In the United States, the speed with which a mother recovers from birth and “gets her body back” is measured in weeks, not months. Magazines flaunt celebrities who lost the baby weight in just 2 weeks, dashed back to work after a mere month, while effortlessly bouncing a baby on their hip. Women are expected to return to work 6 weeks after giving birth, just as if nothing had happened. We are one of the only cultures that does not value the importance of slowing down and asking for support in the postpartum year. I would like to help change that. Here are ten tips for how you can enhance your physical, emotional and mental health in the first year after giving birth – whether this is your first or fifth baby.
Stay in Bed
As long as you can! Take all the help you can get in the first year after your baby/babies are born, and don’t feel guilty about it. A midwife I know has this rule of thumb: 1st week – in the bed, 2nd week -‐ around the bed, 3rd week around the house, 4th week around the block. Then it’s baby steps from that point on. Resist the urge to “bounce right back.” Take naps.
Meditation doubles oxygen to the brain and will give you sanity when you feel crazy. Find a class, a book, or just sit and focus on your breath. There are as many methods of meditation as there are parenting styles. Pick one that works for you. A wonderful introduction to meditation for mothers is “The Intuitive Mother” by Dr. Niki Elliott.
Acupuncture is a painless, drug-free way to help mothers recover from childbirth. Acupuncture regulates hormonal fluctuations, treats pain, insomnia, anxiety, stress, helps with lactation problems…and makes you feel like you had a 3 hour nap. Click here to find an acupuncturist in your area and search your zip code. Make sure your acupuncturist specializes in the childbearing cycle.
Ask for Help
Involving your partner, family and friends in your journey into new motherhood is an essential part of holistic self-care. It’s hard to admit we need help, but all new parents do. With a new baby at home, finding time to take care of yourself becomes challenging. Most of us put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. Perhaps you could ask a friend to watch your kids while you do something loving for yourself, and then return the favor when you feel ready.
Talk it Out
Sharing your feelings during this emotional time of transition is crucial. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the emotions reside in the blood; when we are blood-deficient, after giving birth, we are more prone to big waves of emotions. Giving voice to big feelings prevents them from getting lodged in the blood and leading to pathology. Some moms seek peer support through a local Mom’s group or an online forum, others are more comfortable talking to a therapist, and some find solace in a spiritual counselor or place of worship. There is no right answer. Do know that whatever you’re feeling, there’s another mom who has had it too and can give you empathy.
Eat Real Food
Including slow-cooked stews, meat on the bone, COOKED dark leafy greens, rice and beans, root vegetables, fresh fruit, seaweed, good fats such as avocado and coconut oil. Focus on nutrient-dense foods. Avoid processed foods and refined sugars. This will help you recover from the loss of Blood and Qi, and will nourish your breast milk if you’re nursing. Consider placenta encapsulation: according to Chinese Medicine, consuming placenta in the weeks postpartum nourishes Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang, and is an excellent way to recover from childbirth and prevent postpartum depression.
Connect with Your Partner
Both with and without the baby. The importance of date nights cannot be overstated.
You know that exercise raises serotonin levels, which is great when you’re struggling to feel normal again after the birth of a child. (Lying on the kitchen floor hysterically crying? You’re not alone!) Exercise also moves Qi and Blood, which is essential when you’re spending long hours holding, feeding, bouncing a baby and possibly also tending to older children. Stop holding yourself to your pre-baby standards. Find some type of exercise routine that gets your heart rate up, gets you out of the house, and gives you that awesome serotonin rush.
Trust Your Intuition
If your inner voice is yelling at you loud and clear – about anything – it’s probably right. Don’t over-think a strong intuition: follow it.
Journaling is a therapeutic way to cope with the overwhelm of the first year of becoming a parent, or the first year of fitting a new baby into the home that already has other children. Try using Morning Pages, a notebook, or an app – whatever gets you writing something (even just one sentence!) every day. No one but you has to read it, so don’t worry about how your writing voice sounds. You’ll forget so much of the first year; writing about what’s going on in the moment will help you remember the little moments.
Photo credit:@iamkatwatkins via Twenty20