If there’s one thing I know about moms, it’s this: We’re amazing at taking care of other people and not quite as good at taking care of ourselves. And it begins from the moment we become mothers: Newborns are helpless and mama’s biology kicks in as soon as they’re born. Our brains actually change and we’re hardwired to focus on baby’s needs, even when we’re beyond exhausted.
New mama life is demanding and it’s so important to remember that you simply can’t pour from an empty cup. (And, oh, there is so much pouring to do in those early days after baby arrives!) As a former doula and now founder of Tenth Moon Mother Care, I always suggest that expectant families focus less on a birth plan and more on a postpartum plan.
Waiting until your newborn has arrived to figure out how you'll manage can be tricky, to say the least. Speak to your partner, family and friends about how they can offer support, particularly in the first month. Having a village of folks around who can help with laundry (there will be a lot), or wipe away your tears (good chance you'll have a few) is invaluable.
Life with a newborn is wild and unpredictable.
If you find yourself without a plan, remember to simply ask for help and never feel guilty about it. Motherhood was never intended to be a solo mission. It takes a village to carry new mothers through this remarkable life change as much as it does to raise their sweet babes.
If you find yourself without many people to ask for help, visit a local women’s centre or connect with a neighbour you trust. Reach out to local doula groups, as many will provide their services – including postpartum visits – on a sliding scale.
Remember to be gentle with yourself – life is different now. Allow yourself time to rest and heal and celebrate your amazing accomplishment of bringing a tiny new person into the world. Well done, Mama!!
Here are some ideas to help prepare for those early days and weeks and after baby arrives.
Eat: I can’t stress this enough: Food is everything for families with a new baby.
Stock up on healthy, easy-to-prep snacks and staples to keep your pantry in good supply for the few weeks postpartum. Prepare nourishing, warm meals in advance and freeze them for easy dinners when you’re exhausted and in no mood to cook. (This will be most days in the early days!) Connect with family and friends to create a meal train, where different people will drop off delicious food on various days. (There’s even an app for that.) If it fits in your budget, connect with a local healthy meal delivery business.
Rest: In our go-go-go world, it can be hard to rest for an extended period of time, but it’s so-so-so good if you can. Clear your calendar, snuggle into bed with your sweet-smelling baby and get cozy and warm. Let your partner, other family member or friend hold your baby so you can get some much-needed deep, uninterrupted sleep. A mentor of mine, who has supported hundreds of women through birth and beyond, suggests: The first week in the bed; the second week on the bed; the third week around the bed.
Time: In many cultures, postpartum care continues for weeks and sometimes months after giving birth, and there’s good reason for that. The fourth trimester – the first three months postpartum – is a time when both a mother and her baby are figuring out and often fumbling through a whole new existence together. There’s a lot to learn. Let go of timelines and expectations. Be patient. Be gentle.
Helpful items for recovery:
In the same way you stock the pantry with nourishing foods, it's good to be prepared with items to help ease the discomforts of childbirth. A few helpful things to consider include:
Witch hazel is a plant-based astringent and a postpartum must-have. It's a gentle and natural way to soothe the perineum, as well as hemorrhoids and varicose veins, and it can be used as a spritz or applied to a maternity pad. Some, though not all, women find added relief if the soaked pad is cold. I suggest starting by putting one in the fridge. If the cooling sensation is welcome, you can try putting them in the freezer.
Taking herbal sitz baths is another way to encourage gentle perineal recovery. Herbs such as calendula, comfrey and marshmallow are known for anti-inflammatory properties and have been used for generations to soothe irritated skin and heal wounds.
(Tip: Both witch hazel and the infusion from an herbal sitz bath can be helpful after a c-section. Simply apply to a pad and lay it across your incision.)
Mineral baths (magnesium sulphate and other salts) help to ease aching muscles and adding essential oil, such as lavender, encourages relaxation and calm.
Sweet-smelling coconut oil is lovely for massage or moisturizing the postpartum belly. It can also be used to soothe nipples.
Snacking on prunes and sipping coconut water will help to make those first trips to the bathroom, ahem, easier. This is something most new moms say they wish someone had told them. (You’re welcome!)
Lindsay is the founder of Tenth Moon Mother Care, a postpartum wellness activist, a mom of two, and a former doula. When she's not bundling up Tenth Moon postpartum care packages for new moms across Canada, you might spot her on TV talking about the fourth trimester, blogging about maternal health or perfecting her "padsicle" recipe.
She's given birth by cesarean and VBAC and through those experiences learned just how much TLC a new mom needs. She knows mothers shine brighter when they receive the same nurturing as their newborns and is passionate about making postpartum wellness a priority and creating new traditions of mother care in Canada.