Many people believe that postpartum lasts six weeks after the birth of the baby. Women’s bodies need to recover from the pregnancy and birth. It is hoped that by six weeks the mother has healed from any soreness, bleeding and cramping and that her moods have stabilized and she’s got a handle on breastfeeding (if she chose to do this).

At the end of the six week period, women go back to their doctor or midwife for their ‘six week check-up’ and there’s this societal pressure that they will probably have it together and feel on top of things.

There can be feelings of guilt or inadequacy if women don’t feel they have adapted quickly enough or look like they are coping and thriving ‘like other mums’.  I think it’s really important to know that at six weeks, there may not be a magical transformation. For many, it takes longer to adjust and step into their new role. Just knowing that, is a huge relief for many people. It may take them 3 months, 6 months, 12 months or longer to emerge from their ‘postpartum period’.

Midwife Raven Lang says that many midwives she worked with considered the postpartum to be two years (or longer). She says ‘as long as the baby’s in diapers, and you’re up in the night and your breast is being called upon by that person, you’re postpartum.’

In many traditional cultures, the postpartum time is considered to be around 40 days. Interestingly, this time frame roughly correlates with the medical textbook ‘six weeks’. The forty day period of rest or ‘lying in’ has some beautiful traditions aimed at helping the mother heal, not only physically, but emotionally too. There is a sense of reverence around these forty days as caring support is given to the mother while she adapts to her new role. These traditional practices are ceremonial and also have practical and medicinal benefits.

I know many midwives who refer to the postpartum time as the ‘fourth trimester’. I love this term. For the first three months after birth, newborns really like to feel that they are still in the womb. This means they like to be close to their mama, feeling her warmth, hearing her heartbeat and with food on tap (which means feeding frequently). It is most comfortable for them to be sleeping on the mama as much as possible (re-creating that feeling of still being inside her womb).

A great tip for embracing the fourth trimester is to get a comfortable carrier (like the hug-a-bub or ergo) so you can still do things while bub is attached to you. Babies need to sleep a lot and they settle best when they are close to their caregiver, especially during the first three months of their life.

There needs to be a greater understanding of the needs of the new mother during the weeks and months after birth. We are all individuals and the time it takes to heal and adapt is going to be different for everyone. If our expectations are too high, it can feel really overwhelming if we aren’t experiencing what we think we should be, by a certain time.

Having an idea of what changes to expect and having good support in place are important to help women move through the postpartum time. Nurture the mother so she can nurture her baby.


Some tips for preparing for your postpartum

1)   Get a support network in place before you birth

Write down 4 friends or family members that you could ask to help with laundry, washing dishes, preparing food, watching the baby while you shower or sleep and could help with any older siblings.
Research what groups are around that can help you meet with other mums or get help with breastfeeding (for example; The Australian Breastfeeding Association).

2)   Have some meals planned ahead

Freeze some healthy meals like casseroles or soups.
Be open to accepting meals from friends and family (this is so helpful in those early weeks).

3)   Plan to have some nurturing treatments

Write down what helps you relax and plan to do some of these things (for example a bath or massage). Ask a friend to watch the baby while you enjoy this necessary nurturing.

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