It’s important to stay active, to exercise. Of course! But I have to admit, I’m a little discouraged when I search #postpartum on Instagram and find endless side-by-side photos of weight loss. Yes, health is crucial. And it involves maintaining a healthy weight. But I think that the lesser appreciated part of health is resting when we need it, taking time when our body says to, and taking the appropriate length of time to recover.
In honor of National Women’s Health & Fitness Day (woo hoo!), I’d like to offer some tips for postpartum health. These tidbits apply to the first 6 weeks after childbirth, and they will seem underwhelming at first. But trust me when I say this time is for recovery. Athletes rest the week after a marathon. Mamas must reprieve after the event that is childbirth.
Moral of the story: Take it easy. Find peace and rest before you find limits and activity. When you do move, do only what feels good. This isn’t a time to push your limits or build muscle, but a time to loosen your joints and stretch tension out of your body. Here are the ways I’ve approached my health while postpartum:
How to Eat
Eat well. Eat small. Eat often. Eat warm and soft! The Chinese practice of caring for a postpartum mother, Zuo Yuezi, holds to the belief that ingesting cold food or drink causes harmful chill in the emptiness inside your body. You had a baby, plenty of blood flow and warmth inside of you. All of this was suddenly expelled and the change is stark! Consuming warm stews, porridges, oatmeal and warm teas is nourishing for your postpartum body. These will sustain your body nice and easily.
How to Move
For the first week or two? Slowly and easily. That’s. It.
When I was postpartum with my first baby, my limits were loud and proud. Around day 10, my husband and I decided to take a short walk together. I lasted a block. One block! And it was so clear to me that it was time to go home and rest. Rest is #1 in those first tender weeks.
From that point on, I like to do some stretching. I don’t follow a video or any regimen. I simply get on the floor and move my body slowly and intentionally. I follow my body in what feels good. I loosen it all up, and it does a lot for me.
Heart-opening poses are also great for new motherhood, as they have instant mood-boosting effects:
- The victory pose: stand tall with feet hip-distance apart. Hands go on your hips. Chest expands open. Then, lift your hands over your head into a V, arch your back slightly, and look up towards the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds, longer if it still feels good.
- Another heart-opening pose: place your exercise ball against the wall and sit with your back against it. Legs may be cross or straight out. Lean back and rest your head on top of the ball and let your arms fall open on each side. Relax into to ball and feel your chest slowly open. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
From about the 6th week postpartum, I like to introduce full yoga sessions beyond these two poses. Sarah Beth Yoga is my favorite postpartum series. It’s been effective in helping me prevent the stiffness and soreness that can be inherent to new motherhood. It’s also helped me start to regain some strength and stamina. Slow but sure, it is! Find the series here. I like to pick and choose a video based on what I’m feeling that day. I also love this yoga for new moms.
Perhaps the most forgotten (yet needy!) part of our recovery is the pelvic floor. It did much of the work, after all! So, don’t forget your Kegels. Again, slow re-introduction is key.
What to Forget
Anything outside of your own health and your baby’s needs. We imagine that recovery from childbirth is a straight line and we’ll feel better and better every day. It’s more like a roller coaster. It can ebb and flow and be a two-steps-forward-one-step-back scenario. There are postpartum days that you’ll feel energized. You’ll feel good and normal. Hooray! But I encourage you to still wait and rest. Even in these times, if you push your limits, you’ll set yourself back. Nix from your vocabulary:
And any other thing that you can possibly have done for you. You may be thinking that you will still have obligations postpartum and there’s no one else to do these things for you. Fair thought, so just do (and by do, I mean don’t do) what you can. A little intention and preparation before you deliver can help. Get on the same page with your partner and let them know you’ll need rest; verse yourself on what kind of leave he’ll get from work. Double batch the dinners you cook in the last months of pregnancy and freeze them for postpartum. Let close friends come visit you – not to just hold and gush over the baby, but to lend a helping hand. Tap into your community!
How to Wait
This all seems like a list of things to not do. And it may be painstaking to wait for your body to get back to normal. See my post here on how changing my mindset helped me be patient with my postpartum body. There will hopefully be days when most of what you’re doing is sleeping and nursing your baby. But, there may also be days when boredom sets in. When your days bleed together and you feel impatient to be back on your feet, try some of these things:
- Be outside! Fresh air always improves mood. If the weather is nice, sit with baby on your deck or balcony and breathe that wonderful fresh air. If there is a park nearby, go and enjoy the change of scenery for a while.
- These are difficult days, when you don’t get sleep at night and you are constantly tending to what feels like the tiniest little baby. But these are also valuable days. Journal as you go. You’ll appreciate being able to revisit entries later on, and journaling may help you process your birth experience and transition into motherhood.
- Oh my gosh, I love to read. I never get to because – well, three children. One of my favorite traditions postpartum is to pick up a book and fall into the pages. This is better for me than playing on my phone, which stimulates me. But, if I’m reading, I quickly realize when I’m tired and need rest. It’s easier to put a book down than an iPhone.
- Breathe! You may not meditate regularly (I don’t). But I find that breathing and mindfulness are refreshing when I’m postpartum. Clear your head and let yourself just sit in the moment.
You can use the slowness and your own boredom “as an opportunity,” says Heng Ou, author of The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, “to be present and give your full attention to the here and now – without judging it or attaching any kind of story to it. Begin to notice, really notice, as much as you can about each moment with baby in your arms. It may seem like not much is happening – you’re just sitting in a chair nursing your baby – but every moment contains an entire world of experience. Notice the satisfied little grunts baby makes while nursing. Notice the sound of the wind ruffling the leaves of the tree outside your window. Notice the dull ache in your lower back. Notice the sweetness you feel in your heart when baby plays with your hair or grasps onto your finger. These individual moments add up to a richer experience than you may have realized. Suddenly what seems like a whole lot of nothing is actually quite something.”
This, my friends, is our obligation to our health postpartum. Wholeness, slowness, joy, and rest.