phenomenon.
My Postpartum Principles for the First Week
- No pants. And I'm going to go as far to say no shirt, either. If you're planning on breastfeeding, the no-shirt thing is essential. While you wait for your milk to come in, topless is best anyway. The basic logic to the no-pants rule is that if you put on clothes, you'll be tempted to do stuff, and you need to be parking your booty in bed and only getting up to use the restroom for the first week at least.
- Limit visitors. This one can be tough, especially if you're in the hospital. I have found that even if the unit you're on implements a "quiet time", the staff doesn't always do the best job of enforcing it. With my first, I had constant visitors, and as a young mom excited about her new baby and the attention I was getting, I didn't have the wisdom to appreciate that there was plenty of time for all of that. There is absolutely no difference in if your sister-in-law (or whoever) sees your baby on Day 2 or Week 2, except that YOU will be feeling very differently. I find that if you adhere to the first principle and only allow visitors who would be comfortable seeing you topless with engorged titties and a newborn plastered to your chest (and who won't be expecting to spend time holding a swaddled baby), you are setting up a good expectation for your recovery. If it's not somebody you'd want seeing you like that, then they can wait until you feel like putting on clothes in a week (or two). It may be a good idea to put a sign on your front door for visitors to read outlining your boundaries and needs in a gentle way that your loved ones can take to heart.
- All food and drinks should be brought to you in bed. This is 100% reasonable and should be a communicated expectation with the people around you. The longer you can maintain this, the better. Shoot for a week (at least). Ask that nobody come in the room without refreshing you with water and offering a snack. Again, this is basic. (It's also a global norm.)
- Keep all of your baby supplies- diapers/wipes, diaper pail, blankets, clothing, etc.- in baskets next to you in bed. Train someone else to prepare bottles for you if you're formula feeding. Again, the goal is to not get out of bed for anything other than going to the bathroom.
- The only reason you should be leaving the house is for an appointment (we really need to implement house calls again for this- making families leave the house with a brand new baby is cruel and unusual). Do not put on makeup or jewelry. Wear pajamas (layer up if it's cold). Do not go shopping!! Make someone else go in for you, or order your food, or whatever. This last baby, we both had to go into the bank to get paternity paperwork notarized with a week-old newborn and a toddler. It was dumb. Avoid doing anything like that like the plague.
- A note on lifting "anything heavier than your baby": this includes baby + car seat. You'll need someone to carry the car seat around. If you are alone, leave the car seat in the car and transfer your baby at the car into a baby carrier or wrap.
Beyond the very basics
I'm going to give you my setup- what I make sure to arrange around me before the birth so I don't have to think about it afterward as well as some of the simple things I choose to implement every day to make the time go more smoothly. This is going to look different for everyone! My wish is that it will give you some ideas for things to try, as well as reinforce the reality of the need to be nurtured as someone who just gave birth.
Food & Drink: There are a lot of different recommendations across the board regarding what kinds of foods to eat and how slowly to reintroduce things like meat, fresh produce, dairy, etc. The main theme that I have discovered across traditions is to favor slowly cooked, warming foods that are easy to digest. Stay away from anything gas producing (think cabbage family, raw onion, uncooked dairy) and stimulants (caffeine) that can mess with your adrenals and make it difficult to establish a pattern for rest. The basic philosophy around postpartum diets is that since you just lost a large volume of blood, the body has been cooled off, so it needs warmth to restore organ function and circulation. Your digestion has slowed for the feat of labor and birth, so foods should be cooked well- oatmeal, soups and stews, stir fries with lots of moisture, rice and beans, etc., in order to restore your bowel pattern and digestive fire.
Try to plan for at least a week of food in your fridge or freezer, or easy things that can be thrown in a crockpot (we did whole chickens and chuck roasts with potatoes and veggies, which made it easy to also feed our other kids). Also, keep a thermos by your bed and get fresh tea in it to have warming, nourishing drinks throughout the day. My setup: nourishing infusions made the night before (more on that below), a quart jar for water by the bedside, and fennel-fenugreek tea in a thermos made fresh every morning. This was essential to establishing my milk supply and keeping both baby and I well hydrated, nourished, and rested. It's also really important for you to be voiding and keeping your bladder emptying while your uterus heals!
Another thing I have discovered: If you have a partner that has to return to work right away and have limited other help, having meals that can be pulled out in the morning and prepared in a slow cooker makes evenings so much smoother for them to come home, get dishes and laundry knocked out, hang out with other kids, and not feel too overwhelmed. I'm definitely wishing we would have been better prepared in that department this go 'round.
Herbs: There is a massive amount of information out there on herbs for the childbearing year, so I'm going to skip the comprehensive review and just give you my indispensables. Nettle infusions for iron support and adrenal function. Motherwort tincture for acute mood swings and those gnarly afterpains. Lemon balm tincture for daily use to support my nervous system and brighten my mood. Shatavari powder in my morning oatmeal (along with other Ayurvedic herbs) to moisten and nourish my reproductive system. Fennel and fenugreek tea to support rich and abundant lactation. I've listed my favorite herbal resources at the bottom of the post.
I prepare a tea blend for my clients called Wonder Womb which includes nettle, oatstraw, alfalfa, red raspberry leaf, and rosehips, that I take throughout pregnancy and prepare enough to carry me through postpartum (in the same way you should still take your prenatals if you do). I prepare it as a strong extract in water, known as a nourishing infusion. To prepare a Nourishing Infusion,take a handful of dried herbs (about an ounce), place in an empty quart sized canning jar or French press, and fill with a quart of boiling hot water. Cover/cap and steep at least 4 hours or overnight. Strain and compost your herbs, and drink throughout the day. During postpartum, I was drinking a quart of infusion every 1-2 days.
The other important herbal support I had at the ready was for my tush! You may have a variety of different things going on "down there", including perineal tears, internal abrasions in your vagina or around your inner labia, a surgical incision, or a torn cervix. Antiseptic, vulnerary, cooling, and astringent herbs are what you want to be adding to a shallow bath (known as a sitz), your peri bottle, and soaking frozen pads with. My favorite herbs for healing my snatch after birth are comfrey (which you want to combine with another wound healing herb if you have more than just superficial tissue damage), yarrow, sage, rosemary, lavender, and calendula. I also use 1/2 cup epsom or sea salt in any sitz bath I take within the first week or two postpartum, and keep organic witch hazel extract on hand for hemorrhoids . Note: I remember being so terrified after my first baby of touching my swollen yoni and looking to see what a second degree tear looked like. Please- do yourself a favor, get your mirror out, wash your hands, and touch and look at your pussy. It's not going to be as bad as you fear and it's good medicine to honor fully the work your body just did to bring your child to life, even if it freaks you out a bit. If anything, it will vindicate the need to heal yourself gently.
Spirit: Think about what is going to really lift your spirits in a sustained, gentle way ahead of time. This includes music, scents, massage oils, crystals, flower essences, friends who get it, books and magazines, activities like knitting or coloring, meditations, etc. For me, it was a collection of rose quartz, smokey quartz, and lapis lazuli, Rescue Remedy, clary sage essential oil (in a diffuser), a lot of Snatam Kaur on my Spotify, sesame seed oil for Abhyanga massage, and Pinterest. I found that as a young first time mama, I had to seek out other parents for friends well before my birth, and they were the friends I was able to call on unconditionally when things got rough, during the long days at home alone. Make sure you get into plenty of sunshine and take gentle walks outside after the first week or so. I'm listening to a lot of guided meditations and Hay House Radio podcasts this time around, sleeping with my Himalayan salt lamp on at night so that my partner can sleep and I still have light to see my way through a diaper change at 3am. (Your postpartum may not look so woo-woo hippy dippy, but I'm into it. Maybe watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta all day long nourishes your soul. Just do what feels good and don't freaking push it or put up with anything demanding besides your baby.)
I hope that at the very least, this guide gave you the sense that prioritizing your healing and comfort after you give birth should be Number One, arguably before even your baby. Drawing from a full well is part of our sacred responsibility as parents, and I want to give you some good tools to help make that happen for yourself.
And if you want MORE tools to set you up for total postpartum success, sign up below for my free 7-day email course, Creating A Nourished Postpartum. It's a rich week of mindset shifting around asking for help and building support, knowledge building around what to expect physically and emotionally, and skills training for healing well after birth. Click here to sign up and get started today!