This article was first published in the November/December 2015 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.
By Kate Ellwood, BCT Prenatal Teacher
Mine are cosy, soft and very, very pretty and they make me feel safe – what are your pyjamas like? A bit tatty, out of shape, grey from the wash with elastic showing the strain? Umm, time to buy a new pair of PJs I think…
We all have days when if we listened to what our bodies were telling us and we went along with how we truly felt, we would end up spending a quiet day on the sofa in our pyjamas nibbling on treats, dozing and taking time out to recharge our batteries. But we don’t listen to our inner voice, do we? We battle on regardless and often pay the price with illness, physical or mental.
Never are PJ days more important than in the weeks after your baby is born. It’s a time to nurture, and be nurtured, as you bond with your baby, adjust to motherhood and establish breastfeeding. It is a time for your body to heal, a time to wear your PJs as a uniform that gives a subliminal message to others – you are not ready to engage in the real world and are absorbed in caring for your baby and need to be looked after.
In the Western world we seem to have lost sight of this and there is enormous pressure to get back into our skinny jeans, look like a film star at the Oscars and behave like a superhero as soon as possible after birth, and many of us struggle. In many areas of the world this concept of rest and nurturing a woman after childbirth is written into their customs and rituals:
- Mexico – traditionally, women have 40 days of recuperation after delivery while the family makes home remedies to cleanse the impurities of birth.
- Haiti – new mums stay in the house for at least the first three days.
- China – the ‘babymoon’ practice in Chinese culture is called ‘doing the month’ or ‘sitting month’, so during this time, the new mother does not leave the house.
- Indonesian and Malaysian cultures believe that because of lochia, the normal discharge from the uterus after childbirth, women after birth are believed to be susceptible to evil spirits, so they do not leave their homes and are not allowed to cook or clean for the first 40 days.
- Korea – new mothers are looked after carefully for 21 days, but most would agree that 30 days is even better, and even up to 100 days.
- India – an expectant mother will often go to live with her parents when she is about 28 weeks into pregnancy, and will remain there for three months after she has given birth, to rest, be fed and nurtured, and have the time and space to get to know her baby. She will have a body and foot massage daily, her meals will be cooked for her and there will be someone around to hold the baby while she sleeps.
Taking time out for PJ days and just being with your baby has important benefits. For baby, by not being overwhelmed by outside stimuli or exposed to too many germs and for you, by offering protection against postpartum depression and easier physical recovery.
According to author Karen Kleiman, the period after birth is a time when you are most vulnerable to emotional illness. Failure to take care of yourself adequately can create the perfect opportunity for serious depression to set in. No one likes to think about that. But the truth is mothers don’t spend enough time thinking about how they feel. Understandably, most of your spare energy goes toward caring for your baby. But, if you take care of yourself, you can strengthen the resources that will enable you to take better care of your baby.
The benefits for breastfeeding of having a prolonged period of PJ days after birth are tangible with enhanced breast milk production. Nancy Mohrbacher, an International Board–Certified Lactation Consultant, says it is very intense to care for a newborn in the first 40 days. Your baby is feeding around 8 to 12 times a day with feeds taking as long 40 minutes, and those are not evenly spread over a 24-hour period but in clusters, when you are literally rooted to the spot feeding your baby for what seems like hours. There’s not much time for anything else. Giving in to this process and feeding on demand in a relaxed and nurturing environment is essential as it helps establish your milk supply. It’s a simple case of supply and demand. The amount of new milk created depends on how much has been taken out. It takes about six weeks for mum and baby to get the hang of breastfeeding, slowly feeling more coordinated and getting easier and faster.
Ok, so in the crazy, mixed up expat world we live in, away from our close family, 40 days in pyjamas recuperating and resting confined to the house is unrealistic (more’s the pity). However, with some planning before your baby is born, and working as a team with your partner, you can create a vital breathing space as you adjust to motherhood.
- Visitors should be kept to a minimum: In expat land they come and stay for weeks – a blessing and a curse – but the permitted few should bring a cool bag full of meals for the family or, even better, take any older children out for a few hours. When someone asks what they can do to help, tell them. This is no time to be a martyr or to suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to tell someone exactly what you would like them to do. Above all, no one should come to visit without leaving you in a better state than when they arrived – at the very least, this means bringing cake and making the tea!
- Nurture yourself: It’s really true. It can feel wonderful if you pamper yourself a little. Whatever it takes – manicure, pizza, long-distance phone call, haircut, a good book – you will never find a better excuse to indulge in self-absorbed and perhaps, frivolous projects. (Remember, if you feel guilty about this, you will be defeating the purpose.) So, enjoy and go for it!
- Sleep: If your baby is getting you up at night, it is especially important for you to find time to rest during the day. That means when your baby naps, you do not do the laundry or clean the floor. It means, you rest! If you can’t sleep, then lie down on the couch, close your eyes and try to relax. Your body needs time to recharge.
- Eat nutritiously: Eating well is one of the best ways to fortify your resources. Skinny jeans can wait. This is especially important if you are breastfeeding. However, do watch out for excessive amounts of high-sugar snacks and caffeine as both can make you feel jittery and anxious.
- Exercise moderately: Try to get out and walk. The fresh air will feel wonderful and the exercise will help keep you in shape and feeling good.
- Stay in touch with friends: Spend time with family and friends with whom you feel most comfortable. Maximise the time you spend with people who will support you and help you out. Isolation can increase feelings of loneliness and depression so try to stay connected with important relationships.
- Try not to pressure yourself: Not everything has to be done right now. Unfortunately, if you are used to getting things accomplished and prefer to be in control at all times, this may prove particularly difficult for you. Learn to let go a little bit and realise that some things that you want to take care of NOW are just going to have to wait.
- Learn how to say ‘no’: Setting limits is not an easy thing to do, but this is not the time to do favours for other people or be taken advantage of. You may find it necessary to say, ‘I would love to help you out, but today is not a good day for that’ or ‘Yes I would love you to come over and see the baby but I’m really tired today. Maybe we can make plans for another time’.
- Simplify everything: Laundry can wait. Beds don’t have to be made every day. Take-out dinner is fine. Everything doesn’t have to be 100% perfect right now. Try to let go of your expectations that everything will be exactly the way it was before the baby. It won’t be.
Giving yourself permission to relax and nurture yourself is not a luxury. It is vital to your well-being and you may be surprised at how wonderful it feels! Buy yourself buy a new pair of PJs, make them the most beautiful you can afford and wear them with pride as you undertake the most important job in the world, nurturing a new life. Everything else can wait.
‘What should I expect in the first 40 days of breastfeeding?’ Nancy Mohrbacher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pDRJ-29EGQ
Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (2010) Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers, New Harbinger Publications Inc
‘Taking Care of Mom after the Baby Comes’ Karen Kleiman http://www.firstbabymall.com/expecting/parenting/mothercare.htm