Postpartum Care for Increasing Vitality
Side note: If you haven't read my last post Creating Space for the Postpartum Period, then now is a good time to read that first before diving in here.
As I shared in my previous post, postpartum care is a vital aspect of the childbearing cycle that is often misunderstood or not represented in modern birthing practices. Today, I want to share a few simple tips to help you get started in restoring your vitality after birth.
Or course, there are many possibilities here, but when teaching this information I try to keep it practical and simple. Anyone who has had a newborn knows it can be a very challenging (and beautiful) time, so my intention is not to add to the stress of what you “should” be doing. Take what works and resonates for you, leave the rest.
What I do ask is that you trust me on the importance of taking care of yourself postpartum for your health and vitality in the long term, and that of your family. Following some, if not all, of these suggestions requires long term thinking. Long term thinking is not valued collectively in western-centric culture. Getting things done quickly, getting your body back, getting back to work, getting, doing and more getting takes priority.
I am offering a radically different, yet simple approach, that can guide you gracefully through this journey as you become this new embodiment of yourself. So, step forward with courage on your path and trust that the decisions you make to take care of your body, mind and soul postpartum will bring so much healing to this planet.
This takes top priority on the list. If you can only chose one thing to do postpartum, making rest a real priority would be the best option. Here I am referring to at least 30 days of consistent and conscious rest after your baby arrives. There is a common saying among midwives: “7 days in the bed, 7 days on the bed and 7 days around the bed.” In other words, stay as close to your bed as possible for 21 days.
This is challenging for women for a variety of reasons, which you want to explore for yourself before giving birth. However, what the body needs more than anything during this time is to rest. That doesn't mean sleep is going to be perfect or come easily or your newborn's needs won't be met because you're too busy resting.
What it does mean is that your body will have the opportunity to recover fully and focus it's resources on assimilating nutrition from your diet and producing milk for your baby. It means your mind will have time to slow down and integrate or digest your experience in bite sized pieces. It means your soul will be with you through all of it.
From a physiologic standpoint, resting helps decrease postpartum bleeding and also helps tissues begin to come back together (regardless of vaginal or cesarean birth). This degree of resting does require some planning and consideration beforehand. Some things to consider are: hiring a postpartum doula to help with some daily tasks, preparing some food before baby arrives, setting up a meal train, asking close family or friends for specific support (food, cleaning, groceries, etc.)
Oiling is very important in many ancient postpartum healing traditions. It refers to oiling internally by consuming healthy fats and oiling externally by applying organic, warm tallow or coconut oil to your skin. This replenishes tissues and also provides the new mother with enough essential fatty acids to produce breast milk without feeling depleted.
Some great fats to include are: coconut oil, olive oil, ghee (or clarified butter), grass fed butter and organic, free range meats or wild caught fish (especially salmon). This can be especially useful for postpartum constipation, in which case you would want to be consuming a few extra spoonfuls of these oils every day.
From the lens of Chinese Medicine, birthing depletes both Blood and Qi (vital energy). Blood is a yin substance and yin is generally lubricating and moistening for all body tissues (skin, joints, hair, digestion, eyes, etc.). Therefore, there is a predisposition to dryness during the postpartum period, which is also perpetuated by the production of breast milk if you're choosing to breastfeed. Oiling helps bring lubrication and moisture back into the body and it also helps directly in replenishing blood.
Something else to consider here is getting some quality postpartum body work from someone who has experience with Ayurvedic oil massage.
Warmth in the form of keeping the body warm and also eating warming foods is also very common across many postpartum traditions. Some cultures even go as far as not showering for 40 days in order to protect the skin pores from opening more and bringing cold into the tissues. While that might seem extreme for some, there are many simple ways to incorporate this into your postpartum care.
The first step is with food. The postpartum period is a great time to prepare warm soups and stews full of healthy protein, fat and lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens. These food are easy to digest and also help to replenish yin fluids. You can also prepare bone or vegetable broth beforehand and have it ready to go for after baby arrives. I recommend minimizing cold beverages and excess cold or raw foods during this time, as that can be more taxing for the digestive system and not as suited for rejuvenation.
It's also important to keep your body warm. Some traditions suggest joint wrapping to protect the joints from future pathology (arthritis in particular). Chinese Medicine has a long standing tradition of mother warming, which is using moxibustion (aka mugwort) to warm the low belly. This typically occurs 4-5 days after the birth and can be done easily at home with the help of a support person. It can be continued on a regular basis for supporting postpartum recovery. There are a few contraindications, so please check in with an acupuncturist who can instruct you how to do this and ensure it's a good fit for you.
One last option that I will mention here is vaginal steaming. Read more about that here.
So, rest, oiling and warmth are three practical ways to facilitate postpartum healing. I will share more resources in a future post, especially around spiritual companionship and honoring your journey through holding ceremonial space. However, I really feel that if you start here with these basic principles you will be able to create a transformative postpartum experience.
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