Giving birth to a child is the most incredible experience one can have. But, it’s also the most exhausting, sometimes the most painful and always the most intense on the physical and emotional body. And then, immediately after you’ve completed the task, you must begin to take care of a baby literally 24/7. How can it be that these two scenarios exist in such a way and still we all survive, and even thrive? What’s the catch?
Survival after birth comes down to one thing: getting back to self. That doesn’t mean thinking all the time about yourself or even putting yourself first. It simply means getting back there, eventually, sometimes. In the initial hours and days this means going to the bathroom by yourself, taking a shower, eating something tasty and sleeping in whatever position you want! In those first 2-6 weeks, this means watching a TV show in full, going outside, having a nap and enjoying visits from girlfriends. And by 8 weeks, getting back to self should be a full blown job:
Exercise - the first and most important goal for every woman after a baby is getting herself back through her body. As a birth professional, I’ve never met a woman who was not concerned about this. So, you must start there. But, exercise does not have to mean what is used to. Now, it means 30 minutes every day of some form of activity or movement. A walk. A short exercise circuit at home. A swim. A mommy and baby class. Anything. Light and easy. Or hard and intense. Pick your poison.
Nourish - eat real, live foods that taste good. There is always time for this. You don’t have to make them yourself. You can enlist friends, family and partners. You can use delivery services. You can use online retailers. There really are no excuses. And this is the one that makes you feel the best!
Rest - so many moms start to let this one fall down on the priority list after those first few weeks. They start to get back to their regular lives with work or domestic chores and somehow there is not enough time for rest. Sleep must remain at the top of the priority list literally for the rest of your life now because you are never going to get rest in the same way you did before baby - ever. So sleep must be considered a new “to do”. And we can’t wait for an opportunity for it, we must create it. If there’s laundry to do, dishes piling up and dogs to walk, then take a deep breath, remember the goal of getting back to self, and go lay down for 30 minutes.
Play - as a doula I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and postpartum and no one ever talks about play as an important component to recovery! Play is essential in the life of every human and is considered one of the key components in longevity and health, so how is it not emphasized when it comes to postpartum?! You must PLAY!!! And I mean really silly, free, surrendered play. Let yourself relax and be wild and free with your child. Roll around on the floor. Laugh. Go out with your girlfriends. Do something fun you thought you wouldn’t be able to do after you had a baby. Make sure that there is FUN in your life! This is essential for your mental health and your physical recovery. Stress is literally a killer and it’s at its max post-birth. You have to fend it off.
Lean - and finally, lean on others. If you don’t have family nearby, don’t be a martyr. Everyone has a friend that is reliable, that loves you, that is willing to help. Ask for help. Accept the help. Don’t feel guilty for needing and wanting help. Let others hold your baby and tell you how great you look. Let others make or bring you food. Ask others to hold you accountable to take caring of yourself. This is the time to lean into help.
Postpartum recovery doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be a long checklist of self care things that you have to do everyday and you feel like you’ll never achieve. Just allow your day to touch for at least a moment on each of these five categories and I promise you will feel back to yourself. It won’t be some goal you’re trying to achieve while hoping one day you might begin to feel yourself again. You just will be Back to SELF each and every day. And all the better with your little one by your side. :)