We women need to give ourselves time–and allow ourselves to ask for help–when we’re recovering from childbirth
Recovering from childbirth isn’t something that happens overnight, and it isn’t something you can achieve through will power or just “doing what needs to get done.”
Your body has just gone through tremendous trauma, and it needs time to heal.
That’s why in Scripture God actually ordained that women receive 40 days of rest after the birth of a boy and 80 days after the birth of a girl. She’d hang out in a tent with other women caring for her, and her husband wasn’t supposed to come near her for sex or anything. This was her healing time. She was “unclean”, which meant that she didn’t need to prepare meals for everyone. She couldn’t even touch their food! So she got that downtime that she needed.
I’ve written more about the Old Testament laws around periods here.
I think other cultures sometimes understand that women are meant to be given time to recover from childbirth more than our own culture does.
Today, we don’t live in community in the same way that other cultures do, where multiple generations often live together, or you live near all your relatives in a village.
My mother is good friends with a younger woman who immigrated to Canada from Kenya several years ago after her marriage. When Julia (not her real name) became pregnant, she asked all the women in her Bible study group and her knitting group to help her, because had she been in Kenya, all the aunts and cousins and sisters would have been there all the time to help. My mother became the honorary grandma, and for several months she visited every morning. The baby is even named after my mom! And now that Julia has had a second baby, my mom has several more babies who call her Nana.
But Julia wasn’t uncomfortable about asking, because this was normal for her.
I think we need to make it a new normal! So I thought today we’d talk about the three keys to recovery from childbirth.
Recovery from childbirth needs rest
I’m not talking about lying in bed all day (and, indeed, not moving can increase your risk of clots). But you shouldn’t be walking very much or lifting heavy things, and you should not be doing housework.
Your uterus is still expelling a lot of excess fluid and blood, and when you do too much, you tend to bleed more heavily. Some women also suffer worse tears than others, and some are recovering from Caesarean sections.
If you try to do too much too soon, you can increase the bleeding and get anemic; you can make healing from tears and surgery much more difficult; and you can even cause complications. Plus your body needs rest simply so that your milk supply can come in and so that you have time to bond with the baby. You’ll also be getting so little sleep with the baby’s needs at night!
So think of those first two weeks as being time that you bond with the baby and allow your milk to come in, while you care for yourself with sitz baths and showers. You should not be making dinner, vacuuming, or doing major housework.
Now, that’s all very well and good, but how do you actually make this a reality? After all, this is super difficult, especially if your husband is working full-time and you have older children at home. So let’s look at the next two big things:
Recovery from childbirth is easier with preparation
Physical preparation for childbirth
Two things make recovery from childbirth harder: C-sections and bad tears. If you can reduce the chance of these things happening (you can never eliminate them, and don’t beat yourself up if it happened!), recovery will be so much easier!
We had a great chat with childbirth educator Jenn Riedy on last week’s podcast about this, and as she said, feeling comfortable during labor is one of the most important things, so do what makes you feel comfortable.
Meeting with a pelvic floor physiotherapist a few times during your pregnancy can also help, since the therapist can give you exercises to do to strengthen your pelvic floor, which can help reduce tears. Swimming and staying active during your pregnancy can also give you the stamina for labor. And allow yourself to rest in the weeks leading up to your delivery as well.
Also, talk with whoever will be there when you deliver, and make sure you agree on the birth plan and that you’re both clear about what it is. If you feel in the middle of labor that your wishes aren’t being considered or that nobody is listening to you, that can make labor much harder.
Practical preparation for recovering from childbirth
Before Rebecca gave birth to Alex, Katie and I visited her for a big slow cooker freezer meal prep day. We wanted to make sure that their freezer was full, so meals over the next few months would be super easy. Just make some rice, potentially put on some frozen veggies, and the rest is done.
Katie also cleaned and organized Rebecca’s apartment (she’s way better at that than either me or her sister) and that was a huge blessing.
Do everything you can to have your home clean and organized, and to have meals pre-made, before the baby arrives.
Practical preparation for caring for older kids after the baby comes
When you go into labor, if you have older children, someone is going to have to care for that older one. Have a plan of who that will be,
As Rebecca’s getting ready to have another baby in the fall, they’re also planning on having some fun new things for Alex (their toddler who will be 2 when the baby arrives) to make the time special for him too. They’re buying 14 new books and 14 new toys so each day he gets a new book from Mommy and a new toy from baby. (She’s just stocking up buying things cheaply on Facebook marketplace). Then it’s still a special time for him as well.
Recovering from childbirth needs community
Ask your husband for help
If it’s possible for your husband to take a few weeks off of work, consider doing that. He needs time to bond with baby too, and if you have older children, he’ll be the main parent for those older kids for the first little while. If he has to work, make it clear that he will still be responsible for meals when he is home. Talk about your expectations now. I have known moms who made dinner as soon as they got home from the hospital, because he sat in his chair and turned on the TV and waited to be fed.
Ask the moms and aunts around you for help
Now’s the time to make use of family! You may not always appreciate them, and you may find too much of your mom hard to handle. But this may be a time in your life where you put up with stuff you may not normally put up with just because you need the help.
It’s okay to set boundaries, too, and say, “we’d like you to do the laundry, but we’ll be responsible for our own”, or “we’d love for you to help with the housework, and we certainly want you to spend time with the baby, but when the baby’s home, Dad will be doing the bulk of the work with the baby.” When I cared for Rebecca and Connor after Alex was born, I did all the housework and cooking so Connor could get used to changing diapers and burping him and settling him and bathing him. And Connor did great!
Ask friends for specific things
Many of us also have friends who would love to help, but we feel uncomfortable asking for anything specific, because we feel like we should be able to handle this. So your friend says, “Let me know what I can do!”, and you say, “thanks so much,” but then nothing else gets communicated. Maybe we need a lesson from Julia who just asked her whole group of friends to be like her Kenyan family. Say, “I need someone to come in on Saturday morning to do laundry and mop and vacuum,” or “I need someone to take the older kids Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to the park,” or “I need three meals.” You can even create a sign up sheet in your Google Drive and share the sheet with friends and family. People often love the more direct approach. Knowing, “I can do their laundry on Saturday morning!” is so practical and easy, and lets someone know they’re helping in a way that you really need.
If you run the service committees at your church, don’t forget about second or third time moms!
And now a word for those running these committees at church: Often we put so much work into making sure first-time moms have what they need, but it’s often much more difficult for moms the second or third time around! Even the practical, like who will stay with the older child when mom goes into labor? And mom can’t rest in the same way as she could with the first baby, so those meals are even more important once second or third (or fourth or fifth or whatever) babies come.
Yes, let’s roll out the welcome mat for baby showers for the first baby, but in terms of practical help, let’s not forget moms giving birth to the next babies!
So there’s my list–what would you add? What was the most helpful thing for you in recovering from childbirth? What was the biggest struggle? Let’s talk in the comments!
Pelvic Floor Series
- Why the Pelvic Floor Matters
- What Can You Expect from a Visit with a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist?
- PODCAST: What should you expect after childbirth?
- 3 Keys to Childbirth Recovery
- The 4 Main Causes of Vaginismus?
- Why Exploring Your Pelvic Floor is Crucial to Your Health (and Sex Life!)
- The Pelvic Floor Podcast
- How to Address and Treat Vaginismus -- 9 Healing Steps
- Secondary Vaginismus Recovery: A Newlywed's Story
- 6 Conditions that Can Cause Painful Sex that AREN'T Vaginismus
- Top 10 Tips to Make a Pap Smear More Comfortable (June 28)
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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