Here’s a post I started writing a few months ago, shortly after giving birth to my lovely baby boy, and recently posted to my other blog, Leap Into the Void, which is all about our moving plans for this year. Seeing as it’s been a week since my last post and that it’s a good fit for here, I thought I’d copy it over. I hope you like it!
I wrote it as much as anything as a reminder to myself to take it easy and not overdo it, especially as I was feeling so well at just three weeks post-partum, which was a big contrast to my first pregnancy, which took much longer to recover from both physically and emotionally. Given our moving plans and how much we have been doing, I’ve tried to keep the below 10 points in mind, despite not always managing to be quite as gentle on myself as I’d like – but at least I’m off work and not in the horrible position of having to consider a return to work in just a few weeks.
Other cultures around the world recognise the three months after a woman gives birth as an important time, for bonding and healing. This approach recognises the many profound physician and emotional challenges that both mother and baby face during this time. There’s a theory that human babies are born too soon, earlier than other mammals, owing to the changes in the shape of our pelvises when we evolved into bipeds, and anyone who patents a newborn will know that for those first three months they really are just curled up eat, sleep, and poop machines, so I’d go along with that assessment. But with so many pressures one women to get back up and out there – to get fit, to get back to work, or whatever – few of us do take that time. I’d say looking after a baby and a toddler while also packing up the house to move to a new country is the antithesis of resting up and recovering buy in another reality id be taking it easy so here are my top 10 recommendations for mamas wanting to cut themselves some slack in those first few months post-partym. If, like me, you can’t manage all of them, at least do as many as you can when you can. Taking this time now will really make a difference to your recovery overall.
1. Eat well, eat plenty
Growing a baby is hard work. Birthing a baby is hard work. Feeding a baby is hard work. You need enough energy to recover from the physical and emotional effects and for the challenges ahead. Don’t go changing your diet too drastically right now and whatever you do, do not diet. Just eat as well as you can. Worst case, just eat. If you can’t eat well, for whatever reason, supplement. I lived off homemade freezer meals and takeaways for the first two weeks and supplemented with the remainder of my pregnancy vitamins as well as drinking protein shakes to help with recovery and three weeks later I was feeling great!
Put your feet up, let it go – hit the box sets, hard. You will be tired because babies don’t always sleep. You will be tired because your body has been through a lot. You will be tired because your hormones will be sloshing around all over the place and being an emotional wreck can be exhausting. So be easy on yourself. Encourage your partner/parents/friends to take your toddler for a couple of hours. Even if to rest you have to ask for help (see below) and that goes against your nature, just do it. You’ll be glad of it later.
3. Stay scruffy
Nothing deters me from getting out and about more than still being in my PJs or joggers come lunch time. Forget underwear. Forget looking good. In fact, avoid mirrors at all costs because what are likely to see is a saggy bag version of your former self. Do yourself a favour and focus instead of that beautiful, wondrous new baby – that miracle of life that you have created.
4. Ask for help
Just ask. You may not like doing it but you probably need it – especially in the first few weeks after your partner returns to work. Ask for help with your other child/children, with the washing, with the cooking. Ask friends to come round and bring a takeaway. Ask family members to come round and hold the baby while you take a long, hot, candle-lit bath.
5. Just say no
One afternoon when DS was just and a bit weeks old we we walked back from nursery with DD, which was lovely but I ached when I got back. Later that day James wanted to go across the field to fly a kite with DD but insisted that he needed me to come too. As much as I wanted to and as much as DD was desperate to get out there and fly the kite (for the first time!) the answer as no, no way. I was done. I ached. I could only move slowly. The idea of walking up the hill and across the field – not all that far but quite a physical walk – while also carrying DS so that James had his hands free for DD – then standing around in the field, possibly having to run after the kite or DD or both.
The moral of the story? If the idea of it feels like too much, then it probably is too much. No, just no – sorry folks. Front loading your recovery by ensuring you don’t overdo it is actually more likely to speed up your recovery. Overdoing it, on the other hand, will just set you back and in all likelihood make you feel miserable. You just had a baby, remember? So slow it down and don’t be afraid to take a rest day, hour, or whatever if you feel you need it.
6. Manage who visits and when
Relatives chomping at the bit to come and visit, to hold that precious little bundle? Fine. But lay some ground rules (and it’s good to ensure your partner is on board with these) like visiting times or requesting that visitors bring something to eat – a snack or a meal. You can relax these rules as time goes on but for the first few weeks, especially after a section, playing the hostess with the mostess is not going to do you any favours.
On advice from other parents, we were pretty strict on this one from the outset – easily achieved since our family is relatively small and we have smart friends – but others I know weren’t so savvy. One friend, about to have her second, said her partner’s family planned to come over from Canada two weeks after the due date – except the baby was 10 days “late” – so she ended up holding a dinner party as well as hosting her guests when her new baby was 4 days old. Even if you’ve got everything ready in the freezer and before the baby arrives it seems like No Big Deal, trust me when I say that the last thing you want four days after giving birth is a house full of jovial visitors who expect you to look after them. If they’re not coming to look after you, send them packing!
What all this really comes down to is self care. A happy, relaxed mummy means a happy (or at least, happier) baby. Repeat after me: I have just had a baby. This means your body has done an incredible job growing another human being, birthing said human being, and now the hardest part begins: keeping said human being alive while sleep-deprived and ravaged by hormones. You need to take care of yourself and respect your own needs. I’m not suggesting hiring a baby sitter and hitting the town, like the good old days: those days are gone, for a while at least. But you can do lots of small things to make things better, like soak in a gorgeous hot bath while someone else cuddles or soothes your baby, get your hair cut, get some rest, get out for a walk. Just chill, mama. There’s plenty of time for running around when that little bundle of poop finds its feet. Make the most of the slow times. Snuggle lots.
8. Pelvic floor exercises
Boring, indeed, but you’ll be glad you did them. Personally I wish I’d done them more often, especially since baby #2 has really taken his toll. Just do them. There are reminder apps. Use them. As the NHS website says:
If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is quite common and you needn’t feel embarrassed. It’s known as stress incontinence and it can continue after pregnancy.
And that’s not good for anyone – except Tenalady shareholders.
9. Try not to Google everything that could possibly go wrong with a baby
Because lots can go wrong but it’s very unikely that anything will. Are you feeding them often enough? Are they sleeping too little/too much? In those early days you can drive yourself nuts asking the Internet for answers to questions you don’t even need the answer to. If you find yourself huddled over your phone a little too often then consider doing more of step 8 or step 10. Doing things that drive you crazy are the enemy of self-care!
10. Sleep when baby sleeps
And finally, yes, that old chestnut, but it’s time-honoured wisdom for good reason. In particular, don’t waste those early days when you come home, all excited with your newborn, then discover that they mostly just eat and sleep and spend all the time watching them, waiting for them to wake up so you can “play” with them. In the milky, sleepy, newborn nature has given you a wonderful gift. Sleep every chance you get. After two or three weeks your little one starts to uncurl, to see the world, to want to interact, and to grow both mentally and physically, and with those changes some babies (and you’ve no way of knowing how yours will be) need you more.
And here’s a bonus one:
11. Get some fresh air
Wrap that baby up close in a sling or, if you’re not a slingy mummy, pop them in the push chair and get outside. Even a short walk will lift your spirits, plus it’s a great way to calm a fussy baby and a nice gentle way to get some exercise. Obviously don’t overdo it. Take it steady. Find somewhere nice and quiet, maybe even throw in a cafe stop once you’re feeling up to it (although that may conflict with the aims of #10, so don’t get too carried away!) When I was off with #1 I would walk over to the next village to a cafe then meeting James for lunch. It was a good enough walk – about 40 minutes – and meeting James meant I had some backup at the other end, I got some fresh air and a lift home or, if the weather was bad or I wasn’t feeling up to it, I could get a ride back.
So there it is. In reality, especially when you have older children to accomodate, these can be pretty hard to achieve and combined with a house move I’ve done a pretty shoddy job or resting and recuperating this time around, which is why I wrote this list as a reminder!
Have I missed any? What are your top tips for taking time and recovering after a baby?