The following question came in my e-mail box a couple of months ago:

I am a mother of a one-year-old girl, and I am due with our second in June 2012. 🙂
After I had my daughter, I was told to rest when I came home from the birthing center. Instead, I was going up and down our stairs, trying to upload pictures of our newborn to email to the grandparents. I was more worried about pleasing other people than getting rest.

What is your wisdom about how to recover during the postpartum weeks? What do you use (certain herbs, pads, etc.) to help recover from the pain of birth? How do you rest with other children who need you?

It brought back a lot of memories (9 postpartum recoveries here so far), so I thought I’d address it since it’s something many of us will still face at some point in the future.
I’m going to come at this from a Type A personality angle…since that is my perspective and experience. If you are not a Type A, you’ll likely wonder what the fuss is all about. Read no further. (Unless, of course, you want to snicker at our expense.)

Being Type A has its pros and cons. We tend to get a lot done. We also tend to get burnt out and turn into emotional basket cases periodically. The good news for our husbands is: we eventually bounce back and turn into our Type A selves again.

When a Type A has a baby, she tends to get off the delivery bed and serve dinner to her family that night. Why? Is she insane? Partly. But also, she has a desire to meet the needs of everyone around her. And since they are all used to that…they tend to let her do it.

This is pretty much how I operated for the first several postpartum experiences. I did take a few meals from friends, but I didn’t have anyone come and stay with us while I “convalesced in bed” for 6 weeks. In fact, I remember reading an article where the writer talked about staying in bed for several weeks following child birth…and I scoffed my eyeballs out at the thought. Why, I was NOT about to lay around doing NOTHING for weeks on end. How boring and depressing!

No…I would come home from the hospital and pretty much jump right back into my regular routine, although at a slower pace.

Here’s where that got me:

  • I struggled with huge emotional swings…one minute being happy and hyper…the next minute weeping in despair over crumbs on the floor. Other times I would be thrilled to finally have the pregnancy over…and then an irrational longing to “go back in time” and be pregnant again would overwhelm me. Weeping again.
  • I was certain my kids would all die. I had such a horrific sense of dread that disaster was just around the corner. I felt very vulnerable and fearful.
  • I had postpartum insomnia. The kind that has nothing to do with a baby waking you up every hour. Oh…the baby was there waking me up…the problem was…I hadn’t fallen asleep yet from the LAST time the baby woke me up. I could not relax. Among other things, I would lay awake trying to remember which side I had nursed the baby on last…so I would be sure to nurse evenly on both sides. This totally stressed me out.
  • I bled and bled and bled. And bled. I thought I was going to bleed to death many times. (Yes, sometimes I was out grocery shopping when I felt like that. Hmmmm….)

You know…I think it took 5-6 babies to get the hang of everything and learn a few lessons. Here’s what I learned the hard way:

Plan to rest for a month

This doesn’t mean sleeping, necessarily, but it means laying/sitting quietly for as much of the day as you possibly can the first couple of weeks to a month. Use this time to catch up on reading, nursing/bonding with your newborn, writing in your journal, catching up on phone calls, blogging or other writing projects, starting your baby book, etc.

If you have a lot of little children and no big helpers yet, try to arrange for a mother/mother-in-law to come over for a couple of weeks OR…see if your husband can take some extra time off. I really wish I had pushed for this with my first few babies. I know my recoveries would have been much smoother and quicker had I asked for the help I needed (or taken it when it was offered to me!)

If you don’t have that luxury, God will sustain you, and you will survive. You can always rest on the couch. The little ones can play around you, you can use educational DVDs to keep them quiet at times, and make due with other creative strategies. The point is to AIM for keeping your feet up and your body quiet.

Now that my older children are, well, older…they pretty much take over for me those first two weeks…and I’ve bled much less and recovered both physically and emotionally much more quickly. One of the benefits of having help is that you can extend your “night” sleep so that you end up with a good 7-8 hours every 24 hours. I hit the sack with my baby early (say, 8:00)…and we go through the night time routine of sleeping/eating every 2-4 hours…and get up late the next morning (around 9:00 or so).

Sure, it’s not very exciting and certainly not very “productive” by Type A personality standards, but it sets you up for a quicker recovery, and is, in the long run, really worth it. Lack of sleep and rest are your worst enemies after giving birth. Invest those first few weeks in concentrated rest.

Adjust your expectations

Are you a die hard natural food purist? No cold cereals in your kitchen cabinets? Time to put all that on the back burner (perhaps) and buy some boxes of Cheerios or ready made healthy cold cereal options. Toast is good. Have fast, easy food on hand that your kids can serve up themselves. PB&J sandwiches can be a staple at lunchtime for a couple of weeks. The new diet might be boring, but nobody will perish. 

I do know many moms will make healthy freezer meals several weeks before baby is born. They can then pop these meals in the oven and still eat the kinds of healthy foods their family is accustomed to eating. While I’m not quite that ambitious, I do freeze things like fried up hamburger, cooked chicken, rice, etc. to have on hand. I can still “throw together” a quick spaghetti meal or chicken and rice dish without too much ado.  Anything you can do ahead of time to minimize your responsibilities after baby comes will only help you rest, recover, and heal more quickly.

Image by tofslie

Do you home educate? Take a month off.

The kids can do all the things they can do on their own…but the things that require your intervention…just quit. When I know we are having a baby, I really push school before the baby is born…maybe even starting a couple weeks earlier in the year…or going a few weeks later at the end. And then I “cash in” on that time investment after the baby’s birth…and take a month off.

The kids are happy to have their work load lightened, and it is a special family time for everyone. A new baby doesn’t come along any old day. It’s a life changing event. Relish that time.

Prepare for nursing

Apply a sterile, medical grade lanolin cream (or some other type of healing nipple cream) to your nipples daily a few weeks prior to giving birth. Then faithfully apply it after each nursing session. You will avoid cracked, bleeding nipples this way, and your breasts will adjust more quickly to nursing. If you find that nursing isn’t working for you or your baby after pursuing professional help, give yourself emotional permission to quit.

While I’m an avid fan of nursing…I know too many women who have honestly done all they can do to make it a reality…and they are unable, medically, to provide the necessary nourishment for their baby. Nursing is not a sign of spiritual health. Let it go if you must, and enjoy the little life God has given to you without the added emotional pressure.

Drink lots of fluids and take a good vitamin supplement

I recommend Life Time Professional Prenatal vitamins along with a dose of 6 pure fish oil/flax seed oil capsules per day. This will help provide the nutrients/vitamins and minerals in the proper percentages/doses your body needs for maximum healing and recovery. It will also give you extra energy and a feeling of well-being. For more information, see my blog article on Fertility in Your 40s (Update— Or, read the new ebook, Three Decades of Fertility!) where I review the book, Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn M. Shannon.

Heal your perineum

The best way to do this is to consistently keep it clean. I recommend at least one warm bath a day with a few drops of lavender essential oil and some therapeutic bath salts (this brand combines the two).

In addition to this, after you use the bathroom each time, first spray your bottom with warm water (usually the hospital will send you home with a squeeze bottle for this purpose, AND if you put a few drops of lavender essential oil in the water, it will be even more effective), and then gently wipe with a Tucks witch hazel pad (you can make your own too, but these are very convenient) directly on the sore perineum. This will wipe away any bacteria, blood, etc. as well as provide a cooling relief to that area. Witch hazel is very healing as well, and if you are consistent, you will find that area healing up very nicely in no time at all.

Dealing with the Baby Blues

Accept the blues when they sweep over you, and remind yourself that they’ll be sweeping away again soon. Normal baby blues are like the ocean tide. They come in and they go out. Daily. If you start noticing that they are not ebbing away in intervals, then you may need to seek the help of a friend, counselor, or health practitioner.

Many (not all) baby blues that persist in hanging around are due largely to unhealthy thought patterns that we so easily fall prey to when we are in the middle of this vulnerable time of healing. Anger, feelings of being unfairly dealt with, resentment when others close to us can’t seem to understand where we are at…all these things can build up into what feels like an insurmountable, overwhelming obstacle of pain.

The key to breaking out of this negative cycle is accepting the fact that most people around you cannot understand or meet your deepest needs at this time, but that your Heavenly Father can completely understand where you are at, and promises to sustain and restore you if you will turn to Him for your ultimate comfort and satisfaction.

This is not a time to put your relationship with Jesus on hold, but quite the opposite. It is a time for reaching out to Him more fully, embracing His plan, finding joy in His presence, and focusing on purposeful thanksgiving for the blessing of a new life and all that it means for eternity.

May God give every one of you a precious peace and rest when it comes time to enter a postpartum season! (I’ll be entering another one myself, Lord willing, in just three weeks!)

P.S. Check out Three Decades of Fertility, a book written by ten older women who had babies into their 40s. It’s packed with practical wisdom for young moms, and it points to God’s faithfulness in these busy mama years.

These postpartum rest and recovery tips are very invaluable – they're from a mom who unfortunately had to learn the hard way! Read this and take note so you can enjoy the first few weeks with your new baby – to the fullest!

How do you ensure that you get the postpartum rest that you need?