Healing After Birth: Honoring the Fourth Trimester

You have just created life. Nourished it, and allowed it to grow and transform within the safety of your womb. You have moved through the portal of labor and birth. Where lying on the other side is motherhood, and a new being to care for. Creating a human from scratch is no easy task. In fact, it’s one of the most raw, intense, and transformational experiences we undergo as humans. Yet so often these days, after a person moves through pregnancy and birth- they are left feeling unsupported.

The term “Fourth Trimester” has recently gained traction, and for a good reason. This sacred space from birth to when your child is three months old, represents the time needed for a woman to heal after birth, and for their infant to adjust to life outside of the womb. 

Embedded in many traditional cultures is the concept of lying in. The time after birth, where a new family will stay at home for thirty days, forty days, sometimes even months. In China, it is called Zuo Yuezi “the sitting month”, in Japan it’s Sango no hidachi“, in Latin American countries it’s known as “la cuarentena”– forty days.

These practices, honor and respect the tender postpartum time, while providing familial and community support for the healing mother. 

In the western world, where the idea of “bouncing back” is idealized, too many women and infants are rushed through the fourth trimester, neglecting the necessity and capacity for deep postpartum healing. So how do you honor this time within a society that may not? It takes understanding, preparation, and utilizing what resources you have. 

Preparation for Postpartum

Part of caring for yourself postpartum, is preparing ahead of time. Create an environment in your home that you will support you, before your hands are full with a new baby. Meal prepping can help to take the stress off of new families, by ensuring that they have nutritious meals ready to go. Many will choose to add a meal service to their baby registry, or create a meal train for loved ones to come by and feed them. 

It’s totally ok to not want people to come over immediately after birth, and you have the right to set boundaries. If you do have people coming by, make sure they have a task to do. Simple things like washing dishes, doing laundry, or holding the baby while mom showers are often overlooked. Having care set up for other children and pets will help to alleviate stress, so that you can focus on your healing and your new baby. 

The Postpartum Body

In traditional Chinese medicine , it is believed that the pregnant body is “warm”, energetic, and full of Yang, while the postpartum body is “cold”, tender, and in a state of Yin. This open space- the uterus or womb- that held your baby, is now empty and in a state of healing. This is why many holistic practitioners recommended keeping postpartum women as warm as possible by not washing their hair, keeping warm socks on, and laying by a fire or heater if necessary.

This now open channel created through birth, creates the opportunity for long term benefits and healing. It is believed by many cultures that by nourishing and caring for someone postpartum, that they can increase their immunity and energy for the rest of their life.

Involution is the process of the uterus returning back to its normal size. This takes an average of about six weeks. During this time, many women choose to practice “belly binding”.

While there are different tools, techniques, and practices around this, it involves wrapping the midsection with a fabric or girdle of some sort. It is believed that this helps to knit abdominal muscles back together, while stabilizing hip joints, as well as SI joints. 

Moderate tearing is normal and to be expected in many births. This discomfort can make ordinary things like peeing, sitting, and walking painful. Some ways to soothe this is by applying hot herbal compresses on the area. Common herbs used are ones in “Sitz” formulas, which can easily be found online.

Calming creams made with natural ingredients like calendula and lavender can also bring relief to the perineum after birth. While hemorrhoids are common after birth, women can find relief with witch hazel, and other natural creams.

Nourishing Nutrition

A huge aspect of healing postpartum, is giving your body the proper tools to do so with nutrient rich foods.

Many women find that they need to eat as often as every two hours, especially if they are breastfeeding. There are certain essential nutrients needed that are crucial during this time. Healthy omegas can be found in seafood, seaweed, and hemp seeds. Wholesome sources of cholesterol like nuts and olive oil. Protein from animal or vegetarian sources. B vitamins from whole grains and fresh produce to help stabilize moods and regulate the nervous system.

Iron rich foods like red meat and dark leafy greens to help restore blood loss after birth, and prevent or treat anemia. Plenty of fresh water- hydration is a crucial piece of lactation. Vitamin C which can be found in red peppers and papayas to support the immune system, cell membrane healing, and to prevent infection.

All of these and more can be found in a diet rich in whole, organic foods, as well as by taking supplements.

The New Addition

While you heal, you are also supporting your new baby transition from inside your womb, to the outside world. Making this transition as smooth as possible helps to assist their tender nervous system. Keep stimuli low by avoiding electronics and loud noises, dimming the lights, and keeping baby physically close to you. Remember that you are integrating a new person into your life, and into your family.

There will be learning curves and periods of frustration. There will also be just as much wonder, fascination, and love.

Checking In

Another very real reality for many women is postpartum depression (PPD), anxiety, or other mood disorders. The combination of changing hormones, sleep deprivation, and caring for a new human all contribute to this. Make sure that there are people around you, whether that be your partner, a doula, family member, or friend that regularly checks in on you and knows what warning signs to look out for.

Give yourself space to process your experience, no matter the outcome of your birth. If you are experiencing symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder, please don’t be afraid to ask for help- whether that be professional or from a loved one.

 Motherhood

Becoming a mother is the ultimate trip. The huge metamorphosis you are undergoing is one to be celebrated and revered. Every postpartum journey is unique, and should be treated as such. Your needs may fluctuate, and flexibility is key during this time. Like birth, parenting is unpredictable. Set yourself up for success as a parent, by starting from the beginning and honoring the fourth trimester.

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