There was once a time when a woman who just gave birth was encouraged and expected to do little else than rest, recover, and nurse the baby. This was called lying in—a time for mother and infant to convalescence for the days and weeks after childbirth.
Some countries and cultures still honor the lying in period and it takes place from about the first three to six weeks after childbirth. It’s roughly the amount of time our bodies need to physiologically heal, the time when we schedule a postpartum checkup, and generally when we start to get into the rhythm of our motherhood.
Women in America are increasingly reclaiming this time and space. Some call it the fourth trimester. Others advocate for women to cultivate their “village”—a support system of people dedicated to nurturing the postpartum woman.
Whether it’s lying in, the fourth trimester or the village, that postpartum period is crucial for our wellbeing. During the transitional weeks from giving birth to motherhood, we undergo incredible psychological, physical and emotional adjustments. We need to prepare for this postpartum phase with the same care and dedication we do our pregnancies and births.
To love and nurture our baby, we must care for ourselves first.
There are many ways to do this. The key is to really consider what we may want and need during those few weeks. Take some time to plan and research what resources are out there for you, whether they're family, friends or services in the community. Most importantly ask for help.
If we’re lucky enough, we may already be part of a group or community with strong postpartum traditions and support. Even still, it can help to take stock of our postnatal “village” and call those members to action.
I wish I had spent more time preparing for my postpartum period.
I really needed more hands on and emotional support. I was too overwhelmed with adjusting to all the changes and the all-consuming responsibility of caring for a newborn that I could barely coordinate food runs, ask for cleaning help, or request an empathetic ear.
What should have been a sacred and protected experience for our family ended up feeling tumultuous and isolating. I felt utterly incompetent as a new mother, barely had the energy for self-care, and healed slowly from a difficult labor and delivery.
If I could turn back time, I would research and compile my postpartum plan during pregnancy. I would brainstorm and coordinate help using worksheets like Amanda Lowe’s “Positive Postpartum Plan” from The Doula Guide blog. DONA International also offers a great postpartum plan guide to identify and coordinate help with food, cleaning, breastfeeding, older siblings, and the mom herself.
The medical community is also catching on to the significance of postpartum planning.
Just this month the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Obstetric Practice published recommendations for optimizing postpartum care.
While this report is intended for health providers, it’s useful to know what kinds of postpartum attention we can expect at the doctor’s office. Here are some of ACOG’s recommendations and key takeaways:
- Discussing postpartum care should begin during pregnancy, and reviewed and updated after birth
- Identify a primary maternal care provider to assume postpartum care
- Have all women undergo a comprehensive postpartum visit within the first 6 weeks after birth, which includes full physical, social and psychological assessments
- Earlier postpartum follow up is beneficial for those with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and women at higher risk of postpartum complications, such as depression, cesarean or perineal wound infection, lactation difficulties, or chronic conditions that require postpartum adjustments to medication
- Discuss breastfeeding, returning to work or school, postpartum weight, sexuality, pregnancy complication impacting future pregnancies, physical activity, and nutrition
They also suggest filling out the components for a woman’s postpartum care plan and identifying members of her postpartum care team. Details of these components can be found here on ACOG's website.
Although our society no longer observes lying in the way it did decades ago, recreating that space for ourselves is possible with some planning. Take time to learn more about support in the community such as postpartum doulas, breastfeeding centers, lactation consultants, parent-infant support groups, pelvic physical therapists, warm lines, and other support services. Also, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family about their postpartum experiences. Ask them about their challenges and how they overcame them. Most importantly, ask for their help whether it’s for food, to hold the baby so you can get some shut eye, or to ask for understanding if you aren’t ready to have people in your home.
I wish I had done more of these things. Only now I’m recognizing that self-care has never been more important than the day my son started depending on me for him to thrive.
Have you thought of postpartum planning? What are some ways you’re planning for self-care in those early postpartum weeks? If you’re already a mom, what were some of your postpartum challenges that you wish you got more help for?