We have a culture that is often focused on which Boppy pillow, DokATot, and latest baby gadget is the best, rather than focusing on what birth is really about- a new life entering the world, and the power of the woman who grew and birthed that life. Our postpartum time is often filled with visitors wanting to hold the sweet baby- not necessarily help in any way- and mothers often go back to everyday expectations of life much too soon after giving birth. So, what can we do to support a new mom in her postpartum days? And what "stuff" really matters?
The “work” of labor and delivery is truly LABOR- hard labor in all aspects- emotional, mental, and physical. It is arguably the equivalent of running a marathon...that you have not trained for...which you have no idea if it is a 5k or a full marathon. To labor and give birth is to use every muscle fiber in your body (which you will likely feel the day afterward!). I have had moms whose shoulders ache, whose thigh muscles throb as if they have been doing repetitive squats, and who have broken blood vessels in their eyes from the physical exertion that it took to birth their baby. For the mommas who have a cesarean section, there is other trauma and healing from having had major abdominal surgery- and even sometimes a birth that wasn't what was planned. This isn't to portray birth as scary...but to speak to the challenge that is birth and the power that is the female body.
After delivery, the body shifts from growing life inside, to continuing to sustain and grow that life outside of the body, with breastfeeding. The task of producing rich breastmilk is another feat! For all these reasons and more, the postpartum time for a new momma is an important one- for her body and mind!
If the female body can grow, birth, and sustain life, what are we doing after such an accomplishment, to nurture that body? In our culture, we don't always hold this time- the postpartum period- in reverence. We fail to see and treat it as a sacred time. Yes, a baby has just been born. But so has a mother!
So, with all of that said, here is a list of a few things every postpartum momma should have, some material comfort items, and some not.
|A lovely postpartum stash|
1) Depends/Disposable adult underwear
Yes, I know. It's not the coolest, sexiest, most attractive garment, but I promise you, it will be worth it. The first couple of days when bleeding is heavier, it is so nice to not have to worry about pad placement and ruining your underwear. Go to the bathroom ---> take off--->toss in trash--->replace. It's comfy, it's hassle free. Just.do.it.
2) Frozen witch hazel pads. They feel like heaven on your bottom and perineum after you have given birth, particularly if you have stitches for a vaginal/perineal tear. It's cold and soothing, and helps to reduce swelling. Take a heavy absorbency sanitary pad, and moderately fill it with witch hazel. Be careful not to drench it...it will become a solid ice block in the freezer. Curve it slightly upward (as the curve of the body when it's in the underwear) and place it in the freezer. You can stack several. you can also do this with cotton rounds. They are particularly useful to put right on the perineum or up against hemorrhoids. Add in Lavender for a healing perineum or c-section incision and Cypress for hemorrhoid pads and it will make all the difference!
3) Essential Oils. Yes, I love essential oils! There is truly an essential oil for everything- from supporting every body system, to supporting mindset and emotions. From helping with skin healing to promoting circulation, there is an oil to ease those postpartum discomforts and help you through!
4) Rest. I'm not talking about rest in the immediate hours after giving birth. I'm talking days. Weeks. I tell my moms for the first 3 days, stay in the comfort of your own space- your bed. Stay nearly naked (refer back to #1), skin-to-skin with your new baby. Rest. Nurse. Rest some more. Bond. Limit your visitors. You see? These things are interrelated. You're nearly naked, looking like a beautiful mess of a new mother, so why have company over? We also need to keep in mind that company also brings unwelcome company- germs.
What more important task do you have than to establish breastfeeding, provide nutrients and antibodies to your baby, and get to know this precious new person? You can do it all by resting and staying close to one another!
5) Nourishment. In the immediate days after birth and through the postpartum period, the body needs to be nourished and replenished. Hot teas, infusions, broths, and hearty soups are staples for this! We always make homemade bone broth from our leftover bones and freeze it for soups and stews later. It can be made from beef bones, or a turkey or chicken carcass. It's simple to make and nourishing to the body and mind. Best of all, you can do this ahead of time and freeze in large quantities. It's also easy enough that anyone- including Dad- can do it. Recipe at the end!
6) Time. I see it as a midwife and I've lived it as a mother. The postpartum period isn't held in high regard as it should be. We aren't afforded Time. Such a simple thing, but yet not something we typically give and get after having a baby.
I was once leaving a 24 hour postpartum home visit and said to the new mom, "Just in case you were considering it, please do not go to church on Sunday. Stay home. Rest." The momma (who is from Guatemala) looked at me as if I was crazy! "Ah...no. I stay home," she said. "In my culture, we do not go anywhere for 30 days after having baby." I was in awe. This is not the norm. Perhaps it should be.
Ever heard of the 4th trimester? It refers to the time from birth to the end of a baby's third month. At birth, the brain of the human infant is still immature. Human babies are fragile and vulnerable, depending on the constant care of their mother. At birth, they have innate reflexes and abilities- breathing, sucking, swallowing, pooping. Yep, just the basics! As the end of the 4th trimester nears, they become increasingly more able little beings- regulating their body temperature, interacting more, nursing less often, and being more alert. Shouldn't this vulnerable, dependent time of the newborn tell us something important about the 4th trimester for the mother as well? I think so!
So forget about fancy gear, breastpumps, and various other gadgets and 'nice-to-haves' for now, and consider this simple, short list. Let us not forget about the 4th trimester for both mom and baby, and all the ways in which we can comfort, nurture, and support them both. <3
Here's that recipe for the nourishing bone broth!
Nourishing Bone Broth
One big pot of water
2 tablespoons vinegar (helps to draw the minerals out of the bones) . Can be substituted with lemon juice.
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch each of parsley and thyme
2 Bay leaves
About 8 peppercorns
Marrow Bones- we only use organic, hormone-free animal bones such as beef bones, whole turkey, or whole chicken. You can either use a whole chicken with the meat still intact, or use the remaining carcass, after you have already eaten the meat for a previous meal.
• If using a whole chicken, cut off the wings, remove the neck and cut both into pieces. Remove the gizzards from the cavity. Like mentioned above, an already eaten off of chicken or turkey carcass is fine. Throw it in!
• Place marrow bones or chicken and pieces in a pot with water, vinegar, and all vegetables and herbs.
• Bring slowly to a boil, and remove the scum that rises to the top.
• Reduce heat, cover and low simmer for 6 to 8 hours.
• Salt and pepper to taste, or wait until consumption
• Strain the stock into another large pot. Remove the bones and any meat pieces with a slotted spoon. You can save the loose meat to be used for chicken/turkey noodle soup, etc.
• Cool in an ice bath (or, as we do during the wintertime here in Alaska, stick it in the snow outside), and refrigerate until the fat rises to the top and congeals. Skim off the layer of fat. Refrigerate up to 3-4 days or freeze for future use.