vrijdag 15 januari 2016

Preparing for postpartum (2): the importance of having a lying-in

After I made it through the first difficult weeks of postpartum and I started talking to other women about their postpartum experiences, a dear friend of mine who is partly Asian, told me her story. She related how in her mother`s culture it was very normal for a new mother to be taken care of by family members. She herself had stayed with her mother during the last months of pregnancy and the first months after giving birth and her mother helped her in every way she could. She even told me she hadn`t left the house for the first month after her son was born!

Although the idea of not leaving the house for a month`s time made the western feminist (I seriously wish she would remain quiet more often) inside of me roar with disagreement, I was however fascinated by this concept. And as I always do I started to read. The more I read the more my appreciation of what is called a *lying-in* or *confinement* grew. The more I understood the importance of such a resting period, the more I realized how much I missed out on with my son. 

So what is a *lying-in*? 
In a lot of traditional cultures around the globe (And something we have unfortunately forgotten in western society) the first days or weeks after giving birth the new mother is surrounded by a group of supporting women or family members who take over all of her household duties and caring tasks for other children so the new mother can rest and bond with her baby. She is usually literally lying down in bed, with her little one. Especially in the first few days the mother is encouraged not to leave the bed at all, unless to go to the bathroom or take a shower. Meals should be brought to her and she shouldn`t be engaging in any (heavy) work, all her attention and energy should be focused on healing and getting to know the newest member of the family. In some cultures this period can last up to 40 days. 

In a more modern and adapted version some suggest sticking to the 5-5-5 rule, in which you give yourself the time to rest and bond with your baby, gradually becoming more active as the days go by: the first 5 days after giving birth the new mom stays IN bed and focuses only on herself and the newborn. She only leaves the bed to go to the bathroom and doesn`t engage in any work. The next 5 days she stays ON the bed: the primary focus is still to rest and focus on baby, but she can engage in light work from her bed. (Like folding the laundry, playing with older siblings, ...) The last 5 days are spent AROUND the bed: she can move around, but stays mostly confined to the bedroom as rest is still a priority. After those 15 days have passed she can gradually slip back into daily family life, taking in mind that the body needs about 6 weeks to properly heal after a normal birth, she should still take it easy, focus on rest and getting to know this new little person and count on others to help out. 

At first I thought this was crazy. Me? A type A-personality lying in bed and doing *nothing*? It felt so counterproductive and *lazy* as it didn`t fit the image I had been portrayed by western society of women bouncing back immediately after giving birth. But when I looked back at those first weeks with my son and how sad I felt afterwards of not having been able to enjoy it much at all, I knew that this is exactly what could`ve avoided me from burning myself out. I knew that the second time around I had to apply some of this new found knowledge. 

So why is this important? Isn`t this some kind of old cultural practice that we don`t need anymore today? Can we, as western women, really lie in bed all day when society is telling us we should be back in the gym as soon as possible? 

Here are some benefits of having a lying-in:
* Your postpartum bleeding will last less long as you are giving your body a chance to rest and heal.

`During the first hours, days, and weeks after you give birth, your uterus does an enormous job to contract the open blood vessels that fed the placenta and to clot off and form a “scab” on the uterine wall. So every time you stand up, twist, and create internal pressure in your torso through exertion, you are causing disturbance to the wound healing process and bringing excess circulation to that area.` - Bear Mama Medicine 

* By confining yourself from the outside world you give yourself the space and time to heal emotionally in the comfort of your own home. Our hormone levels undergo major changes after giving birth which makes a lot of women feel emotional and weepy. A woman is at her most vulnerable in the first days and weeks after giving birth and needs the love and care of being supported in this often rough transition. 

`Hormonally, the first week postpartum has been likened to a drug withdrawal. Part of the placenta’s job is to produce a huge cocktail of hormones (which still isn’t totally understood), and as soon as it is expelled, those hormones drop. This explains why you might feel weepy or moody for the first several weeks, and why it’s normal to feel sad despite otherwise lovely circumstances.` - Bear Mama Medicine 

* It is easier to establish your milk-supply and kick off breastfeeding with a good start as you`re always in close proximity to your baby. Right after birth your newborn will be drinking colostrum, a yellowy substance which is a wonderful source of nutrition for your little one. It usually takes a couple of days before your milk will start coming in though (Mine did around 4 days postpartum). Vital to this process is being in close contact with your baby, preferably skin to skin, and latching your baby on as much as possible as nursing triggers the hormones needed for milk production to kick in. 

* You will get more rest and (hopefully) sleep.
Before I was a mother I never valued sleep much at all, it was only during postpartum that I came to realize how important sleep is to your overall wellbeing. Taking care of a newborn is exhausting work and a new mother needs enough sleep. I also noticed that sleep had a profound impact on my milk-supply. Proper nutrition does too, but in my personal situation sleep had the most effect on boosting my supply. So getting enough of it is not only vital for your own physical and emotional health, but also in establishing a good milk-supply for your baby. 

* Being close to your baby, cuddling and performing skin-to-skin triggers the production of the hormone oxytocine, the so called love-hormone. Needless to say that this is necessary in building a bond between mother and child and to experience the overwhelming sense of love for your newborn. 

* Your little one is brought into this world gently. After having been confined in the womb of his mother where everything was dark, warm and safe, your little one arrives into a cold and very bright world. By being close to mom, limiting visitors and exposure to the outside world, your little one can ease into his new home more gradually. 

Needless to say that taking time to rest after birth has nothing to do with being lazy, but everything to do with self-care and bonding with your new little one. Although it might seem like a luxury in today`s world, I believe it is of vital importance for both ourselves as mothers and our babies to try and implement this concept. Every situation is different however and many of us don`t have the support system or means to stay in bed and get pampered for 40 days, but I am convinced that it`s important to change our mindset about postpartum. By telling you about the concept and benefits of lying-in, I hope I can help trigger the change we, western women, so desperately need in taking better care of ourselves and our families. 

`The birth of ourselves into motherhood is our birthright, and is not something that happens merely at the moment of birth, but is the most divine unfolding over a period of tender time.` - Bear Mama Medicine

(I will soon be writing more about my preparations for my own lying-in.)

Sources and recommended reading material: 

1 opmerking:

  1. Not a mother.. but this is very true in my culture.. and we still follow 40 days of rest for the mother.. where she does not step out first 40 days. There is a mid wife appointed for her for these days whose sole responsibility is to bath the new mother with oil rubbing and cooking a whole goat in the entire 40 days.. meaning by end of 40 days, she should have consumed a whole lamb. this is not mandate but that is to say, she is fed with nutritious food and the mid wife also takes care of the new born's need like washing the nappys etc... Working woman.. of course takes the benefit of maternity leaves and enjoy the same benefits of midwife and family.. Good read!