Postpartum: A Change of Seasons
The earth pulses cyclically between seasons of growth and decay. Although seemingly opposites, these principles are so entangled that they’re inseparable. Women’s bodies are no different. Women are by nature cyclical creatures. Our bodies move in cycles that mirror the rhythms of the earth. This idea is commonly brought into the menstrual cycle, but is just as applicable to childbearing.
The trimesters of pregnancy and the “fourth trimester” postpartum can be thought of as the four seasons. From conception through the first trimester marks the spring. It is the beginning of a cycle of growth. As mama and baby move into the second trimester, they enter into the season of summer. Mothers tend to have the most energy and are deep in the preparations for baby’s arrival. With the third trimester comes the transition to autumn, where the pace settles into a slower rhythm and the nesting instinct rules. Upon the birth of the baby, the mother is plunged into the quiet of winter, where she seeks warmth, connection and the safety of a cozy cocoon. This is where she remains for the fourth trimester, or the first 3 months postpartum. Using this comparison, it becomes clear what a new mama needs to be well.
Visualize the dead of the winter. The ground is blanketed in a heavy layer of snow and the air has a biting chill. A storm is brewing and the wind is roaring outside the door. You’re sitting inside a cabin, huddled around a wood stove with loved ones. A nourishing soup made of hearty broth and root vegetables is being shared, while a pot of aromatic tea steeps. Although the storm rages outside, the cabin’s atmosphere is soft and warm. Everyone is sharing stories and reconnecting over long forgotten memories.
Now picture that as postpartum. Only the winter storm is the chaos of the outer world, and the cabin is the bubble you’ve created with your baby. Isn’t this what every postpartum mother dreams of?
The elements of this story can be broken down into essential parts of postpartum care.
The nervous system of a newborn mama is incredibly sensitive. Her primal brain is wired to be on high alert to any incoming sensory stimuli. This can make trips into public spaces overwhelming. Navigating breastfeeding while out in the world can be challenging as well. Spending too much time away from home too soon may lead to mastitis, supply issues or poor weight gain for the baby. For these reasons, trying to maintain a cozy nest can be very supportive for both mother and baby in those early days.
In many cultures throughout time and across the world, postpartum mothers have been considered to be in a constitutionally cold state. The medicine systems of Ayruveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine still hold this view. Although traditionally many cultures have actually built a fire beside a mother or even under her bed, this isn’t practical for most folks in the modern world. That being said, staying warm should remain the goal. New mothers can wear thick, wooly socks over the feet and cuddle up in soft blankets. She can place a hot water bottle over the womb for warmth and sip on tea.
The process of giving birth is disruptive to the mother’s digestive system. The gentlest foods on her sensitive digestion are those typically thought of for the winter months. Think of rich broths, stews, porridge, root vegetables and warming spices. All foods and beverages should be warmer than room temperature.
Postpartum visitors have gotten a bad reputation. Door step meal drops have become what most new parents request. But the truth is, parents really do need a loving community to uplift them at this time. The analogy of the winter cabin can be helpful here. If you wouldn’t want to be stuck inside with someone during a winter storm, chances are they aren’t right for your postpartum bubble either. Being selective with visitors is key. The feeling should be relaxed and comfortable. The safer a mama feels around someone, the better.
By understanding that life is cyclical, it makes space for growth in the darkness. For many mothers, even with the coziest of cocoons in place, postpartum can be isolating and trigger heavy feelings. This is the essence of winter. It is the decay before the growth. So huddle close by your fire mamas and prepare to weather the storm. By nurturing yourself at home during this time, you’re protecting yourself when you’re most vulnerable. When you’re ready to emerge from your cocoon, the world will be waiting.