If you have read any birth stories as you are preparing for your upcoming birth, or talked to other moms in your area, I know that you have come across stories of supermom. She seems almost mythical, like a legend, and we all feel the need to be like her after we have our baby.
What does this marvelous woman do? Within eight hours after having her baby, or maybe even three to five days afterwards, she is at the grocery store finding food to make her family a homemade lasagna. Or something like this. You know the stories you have heard.
But I want to tell you something today that in times past older women used to pass down to the new generations of mothers…there is a critical need for rest during the fourth trimester.
In more traditional cultures there were special practices in place for postpartum women. Jewish and Chinese women were to rest for forty days. They were fed special foods to encourage healing, pampered with massages, their homes were taken care of by other women, and they were encouraged to rest and bond with baby.
Without this traditional wisdom being passed down by our elders, it has come to the new generation of western women to reinstate these practices that protect our most vulnerable: new mothers and their babies. One of the first steps we can take is encouraging new mothers to get more rest.
Why is rest so important during the fourth trimester?
Rest is critical during the fourth trimester because of all the changes your body is going through. No matter how your baby was born, vaginally or by cesarean section, your body is healing. Organs are moving back into place, your muscles are tightening, tears are coming back together, and more. Your body is also working to make milk to feed your baby, it’s hormone levels are fluctuating, and your immune system is weakened.
Rest is needed to help you recover. Lack of sleep in the first weeks postpartum can significantly lengthen your recovery time.
Sleep is needed to help your body produce milk. While galactogogues can help boost low milk supply, if you are struggling with low milk supply in the first six weeks after you have your baby, sleep should be one of the first factors that you look at.
Rest is needed for the production of hormones, which can affect your mental and emotional health. Gut health and nutrition also play into the hormones, but lack of sleep can lead to even more mood swings than normal. And when your body is already swinging from one extreme to another, you don’t want any more than normal.
Rest is needed to avoid depression and extreme anxiety. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation heightens your risk for Postpartum Mood Disorders. With one in three women in the United States being diagnosed with PMD’s, you would think that our culture would start to embrace and support women in this time, giving them the time needed to recover from the extreme strain of pregnancy and delivery, but it seems that it will be a while before much ground is gained in this area.
Ways to Get Rest in the Fourth Trimester
*Have a friend come hold the baby while you nap.
*Hire out housekeeping for a month or so, so that you can concentrate on baby and resting.
*Ask someone to bring in meals for you, even beyond the first few weeks after baby is born. Line up some friends who would be willing and able to run you over something when you need it.
*Schedule some time for self-care. Take the baby to grandma’s or a friend’s house and then go get a pedicure or massage.
*Limit visitors during the first two to three weeks. This can help relieve you of stress when you feel you need to entertain.
*Only allow people in your home who will HELP you, not take from you.
You will also find tips for postpartum health and recovery in these posts:
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Rebekah Thompson writes at Surviving Toddlerhood. She has been married for nine years and is momma to four little boys ages eight, five, three, and eight months. She is the author of The First Six Weeks: Thriving Naturally On Your Postpartum Journey and a certified birth doula through DONA International. She enjoys good coffee and tea, dark chocolate, running and learning as much as possible about healthy pregnancy/postpartum and fitness. You can check out her blog at www.survivingtoddlerhood.com