Welcome to Your Holistic Postpartum Guide!
I’m Melissa Danielle, Integrative Nutrition & Women’s Health Coach and Full Spectrum Doula. Wherever you are on your birth or parenting journey, there’s always something new to learn or do differently to improve your experience. And while you’ll never be completely prepared for what’s to come, there are some things you can do to take the edge off.
This guide is by no means definitive, nor is it intended to replace the advice of a licensed medical professional. Some of what is shared here may not be relevant, necessary, or important to you, and you may not get to do everything listed or some of what you want to do. Decide what’s most important to you for where you are right now and use it to create your ideal postpartum experience.
Disclosure: Some of the links shared here are affiliate links. While you are not obligated to purchase anything, I may make a commission on any sales made through them.
The Basic PostPartum to-do
Here’s a shortlist of what to think about and take care of before the birth of your baby so that your primary focus is on your recovery and your newborn:
- Maternity Leave — notifying your employer of your pregnancy and setting your leave dates, making sure all your work is done or delegated, autoresponders are in place, and necessary paperwork is filed and completed with your employer, exploring additional supplemental resources such as FMLA, disability insurance, and other financial avenues to cover your time off
- Money — how will you recover lost income? Now’s the time to speak with a financial planner, look into a low-overhead, low-impact home-based passive income stream and streamline your living expenses
- Household management — rent/mortgage/bills, laundry and housekeeping, errands
- Feeding the baby / Support with breast/formula feeding — breastfeeding, formula feeding, or getting milk from a milk bank?
- Feeding yourself — grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation
- Coordinating support and visitors — who gets to visit when, and for what purpose?
- Childcare and pet care — for your newborn and/or other children and pets in the household
- Self-care essentials — creams, salves, sanitary/incontinence pads, nursing bras and tanks, pillows, comfortable and loose clothing, a Sitz bath, hemorrhoid cream, herbs for healing and milk production, a journal, books, music, and movies
- Hiring medical and support staff as needed — doula, mental health professional, physical therapist, lactation specialist, housekeeper, babysitter, etc
What else would you add to this list?
If you’d like to explore other concepts related to the fourth trimester and beyond, I invite you to check out these titles.
My approach to postpartum care
I blend ancient wisdom with modern approaches to motherbaby care. The most important thing is for the mother to prioritize her health and well-being while she cares for her baby, which means cutting out all distractions and delegating nonessential tasks.
While you may not be able to slow all the way down and put 100% of your focus on you and your newborn, simply thinking about it and discussing your options with your partner and support team can help you prepare for the fourth trimester, where ideally, you won’t be doing a lot of moving, shaking, socializing, or trying to control time and space.
Five elements of holistic postpartum care that are embodied in the Motherworthlove philosophy are
- nourishing food
- loving touch
- wise women
- connecting with nature
What do each of these sound like for you and how important is having these elements in your recovery to you? How can you integrate them into your daily routine?
How do you want your fourth trimester to feel?
To be honest, your feelings may not match the experience or outcome, and you’ll have to let go of any expectations (especially the ones you place on yourself) but having a framework is a helpful start to building the container you’ll need for your fourth trimester.
I recommend reading the Desire Map, a feminine-centered goal-setting process that focuses on how you want an experience to feel instead of what you’re striving for. For example, if you want to feel rested and at peace, what has to happen? Does this mean playing music that softens and relaxes you, having your groceries delivered and someone taking care of the laundry, getting new sheets that make you feel pampered, not having any visitors for the first couple of weeks beyond your designated support team, or receiving weekly massages?
What would feel really good?
What boundaries will you need to put in place to ensure you have the postpartum recovery period you desire?
The postpartum period is probably one of the most “feminine” times of your life that you’ll ever experience. And by feminine I mean in the sense of how we think of time and space. Time is a masculine embodiment, while space is a feminine embodiment. You may already know this, but any sense of structure (masculine) and time flies out the window when you have a newborn.
It will be challenging to live on someone else’s eat and poop schedule, but until you get to a place where you feel you’ve got a handle on things, you’ll overwhelm yourself with trying to create a schedule or get frustrated that you’re not on one. Now is the time to practice “going with the flow” and being in the present moment. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll eat when baby eats, and sleep when baby sleeps or some other combination that works for you. As time goes on, you’ll learn how to establish a schedule that will allow you to sleep longer and nurse or feed less.
When you’re not too tired, you may find this the ideal time to catch up on reading, movies, or just being still and enjoying some “do nothingness” in between motherbaby care.
As your baby grows and you begin to integrate motherhood into the rest of your life, you’re going to find that basic tasks take more time to complete than before. For example, before baby, you could be up and out of the house in under an hour. After baby, it may take three hours. This could be an exaggeration, but I’m sharing it to say that your concept of time will have to shift. Please be gentle with yourself by padding the time it takes you to complete something so that you don’t feel stressed, rushed, overwhelmed, or want to give up.
Build Your Support Network
Men are important in the conception and birthing process, but birthing babies is truly women’s work. In every indigenous and tribal culture in the world, past and present, women show up in large numbers to support a mother and her newborn. In some cultures, women even leave their husbands and return to their mothers’ homes, where the maternal relatives will attend the mother and newborn until she recovers.
In other cultures, the father’s mother and women relatives take on this responsibility. Wherever you go, the womenfolk, related or otherwise, show up and take turns nourishing, bathing, and supporting the motherbaby (the term given to the postpartum mother and infant to reflect that the connection between mother and infant is still intact) in the first 40 days to three months postpartum.
That said, if the father is present, or you have access to men in your life who are willing to show up to support you during the postpartum and beyond, invite them to join you in the planning process. Most men would like to participate in some capacity, but they may not understand why or how things will shift emotionally, physically, and environmentally. If they’re going to be picking up the slack, you’ll want to have a conversation about expectations and their willingness to take on this role. You’ll also want to make sure they feel empowered during this time as well.
Who are you close to that you can ask for support during your postpartum?
What do they have the time/capacity for?
What kind of help might you need to pay for?
Structuring Visits and Socialization
Everyone loves newborns, but for at least the first 3 to 6 weeks, your visits should be limited to your immediate family and/or family support workers. While you’ll be glad to see them, your visitors should see their time with you as a “working visit”. If they are coming over, they should be ready and willing to cook, clean, hold your infant so you can go to the bathroom, feed them if you’re unable, change diapers, and do whatever it is you need so that you can sleep, eat, shower, or simply rest. If they are unable or unwilling to show up in this way, consider designating a special day and time for visitors to stop by for purely social visits.
If you’re allowing social visits, try to limit them to half an hour. This may sound strange, but you’ll be surprised at how drained or tired you’ll feel after. You may want to put a sign on the front door letting visitors know when and how you’re accepting them, including time limits. This may be a challenging boundary, so feel free to have someone on your support team be the “bouncer” and manage the velvet rope.
What do you have to do right now to get everyone on board with honoring your wishes?
Managing Your Mental, Emotional, and Physical states
As your body reclaims itself, it’s going to be doing a lot of “common” postpartum things that are not normal to you. What you’re about to read is not intended to scare you, but to just prepare you for some of the things that come up for mothers postpartum. You may release fluids, including blood, urine, and poop that is out of your control. You may experience tenderness and irritation on your vulva, in your vagina, and on your nipples.
You may feel soreness in your back, belly, hips, and pelvis. Your hair may thin or even fall out. Your skin may become dry or oily in patches. You may experience brain fog, confusion, overwhelm, depression, and yo-yoing mood swings. Your body may not “snap back” as quickly as you’d like or expect it to. Things may not feel right “down there” or anywhere. You may be tired as all get out. You may even have thoughts that don’t feel “appropriate” as a mother.
If you’re breastfeeding, you may experience difficulty making enough or expressing milk. Your nipples may dry out and become sore or cracked. If you’ve had any perineum tears or a Cesarean, you may find simple movements to be very uncomfortable. Your infant may have trouble nursing, digesting, or sleeping. It may at times feel like too much.
Some of what you may experience can happen all at once, in varying degrees, and perhaps not at all. In any case, you may be overwhelmed emotionally and not know what to do or how to respond when something arises.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but the most important thing is to not suffer in silence. Please be gentle with yourself and ask for help when you’re feeling unsure of what’s happening in your body. Trust your intuition. The earlier you communicate your experiences, the quicker you and your support team will be able to address and resolve them.
You may want to enlist one or more of the following professionally trained support workers in your recovery:
- Postpartum Doula
- Childbirth Educator
- Lactation Specialist
- Family Support Worker
- Mental Health Therapist specializing in postpartum
- Occupational Therapist
- Licensed Massage Therapist
- Social Worker
- Women’s Health or Pelvic Health Physical Therapist or Somatic Bodyworker
You may also be interested in finding an online and later, when you’re getting out of the house, an in-person mom’s group where you can ask questions about your experience and get the emotional support you need from a community of people who know exactly what you’re going through. You may also want to keep a journal to track all of your experiences, feelings, and sensations, as it can help you communicate them to your doctor and/or birth support professionals if and when necessary.
The Motherworthlove Mothercircle is one such place. Click here to learn more.
Your relationship with your Intimate Partner(s)
The very thing that got you here may be the last thing on your mind as you acclimate to life with a newborn, but it’s important to be aware of what and how you’re feeling about sex and your body, especially if you’re in a relationship. The general consensus is that it’s safe/okay to resume penetrative sex at the six week mark, but you may not be ready for a number of reasons.
Because your hormones are readjusting, it may take longer than you’d like or your partner(s) would like for you to get back in the mood to have sex, especially penetrative sex. Even the way you used to have sex may change. This offers a great opportunity for you and your partner(s) to explore new levels of emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy, so that you all get your needs met and deepen your relationship(s) in this new phase.
Your partner(s) are going through their own changes as they adjust to their new role as parent(s) and may struggle with how to feel heard, respected, and contribute in their own way. Invite them to seek support through professional help or peer support groups in-person and/or online.
Sharing your individual experiences about the birth and what it’s been like for either of you adjusting to life with a newborn is one way to foster emotional intimacy. Spending time together nonverbally, such as holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes, embracing in a hug or cuddle, or even a light massage can do wonders for all of you and your respective sense of self.
If penetrative sex is not on the table, literally and figuratively (wink, wink), what other kinds of sexual activities are you interested in exploring?
However you decide to proceed, practicing compassion, nonjudgment, consistent and ongoing communication, and mutual respect is vital in maintaining a healthy, intimate relationship with your partner(s).
When can you set aside time to spend with your partner(s), in between taking care of your newborn, work, and other responsibilities?
Are you able to communicate your feelings and experiences with your partner(s) and vice versa without judgment, guilt, or shame?
Who might be able to help you push through any challenges or difficulties that may come up as you rebuild intimacy and sex in your relationship(s)?
Managing Postpartum as a Single Parent
Intentionally or by circumstance, if you expect to be raising your baby as a single parent, your support system will be crucial during this period. You may want to consider hiring a housekeeper, a nanny, a babysitter, or some combination, even if part-time, to assist you with household management, childcare, and to just give you a break. Your self-care practices are extremely important during the first three months, so please do what you can now to set yourself up for a supportive transition.
Who can you ask to stay with you over the course of the first three months after giving birth? These are people who will be taking on a co-parenting role, assisting with feedings, holding the baby so that you can eat, sleep, bathe, etc, and helping out around the house in general.
If you need to hire someone, what might that look like? How much will it cost? Don’t assume you won’t need help or can do most of it.
Work & Money Matters
Let’s be honest, children are expensive! But that shouldn’t be a reason to not have them if being a parent is important to you. So here are some ways to get creative about your financing your maternity leave.
After you’ve tied up any loose ends at work, including finishing projects, delegating your workflow and setting your return date, make sure all of your paperwork (and you have copies) gets to HR at least a month before your last day. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take at least two weeks off before your due date, but you definitely want to make sure all of your time off and insurance is up-to-date, and claims are filed and documented well in advance of your due date.
If you are self-employed, now’s the time to automate your workflow, which may also include hiring a virtual assistant or subcontracting your work in the event that your birth will overlap with commitments. You may want to consider creating a product you can sell to generate income, or taking on short-term high-paying projects now that will float you during your postpartum.
You may also want to look into the types of insurance coverage or other financial options that will pay out some or all of your monthly income while you are on leave.
Here are additional options to consider:
Work Overtime — If you’re physically able to work overtime and your job approves it, consider adding a few more hours to your workweek and putting the abundance into a savings account.
Look into FMLA — While the Family and Medical Leave Act doesn’t pay you for time off, it does protect your job and your health benefits by letting you take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. There are specific requirements for employers and applicants, so check with your HR department to find out if you’re eligible to apply.
Look into short-term disability insurance — This is something you’d have to do before you get pregnant, but there may be still be an opportunity to enroll through your employer, so talk with HR about your option. You will be paying for this on your own, deducted from your paycheck, after which you can use the payouts to cover your monthly income during your leave.
Start a Side Hustle — A side hustle is any type of business you start outside of your primary source of income. This could be anything from tutoring kids, becoming a Lyft driver, baking cookies, becoming an affiliate for your favorite brand, to selling crafts like knitwear or homemade soaps. You can then put your earnings into a 3- or 6-month CD or other interesting bearing account. Be sure to follow the laws in your area regarding the business you start and reporting income and taxes so that you do not risk being penalized.
Open a credit building account — If your credit could be better, consider signing up with SelfLender. With SelfLender, you’ll take out a loan on yourself, and as you pay it back, SelfLender will put the money into an interest bearing account, while reporting your satisfactory repayment progress to the credit bureaus. At the end of the loan period, SelfLender will release the money to you. Note: This option only works if you have 12 months to two years before you need the money back.
Find out what your health insurance covers — you may be able to get some of your support services covered by your health insurance provider, such as your midwife, doula, lactation specialist, physical therapist, and mental health therapist. Call and speak with your provider to find out what is covered. Click here for information on how to submit a claim to your insurance company for reimbursement of doula services.
Create a Parental Leave Registry — A parental leave registry works pretty much the same as a baby shower registry, except you are explicitly asking for cash. On your registry page, be upfront that you’re using the money to cover living expenses, including any birth support services you may need such as a doula, lactation specialist, housekeeper, cook, babysitter, etc. A few sites to check out are MyTake12.com, Babylist, or Plumfund.
Just about every culture has specific foods and practices to aid in healing and recovery. These tend to be warming, high fat, high protein blood builders, anti-inflammatory and restorative foods, so think more soups, broths, and hearty meals and less raw foods, juices, and salads.
Some cultures also have recipes for herbal teas and fermented drinks to encourage circulation, healing, and increase breastmilk.
Before your due date, you’ll want to have your pantry well-stocked so that you’re ready for the first few days postpartum. If you like to cook, maybe you can spend a part of your nesting period preparing meals ahead that can be frozen and thawed for you later. You can also enlist the help of your partner(s) or support team to create meal plans and do the grocery shopping and meal prep.
You can subscribe to a service like Plan to Eat, in which you can store your recipes as well as trade recipes with other members.
You can also sign up at MealTrain.com, in which your support team can organize meal planning and delivery for you from your network of relatives and friends.
This is also a great time to talk to the mothers in your life, especially if they are 10 or more years older than you, to ask them which foods they were encouraged to eat, as well as ones they were told to avoid during postpartum.
Make a list of your favorite foods, even if they don’t fall into the “nourishing” category that you’d like to eat. Who can you designate as your “personal shopper” to make sure these foods are always on hand?
Who do you know that can prepare or buy health supportive foods for you? Now’s the time to ask them for help and coordinate schedules.
What are some foods you’ve heard of that you’d like to add to your postpartum food plan?
How Will You Feed Your Newborn?
How you decide to feed your baby is an important, intimate, and personal choice. While there are ongoing campaigns to encourage and normalize breastfeeding, this may not be an option or a desire for you for any reason. It is important that you make your decision without guilt or judgment from you or others, because these feelings can interfere with you accessing the comprehensive and relevant information you need to make the best decision for your circumstances.
You can choose to breast or bottle feed with your milk or another mother’s milk, use store-brought formula, or even make your own (if you decide to DIY your infant formula, please exercise caution and care and do your due diligence, as there are specific nutrients that are crucial for newborns during the fourth trimester and beyond).
However you decide, make it clear to your support team that this is your choice. If they do not respect your desires, you can respectfully remove them from your postpartum plan of care.
Get Adequate Rest & Maintain Light Physical Activity
There’s a lot of chatter in the mainstream culture about “snapping back” and losing baby weight as quickly as possible. This may compel you to get back to your old routine and your pre-baby weight as soon as possible. There’s a tendency to feel like life will be normal again or you’ll feel better when you’re back to your former self, but really, you’re a new person! You’ll never be who you were before baby, even if you “get your body bak”. Consider that you’re a new person, because you are, and that your whole body/self needs more time than you think it does to recover and become the new you.
Your newly transformed body may not be prepared for high intensity interval training workouts such as Crossfit and other high impact exercises such as running, or even Yoga. Your joints and ligaments are still loose and stretched, and your uterus is still healing.
Exercise raises blood pressure and hormone levels, including cortisol, a stress hormone. Intensive activity can also increase bleeding or delay healing, especially stitches. Give yourself at least 15 days before doing any moderate to rigorous activity, such as walking, climbing stairs, swimming, or cycling.
What’s motivating you to resume your pre-baby activities? Is this what you want for yourself or are you attaching to someone else’s or society’s idea of what you should be doing and what your body should look like?
What kinds of low-impact activities can you engage in to keep your body moving during postpartum?
Heal Your mother wound
The mother wound is the experience of patriarchy and its offspring — sexism, violence against women, unequal pay, misogyny, rape, and so on — that has denied women’s full expression as human beings. We play it out in our relationships with our mothers, sisters, girlfriends, colleagues and even women we don’t know, through competition, comparison, jealousy, and passive-aggressive manipulation. It impacts our intimate relationships and even how we view money.
You were an egg in yourgrandmother’s womb. Your relationship with your mother is directly influenced by her experience giving birth to you and what she experienced with her mother, who was influenced by her own experiences. Whatever conflicts you may have about your upbringing and your relationship with your own mother are bound to come up during your pregnancy and throughout your life as a mother.
Now is a great time reflect on your childhood and any memories that particularly stand out. If you need the help of a licensed mental health professional to work through the heavy stuff, get it. If it’s not within your means, journaling, or finding or creating a support group may also help.
If you are able to do so, spending time with your mother or the mothers who helped raise you and being intentional about healing the relationship will have a profound impact on your birth experience and life as a mother.
If your partner(s) have had a troubled relationship with their mothers, invite them to consider healing that relationship as well, whether through direct contact or therapeutic methods.
If you’re able, ask your mother (and anyone else who was present) about the experience of you birth. Where did she give birth to you? Was it medicated or unmedicated? How did she feel during the experience? What could have been better? What was her postpartum like?
What was your experience like growing up as a child?
What do you love about your childhood, and what would you like to do differently with your own children?
If you’re unable to reconcile your relationship with your mother, considering writing her a letter (that you don’t have to send out), detailing how you feel and how you are moving on
Take A Digital Break
You may find yourself tempted to maintain your social media activity, but this may not be the best way to manage your energy and pass the time. In addition to being a mindless time suck, you may find yourself getting caught up in negativity or comparing yourself to your friends and their seemingly perfect newborn-free lives. Even spending time in childbirth support and newborn mother support groups may trigger undesired feelings.
If you can, I invite you to limit yourself to less than five hours a week, or none at all for at least the first forty days postpartum.
Instead of social media, what if you spent time resting, journaling, coloring, reading, singing, listening to music (or even playing it!), or meditating?
What are some other activities you can engage in that will boost your well-being?
Your third trimester may find you busy with last minute preparations, but don’t forget you! Whether you keep regular hair or nail appointments or only for special occasions, consider this time as extra special, and make an appointment. It may be the last time in a long while that you’ll be able to get this kind of pampering. Treat yourself to a mani/pedi, a haircut or blowout, a massage, book a staycation or weekend retreat, or some other activity that is just about and for you.
What can you do to treat yourself to something really nice before baby comes?
Spend time in Nature
Whether it’s been two weeks or the full six weeks of “lying in”, you’re bound to feel a bit stir-crazy from not going outside all that much. After your six-week postpartum checkup, consider this your green light to start moving around a little more and even getting out and about. Every person’s recovery and body will be different, so please take care of yourself and listen to your body as you spend time outdoors and in public.
Spending time in nature can have a therapeutic effect on you and your well-being. Weather permitting, consider a short walk (15-20 minutes) in the park, woods, beach, or even your neighborhood, by yourself. Let the sun shine on your face as you breathe in the air. Even if you only have once a week, giving this time to yourself will help you feel so much better and connected in your body. This can also be a good time to catch up with a friend or two.
Who can you ask to watch the baby while you take time for yourself in nature?
What came up for you while reading this? What else would you add?
Let me know in the comments.