A recent article on The Daily Beast exposes the lack of importance Americans place on postpartum rest and care, and the pressure moms feel to get back to pre-pregnancy standards almost immediately. Despite countries all around us that encourage new mothers to rest for a substantial period, the American culture is notorious for short maternity leaves and tabloids that tout celebrities who lose baby weight weeks after giving birth.
Birth is normal, yes. But it is also a major physical event in a woman's life. Under ideal circumstances, a new mom should be given the freedom to truly recover from her birth. With the average uncomplicated vaginal birth, blood loss can be up to 500 mL (more is considered a hemorrhage), hormones are in a major state of flux, the body is working to get rid of excess fluid, and the uterus begins the important job of shrinking back to normal size (it grows 20 times its size during pregnancy). Women who experience complications during birth, including cesarean, experience normal recovery plus additional care needed for healing. What does a true postpartum recovery look like? No housework, no older child tending, no errand running, and no working in or out of the home. In countries where a traditional postpartum rest period is observed, a new mother will enjoy 30-40 days of nothing but nourishment, sleep, and new baby cuddling.
Of course, in the United States, where we often return to work within six weeks, where spouses work outside of the house, where family members live far away, and where finances are strained, this is an impossible extreme. There are things you can do, however, to facilitate a more restful and healing postpartum period.
Create your village. If you don't have family or friends nearby, or if you are a single mom, there are things you can do to create your village -- a local community of people who can support and help you during postpartum and throughout parenthood. Once you have your village, let them know that you'll be working extra hard to not work hard once baby comes. Let them know you'll call on them for help.
Cook in advance. In the last couple of months during your pregnancy, make freezer meals for yourself to enjoy when the baby comes. If you're not receiving regular meals made for you during postpartum, the next best thing are meals that require almost no preparation and little clean up.
Limit your errands. Unless it's for necessities, a trip to Target can wait -- or someone else can do it. For groceries, enlist your neighbors to add a few items to their shopping list and give them cash or reimburse them when they drop it off.
Ask for favors. If you have older children, especially those who aren't in school, ask friends or family if they can watch your other kids for a while -- outside of your house. Even if it's for a couple of hours, it will give you much needed time for yourself. Let your helpers know that you would LOVE to repay the favor -- in a few months.
Limit visiting hours. People love to stop by and see the new baby, but moms often feel the need to clean or even entertain for these visits. Don't get caught in that trap. Let your visitors know in advance that your house will not be clean, that you will not have snacks set out, and that you are very tired and can only spend about 30 minutes before you and the baby will need to rest or nurse -- alone.
Stop cleaning. Stop worrying about cleaning. Just stop. Really. Your house will survive -- YOU will survive. There's just no need to mop your floors. If the baby is sleeping and you have the choice between cleaning your bathroom and sleeping or surfing the internet, choose the latter. Your bathroom can wait.
Give yourself a break. You'll feel normal eventually. You'll get back into your pre-pregnancy jeans eventually. You'll stop bleeding eventually. You'll stop being engorged eventually. You'll want to have sex eventually. Give yourself time -- your body spent 40+ weeks pregnant. You aren't Cinderella -- you won't change back in an instant. Motherhood -- physically, mentally, and emotionally -- is a process that requires patience, humility, and acceptance. You'll get there.