The wisdom of caring for yourself and your baby after birth is not new, but has been passed down by women for centuries. In various cultures across the globe, women follow strikingly similar regimens or ‘postpartum prescriptions’. Common themes and practices include: complete care for the mother in the first few weeks, a ‘lying-in’ or ‘nesting in’ period after birth, extra rest and diminished activity the first 30-90 days, keeping the mother warm, offering special foods and drink, and the limitation of visitors. Throughout millennia, these practices have helped to protect the mother-baby bond, facilitated breastfeeding success and assisted recovery from birth while gently easing the mother into parenthood.
Although our cultural emphasis in the United States is on the birth event itself, moms who actively prepare themselves during pregnancy for the time after their baby’s arrival express greater satisfaction and experience less stress and postpartum fatigue. The first few weeks after birth should not be a stressful time but a joyous event as you welcome the new baby to your family.
Here we present a ‘Postpartum Prescription’—specific recommendations for you as a modern mom—to make the most of your personal transition from pregnancy to parenthood. Feel free to share these recommendations with everyone who will be caring for you after birth.
This ‘Postpartum Prescription’ is suggested as practical support that has been found to be helpful for most healthy moms and babies. We suggest you follow your doctor and/or midwife’s and pediatrician’s recommendations for your particular situation.
1) Nest and Rest
Rx: Spend the first 3-7 days after birth resting, mostly in bed and getting to know your new baby! This is a fragile time for your hormones and nervous system as your body adjusts to a non-pregnant state and dramatically increases your milk supply. The first 30-40 days after birth is not only important for your rest and recovery from birth, but a great chance to become intimately acquainted with your child and his/her individual personality and needs, feeding cues, sounds and movements. In turn, your baby will enjoy learning the comfort, care and caress of his/her mother.
2) Stay ‘Off-Duty’
Rx: Limit your responsibilities the first 30-40 days at home to sleeping, taking care of your personal needs, and feeding the baby. Housekeeping, shopping, meal preparation, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other baby care should be provided by family or other caregivers. Fathers are especially good at providing ‘other’ baby care (washing, cleaning, changing, soothing) and assuming extra household responsibilities.
3) Sleep When Baby Sleeps
Rx: Sleep a minimum of 2-4 hours during the daytime (in addition to any night rest) EVERY day for the first 30-40 days after birth. We know, you have heard this before…but it’s true! Sleep prevents new mother exhaustion, helps to ward off postpartum depression, and helps to prevent infection. Sleep will also increase your breast milk production! If you are awake during the nighttime caring for your newborn, it is absolutely essential to sleep during some of the daytime hours. All other activities during these important first few weeks home (including housekeeping, catching up on voice mails, e-mails, as well as mailing baby announcements and thank you cards, etc.) are secondary to rest. Even if you are unable to engage in a deep sleep, lay down to rest in a dark, quiet room, away from all other family activity at least once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening, before 10 p.m. Most people tend to have a ‘sleepier’ time during the day, usually in the afternoon. Follow your body’s cues.
4) Get Help
Rx: In order to get the rest you need, engage the help of a knowledgeable, nurturing, non-judgmental caregiver —someone in addition to your husband or partner—for at least the first one to three weeks after birth. Options for care include: family, friends or a professional postpartum doula. Traditionally, mothers have relied on extended family for this support. However, this traditional care may not be available to families due to: our mobile society, women having children later in life, and the unavailability of extended families. The postpartum period is an essential time to gather your “village of support” around you.
5) Eat Nutritious Foods
Rx: Plan now to eat well later by cooking and freezing extra food while you are pregnant or arrange for others to bring meals. Warm, easily digestible foods are helpful in the first week after birth. (Chicken soup is a favorite of postpartum moms throughout the world!) A tray of tempting, nutritious snacks (i.e. cut-up apples and/or fruit, cheese, crackers, etc.) can be replenished each morning and brought to you while you are feeding your baby. Many grocery stores will ‘shop’ for you or have delivery for a nominal fee. Other delivery services may also be available in your area.
6) Hold baby skin-to-skin
Rx: Studies of infants show that you cannot hold your baby enough in the first 6 months of life. Skin-to-skin contact helps to mature your baby’s autonomic nervous system. (The autonomic nervous system controls everything we cannot: heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, breathing, sleep and awake patterns.) Because babies are born with an immature autonomic nervous system they cannot auto-regulate their own basic body systems very well. By holding your baby skin-to-skin, your body’s electrical system helps to regulate your baby’s basic body systems and organizes your baby’s brain wave patterns, until your baby’s nervous system is fully mature (about 3-4 months after a full term pregnancy). According to recent studies, for each one and a half hours that you hold your baby you are providing the equivalent of two weeks of brain development!
7) Feed baby on demand, or per your pediatrician’s recommendations.
Rx: Your baby will generally ‘cluster feed’, meaning he/she will feed on a variable schedule (1 hour, 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 2 hours apart, etc.) usually until your baby doubles or triples his/her birth weight, between 3-6 months. Babies fed on demand have been shown to cry 50% less than those that are on a schedule.
Editorial provided by Noreen M. Roman, BS, MT (ASCP), MBA. Noreen is the Director and Founder of Birth & Beyond, Inc. Doula Services in Cleveland & Akron, Ohio. As part of their services they offer Postpartum Prescription ™, a program that helps new moms make the transition from pregnancy to parenthood.