The First Forty Days
In a different blog we talked about The Fourth Trimester, today I’ll be writing about the first forty days. The fourth trimester englobes the entire 3 months after having a baby, whereas the first forty days englobes the first forty days after having a baby.
Though the mother and baby need extra care during the entire fourth trimester, they are the most vulnerable during the first forty days. It’s a period of recovery and rest for the new mother where a woman stays home healing and taking care of her baby. In the United States we often refer to this time as the postpartum period, which relates to the first 6 to 8 weeks after having a baby. In Latin America, this period is also known as “cuarentena”.
“Traditionally in Mexico, a woman has a 40 day recovery period after giving birth. She's not allowed to leave the house or do any housework, every window in the house remains closed (to avoid bad winds,) and the people visiting usually help with chores and/or bring meals. The mom's only job during this time is to take care of her baby and make sure she heals completely.”
It’s interesting how cultures around the globe intuitively understand the importance of this period and make sure to take care of the woman during this time. In traditional Chinese Medicine they call this period of confinement for both the mother and the baby Zuo Yuezi, which means ‘Sitting the Month’, and in India they also believe in the concept of confinement. Although some of the rituals and nutritional guidelines vary, most cultures agree that the mother of a newborn should stay indoors, resting, and being taken care of. In Ayurveda they say, “the first 40 days of life will impact the next 40 years of life.”
Why is it so important to free the mother from all responsibilities? So she can recover and take care of her baby. Confinement allows the mother’s body to recover from the intensity of childbirth. Hormone levels change dramatically, the uterus returns to its pre pregnancy size, milk production is established, and the perineum or caesarean section incision heals.
During the transition of becoming mothers (even if it is not for the first time), women have to process the events of the birth, adjust to a lack of sleep, and respond to new bodily demands.This postpartum time is physically demanding, and it is also a precious window of bonding and offering the new baby a gentle welcome to the world.
A must read book for this period is, “The First Forty Days", which talks about the five universal needs to help mothers navigate the postpartum period. In the book, the author shares the five common themes woven through the colorful tapestry of traditional postpartum care. Please find out below what they are.
Retreating from the world outside as much as possible by staying indoors. Both parties are seen to be especially susceptible in this time, not only to the most obvious triggers of illness such as germs; they’re also susceptible to the aggravating effects of cold, wind, and noise. These can penetrate their “open” states and burrow in to disturb both physical and mental balance. Retreating means doing the least amount of activities, laying low, and allowing the mind to rest by letting go of distractions and unnecessary responsibilities.
At the foundation of many mother-care protocols is the practice of preserving and building warmth in the body. A woman’s blood volume almost doubles during pregnancy to support her growing baby. After birth, the loss of this excess of warm, circulating blood, combined with her open state, means that heat must be recaptured and circulation boosted to optimize healing. In addition, any nooks and crannies of the body where cold penetrates and lingers, such as the spine and neck, or abdomen, can lead to pain or dysfunction later in life. To achieve this, new moms worldwide do all kinds of heating and insulating practices, from steaming over hot rocks (Cambodia), to taking herb-filled baths (Thailand), to putting cotton wool in the ears to keep out “bad air” (Honduras), and wearing woolen sweaters even in sweltering summer months (India). In case you don’t come from one of these cultures, there are certain things you can do in order to promote warmth:
- Wear warm clothes and socks.
- Eat warm foods.
- Drink tea.
- Choose nutritionally dense foods tol boost your circulation naturally.
- Take warm baths or showers.
What would help put all of this care within reach (warming food, naps and rest, cocooning without errands)? Have some kind of support system to help pull it off.
In times past, post-birth circles of support were knitted into the fabric of community life. Family members, friends, midwives and birth attendants (doulas) might surround a woman from before birth until many weeks after, creating a continuum of care that helped with a mom’s emotional stability and her family’s functionality in the home. No chore would be too humble for helpers. Changing dirty diapers, tending to other children, taking out the trash, wiping away tears were all needed. The way things were done were just part of a societal code. The new mother was not to be left alone, even if her husband was back to work. Unfortunately, we have lost the ways to community, and most of the help women get nowadays is on the internet. Even if you are a type of person who normally doesn't ask for help, living through postpartum alone can be difficult. If we can learn something from these cultures, it is that help is welcome and needed, so start gathering your tribe.
Many of the old ways prescribe staying in bed and limiting activities beyond baby care in order to rebuild chi and conserve jing (or whichever words for energy and life essence they may use in their tradition). Many add rest-enhancing herbs and calming treatments, too. Perhaps the biggest misperception we have about health today is we underestimate the need for rest and recovery in our culture. In our do-more world, nothing is ever enough, and rest is the first thing to get sacrificed. Yet, ironically, sleep deprivation amplifies every ache, sorrow, and stress! ‘Rest while your baby naps’ is by far the most helpful piece of advice I can give you. If you can’t nap when he or she naps, at least make sure to rest. Listen to the sound bowl meditation from our postpartum course, put your legs up, take a bath or just lie in bed resting. The most important thing is to rest. I understand it’s hard to rest in this fast paced world, but think of the long term depletion you’ll feel if you don't rest every time you have a chance.
Traditionally, postpartum protocols included rituals that marked the metamorphosis that occurs when a woman becomes a mother. They recognized the birth of a child as a rite of passage and honored the effort. In parts of India, North Africa, and the Middle East, women of the community might adorn the mother’s legs and feet with intricate henna patterns, not only to honor her, but to ensure that she would sit still and rest while they dried! On the fortieth day of postpartum in Indonesia, the midwife would have the mother stand over a pot of smoldering herbs to purify her body, and she would give her abdomen a final massage. Different cultures have different ways of honoring the new mother. From loving touch, to herbs or baths, the mother was always recognized for the changes she was going through. If you inherit any of these traditions, find a way to incorporate it as you move through this period. If not, create your own. Perhaps you want to get your friends together, drink tea, and talk about your birth experience, or you may want to write it down in your Morning Pages. Find ways to honor this important time in your life.
Here is a video of my first forty days
Edited by: Lily Zara