Welcome to our Post Natal Nurture Series which explores the many elements of post natal healing and how we can support and care for ourselves through this period. The first article explains the need for post natal recovery, of how this is a time where we often feel lost and at sea, overwhelmed, as if all the pieces of ourselves have come apart, blasted apart through the intensity of our birth experiences, and are floating around us, not yet back together.
Yet as I write in Milestones of Motherhood, this is exactly how things are meant to be….for we have been fundamentally changed by the intensity of birth, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, however it unfolded. And post natally we are not together emotionally, mentally or physically; indeed as mothers we are as new to the world as our babies are, as embryonic in our development as they once were in our wombs. But this is okay….this is how things are meant to be….for we now need to allow ourselves the time, love and space to piece ourselves back together, differently, as mothers, with our babies at the centre of our new world.
This article focuses on our immediate physical recovery….bearing in mind that full post natal recovery is a long term process, with estimates ranging between 9-18 months for our bodies to return to the pre-pregnancy state, and changes continuing for as long as we continue to breastfeed.
Healing the Body
Let us imagine the immense energy which goes into giving birth, the immense effort, the nights without sleep, the intense power of the contractions. The huge amount of physical and emotional energy we expend, and the losses of fluid, blood and sugars expelled in the birthing process. And for most of us, this huge physical endurance occurs after many months of broken nights and tiredness of pregnancy. We have been giving of our own blood, food and breath, our very life essence for months, and never more intensely than labour, birth and the early post natal months as our bodies focus great energy into high calorie milk production.
Alongside this huge energy expenditure, we have a large, open wound, a wound which will bleed for 4-6 weeks or longer. If you got to see your placenta, you may have been amazed at the size of it, over an inch thick and the size of a dinner plate or bigger. The site from which the placenta grew then detached is a large, open wound, and many of us are shocked by the amount of blood and clots we pass. This site needs time to stabilse, seal and heal. What it doesn’t need is us being rushed back on to our feet, into the supermarket and on with life as usual.
Imagine if another person had been through this huge physical exertion, and received a large open wound in the process, as well as potential other injuries to extremely sensitive body parts as well as mental and emotional trauma. They would be treated with great care and nurturing, tended to and forced to rest until their wounds were healed. They are not expected to be super happy and start a full time new job (day and night as we do caring for our babies). Yet as new mums, our wounds are not visible to others, and we are expected to get on with the intense, overwhelming new job of caring for our newborn. Of course we are thankful and happy they are here, yet there are an awful lot of other things going on across our emotional and physical landscapes too which can make this period a time of overwhelm, anxiety, confusion and exhaustion.
The Importance of Self Care
By recognising the intensity of what we have been through on all levels, we can help our passage through the post natal times more nurturing by caring for ourselves fiercely. Of course the focus lies on our babies, yet if we are to eventually get back on our feet with intact pelvic organs, it is a priority to recognise and meet our needs for rest and nurture. Here are some ways we can care for ourselves and aide our recovery:
- Recognise that we do not need to get back on our feet, but skin to skin time resting, feeding and cuddling our baby is essential for us both.
- Remembering that time spent skin to skin with our babies, feeding and having them close to us helps produce hormones to shrink our uterus back to it’s pre-pregnancy size. This is especially so with second and subsequent pregnancies when we may feel sharp afterpains as we feed. Recognise these are doing an important job, as painful as they are, and breathe deeply through them as you did with the labour contractions.
- Remember that getting breastfeeding established takes time. Resting in bed with baby skin to skin is a great way to learn our newborn’s feeding cues, become more comfortable with baby latching on and finding comfortable positions to feed. The rest helps our inner healing too.
- Ask and welcome help with shopping, cooking and household tasks so you can focus on rest, recovery and getting to know and love your baby.
In these times we are often bleeding, sometimes heavily, we are sore, swollen and have to spend lots of time with our breasts out if we are breastfeeding. These are not things we really feel comfortable doing in front of friends and relations. So recognise that it is okay to ask visitors to give you some time before you are ready for them to come. Don’t try to put on a front of ‘being fine’. It’s okay not to be, be truthful to yourself, invite over the friends and family you feel you’d like to talk to and find supportive, and feel okay about welcoming other visitors when the time is right. Have a babymoon where you and your partner create a time of cosy, quiet togetherness to get to know your baby, rest and recover before you welcome in the rest of the busy world.
Nourish Your Body
Recognise how depleted you may be after the birth. Prioritise feeding and nourishing yourself along side rest. Drink plenty of water and nourishing drinks, soups, meals and smoothies. Be okay with asking for help with food, this is a wonderful way family and friends can be of real support to your recovery. Ask them to bring a nourishing soup or dinner you can pop in the oven and eat one handed whilst you feed the baby. And welcome this help, its a wonderful way for friends to support one another.
This is not a time for thinking about losing baby weight, but rather recognising the awesome power and wisdom of your body, and nourishing yourself with wholesome, delicious food to build back up your energy reserves. This really does make all the difference to how we feel post natally.
Remember that you may be low on iron, especially so if you lost a lot of blood. Alongside eating simple, fresh wholefoods with plenty of fruit and veg especially green leafy veg and those high in vitamin C it can make a significant difference to take a natural iron supplement such as Floradix or Spatone to replenish your iron reserves. This can really make a positive difference to how you are feeling mentally and emotionally.
The Healing Breath
The Healing Breath Yoga practice is a simple, wonderful way to heal, balance and stabilise our pelvic organs, muscles and abdominals from the inside out. This breath gently draws the abdominal muscles back together, helping repair any separation from later pregnancy, and strengthens and re-balances our pelvic organs and pelvic floor. This is a wonderful too for our long term female health and wellbeing. You can listen to this practice here and read about it in more depth here. Do give it a go and become familiar with it, using it daily to create feelings of stability and balance over the post natal weeks and months; its especially good to use when lifting heavy shopping and car seats.
It can be tempting to rush back to exercise after the constraints of pregnancy, but do be mindful to take this slowly. The hormones of pregnancy and breastfeeding soften our ligaments, so rushing back to intense exercises and stretching too soon can and does cause long term damage to our ligaments, creating pain, pelvic imbalance and difficulty for the future.
There is gentle post natal yoga available at the Senhouse Centre with Margaret Beck 07981 633546 and as well as free post natal phone support for talking though birth trauma and experiences from mums in my Pregnancy Classes, I also offer Post Natal Nurture One to One sessions where we can explore birth experiences and learn post natal yoga practices to strengthen, balance and stabilise as well as nurturing breathing and relaxation. Babies always welcome!
Be gentle on yourselves, this is a time of such tenderness and change.
You will get there, and as I write in Milestones of Motherhood, letting some of the love you feel for your baby wash over you too makes the world of difference.