When our mums’ generation gave birth, it was standard practice for them to spend the following ten days in hospital, recuperating. Their bundles of joy would be brought to them for feeding, but otherwise would be looked after by the nurses and sleep separately, leaving their mothers to sleep, recover and repair after labour and birth. For ten days. TEN whole days.
And today, many women of East Asian descent are still often encouraged to respect the tradition of zuo yue zi, or “sitting the month” following birth. The custom suggests a month of confinement and rest indoors, with various recommended ‘lifestyle’ restrictions; all with the intended aim of helping a woman’s body heal after birth and support her while she cares and bonds with her newborn baby.
Now admittedly, the thought of being in hospital for 10 days, or confined indoors for a month, definitely does not appeal. Nor does the thought of missing out on those very special skin to skin snuggles, however tough those early blurry, broken nights are. But both of these examples do highlight a perceived need for a new mother to focus on her own recovery as well as the needs of her new baby. In between the ongoing cycle of feeding, nappy changing, rocking and soothing it’s easy to forget you might need a bit of TLC, too- and that showing yourself a bit of self-care will benefit both of you.
So here’s 5 ways to look after yourself, while you’re looking after your baby:
Embrace the Duvet Don’t put pressure on yourself to do too much. Caring for you and your baby are the most important things. Everything else-the washing up, that unanswered email, the coffee date with a friend-it can all wait. If all you do for a week or two is wallow in the newborn bubble, snuggled up together in your pyjamas, napping while you can and binge-watching Netflix, then quite frankly, go for it. Your body has been through a huge transformation-you’ve been busy growing a human for 9 months! You need time to readjust, to recuperate, to get to know this new member of your family. Don’t make too many plans and don’t feel guilty about saying no to visitors or cancelling on friends. They’ll still be there when you come out the other side. Basically, slow down and give yourself a break. A friend once said to me if all you achieve one day is draw the curtains back before you need to close them again, then you’ve done well. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
Request Back up So all of the above is well and good. But let’s be realistic, soiled baby grows don’t wash themselves. So don’t feel guilty about asking for help. If someone offers to do the shopping, change the bedding or put a load of washing on for you, don’t think twice. SAY YES.
Nourish from the inside Okay, so there’s always a time and place for cake. And we all know that when you’re sleeping on your feet it feels like only sugar, coffee and carbs are going to get you through-especially when most food consumed in these early days is lukewarm at best and always eaten one handed. But having gone through pregnancy and birth, your body’s stocks are absolutely shot, and to get through those long days (and nights) and look after both yourself and your baby properly, you need to eat well to replenish some nutrients and keep your energy levels up. Easy ways to give your body a boost include whizzing up a quick homemade smoothie with whatever you have to hand (try berries, banana, almond milk and a handful of iron-rich kale or spinach) or having some bags of dried fruit or nuts ready for when you’re sitting down to feed.
Step Outside Even if it is just for a few minutes each day. Sometimes after a tough night a blast of fresh air, a glimpse of blue sky and dose of sunshine are the only things to make you feel semi-human again. In those early weeks after my son was born I used to literally fling him at my husband as soon as he walked through the door from work and just go for a stroll around the block for ten minutes. For those ten minutes I had no responsibilities, no one to take care of, nothing to carry or buggy to push. It was the chance to just take a breath and reset.
Keep Talking Forget what those ‘perfect’ mums over on Instagram might have you believe; no one finds this easy. And you don’t have to pretend you do. It’s completely normal to feel teary, anxious, stressed or generally very emotional. Motherhood takes a lot of adjusting and it can be a lonely place. If you’re finding it tough talk to someone, be it your partner, a friend or family member. And once you’re feeling ready to venture out postnatal classes or mother and baby groups are a real lifeline- because, let’s face it, although we may pretend we’re there for the little ones, while they’re still barely able to focus, let alone learn baby signing, it’s really for us. Everyone else will be there for the same reason as you-to get away from the same four walls, have a cuppa and some adult conversation and realise we're all just winging it.
LushTums Postnatal Yoga Mum & Baby Classes are specially designed to help you safely recover and regain your strength after birth and invest some time in yourself, and are also a great way to bond with your baby and meet other new mums. Classes are suitable from 6 weeks after a vaginal birth, or 8 weeks after a c-section, until your baby is on the move.
Find your nearest class here.
Rebecca Thomas Seaside dweller, coffee drinker and mum of two.