What is postpartum?
This is the time from birth until your new baby is about 6 weeks old. Many people also consider the first 3 months after birth as the 4th trimester and to be considered a time of rest and bonding. Some pretty huge changes are happening in your life. From a growing family size to learning how to breastfeed to your body and mind adjusting to not being pregnant anymore. It is a life-altering transition!
While it can be magical and beautiful, it can also be really challenging. And a lot of women end up not having the support they need. Sometimes we forget to plan for the postpartum period because we're so focused on preparing for the birth and sometimes we just don't know what we will need until it's missing.
This easy guide can give you some questions to ask yourself about what you want for you and your baby's first weeks and give you an opportunity to set yourself up for ease, tender care, and healing.
Breast milk is proven to be the best thing for babies for at least the first 6 months of life. It's like nature's vaccine, as your body will produce specific antibodies that your baby needs to be protected from the environment. It helps train your baby's immune system, which sets them up to be stronger adults and less likely to develop diseases later on in life. It boosts growth and development, among many other things. You can learn more about benefits of breast milk by clicking here.
Establishing breastfeeding isn't as easy as some of us think. Actually, 92% of women report significant problems with breastfeeding in the first week. And the problem isn't that we can't do it, it's that we don't have the right support. We don't live in tribal communities anymore so many of us have never seen other mothers doing it. While some of it comes naturally, it is a new skill that both baby and mother are learning.
Before your baby is born, get the phone number for a few lactation consultants in your area who will do home visits. You don't have to set up any appointments but it's helpful to have their contact info at hand if you need the help once baby has arrived. You could also consider hiring a postpartum doula who is not only trained with breastfeeding support but also provide emotional and informational support as well as lending a hand with other household needs. Another option is to find La Leche League groups in your area or on Facebook!
Three tips to set you up for successful breastfeeding...
Make sure you are comfortable. Recline on a couch or bed with pillows to support your back and arms. You should not be leaning hunched over to feed your baby.
Put your baby more vertical or diagonal with their head up and body down on top of your tummy instead of laying horizontally.
Hold your baby's body snug and tight and support their head but don't hold their head. This makes them feel secure and allows them to use their head to find your nipple and get a good latch.
These are the two BEST videos to get a great start to breastfeeding:
Attaching Your Baby at the Breast
Skin-to-skin and Baby-wearing
Not only does being skin-to-skin with our baby help to regulate their temperature, heart rate, and our milk production, but it is also super beneficial for bonding and preventing postpartum depression. Baby-wearing means using some kind of cloth wrap to keep your baby snuggled close to your body. It's awesome because your baby gets to feel cozy and secure, similar to being in the womb again, and you have your hands free. There's a great resource called www.babywearinginternational.org.
During the process of giving birth, we exhaust a great deal of energy. And then we suddenly have a new little being to take care of and nourish. This is such an important time to replenish our bodies with healthy food. But we're often too busy and exhausted to put in the time and effort to make really nourishing meals. What we really need during this period of healing is warm, nutrient dense foods. Some of the best meals to support healing are soups and stews made with bone broth or vegetable mineral broth. It's gentle on the digestion and doesn't take the body a lot of work to break down.
One of the biggest things women have said they missed during the postpartum period was prepared meals from friends and family. At your baby shower, you can create a sign up sheet for a meal train. People can volunteer to bring you home cooked meals for the first few weeks after birth. Another thing you can do is invest in a slow-cooker or crock pot. Make a bunch of nourishing slow-cooked meals ahead of time and freeze them so they can be easily warmed up when baby is here.
Click here for guidance and recipe ideas for postpartum nutrition.
You can also listen to the Healthy Births, Happy Babies Podcast Episode 35: Bouncing Back after Baby with Nutrition.
Since we're talking about nutrition, we've also got to talk about the placenta. The placenta is the vital organ that delivers all the nutrients and oxygen to our babies during pregnancy. Women have claimed that eating their placenta makes their postpartum recovery immensely better than previous times. It's said to benefit milk production, prevent postpartum depression, and give moms much needed energy. There hasn't been a lot of research on eating placentas but I'll tell you what it contains and you can decide for yourself:
Iron, protein, and vitamin B6
Oxytocin - promotes bonding
Interferon - stimulates immune system
Prostaglandins - anti-inflammatory
Prolactin - stimulates milk production
Some moms mix it in with a smoothie but it's most commonly consumed in pill form. You can probably find a doula or midwife in your area who provides a placenta encapsulation service.
Click here to watch Mama Natural's video of the process of placenta encapsulation.
Click here for information about the nutrients inside your placenta.
Click here to watch a video about the evidence on eating encapsulated placenta.
After giving birth, there's a huge adjustment your body has to make, similar to when you first became pregnant. Your hormones are shifting from supporting a life inside you to supporting a life outside you. And this can be a roller coaster ride.
The two most important things you can do for emotional support are...
Don't have a bunch of visitors. It can be very overwhelming and you may be tempted to act as a host when your only job right now needs to be resting and caring for your baby.
Have one or two really good support people. I recommend hiring a postpartum doula because they are trained to care for moms and babies exactly for this beginning period. If your partner, family member, or a good friend can be available to you, use them! Some moms don't want to be alone during this time. We often need someone to be there ensuring us that what we're feeling and experiencing is all normal.
This is a great Birthful Podcast Episode 16: Postpartum Depression
Childbirth is no doubt one of the most physically demanding pursuits we can experience in this life. Some of us have had vaginal tearing or an episiotomy, some have had a cesarean section, and some have had no affliction at all. No matter what, it's best to take it easy in the beginning as the uterus and other muscles and ligaments move back into place. Those of us who have experienced birth, baby included, can definitely benefit from some of these healing methods...
Herbal Sitz Bath, Whole Body Bath, or Healing Cold Pads
A sitz bath is a small tub that fits over your toilet in which you can soak your perineum in warm water and herbs. (Find one of these at your local drug store.) You can also soak your whole body in a warm bath with salt and herbs. Or make your own frozen healing pads to soothe the perineum. Many moms have shared how these have helped their healing process immensely when trying it for the second birth compared to not using it for the first. Frozen pads are best for only the first 24-48 hours. Then it's best to use warmth because it brings white blood cells to that area to promote healing.
Make your own sitz bath herbal mixture from Mommypotamus.
Learn how to make other items for your postpartum kit at passionatehomemaking.com
Our bodies change a lot during pregnancy and for months after birth. As your ligaments realign and you begin using your body in a new way caring for a baby, chiropractic adjustments can help balance your body and promote healing. Babies also benefit from gentle adjustments after being curled up for so long and then making their way through our bodies.
Click here for information about benefits of postpartum chiropractic care.
You can also listen to the Healthy Births, Happy Babies Podcast Episode 32: Postpartum Recovery with Chiropractic Care
Cranial Sacral Therapy
Cranial Sacral Therapy is a very gentle healing method where a practitioner massages and touches the bones around the skull. This treatment can help babies who have had a traumatic birth as well as helping with breastfeeding issues, colic, and teething issues.
Click here to learn more about cranial sacral therapy.
Many moms do not take the time to rest after giving birth. Some of us have other children or we're just the kind of people who take care of everything. But it will benefit you to take this time to really rest and recuperate. Postpartum doulas are great for this because they can hold the baby while you take a nap or even help with light house keeping. If you have older children, ask some friends or family ahead of time to take them out of the house for fun activities. It's recommended to stay in bed doing skin to skin with your new baby for the first 3 days, so take advantage of it!
Listen to the Birthful Podcast Episode 56: Skin-to-Skin
When you're feeling up for it, find some other mamas to spend time with. With the lack of sleep and the demands of caring for a new baby, we can go a little insane. Being around other mamas who are going through the same tides can make a big difference. Find a mama baby yoga class in your neighborhood or a mom's group. If you can't find any, you can start one!
Have you ever wondered why we use diapers as full time toilets for babies? It's not because they'll pee and poop everywhere. They actually have pretty good sphincter control even at birth. The diaper industry has changed the view of what our children are capable of. Before disposable diapers, kids were potty trained by 18 months at the latest. With attention and care, we can actually learn our babies bathroom cues and have them out of diapers in 18 months or sooner. This is called elimination communication. You can begin observing your baby immediately after birth and get into a routine within the first few weeks of life. And it may be easier than you think!
There's some great information in the Birthful Podcast Episode 60: Elimination Communication
Whether you're a first time mom or you've been on this adventure before, preparing for your postpartum period can only make things easier. As women we are capable of a lot, but we can allow ourselves to let go of some responsibilities to focus on the ones that really matter during this time: you and your baby.
Check out my Postpartum Wellness Toolkit to help you plan for optimal healing and support during the first weeks with your little one.
Please share what you loved and missed in your postpartum care below!