When my first daughter was born, I’ll never forget my grandmother telling me over the phone, “Now, Katie, a winter baby stays in the house for 4 weeks, a summer baby stays in the house for 2. Your baby was born in autumn, so you should stay in the house for 3 weeks.“
It sounded like such silly old fashioned advice! Only by chance did I happen to stay at home a lot with my baby, mostly because I was too scared to go out!
With my second baby, two years later, things were different. A rockstar home birth that was very empowering and I already had confidence as a mother. I thought I had to entertain my toddler 24/7, so I was out running around, doing every-day stuff very quickly. I remember my 80 some-year-old neighbour looking at me disapprovingly, “Woah, Be careful, mum.” she said (referring to the fact that I was walking around outside on day four). Inside, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh come on! Shove your old fuddy duddy advice up your butt!”
Only looking back years later, I can see how the old timers were right… The long term negative impact of running around too quicky after the birth of my second daughter became apparent after some time. At 2 months, I suffered a bad case of mastitis. At 4 months, I caught the flu, the real flu, not just a cold, the flu where you feel like would rather be dead (yup, and try having the flu while you’re breastfeeding). And, around 6 months, I was grumpy, having mood swings and was getting really angry with my toddler. That year, I had my first two cavities in my entire adult life! Not to mention, I had on-going body aches and pains. I was run down, drained and depleted for a long time.
This time around (after a four year gap) has been different. My ayurvedic doctor recommended that mothers stay home for the first six weeks after the birth. It’s not something she just made up, in fact, many cultures from around the world recommend a time bound rest period for a mother who has just given birth. In ayurveda, they say six weeks. Resting after birth isn’t just old fashioned advice after all!
Do as little as possible, she said. Do daily self massage and daily massage for the baby. Eat warm, easy to digest food, because your digestion is very sensitive after giving birth. Rest and basically stay in bed as much as you can with your baby. If you do have to leave the house for something essential (like a doctor’s appointment), cover your head. Not even a walk outside on our verandah! She said that this 6 week post partum rest is a rebirth for the mother. That, if the 6 week post partum period is done correctly, it can have benefits that last for the rest of the mother’s life!
Our son was born at home and his birth was very fast and, again, felt very empowering. I wanted to run around and yell from the rooftops that we had a son!!! At first it seemed like staying at home for six weeks was going to be torture. But, I literally had no excuse to leave the house for anything. He was born at home and my midwives came for the post natal check ups. My husband had six weeks paid paternity leave (his company just introduced that, yay!), so he was able to take my big kids out and do all the shopping. It looked like I was going to have to give this staying at home thing my 100%. I even had an Ayurvedic massage friend from Living Ayur come to my house, instead of me having to leave.
My husband helped a lot, but unfortunately, he doesn’t cook… like… at all (believe me I’ve tried)! Cooking was my only obligation. For the first week though, some friends organised to drop meals off. It was important that the friends didn’t stay long. Only long enough to drop the food, and catch a glimpse of the baby. I became very sensitive during this time and I noticed that even TALKING during the post partum period was very tiring. I lost focus of my needs and the baby’s needs if my guests stayed for too long. If the guests did stay for long, it was nice if they did something helpful, like clean!
Babies don’t need to be schlepped around. When my son was 2 days old, I sat there watching him while he was awake. He was simply breathing and taking in the sounds and sensations around him. It was then that I realised even more, how important it is to gently introduce a new little person to the world. Even being picked up, startled, being touched, eating, peeing, pooping and having his clothes changed was new and potentially disturbing to him. This rest was just as much for him as it was for me.
It wasn’t until about week 3 that I started to realise how incredibly tired I really was. Before that, I was on an adrenaline rush. If I had been running around, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I was surprised to learn how fragile my system was, especially since I had had such a great pregnancy and birth.
I found it was possible even to over do it just hanging around the house. A little too much cleaning, or screen time, etc. and my body would let me know. I would get a dull headache, or my bleeding would get worse. If that started to happen, it was time to lie down next to my baby and rest.
Sometime during week 3 I felt a big transition. I remember going very deep in my meditations. I could not get up much out of bed. I craved very specific foods. Lots of warm soupy food, nothing dry, lots of ghee, and borscht (which is a salty, sour soup made with a base of beetroots, blood red color, no surprise!).
By the end of week 3, something in me transformed. The headaches went away. My energy, endurance and patience seemed to be restored and I felt so content. As the next two weeks unfolded, I felt as if I never wanted my voluntary house arrest to end!
The bonding and getting to know this new person was really beautiful during this time. I could really fuss and pay attention to my son’s cues. When he needed to sleep, when he needed to be fed, when he had emotions to release (cry), when he needed to eliminate (we do elimination communication, it’s when you take your baby to the loo). Babies of this age will often eliminate every 20 minutes when they’re awake! Since I wasn’t doing anything else, it was my pleasure to take him and he was happy when I did. I’ve written lots of blog posts on how to do elimination communication. Overall, he gained weight easily and was so content.
My older girls, 4 and 6, also enjoyed staying home! This surprised me the most. I expected that my husband and friends would need to take them out a lot, in order to keep them happy. But, the girls were very happy to be on this baby moon with us. They loved watching what the baby was doing and learning about what my body had gone through. They also loved to help with caring for the baby, and especially loved when I caught a big poo ‘kersplosion‘ in the sink. (Elimination communication is actually much more fun that wiping poo off a baby’s bottom).
They, too, had some big emotions to release, as adding a family member changes the dynamics of the household. Because the family was mostly home, we were there to facilitate all that emotional growth.
Over the years, I’ve done countless silent meditation retreat courses, and I can fully say that this six weeks at home, has been equivalent to doing several of those types of rejuvenating courses, back to back. Being at home hasn’t been all pleasant, like with anything, there were good days and bad days. But, the overall feeling I have of the entire experience is amazing!
One important thing I did during my 6 weeks at home, was belly binding . Belly binding is an ancient practice in many cultures. The belly binding not only helps to heal the abdominal muscles, but it helps to restore the body organs to their original position. It helps with that ‘jiggly‘ feeling. Helps with hormones. In ayurveda, it reduces vata. I’ll write more on that later but you can google ‘post partum belly wrapping’ and vata is an Ayurvedic term for wind and movement. You can buy purpose made belly wraps. I was given a pair of compression pants that I wore almost every day. I also did daily oil pulling for balancing hormones.
My recovery actually ‘felt’ slow, but at the same time, it felt deep. Much deeper than just a physical recovery.
My re-introduction to the world had to happen slowly. It’s like breaking a fast. I went for a small walk the first day and that was enough. The second day, I did too much (which wasn’t much) and felt shattered afterwards. Then, again, took it easy. I realised that I hadn’t missed the world and the world hadn’t missed me. What I had gained, was a beautiful, peaceful rest and bonding time with my family that can never be repeated. When I did leave the house, I felt comfortable knowing he was already bigger and stronger and I was also in the right head space.
I know not everyone can do this 6 weeks completely at home. But, if you can cut out all non-essential activities and rest as much as possible, it makes a huge difference. This is the time to call on the help of friends and family, if you can! I loved my time at home more than anything and I’m so happy I got to have such an awesome restful experience.