While you were pregnant, you likely became well-versed in the hallmarks of each trimester—weeks of nausea and morning sickness, followed by several golden weeks of energetic nesting, culminating in exhaustion that you’ve never before felt in your life. What is often not discussed in baby books or your doctor’s office is the “fourth trimester,” or the weeks following your baby’s arrival. Respecting your body’s boundaries during this recovery period is crucial to regaining your sapped energy, establishing your milk supply, and most importantly, forming a relationship with your new baby. Read on for a few tips to help you make the most of your recovery period and your entry into motherhood.
FOLLOW ONE SIMPLE RULE OF THUMB
A general rule to follow after your baby is born is this: first week in bed, second week around the bed, third week around the house. Of course, there will be times that you’ll have to leave the house—such as your baby’s first doctor’s appointments or your own follow-up visit with your OB or midwife—but generally speaking, your postpartum body will need all the rest that it can get in order to return back to normal. Many women might think they feel “normal” again after just a few days after birth, yet engaging in regular everyday activities too soon after baby comes can wear you out and become a setback on your road to recovery.
During the first week, plan to have someone at home with you while you’re settling in. Whether it’s a spouse or partner taking parental leave, asking a parent or family member to come stay with you, or hiring a postpartum doula, having an extra set of hands (or two!) will allow you to stay in bed as long as possible. Conserve energy by avoiding unnecessary stair trips. Take advantage of the time in bed by catching up on sleep and establishing a good nursing routine with your baby. Having occasional visitors come to your room or taking phone calls with close friends and family helps to break up the “lying-in” period.
In the second week, move from your bed to other spots in the house where you can rest. You might not feel like sitting up for long periods of time—say, at the dinner table—but being on the living room couch or in a comfortable chair while visitors come calling (or for some Netflix bingeing!) is a great way to ease out of your first week of bedrest. Take Epsom salt baths to help with your physical recovery.
In the third week you might feel ready to move about the house and resuming some of your routine activities, such as preparing yourself snacks, folding laundry, or getting dressed in something other than pajamas. If you’re feeling well enough, doing simple exercises and stretches from the comfort of your home during this time will help you ease back into regular physical activity outside the house. By the third week you still might not be feeling up to resuming regular activities, which is normal for many new moms! Be sure to listen to your body and adjust these guidelines to fit your timeline for recovery.
ESTABLISH GOOD BREASTFEEDING HABITS
If you’re new to breastfeeding, it can be a confusing experience as you’re getting to know your postpartum body and as your baby is getting to know you. Pay attention to your body’s changes as your milk starts coming in, and take warm showers if you start to feel engorged. Spend your time in bed figuring out what nursing style works best for you. Is it comfortable for you to sit up with a breastfeeding pillow? Or do you find it more natural to nurse while lying down? If you’re struggling, call a trusted friend, relative, or lactation consultant to ask questions or share concerns.
DRESS FOR THE OCCASION
When you go to work, you wear the appropriate clothing for getting the job done. The same thing applies to your “work” during the fourth trimester! It’s important to signal to yourself and others that you’re home to relax during this time. Treat yourself to a pretty new robe or set of button down pajamas (great for nursing!). You’ll be spending a lot of time wearing them, after all.
STAY WELL-FED AND WELL-HYDRATED
To make sure you keep up your milk supply, it’s important that you’re getting enough fluids and calories. You may be surprised at how ravenous you’ll be feeling during your early days of nursing! (And don’t forget, staying hydrated when you wake up with “night nursing sweats”—it’s a real thing, ladies.) Keep a supply of snacks on your nightstand along with your trusty water bottle, which you probably had at arm’s reach throughout pregnancy as well. Assign someone in your house to make sure your stash is always well-stocked.
DELEGATE EVERYDAY TASKS TO OTHERS
When well-meaning friends ask how they can help, don’t put them off with a vague “I’ll let you know!” During your final weeks of pregnancy, keep track of friends who have offered to help and think of specific ways they can deliver. Taking a sibling out for a play date, delivering nursing snacks, dropping by with a hot meal, or running an errand are all great concrete ways for friends to lend a hand without feeling like they’re intruding too much. Be sure to delegate your regular everyday tasks to those helping you at home. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else to be in charge of changing diapers!
What are some postpartum rituals or tips that you found the most helpful after you gave birth? Have you tried any of the tips we shared? We’d love to hear all about it on our Facebook page!