The transformation into motherhood is such an incredibly powerful journey and postpartum recovery happens in layers and is multidimensional. There's a massive hormonal shift as our bodies are transitioning from pregnancy and birth to the 4th trimester, then there is the physical recovery as our body heals, the stress and demands of a newborn, maintaining healthy relationships and trying to get back into pre-baby shape and it can all seem very overwhelming.
Rushing the process could prolong the healing phase or lead to an incomplete recovery. But, there are some practical things you can do to help ease the transition and taking the time to implement them will positively affect your health during the 4th trimester and beyond.
Here are some tips for a holistic approach to your postpartum recovery.
Nourish Your body
It goes without saying that good nutrition is key to healing for any kind of recovery, whether childbirth, surgery, or illness.
Most women lose about 500 mL (half a quart) of blood during and immediately after childbirth and you will continue to lose blood over the next 4-6 weeks so during recovery our bodies need to build it back up. If you were already suffering from low iron or had a particularly complicated pregnancy or delivery this blood loss could feel huge so nourishing the body with digestible foods rich in protein and iron is really important.
Vitamin C-rich foods are also necessary for wound healing and help our bodies absorb more plant-based iron. It’s also a good idea to take a plant-based iron supplement like Floradix, a liquid herbal supplement that is easily assimilated by the body or liquid chlorophyll which is derived from iron-rich nettles or alfalfa.
If you are able to, prepare wholesome cooked meals before the baby arrives. Meals that are warm and easy to digest are ideal so think bone broth, meat stews that have been cooked for hours, and soft veggie soups. The First Forty Days by Heng Ou has some great recipes that you can prep - this book is absolutely essential and it should be on everyone’s postpartum recovery list no matter how the baby comes out.
For each meal include:
A colorful vegetable and/or fruit;
A source of protein. This can be animal or plant;
A source of slow carbs. These can be whole food carbohydrate options with plenty of fiber like berries, quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
A source of healthy fat. Include avocados, olive oil, nut butter, or choose a protein source that's packed with healthy fats like fish. Nuts, seeds, and fatty fish are also anti-inflammatory and can help reduce swelling.
Flavor and health enhancers. Use lots of herbs and spices.
Unintentional shifts in diet can happen during recovery as we tend to consume more calories, especially if breastfeeding. If you’re tired and don’t have time or energy to prepare meals or are just looking for easy snacks, you might be consuming a higher amount of starchy carbs. If you were given antibiotics during or after birth, this can wipe out the gut of the helpful bacteria that are essential to digestion. All of these factors can change the landscape of your gut microbiome (in high quantities, it can cause bad bugs to proliferate) leading to painful bloating, constipation, and just generally poor digestion.
A high-quality, refrigerated probiotic can be really helpful to help replenish the gut microbiome during recovery. It can also help with managing thrush if breastfeeding. Drinking teas made of "carminative" herbs like cardamom, chamomile, ginger, fennel, cinnamon, peppermint, rosemary, and lemon balm can help to reduce bloating, gassiness and promote digestion. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables will also help to ensure you are getting enough fiber and magnesium to support a healthy bowel movement.
Nourish your Emotional Wellbeing
As beautiful and joyful as it is having a baby it doesn't always translate into you feeling great. It is ok to feel upset or disappointed if your birth didn’t go to plan. You may not feel that immediate bond with your baby and it may take time to fall in love with your baby especially if you’ve had to spend time in intensive care you may feel that you’ve missed out on those first precious moments with your newborn. You might be feeling like you just don’t have your shit together and you are failing as a mum, trust us, we have all been there.
All of these emotions are valid and completely normal and it’s important, to be honest with yourself about what you are feeling and what you need. Allow yourself to feel the feelings for emotional healing during your postpartum recovery. Allow yourself to feel the emotions. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Meditation and positive affirmations as part of the healing process can help to shift the focus.
Lean on Your Tribe
We can’t stress enough the importance of having a good support system for anyone who has a baby. If you are able to, having a postpartum doula, scheduling friends to come by to help out, or having family around can really help. Request visitors to bring nourishing foods.
When you're ready, find supportive spaces for processing your experience. It may help your emotional recovery to connect with like-minded women to share the struggles of being a new mum. It may be helpful to talk about the birth experience with your midwife or a maternity unit counsellor which will give you the opportunity to talk through your experience and raise any concerns about future births.
Take advantage of online emotional support, you can find lots of websites that have support tailored to postpartum. If you find yourself feeling depressed and unhappy, tell someone, it can be a partner, friend, family, stranger or if you feel you need it, a bit more professional help.
Indulge in a bit of Self-Care
It might get a bit irritating with everyone telling you to find more balance and self-care. And we get it, taking time out just for you, can seem so unrealistic at times but it’s really important to make a conscious effort to step away from the constant demands of day-to-day Motherhood. The ultimate self-care is finding something that you can do regularly to help you nurture and connect with yourself, away from the pressures of your to-do list. The more you prioritize self-care and focus on what you need to thrive the less likely you are to burn out. Making the time to create simple rituals and taking that time for self-care allows us to get that much-needed downtime in our hectic routines
Here are 3 ideas for self-care activities you can try
Each day, do something that brings you joy - even if it is for a few minutes at first. Think about what excites you and try to do more of it in your regular routine. Let it be easy and simple. That may be a quiet cup of tea, an interrupted chat with your friend, a stroll in the park, a flower or herbal bath in candlelight,, getting a massage, doing some yoga.
Tap into your interests - As you’re preparing dinner, listen to that popular podcast for Mums, or that docuseries that you have been waiting to tune in to. Treat yourself to a cute journal and record your raw feelings and desires before you decide to pick up your phone to scroll. Who doesn’t love a good book! Order that book from your Amazon wish-list and read a couple of pages a night.
Make sure your appointments non-negotiable - Whether it’s a hair appointment, physical or mental health check-up, or even a coffee with a friend - do not feel guilty about it, because your baby will be in good hands. Just push yourself out of the door and make sure you get there.
As baby gets older, make taking some time to yourself each day to do these things a non-negotiable like eating, drinking and sleeping.