Baby has come into this world! Congratulations!! You’ve done an amazing, incredible thing. The following are some tips for you to incorporate into you Postpartum Retreat experience:
Retreat. During this retreat period (of 40-days in the Chinese tradition) both the baby and the mother are particularly susceptible to germs, the effects of cold and wind, and to noise. Retreating limits exposure to these factors and allows you to cocoon in a safe and calm space. In most traditions this period is about 40-days, but it can be up to many months or only 28 days. The Postpartum Retreat ends when the mother is recuperated and feels ready.
Eat well. When you were pregnant, caring for yourself was caring for baby. Now baby has come into the world, you still need to maintain that care for yourself, for the benefit of both you both.
Your body needs good quality fats and carbohydrates that are easily absorbed and assimilated in order to heal and recuperate. If you are breastfeeding, your child needs large amounts of good fats to support breastfeeding and to get adequate nutrients for her development. Choose foods that will:
Keep Hydrated. Adequate hydration is essential to all of your metabolic processes and is essential to your recuperation and the production of breast milk. Modern advice is to keep a glass of water next to you and sip it slowly every time you breastfeed. I’ll add a traditional caveat: make it warm or at least room-temperature water. This way your body warmth is not diverted to bring the fluids you consume up to body temperature. Boost it this advice again by replacing the water with a tonifying herbal tea, such as Red Date and Goji Tea. The consumption of soups and stews is recommended during this period, and will also have the additional benefit of helping hydratation.
Keep activity minimal. The reason for this is three-fold. Firstly, in the postpartum period, your energy should be used to heal and restore, not for exercise or excessive activity. Secondly, your tendons and ligaments are still lax from the hormones of childbirth, so you are more prone to hyperextending and injuring yourself during this period. Thirdly, your musculoskeletal system needs to gently and gradually adapt to the dramatic changes to your centre of gravity, and in changes to muscle tension and laxity.
Rest is crucial for recuperation. Even if you’re feeling well, the effects of pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding, in combination with interrupted sleep needs to be countered with rest. Try not to distract yourself with too much TV, Internet or reading when you should be sleeping. The time will soon come when you are able to reinstate a more normal routine.
Your body will signal if you are not resting sufficiently; note if there is increased bleeding, you feel more run-down, or if breastfeeding has become unexpectedly more challenging. These may be signs that you are pushing yourself too hard too soon, so pullback on your activity.
Minimise your responsibilities and recruit others. Decide and express to others that you will do a Postpartum Retreat, explain that this is a “state of deliberate non-doing”, and ask for their help in achieving this.
“being able to depend on others when in need is just as much a virtue as being independent.” – Jenny Allison, Golden Month: caring for the world’s mothers after childbirth p95
Many new-mothers have friends and family that are waiting in the wings, desperate to help, but don’t know how. And many mums could use the help, but don’t know exactly what they need, or how to ask for it. Use your late pregnancy to list the things you may need help with when baby arrives, and practice asking for help at this time. If you are not in the position where friends and family surround you, now is the time to have a look at professional resources that could help you during the Postpartum Retreat (some suggestions are listed in PART 4 of this Blog series).
Help can be in the form of food preparation, shopping and stocking up the pantry or freezer, help with cleaning, help with caring for baby or other children, or quick visits or video calls to periodically check in on you.
Get massage. Massage is a great way to get the circulation going without exercising in the early postpartum days. Massage has wonderful calming effects, and power of touch is renowned for its effects on healing. Partners and family members can take a short course in post-natal massage before baby arrives, and/or suggest mobile post-natal massage gift certificates at the baby shower. In traditional cultures new mums are usually massaged daily.
Get treatment if needed. If you are suffering from pain, night sweats, insufficient lactation, mastitis, depression, or other conditions, don’t suffer through it. Get professional help. This may involve visiting a doctor, psychologist/counsellor or other healthcare practitioner, or you may find that healthcare professionals are able to do home visits in your area.
note: A new Mother’s Postpartum Retreat is also known as zuo yue zi, the confinement period, the golden month, or the sitting month in various traditions.