It is probably the challenge that is most common among our Better Beginnings families: How can parents truly rest well in the postpartum time?
One historical term–the postpartum “lying-in”–gives us a sense of what the postpartum recovery period should look like. While society might approve of running errands at Target or responding to work emails after birth, our real focus should be on authentic rest so that we can care for ourselves well and care for our babies well.
If you are wondering how you can truly rest, recover, and enjoy your baby (or babies) in your postpartum time, here are our top five strategies for a successful lying-in.
1. Ask for help
For hundreds of years and across cultures, communities have rallied around families welcoming babies. But in today’s modern context, new parents often feel the painful absence of an integrated community to offer support in the first weeks and months after birth. Given that in most contexts a postpartum visit with an OB/GYN or midwife won’t be scheduled until 6 weeks postpartum, it becomes all the more important to map out a plan for support for these most vulnerable first weeks after birth.
Ask yourself: Who is close to you (family, friends, co-workers) who can offer support with basic tasks like meal preparation, laundry, light housekeeping, and care for older children so that you can focus solely on recovery and caring for your baby? Once you have this list, separate it into those who are local and those who are not. Those who are local might be able to provide tangible support like a meal delivery, help with older siblings, throwing a load of clothes in the wash or tidying up the kitchen. Those who are not local might not be able to offer in-person support, but could participate in a meal train by having a meal delivered, or contributing toward a doula fund (see more on that below).
Once you have a sense of who could be your support network, reach out and make a purposeful ask for help. Don’t be afraid to be specific in your ask. For example: “Would you be willing to come over for a couple of hours once or twice a week to help with laundry and dishes while we get some rest and take a shower?” Leave the door open for your helpers to offer what is feasible.
2. Practice good nutrition
To care well for your physical health after birth, it’s critical to make a plan for nourishment for the first several weeks postpartum. These can be meals prepared ahead of time and frozen, or delivered in real time by friends or family. Try to focus on nutrient-dense, comforting foods that are easy to warm up quickly and eat while holding a baby. Ingredients high in protein, iron, fiber, healthy fats, and vitamin C are especially powerful for birth healing, like dark leafy greens, lentils, animal proteins, fish, nuts, bone broths, and fruits. Postpartum doulas can also assist with meal preparation, and can even double your favorite recipes so that you have continued access to them after support has ended.
3. Slow down
For parents who are used to a high level of activity, the postpartum time can sometimes feel as though you’ve slammed on the brakes of life. To soften this transition and still prioritize rest, it can be helpful to make a list of enjoyable things to do daily during your lying-in. Often our clients share hopes for activities like:
- Taking a daily shower and/or sitz bath. Note: We recommend taking two to four sitz baths/day to help your perineum recover post-birth
- Connecting with a friend daily via phone or Zoom
- Going to bed early, sleeping in late, and/or napping during the day to meet the same sleep needs that you had pre-pregnancy
- Ordering in meals and drinks from a favorite restaurant
- Scheduling an in-home postpartum massage
- Taking some quiet time to journal about your baby’s first days
4. Rethink the baby shower
If you don’t have family nearby or a strong local support network (or even if you do!), consider asking for monetary baby shower gifts that would go toward a postpartum doula fund. Many parents find out after the fact that this type of “boots-on-the-ground” support in the early days is far more helpful than even the coolest of baby gifts. Check out our postpartum support offerings.
5. Prioritize your mental health
While mental health is last on our list, it is equally important to all the others. Research suggests that 1 in 5 women will develop a perinatal mood disorder in pregnancy or the first year after birth. Additional research finds that spouses and partners can also be at risk for depression and anxiety in the perinatal time.
Here in Minnesota we are fortunate to have Pregnancy and Postpartum Support MN. This organization provides resources such as doula scholarships for families in need and referrals to therapists who specialize in perinatal mood disorders. It is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the PPSM site in pregnancy and consider establishing care with a therapist.
Of course, everyone’s lying-in will look a little different. We are unique human persons with different temperaments, different ways of birthing our babies, and different babies themselves. Whatever you find restful and life-giving are the things you should do (or not do) during your postpartum time.
Do you want more information on a successful lying-in? Join us for an upcoming Postpartum Prep class!