Almost every traditional culture in the world has protocols around the first 40 days after childbirth – also known as the fourth trimester. Rest, nourishment and restoration are the orders of the day. Keep your body warm. Bond with your baby. Eat warm, nourishing, restorative and easy to digest foods. Keep it low key. Rest, sleep, stay at home and stay in bed as much as possible. Ask for help. Avoid returning to work or household duties if you can.
The logic is sound – take this time to heal and feed your body, to bond with your baby and to be supported by your community and you will be less likely to experience postpartum depletion, postpartum depression, feelings of isolation and potentially even avoid fertility or other health crisis in the future.
Creating a boundary around the first forty days after childbirth is the most sacred self-care I know about. Honouring the miraculous work your body has done with gratitude. Taking time to land. Letting your people support you. Having the opportunity to relieve yourself of duties and obligations and chores so that you can rest and restore yourself (and stare at the sweet face of your baby, obvi) is priceless. It’s something you don’t really get a second chance to do, so seize the opportunity!
After my first and second babies, I didn’t honour the tradition of the first forty days, I didn’t even know this wisdom existed. With Isla, my second, I remember working on my laptop from my hospital bed when she was 1 day old. Totally. Ridiculous. I knew I wanted to do things differently next time and when I became pregnant with my third, I found two incredible resources.
Through my yoga teacher training I began to learn more about Ayurveda and sought out local Ayurveda guru, Kester Marshall to give me some advice tailored to my doshas and pregnancy. Kester gave me personalized recommendations on what to eat, but my favourite advice (which is useful for any mama) was self-massage and/or belly binding with warm Ayurvedic oils. I maintained my meditation practice and wove in Yoga Nidra practices for deep restorative rest.
However, the biggest piece of gold I discovered was the book “The First Forty Days” by Heng Ou. The book is full of guidance and inspiration on how to draw from traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese practices and create a nourishing, restorative postpartum period. Protocols on which foods are best for a new mama, recipes that are easy to digest and deeply restorative, and plenty of permission to rest well and not rush back out into the world.
Following these protocols and practices has been so worthwhile for me in the fourth trimester. Before baby was born, I asked for help from my husband and my mama. I explained to them how important this was to me and asked if they would be able to support me in creating a first forty days experience.
Thankfully, they agreed. I shared the principles with them and made copies of recipes (with notes on side dishes, tweaks or substitutions), divided into breakfast, lunch/dinner, and snacks/treats. That way, they knew what to cook, what to shop for, and how to cook it. My gratitude to them is endless for the gift they gave me. I was so supported by my mama and my man. The did it all. The grocery shopping, laundry, wrangling the big babies, serving up warm soups, fried rice, ginger and lemon tea and #somanybatches of brownies.
Modern mamas, I beg of you to heed this ancient wisdom and give yourself the gift of time to truly recover from pregnancy and birth. This is not the time for salads and scales or for doing thangs and seeing peeps! I know that not everyone is blessed with a strong support system as they bring their babies into the world. But following these principles, even if you need to modify them to suit your life, will set you up to enter (or re-enter) motherhood repleted and restored. If you’re keen to create a beautiful and nourishing postpartum experience “The First Forty Days” offers practical guidelines, recipes and wisdom and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you’re looking for more permission for self-care, please read this article. If you’d like to learn more about postnatal depletion (and repletion) read this article about the work of Dr. Oscar Serrallach.