If you're pregnant, in the postpartum period of life, or are reading this and have a mama friend who needs some comfort and TLC, go pick up a copy of Kimberly Johnson's book, The Fourth Trimester. It is an incredible resource and must-have book for any and all mamas. Johnson dives into motherhood, cultural traditions, and what new moms truly need in the "fourth trimester" (even for moms like me who have toddlers - the info is so. good. and applicable to all mamas, no matter what stage of motherhood they're in - but it's especially essential for those raw postpartum weeks/months.)
With #MonthofMama, we've been focusing on mom, showing her love, giving her knowledge and resources, and sharing stories of motherhood from our FIT4MOM community. Kimberly Johnson is a huge part of our new MamaWell program launching on June 4th (so keep your eyes and ears peeled!), and today we're diving into her 5 universal postpartum needs.
1. An extended rest period
2. Nourishing food
3. Loving touch
4. The presence of wise women and spiritual companionship
5. Contact with nature
I think the most surprising thing to me was how childbirth and early postpartum weeks are truly seen as sacred in other parts of the world. Mom is praised, cherished, given rest, support, TLC, and nourished spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
Mom is taken care of and truly pampered, honored, and celebrated in other cultures and countries - where is that in the U.S.? Sure, we celebrate motherhood, but focus is really only on baby, and mom is an afterthought. Her well-being is not monitored well, and we have a superwoman mentality that we can do it all. While mothers can, they should not. They need help after childbirth. They need support. They need rest. And they need nourishment.
EXTENDED REST PERIOD
"Around the world, new mothers are expected to rest for the first 20 to 60 days after giving birth...a new mother is supported in resting so as to give her body, mind and spirit time to harmonize and process everything she has just experienced ... (this) is critical in ensuring a woman's long-term health" (Johnson, 2017). Kimberly shows us what other cultures "order" for mamas after childbirth; for example, in India, they call post-delivery the "sacred window"; new mothers move out of their marital homes and back into their mothers' houses so they are relieved of household duties like laundry, making meals, cleaning, and other chores (Johnson, 2017). Here in the U.S., we acknowledge six weeks is a significant turning point after birth, since it's when we see our OBGYN for our final send-off, but "it is not accompanied by the intensive nurturing between the birth and the visit itself," says Johnson (2017).
We have year-round food available to us more than ever before; we are able to eat papayas in the middle of winter and squashes in the middle of summer due to international shipping. We know that food is medicine and has healing properties. When new moms are postpartum, food is as important as ever. "A new mother should consume certain herbs and foods, so she can complete the cleaning of the uterus, eliminate any old blood still remaining, and rebuild her strength," says Johnson (2017). Johnson emphasizes that postpartum foods of importance are those that are warming, are easy to digest, and are mineral-rich and collagen-dense.
Did you know in Korea, a new mother gets a massage every day for 40 days to help restore organ position and circulation? (Johnson, 2017). Should we say that again? In Korea, a new mother gets a massage every day for FORTY days...Johnson looks into other cultures and how they truly pamper and nourish a new mama postpartum, and I couldn't help but get emotional and angry, feeling like we lack this aspect of compassion and care for new moms here in the states. We are all so busy, so pressed for time, so anxious, and moving from one thing to the next, we feel we don't have any time to stop, pause, breathe, and take care of others - or ourselves. "It's important to have caring touch during this (postpartum) time period, whichever tradition you decide to incorporate into your healing," says Johnson on page 30 of The Fourth Trimester. This is where our American society needs to step up and put more love and care into motherhood and new moms' well-being, through touch, comfort, and support.
PRESENCE OF WISE WOMEN AND SPIRITUAL COMPANIONSHIP
"In many cultures, this post-birth time is respected as a delicate one, physically and spiritually, for mothers and babies...women need to know they are not alone, that they can relax because there are other women around who can care for the home, care for the baby, and care for the mother in this new, vulnerable state" (Johnson, 2017).
CONTACT WITH NATURE
We all know that getting some sunshine is good for the soul; this is especially true postpartum. It's important to feel grounded, literally, with the earth. Johnson points out this doesn't have to be some extravagant adventure either. She suggests simple things such as setting up a nursing area near a window where you can gaze outside or feel a fresh breeze, taking a bath with herbal infusions, sipping on herbal teas, adding herbs to sit baths and steams, going for a walk, looking up at the trees, leaves, and feeling the elements among you (Johnson, 2017). Within motherhood and the chaos and overwhelm of those early postpartum weeks, it's important to "reconnect with the elements of nature (which is) the life force around you" (Johnson, 2017).
We know it may not be our cultural norm to give massages to new moms for 40 days, or move out of our marital homes and back in with our mothers to be nurtured. We know our families and friends most likely work full-time in or out of the house and cannot take care of us in the capacity that other countries may care for new moms. But we do know this - moms need support, love, compassion, nurturing, and time to heal.
If you're looking for simple ways to make a new mom feel honored, cared for and loved after childbirth, there are a few easy things you can do:
- When you stop by a new mom's house to visit, bring a sandwich or a real meal that's ready-to-eat/heat, do some laundry, wash dishes in the sink, take the dog on a walk, or help vacuum and wash the floor. Are chores not your thing? Surprise her with a gift card to a trusted housekeeper. Mama needs help around her home with household chores!
- Ask mama how she's really doing - make her feel loved on and fully supported (plus, she'll appreciate adult conversation). Be someone she can truly confide in.
- Listen. Be truly present, get off your phone, and listen to her needs and ask her what you can do to help. Don't let her say "nothing" or "I'm fine".
- Offer to run errands - grab household essentials items from Target like toilet paper, paper towels, pads, snacks, etc...run to the grocery store and stock her fridge, grab her prescriptions, etc.
- Bring her some frozen meals or show up to cook dinner. If she needs peace and quiet, send her Door Dash or Uber Eats without asking; just do it!
- Remember actions speak louder than words right now...step up to help where needed. She most likely will never tell you what she actually needs, so think about what you would want/need and do that.
- Don't overstay your welcome - know she is exhausted, can't wait to take her bra off, and probably wants some privacy breastfeeding without having to use a cover in her own home. Your company is SO appreciated, but new moms need space to rest, too.
- Remind dad to take care of mom....especially emotionally and physically around the house. Give them a little nudge to step-up if you can ;)
You can learn more wisdom from the book, The Fourth Trimester, by signing up for MamaWell by FIT4MOM, a complete prenatal and postpartum program offering modern wisdom and whole body guidance for your journey into motherhood. Click here to join the waitlist and be the first to know when the program is available.