I've just finished reading an awesome book called, "The First Forty Days: the Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother" by Heng Ou. It totally echoed thoughts that I had as a new mother postpartum, stories I heard from other moms, and lessons I learned in my postpartum doula training.
The main message in the book, is that it is so vital for women to prepare to take care of themselves after birth. She suggests gathering, or nesting, prenatally to make sure the new mom has a supported postpartum experience.
"The ideal postpartum period will be anchored by a calm and comfortable environment that will help you as you rest, recover, and tend to your baby; supportive people who will step in so you can let go of responsibility; a strong and resilient relationship with your partner; and small rituals of self-care that will honor the strength and resilience you've demonstrated so far - pregnancy and birth are significant accomplishments! - while acknowledging your initiation into motherhood and all that lies ahead.
If building your own nest seems like more work, additional to-dos on an already lengthy list, remember that you are your baby's lifeline: her source of food, nurturing, and comfort. Creating a safe and sturdy framework for your first forty days is paramount for the long term-vitality and happiness of you both. . . There's an old saying about a mother's well-being: 'If there's a kink in the hose, there'll be no water for anyone to drink.'" (The First Forty Days p.44-45)
I have created a list of some of the items she mentions in the book and some I personally received or wished for when I was a new postpartum mom. You can add some of these items to your baby shower registry or whenever someone asks if you need anything. If you aren't a new mom, but know some new moms, you can give these as gifts.
- Breast Pads Either colorful reusable breast pads or single use breast pads. (Breast pads = LIFESAVER.)
- Nursing bra Look for bras without wires. Wires can make it more likely to get clogged milk ducts, which is a super uncomfortable situation.
- Simple Kimono Robe I remember wishing I had a robe in my last trimester with Hugh, and then really wishing for one postpartum. It would have been nice to wear something that resembled clothes but was comfortable, especially when visitors are over.
- Lamp with Low Light To help you feed and change diapers in the dark / I really like this Himalayan salt lamp.
- Lactation Tea If you are looking a high quality - low cost lactation tea Traditional Medicinals makes a great brew.
- Nipple Balm The Honest Co. and Earth Mama Angel Baby make really good nipple creams.
- Baby Carrier (not pictured) One of the best tools a new mom can have; there are lots of options available at varying price ranges.
++ I have created a handout which you can keep for yourself or give to a new mother as additional resource. Here is the link: Postpartum Support Handout.
Pampering (and Other Essentials):
Being healthy doesn't just mean eating good food, it means your emotional and mental needs are being fed too. Planning and preparing for all sides of postpartum health makes a difference in the experience.
- Supportive Media The Fourth Trimester is an online magazine that deals with the postpartum period and supporting parents through that. Mama, Bare: the Birth of a Mother is a book of stories and images collected from mothers. I also wrote a post about positive social media, there are several Instagram accounts that are supportive of a realistic and supported postpartum experience. SoulWork for Moms is an uplifting podcast that deals with the honest aspects of motherhood.
- Hot Pack These are useful for pregnancy, labor, and postpartum. You can freeze or heat them up, and apply them anywhere you feel uncomfortable. They are excellent warmed and placed on your abdomen for when you are having postpartum cramping (that cramping helps your uterus get back to pre-pregnancy uterine size). You can buy them online or in some stores, but you can also make your own.
- Postpartum Herb bath / In His Hands is the brand my midwife used for her clients, it was amazing. You can sprinkle some of these herbs in your bath postpartum and also soak menstrual pads in them and freeze them (feels really good on pelvic floor after-birth).
- Journal A basic gift, but one thing I really liked having postpartum was a journal to write down my thoughts when I couldn't sleep because I was nursing (or having postpartum insomnia). This set of notebooks by Rifle Paper Co. is beautiful.
- Epsom Salts Available pretty much everywhere, from your local grocery store to Amazon. Epsom salt baths are wonderful to take during pregnancy and postpartum. They help reduce inflammation (and help with constipation!), and since they are high in magnesium, taking a bath with these salts can help calm down cramping.
- Perineum Spray Your perineum can be sore post birth, so having something to spray to reduce inflammation and prevent infections can really help. Here's a post about perineum healing. If you want to know how to make your own spray, here's a post that I wrote about that: How to Have a Nesting Party
- Something Pretty to Look At It can be really nice to have a piece of art that is for the mom. You could choose a really sweet embroidery piece like this one, or a favorite art print representing motherhood.
++ Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin is an amazing book, but it also has a really helpful website with lots of forms with questions to think about. Here is a PDF Planning for a New Family Life, it includes questions like: "Who can you call for breastfeeding advice?" and "When you need emotional support, whom can you call?". Planning ahead of time makes a smoother transition when things come up postpartum, it won't be perfect, but it will be a lot smoother than it would otherwise.
Heng Ou (author of The First Forty Days) suggests preparing for postpartum by gathering foods to stock your kitchen pantry. Her book includes recipes for broths, soups, smoothies, and granolas (to eat with yogurt). These foods are gentle on the postpartum digestive system, are easy to make for yourself or have someone make for you, and are high in nutrients. Eating supportive foods postpartum makes a huge difference in your postpartum experience - iron and protein help you have more energy, healthy fats (like coconut, avocado, or olive oil) help your brain to function and for your body to make milk, and herbal teas to help warm your body and provide an additional boost.
You can either purchase these items on your own, or put them on your baby shower registry. You could also have a nesting party with some of your close friends - where you make granola, bone broth, soups, or any other snack or meal to stock in your freezer. Having prepared this ahead of time makes the transition to postpartum so much easier.
- Spirulina or other form of protein powder for putting into smoothies
- Protein Bar Rx has a high protein bar that is also delicious
- Books about Postpartum Period My favorites include: The First Forty Days: the Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou, The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Johnson
- Bulk Oil of your choice - avocado, coconut, or olive oils, preferably organic. These can be used in smoothies, soups, or even used in a non-eating way, a massage!
- Red Raspberry Leaf Tea / Traditional Medicinal and Mountain Rose Organics are excellent sources for RRL. Red Raspberry Leaf tea is more commonly known for third trimester uterine toning, but is also excellent for the fourth trimester. Your uterus has to go from carrying your infant to being it's pre-pregnancy size, and that takes time. Drinking RRL helps support the uterus in making that transition, talk to your care provider before trying though.
- Cacao Powder For making yummy smoothies
- Water Bottle Preferably one with a straw, it so much easier to drink when laying down or feeding the baby.
++ Another thing you can include in your baby shower or pass around to friends is a sign up sheet. Friends and family can sign up to bring meals or snack, or even (depending on what you feel comfortable with) sign up to do a load of laundry or another chore. I created a sign up sheet, but mealtrain.com is also an excellent option.
I hope this post inspired you to find ways to prepare to take care of yourself in your postpartum journey. When I was pregnant with Hugh I felt really prepared for labor and and delivery, but what really surprised me was postpartum. It took awhile for me to adjust and I was astonished at how little I knew. While I think it might be impossible to be prepared 100% for postpartum, I do think there are simple things you can do to make it a smoother adjustment. Asking yourself (and discussing with your partner) questions about the postpartum period and then preparing for them is what really can make a difference.
The links I share are either for products I have used or have been used by colleagues. I am an Amazon Affiliate, which means if you click and purchase any of the items I have linked, I receive a small percentage of the sale at absolutely no cost to you.