Alongside our homebirth preparations, trying to prepare Primrose for the baby’s arrival and gearing up for the actual birth of this baby, the postpartum stage of pregnancy has been at the forefront of my mind.
Those of you who’ve been with us since the early days of Tales from the Mother Side may remember my posts about life with a newborn, the pointless pursuit of perfection in motherhood, being a bit of a martyr and the importance of self-care. Oh, and the double-edged sword that is social media… so helpful yet potentially really damaging to vulnerable new mamas.
So, I’ve learnt from those lessons. With the exception of hormones, and a toddler’s reaction to the new arrival, neither of which I can control, I’m determined things WILL be different this time…
Guests: In true ‘first baby’ style, we were daft when it came to guests last time. Minutes after we walked in the door, our parents were there. Admittedly, they brought food, which was lovely, but I spent the entire time thinking about how Primrose wasn’t even 12 hours old and I just wanted to go to bed whilst she was in that ‘I’ve just been born so I’m sleeping, why aren’t you?’ stage. We had FAR too many guests in those early weeks, which might go some way to explaining a rocky start to breastfeeding and why my anxiety went through the roof!
This time, it’s no guests until we’re really ready, especially now we have a toddler to think about too – this will be such an adjustment for her.
Social Media: There are some great memes that I’ve seen shared by friends on social media, asking that people don’t post ‘CONGRATULATIONS’ messages until parents have announced their baby’s safe arrival. It sounds obvious, but I’ve seen it so many times. This example (right) is the right size to set as a profile picture – feel free to use it! You can also change your FB setting so posts don’t appear until they’ve been approved by you.
Getting back to ‘normal’: This is worthy of a whole post on its own. The pressure on women to ‘get back to normal’ is immense and totally ingrained in our society. There is a new ‘normal’ once you have a baby. Presumably, in choosing to conceive, carry and birth a baby, you’ve prepared to make changes in your life. However, when you’re bombarded with media images of celebrities ‘bouncing back’ into shape, friends are expecting you to go out for the evening and the world and his wife wants to know when you’re going back to work when your baby is weeks old, it’s hard not to feel worn down.
Society has totally warped our approach to motherhood, quashing our natural maternal instincts. I managed to resist a lot of these pressures last time but certainly felt like I was in a minority. Luckily, I found lots of FB groups full of women who feel the same way.
Realistic expectations/Understanding the fourth trimester: Also the fault of mainstream media – depicting babies as sleeping ALL the time and, if they don’t, leaving them to cry; rarely showing anything related to breastfeeding, unless for comedic purposes (engorged boobs and pumping catatrophes anyone?); showing women ‘out and about’ within days of giving birth etc etc.
I realise now that all a new baby really needs is love, milk, warmth and to be allowed to get used to its new environment (ie: your home, you, your partner, your other children and pets).
I also have zero expectations this time about sleep or the duration/frequency of feeds – we’ll be going with the flow (so to speak!). I’ve said it before but I wish I’d read The Gentle Sleep Book (best £3.00 ever spent!) and either Baby Led Breastfeeding or The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding BEFORE having Primrose. Both would have saved A LOT of tears and anxiety!
In short: babies have no circadian rhythm – don’t expect them to differentiate between night and day. They also feed regularly and, after a week or so, go through a growth spurt, making this even more regular. Fussy evenings in the early days are normal and don’t mean your baby isn’t getting enough milk from you. Trust your baby and your body; both are really bloody clever!
Toddler: We’ve done everything we can to prepare Primrose but we’re expecting her behaviour to change and that she may regress in certain areas. If she takes it in her stride, great! If not, we will work with her to validate her feelings and emotions, to empathise and to support her. The Gentle Parenting Book and blog have some brilliant tips.
Gifts: This is a tricky one. There is no doubt that people are at their most kind and generous when a new baby arrives. The amount of gifts we received when Primrose was born was overwhelming – we struggled to find the space for them all. Cards are absolutely our favourite thing to receive and we kept them all so she can read them when she is older.
This time, we are asking our lovely family and friends to donate money to charity instead of bringing gifts for the baby or for Primrose – we have everything we could possibly need, and so little space, so hope we can make a difference where it matters most.
Postpartum pads: Birth may mean a new baby but it also means getting familiar with just about every ‘pad’ going… breast pads, maternity mats (Tip: Puppy training pads are the same, and far cheaper!) and postpartum pads. The disposable version of these, which I used last time, were horribly bulky (honestly like a nappy!) and just made me feel sweaty and uncomfortable. Rumour has it that disposable maternity pants are just as grim, and also make a scrunchy sound. Nice.
I would highly recommend buying a few packs of cotton knickers in a size or two up from normal. And this time I’ve opted for NatraCare organic disposable pads for the first few days, as they’re plastic and chlorine free. For the following weeks, I’ve researched and purchased CSPs (Cloth Sanitary Products) so the breathable, natural fibre (and eco friendly!) box is ticked. I opted for some Imse Vimse pads after reading this detailed review of the main brands.
I plan to put a combination of witch hazel (with as low an alcohol content as possible), aloe vera gel and lavender/tea tree oil on them, then keep them cold in the fridge until I need them. Google ‘soothing postpartum pads’ for lots of ‘how to’ guides.
Spray/Peri bottle: There’s no getting away from it – postpartum peeing stings. I imagine stitches only make the pain worse. Take this with you to hospital, fill with warm water each time you need to pee, and use it to pour/spray on your lady parts as you go. Trust us, it makes a massive difference! No bottle? Use a cup or glass. Be sure to wipe/dry properly too – nobody wants a yeast infection on top of everything else!
Herbal bath: There are lots of ‘recipes’ for these online. Just be wary that some ingredients could interfere with milk production – Epsom salts, for example. Last time, I used a combination of sea salt, witch hazel and tea tree oil (with milk, to help disperse the oil and stop it sitting on the top of the water). Others add oats, comfrey, lavender oil… As always, research is the key, and talk to your midwife if in any doubt about what to use. Ideally, you’ll use a large bowl or bidet to mix the ingredient with warm water – in a full size bath, you’d need a lot of each component, which would be expensive! If this is your only option, or if you’d rather not make your own, you can buy pre-mixed bath herbs from Earth Mama, Angel Baby, which contain ALL the soothing ingredients. I’ve also heard women rave about Badedas bubble bath as it doesn’t sting!
Earth Mama, Angel Baby Bottom Spray: We love this brand and I’ve treated myself to their spray this time around. (Wasn’t expecting hubby to unpackage my online order in the post room where we live, accidentally leaving this behind… thankfully, the lovely lady who works there rescued it for me (discretely!)) It can be used whilst peeing (as above), on postpartum pads (as above, if you don’t have time/energy to make your own), or just as a soothing spritz to ease the discomfort of stiches/tears/episiotomies/haemorrhoids. Keep in the fridge to make it extra-cooling.
EMAB also have this lovely set for C-section mamas, including a soothing balm to apply to stitches, a healing tea and a ‘wellness spray’. It would make a lovely gift (or treat to yourself!)
Arnica: I didn’t take this last time as I hadn’t researched it enough before giving birth. Some ladies take it from just before they’re due but, after discussion with my midwife, I will start once the placenta is delivered, to minimise bruising, swelling and (hopefully) to reduce the risk of getting another haematoma. Arnica can also relieve some of the discomfort of ‘afterpains’, as your uterus contracts after birth. Again, research is crucial here – there’s a lot of conflicting information online. The most reliable source of information I have found is at britishhomeopathic.org.
Pelvic floor: It would be hypocritical of me to pretend I was good with pelvic floor exercises after having Primrose. I was terrible at remembering. I thought I was ‘back to normal’ after about seven months but getting pregnant again showed me otherwise. I’d like to think I’ll make better use of apps such as Squeezy (the NHS app) or Elvie after this birth – I know this is something I need to be better at!
Vitamins & nutrition: You’ve spent your whole pregnancy religiously taking vitamins and eating well; don’t stop now you’ve had the baby – your body needs help to heal and restore, and you need to feel as well as possible in order to cope with raging hormones, exhaustion and the general feelings of overwhelm. Take a decent multivitamin and, if you’re breastfeeding, look for one specifically designed for nursing mamas. I used to use Pregnacare but realised that supermarket own brands contain exactly the same ingredients and are a fraction of the cost.
Now is the time to eat and drink exactly what you like (pass the gin!), but your body will be craving healthy, protein and mineral rich foods to make up for their depletion during the final weeks of pregnancy, as well as labour. If you have a ‘village’ on hand (family and friends close by), with any luck, they’ll fill your freezer with wholesome, homecooked meals. Otherwise, consider batch cooking in the weeks before baby arrives. It’s a pretty obvious list: leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses, plenty of vitamin C, fish and lean beef. Good snacks for energy include things like nuts, oatcakes with hummus, wholemeal toast with nut butter, porridge (make with oat milk for an extra boost to milk production) and natural yoghurt with berries.
Again, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t eat ALL the cake last time (breastfeeding burns up to 500 extra calories a day – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!), but hubby was very good at making sure I ate well and healthily too, making fruit and oatmilk smoothies each morning and cooking iron and vitamin rich meals at night.
Boobs: There’s no doubt about it, your gals need extra special attention at this time! They’re going to be working hard. Until your milk comes in, usually between days 2-7 (and after), it’s vital to get baby to breast as frequently as possible, as it will stimulate production. This can be exhausting and one ‘bad’ latch can cause cracks and soreness, so caring for them is crucial. Decent nipple cream, regular changes of breast pads and going braless to let air circulate are all vital.
We recently pulled together all our breastfeeding posts into one place, for World Breastfeeding Week, including both our breastfeeding journeys (shaky starts for Jo and Lauren!) and ‘Ready, Steady, Boob’ – a guide to help you prepare for breastfeeding.
Ayurvedic ‘lying in’: This ties in to the ‘no guest’ rule (or limited guests who will help cook, clean and care for older children), as well as fighting that pressure to ‘get out and about’ or ‘back to normal’ before you’re ready. Put simply, a little like the Blessingway tradition, it comes down to mothering the mother so she can nurture her baby. Diet and nutrition (as well as daily massage and herbal drinks) play a big part in this Indian tradition of giving new mothers 40 days/nights of rest with their new baby, free from cooking, cleaning, hosting guests – anything other than bonding with their newborn. 40 days is roughly equal to six weeks – the time it takes to establish breastfeeding and heal from either a ‘normal’ delivery or a C-section. There is a saying that these 40 days impact the next 40 years of life.
Of course, in our western world, with the disappearance of the ‘village’ and the pressure on new mothers, as well as – in some countries, such as the US – the need to return to work after 6 weeks makes a full ayurvedic lying-in something of an impossibility. However, it pays to do some research and adopt as many aspects of it as you can, to suit you and your family. You never get this time back; something you sadly don’t realise until it’s flown by.
Earth Mama, Angel Baby has a lying-in plan that can be tailored to your personal circumstances and has been adapted to fit with the ‘modern’ world, with all its pressures – we highly recommend it.
Placenta Encapsulation: Nothing divides opinion quite like mentioning that you’re planning to turn your afterbirth into tablets and take them daily after giving birth. Admittedly, when I delivered Primrose’s placenta, it went straight into a clinical waste bag and, when asked if I wanted to have a look at it, I turned my nose up and that was that.
Since then, I’ve done a lot of research into placenta encapsulation and its benefits on physical and mental wellbeing. As I’m desperate to avoid the horrible anxiety I felt last time, it seems more than worth it. Whilst research is anecdotal, reported benefits include: increased oxytocin levels, to promote wellbeing and bonding; increased levels of stress-reducing hormone CRH; increased milk production, boost to iron levels and a reduction in low mood. Other options include eating the placenta raw or cooked, turning it into a smoothie, or creating balms/creams with it.
Ensure you are using a certified and licensed placenta remedy specialist. They will send you detailed information about storage and any conditions that may render your placenta unsuitable. The lovely Jade at The Village Midwives is taking care of mine – she covers Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Between us, we will bring you a more detailed post on encapsulation very soon.
Closing the Bones: This is another practice I’d never heard of until very recently. It is an Ecuadorian tradition, designed to ‘close’ the bones that have opened during pregnancy and birth, as well as refocusing the mind to ease the transition into motherhood. It is carried out by another (trained) mother – often a doula, hypnobirth instructor or yoga teacher – and can include female family members or close friends.
Using soft lighting, aromatherapy and relaxing music, the mother is massaged before being wrapped in rebozo scarves to aid the ‘closing of the bones’.
Self Care: I cannot mention this frequently enough. Aside from nourishing yourself, getting as much rest as possible and allowing yourself time to heal, physically and mentally, the more you care for yourself, the more able you are to care for this new tiny being. Mothers tend to put themselves last, even when support is being offered. Your partner is there to help you, and, in most cases, friends and family will offer to help – you just have to be willing to accept!
Having treated myself to massages, reflexology and a couple of spa days in my first pregnancy, as soon as I’d given birth, anything like that went out the window. I told myself I was no longer carrying and growing a baby, so I didn’t need those ‘luxuries’. The truth, of course, was that I needed them more than ever. They’re not luxuries, they’re necessities. For me, it’s a bit of pampering; your ‘time out’ may look different – make it work for you. It’s also worth noting that many therapists will work around you, so you could have a pedicure, head massage or reflexology whilst holding or feeding the baby – where there’s a will, there’s a way!
I’ll let you know how these preparations pan out once baby makes an appearance. To achieve them all would be a ‘best case scenario’ but, even if I can achieve a handful, I hope it will make a difference.
Tell us how you prepared for postpartum below. What worked for you? What do you wish you’d done differently?
Jo, The Mother Side x
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