This week is the final instalment in our six-part series on the topic of birth and we’re hearing from Michelle Nicolaou-Newman, co-founder of the Central Coast Montessori School and owner of Mammabearth, where she offers birth and postpartum care to families.
I have been a Mother for 25 years and over this time – through my own challenges, depletion, exhaustion, observations and my extensive experience working with families in various capacities – I have come to concretely understand that the postpartum time requires so much more preparation and attention than it is given and the ways in which women enter life after birth will have a significant impact on the overall quality of their lives beyond it.
“After birth there’s a sacred window of time. A time for complete rejuvenation of a woman’s physical, mental and spiritual health. A time for deep, extended bonding with her newborn. The first 42 days after birth set the stage for her next 42 years.” Ysha Oakes
The postpartum forms the foundations of a woman’s health and wellbeing throughout the childrearing years, so the intention and reverence we bring to this time is of utmost importance.
A time of rest and healing
As pregnancy is a cycle of growth, postpartum is a cycle of rest, yet the expectations of a new mother to step back into a role of ‘doing’ again, often begin mere days – even hours – after birthing. This is not at all aligned with the physiological requirements during the postpartum time and may be an underlying contributor to the rise in perinatal mood disorders and postnatal depression, (1 in 4 mothers are on anti-depressants); the increase in auto immune issues and the widespread depletion and exhaustion that are endemic to this period.
The pace of modern life and our move away from being supported by large, extended families and community in favour of the nuclear family model has had a detrimental impact on this delicate window. There are unique pressures on the new mother that have simply never existed before.
My direct experience working with families over many years, has revealed to me that there is a silent cry for help occurring in these early weeks, months and even years after becoming a family and because they are not necessarily audible to the outside world – nor often expressed, due to fears of being branded a ‘failure’, they are causing an undercurrent of anxiety and even quiet desperation. This time, therefore, can become one of extreme isolation.
“If you want to know the health of the people, look at the health of Mothers” – Rachelle Garcia Seliga
Due to the lack of understanding around the unspoken intricacies that lie within this huge time of transition, new mothers often feel like something is wrong with them for feeling this way. Yet the issue is not with the mothers, it lies with a system that can only offer partial and often inadequate support.
During the first six weeks postpartum, mothers have a physiological requirement for warmth, rest, support and nourishment. Ideally, the new mother should be feeling safe and held by her community to enable her to focus her limited energy on the enormous task of healing from birth, adjusting to her new role as a mother and bonding with her newborn.
Traditional cultures around the world innately knew the importance of tending to a mother during this ‘sacred window’ of time, one that lasts for at least 6-8 weeks post birth. In this time the new mother often requires just as much support and nurturing as her newborn.
Maternal health equals family health equals community health!
This period of receiving is fleeting in comparison to the mothering years ahead, yet the effects of it being neglected can ripple into family life and potentially last a lifetime. Therefore, receiving support during this time should be considered a necessity rather than luxury.
What the new mother is eating, how much rest they’re getting and how they are supported will directly affect their overall health. Any additional support that families can put in place for this time will be a worthwhile investment for the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of the mother.
Ways to support the new mother
If families can understand ahead of time that the systems currently in place for postpartum support aren’t quite able to adequately offer the depth of care that is required, they will be better equipped to initiate an additional framework of support.
Some of the most fundamental components of postpartum recovery and wellbeing centre around keeping the mother warm. Babies regulate their temperature through the mother, so this is of utmost importance. Here are some things to consider:
• Warmth immediately post birth
• Warm room, warm clothing and warm feet
• Foods that are warm in temperature, warm in nature (simple spices) and easy to digest.
• Avoid anything raw or cold immediately after birth for at least 6 weeks to help gently and steadily restore a sluggish post birth digestive system.
• Avoid sitting in drafts or in cold areas.
• Make space and times for deep rest to allow for sufficient healing for at least 6 weeks.
• Sleep when your baby sleeps
• To help with the process of healing your uterus, avoid being upright too often too soon.
• Ensure that you have nutrient rich foods, snacks and drinks on hand – all of which are best to be warming in nature – or seek out a postpartum meal service to cater for this.
• Consume foods that are rich in healthy fats.
• Hormones are primed for bonding, breastfeeding and recovery. This is not the time for to-do lists or over-committing.
• Your baby is familiarising itself with the world and so it is optimal that your environmental conditions help support this symbiotic period.
Planning for the postpartum rest period
• Whilst pregnant, start getting comfortable with asking for help.
• Seek out any support people you feel have your best interests at heart
• If you don’t have support, then consider investing in a fully trained postpartum care provider.
• Whilst pregnant allow for plenty of time to plan for your postpartum, so all of the above can be accessible to you.
If we can prepare for our postpartum time with the same diligence as we prepare for birth, we will allow ourselves to land into this time feeling a lot more at peace, replenished, grounded, orientated and attuned to our needs during this immense time of transition.
Michelle facilitates monthly Women’s Circles at Central Coast Montessori, as well as one-on-one sessions and workshops for pregnant couples and new mothers at her Mammabearth space in Bateau Bay. Learn more at www.instagram.com/mammabearth/