Postpartum recovery is fraught with challenges that many mothers are not prepared for. It goes far beyond physical healing and is a time where special care and consideration must be given to mental health and emotional wellbeing. How do you prepare for a smooth postpartum recovery, and what steps can you take during pregnancy to support yourself after childbirth? We sat down with maternal healthcare expert and the founder of Boober, Jada Shapiro, to answer these questions and more.
How can mothers best prepare for postpartum recovery?
When a person is pregnant in this country, we talk about birth and preparing for birth, [which] is important because birth is the gateway to becoming a parent. But we don’t talk enough about preparing for postpartum, and the postpartum period [which is] left behind in our health care system. In many other countries, you have a home visiting midwife who comes and visits you every other day to look over everything that’s happening. Postpartum preparation is critical, and [it’s important to think] about the things you can do to prepare for the postpartum period. Such as, who makes up your circles of support, who are your circles of support, and who is coming to care for you after you have the baby, because all you should be doing after you have a baby is feeding that baby, resting, and taking care of yourself.
We are in a culture where we don’t spend a lot of time [practicing] self-care – taking care of ourselves. It is critical. It’s sort of the same as [an] airplane; when there is an issue, you’ve got to put on your oxygen mask before you put it on your child. It’s the same thing postpartum; you’ve got to be well-nourished and cared for while you’re bleeding and leaking. Your body just gave birth to a human being, and it needs to recover. In most cultures, there is this period called the lying-in period or the postpartum period – every different culture has a different name [for it]. We used to call it lying in where a new mom would recover and rest and; we would feed the family and feed [the mother]. The family would take care of the mom or the birthing parents, [but] we don’t have that anymore.
What steps can you take during pregnancy to support yourself after childbirth?
[When it comes to the postpartum recovery], you want to think about who’s coming to care for you? Is it your family? Great. If it’s not your family – if you don’t have family nearby who can care for you and support you through this period and even [if] you have a partner, they [will] need recovery time. They were potentially there through the birth, may have missed a lot of sleep, and may never have cared for a baby before. They have their own emotional experience, and everybody needs care at this time. So, think, who should I hire (if possible), if I don’t have family and friends who can support me? Consider hiring a postpartum doula who can support [you and your] family through the transition to parenthood.
A postpartum doula is somebody who cares for both the baby and birthing parent, the partner, and the family, [they] help ease [the] transition to parenthood. We were never meant to do this alone. Nobody’s supposed to give birth in isolation and be by themselves 24 hours a day with their baby.
You [should] think about food and nourishment. [This can mean] preparing healthy nutritious meals that you can freeze and have [while you are pregnant]. Asking your friends – making kind of a military, you know, food prep – having a parent or a care provider come by and cook for you, having a friend do [it], or hiring a chef. There are [also] different meal services.
You [should] think about how are you going to care for your body. Maybe a postpartum massage is going to really help at that time. Your body gets very tense when you’re feeding and caring for a baby. We tend to just care for the baby without thinking about our bodies. You just gave birth where all of the muscles get really tight. Consider having some form of massage and think how am I going to care for my perineum or my cesarean scar? What are the different kinds of care, herbs, oils, [etc.] that will help me in my healing recovery time?
You want to think about how am I going to catch my sleep? Sleep is critical to feeling normal, and when we become super anxious or depressed after having a baby, very often, it is deeply linked to the amount of sleep [you’re] getting, because your whole sleep cycle changes. [Should] I hire somebody, have a friend, or somebody there who can hold my baby sometimes, while I take a nap or encourages me to sleep more of the time while my baby’s sleeping? [You are] not going to get 9 hours of sleep at night after [you] have a baby. That’s just not going to happen for a while. Can I get the 9 hours that I need chunked in throughout the day when the baby’s napping? It’s really about concepting what life looks like after a baby and not trying to be the same adult that [you were] who had a functional life and who slept all night and who did all that. That might come back to you at some point later. But it’s not going to happen in the first weeks that [you’re] recovering.
[You] want to think about how [you] can be more like a baby. A baby wakes up every 1 to 3 hours, and that’s when you’re going to wake up when you have to feed your baby. And how can you catch sleep again? Thinking about how you physically move in your body – something like Every Mother is wonderful. Think, how is my physicality going to change? Am I going to be able when I have a baby, [to] just bolt-sit upright? Or am I going to be damaging my inner muscles and organs and not realizing it?
Learn how the body changes and what’s safe and not safe after [childbirth]. Think about what things you really love to do as a person. What’s something you’re passionate about? If you’re a passionate salsa dancer, most likely, you’re not going to go salsa dancing for quite a while after you have a baby. Let’s be honest. You’re not going to go out necessarily at week 2 and have a big party. But think, I know I love this thing, I’m putting it aside for a little while, I have to box up certain things. [But] it doesn’t mean I have to give it up totally. It’s not going to happen full time, [but] maybe you say, on my child’s first birthday or [in] six months or three months, whenever you’re going to start to come up and out of what’s been going on in this postpartum time. That’s when you’re going to make a special date with [yourself] or [your] partner to do a little bit of that thing that [you] loved in the past that was really important to [you].
Thinking about the kind of nourishment that is going to be helpful for you, think about what other kinds of healing care [will] support you. We know that things like acupuncture, massage, talk therapy – this is a big one – [are nourishing]. Know that the transition to parenthood can be huge. [At Boober], we believe [that and] that’s part of why we’re bringing mental health therapists onto Boober. We believe [in] talking about the transition, even if it’s just one or two times. Everybody is having a huge transition when they become a new parent, whether it’s the first time, the second time, or the third time; it’s a big shift in your life. Like any big shift, we need to process it. We want parents to think, oh, I don’t have to feel so alone, I can call somebody, I can reach out to somebody. We can match people to in-person visiting therapists who come over for one session; [alternativly] you might need more of that later.
While you’re pregnant, thinking about the local resources in your community [that] support postpartum parents and the local parenting groups. Can you connect with a group local to your area, whether that’s a Facebook group, an exercise group, a yoga class, or whatever it is, out of your home on a video screen? We prefer finding some in-person connections, but you can’t always find that right away.
You can’t always leave your house right away [but] there [are] online support [sytems] and groups where you can at least chat about what it’s like to be a new parent. That can be really, really helpful; also, learning about the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety and knowing who those therapists are to help support you [can be useful]. Be aware that one of the biggest indicators of postpartum anxiety and depression is that you [have struggled] with depression or anxiety at some point in your life, pregnant or not. If you know that you [are prone to depression and anxeity],[and that] you are more at risk of having [postpartum depression] after you have a baby, setting yourself up [with] support while pregnant is going to make the postpartum transition even better.
Watch the full interview with Jada Shapiro here!
Jada Shapiro is a maternal healthcare expert and the founder of boober, a marketplace which quickly connects expectant & new parents to virtual and in-person, on-demand pregnancy to postpartum care providers and online classes. She specializes in pregnancy, birth and postpartum and is a birth/postpartum doula, childbirth educator, lactation counselor, birth photographer, and mother.