While teaching childbirth education classes, I frequently address the three crucial elements of relaxation: physical, mental and emotional. All three areas are important and should be addressed, if a woman is to achieve overall relaxation in labor and birth. “Environment” is a bonus consideration I add to assess a woman’s state of comfort and relaxation. After all, the atmosphere around her and whatever her senses are drinking in can (and will) have a direct impact on her physical, mental and emotional state.
You may be thinking, “That’s great for labor, Shannon, but what does this have to do with the postpartum period?” EVERYTHING. Let’s apply these simple principles of relaxation (used for labor and birth) to a woman’s postpartum period and get a picture of how they can influence a family’s early days together.
- Take it easy and stay off of your feet, especially the first 3-5 days. Whether baby emerged from your birth canal or from your abdomen, you JUST HAD A BABY. Cuddle up in bed with baby and stay there for awhile!
- Channel your inner snail, go SLOWLY. Resist the urge to do too much, too soon. A wise careprovider once told me, “Do LESS than you think you can.” Newborn life is NOT a race to catch up to the rhythm you had before; parenting is a marathon, forging a completely new course. Be a snail.
- Allow time for your body to heal. Along with the learning curves of life with a newborn, you can expect the following from your body at a minimum: continued blood loss, sore bottom, achy muscles, afterbirth contractions, leaky boobs, tender or sore nipples. Depending on your body, healthy history and birth journey, you may have a more extensive recovery. Practice patience with this process.
- Listen to your body’s signals; follow your “gut”. If something hurts, don’t push it. If you are feeling tuckered out, sit and rest (or better yet, sleep!). If you something feels off and you are concerned, call your careprovider. Don’t ignore messages from your body.
- Eat nourishing foods and stay well-hydrated. Thought you only needed to eat well during pregnancy? Think again. Your postpartum body still needs a range of nutrients including plenty of protein, quality calories, calcium and iron.
- Keep breathing. Riding the waves of newborn life can be challenging. Overwhelmed? Take a deep breath and re-oxygenate first.
- Consider belly binding to aid in your physical comfort and healing. This practice, based on a Malaysian tradition, can hold numerous benefits for a postpartum mother.
- Prepare for newborn life and have an idea of what to expect in this time together. Learn what is normal newborn behavior and what might be a deviation. Furthermore, become skilled in observing your newborn and following his or her cues to learn what is normal for your individual baby.
Reduce life stressors as much as you can before baby arrives. Then, let go of what is not absolutely necessary to daily living in this sensitive and early period.
- Play postpartum limbo — how LOW can you go? Keep expectations of yourself very low. Think about how gentle you might be with others during this time of transition and growth. Then, regard yourself with those very same gentle thoughts and behavior. You would not expect much from a friend who just had a baby; don’t expect more from yourself.
- Be open! Don’t be afraid to learn and grow from this new experience. Surrender any pre-conceived notions of family life and embrace your own unique family dynamic. You do not have to have all the answers today.
- Make a postpartum plan. Many birthing women take great care in creating a birth plan for the day of the big event (rightly so). However, do not neglect the life you will be living together after baby arrives.
- Bond with baby. While you should not feel pressured to instantly love your baby (not all women share that experience), do not be fearful of becoming attached to your baby. Allow yourself to gaze at their tiny features, marvel at this entirely separate person you had a hand in creating and soak up all the enjoyable moments you will share.
- Reach out for help when needed. Let’s be real: motherhood is tough. This is not a job for the faint of heart. It is OKAY and normal to feel overwhelmed or down. It is OKAY and normal to feel paralyzed at times. It is OKAY and normal to not know what to do at times. Be mindful of your feelings and when they start to feel too big, please reach out. Many women have walked this road; take strength from them.
- Set up support network before baby arrives. When there is a solid support system in place, you can devote yourself to settling in together and figuring out your unique rhythms. When the worry of meals is temporarily taken away, you can focus on growing love within your family unit.
Cry, as needed; it is a much-needed release of toxins, stress & feelings. However, don’t forget to laugh! Appreciate the humor that comes with the new bumps of parenting and family life. If you are having a difficult time laughing, watch this. You will not be disappointed. 🙂
- Consider placenta encapsulation. Many mothers have reported a variety of benefits, including improved moods and energy levels.
- Be exclusive. That means, taking the leap and significantly limiting visitors in the first few days and weeks. I know, I know . . . EVERYONE wants to see your sweet, squishy baby and love on them! But even visits that are short, calm or relaxing require energy from you and your partner – energy you may need later when baby wakes up at night. Go green and be an energy-saver for your family!
- Ask visitors to “ante up”. Anyone who receives the awesome gift of baby glimpses, or snuggles, must “pay” a fee: completing a load of laundry, fixing a nourishing meal, walking pets, tidying up a room of the house, watering plants, providing non-judgmental listening of new mother & parents…you get the idea. Check out this helpful sign for postpartum families!
- Set the stage. Consider how the lighting, sights, sounds and scents of your home are affecting you. Reflect on what you find comforting and relaxing at that moment or in the days ahead. Do you need some sunshine? Open up the curtains. Need to relax and take a nap in some darkness? Need some quiet to re-charge? Or would some of your favorite, soothing music be better in that moment? Make the appropriate changes to your environment. Or better yet, ask your partner or support people around you to do it for you!
- Call in reinforcements! Consider hiring a postpartum doula to help manage daily life. In a town like CU, where a large portion of the population are “transplants”, many young families are left without adequate support from family or friends during the postpartum period. A postpartum doula can help ease your load.
This guide is by no means exhaustive. But hopefully, it can serve as a starting point. What is your current postpartum relaxation quotient (PPRQ – yep, I just made that acronym up!)? What relaxation areas do you struggle with most? What steps might you take now in order to achieve an even higher quotient later?
The challenge is on, mamas! Who will be victorious in this quest for the most relaxed postpartum period?
by Shannon Morber