A slower-paced, restful postpartum period helps mothers fully heal, and a new movement is trying to normalize this approach.
Did you feel pressured to “get back to normal” right after giving birth? Unfortunately, this is so common.
Many cultures have a beautiful tradition of rest and nourishment after childbirth, but here in North America, there’s a culture of hustle that leaves many mothers feeling rushed through their postpartum weeks.
This approach is not what’s best for moms or babies: A slow, restful postpartum period helps mothers to fully heal and bond with their babies.
Now a truly necessary new movement is trying to normalize taking this time to rest.
The Slow Postpartum movement is dedicated to promoting “a new paradigm” of slowing down and living more mindfully in the first few weeks with a new baby.
I recently went to visit a new mama with a two-week-old baby. This mama wasn’t a client of mine but rather the daughter of a friend whom I offered to look in on. When I arrived with a pot of soup and some lactation slice in my bag, I found her trying to make a snack for her boisterous three-year-old whilst juggling a fussy newborn in her arms. Her husband was at work and would be till late, there was washing piled up waiting to be folded, she hadn’t eaten breakfast or had a shower even though it was nearly midday.
As I took over the snack making duties and put the soup on to warm, I asked how she was getting on even though I had a fair idea just by the look in her eyes. She forced a smile as she spoke about how she was ‘OK’ and ‘a bit tired,’ but I could see the tears gathering in the corner of her eyes and it broke my heart to see her try to put on a brave face, trying to cover up a situation that was far from ideal. This was a new mother who was alone, isolated, lonely, exhausted and overwhelmed and despite all of this, was still trying to pretend as though she was coping and even enjoying this time.
I also noticed that the house was full of cards and bunches of flowers … dead ones.
When I mentioned all of the gifts, cards and bouquets, she said ‘yes, people have been so kind.’
Hmmmmmm I thought. They might have been kind, but they’ve also been completely thoughtless.
This new mother didn’t need cards and bunches of flowers to slowly wilt and die on the mantelpiece. She needed support, she needed love, she needed another pair of hands to take the weight off her shoulders. She needed healthy food, she needed a caring touch, she needed a listening ear and she needed practical help.
I’m sorry, but dead flowers don’t cut it …
The care of new mothers and parents is so woefully underappreciated and overlooked that cards and flowers rather than support and practical help have become the norm in our culture. However, as I explained to this new mama as I folded her washing and cuddled her baby so she could eat her lunch, if she had lived in India or China it would have been totally different. Historically in these cultures (and in most other indigenous cultures worldwide), there would be no snack making for the toddler or washing to fold. Instead, she would be snuggled in bed resting with her baby as others took care of her every need. She would be having a daily massage and have her belly bound for comfort. There would be delicious and nutritious meals served to her, and her toddler would be amused and cared for by others giving her time to rest and recover from her birth and to fall in love with and breastfeed her newborn.
The difficult truth is that the leading cause of death for new mothers after birth in most Western countries is now suicide. Let that sink in for a moment.
It is my opinion that this devastating statistic is a direct correlation to our ‘bounce back’ culture that doesn’t honor a ‘slow postpartum’ but instead insists new mothers rush back into their old lives, their old jobs, their old jeans. Insta perfect. But to what cost?
How have we got it so wrong? And what can we do to reverse this damaging trajectory?
What can we do, indeed? Maternity leave would be a major starting point.
But a much deeper cultural shift is also needed. Our approach to the postpartum period needs to be totally re-framed to honor and respect our bodies’ need for rest instead of viewing it as a nuisance to be brushed aside.
Of course, the responsibility for this shift cannot rest on the new mother’s shoulders. We all have our part to play.
Slow Postpartum calls for the community—husband, friends, grandparents, aunties—coming together to really help a new mother and her baby. If you know anyone who’s had a new baby, you can be part of supporting them and helping create this positive and life-giving culture.
Taking time to recover peacefully strengthens women both in body and spirit, and helps them to be the best mothers they can be.
So here’s hoping the Slow Postpartum movement really catches on. It would benefit so many mothers and babies, and through them, our whole world.