Rest and diet are the two most important components of a quick and gracious recovery from childbirth. Center care of the mother around these two essentials and protect her environment from too much stimulus.
Gather names and phone numbers of friends and family that are willing to help after the birth, and identify in what capacity they can assist (food preparation, child care of older children, washing and folding laundry, shopping, vacuuming).
Talk to your partner about ways you are comfortable in caring for a newborn so she can know what she might ask you to do if she begins feeling overwhelmed. Talk about newborn care issues like where your baby will sleep, how often your baby will need to eat or nurse, how your baby will best be transported, if she plans to breastfeed how comfortable are you with nursing in public, if other young children are in the home who will assist them in the middle of the night, etc.
Take as much time off of work as financially possible. A new mother will need full-time care for two weeks in the most advantageous situation for family bonding. Be with her at this time, care for her as though she is an angel of light. Two weeks is only a glimmer of time compared to the years you will spend raising your child; these two weeks of postpartum nurturing can set the stage for feelings of confidence and gratitude that can last a lifetime.
A new mother's psyche is very open and wondrous after birth, but it is also fragile, and sensitive to changes in the environment of the home. Try and identify what might bother mom most when things begin getting disorganized. Will she simply ignore piles of laundry, but be revolted by dishes piled up in the kitchen sink? Or maybe she can laugh at her toddler dressed in inside-out clothing but cannot tolerate the bathroom becoming grungy. Maybe changing the sheets will please her, rather than cleaning up a messy room. Try to accommodate her feelings toward order insofar that it is possible without exhausting yourself.
Feed the newly birthed mother nutritious whole foods. If she is breastfeeding she may become ravenous, even eating in the middle of the night to get enough calories. Always have some wholesome food easily available and prepare simple, balanced meals at least twice a day.
Before the baby's due date, shop for foods you can store in a special cupboard, and the freezer, until shortly after the baby is born. Foods to have on hand include high quality juices, pasta, potatoes, nutritional yeast, kelp, lentils, sunflower seeds, nut butters, whole grain breads and crackers, honey, soy or rice milk, winter squash, molasses, herb teas, dried fruit, brown rice, olive oil, wholesome salad dressings, and whole wheat pancake mix.
Fresh foods can be kept around at all times because they are the basis of an excellent prenatal diet. Dark, leafy salad greens (romaine, red leaf, salad bowl, buttercrunch lettuces, endive, arugula, etc.), sprouts (especially alfalfa), watercress, and fresh raw vegetables can be used for daily salads, excellent for creating breastmilk. Center your prepared meals around a large portion of steamed greens, probably the most wholesome and nutritious complement to any new mother's health. These are kale, beet greens, mustard greens, swiss chard, bok choy, collards, broccoli, turnip greens, and spinach, all excellent with a little vinegar or salad dressing. Remember nursing moms need more calories than when they were pregnant. Keep on hand fresh fruits in season, tofu, milk, cottage cheese, hard cheese, eggs, wheatgerm, fish or poultry, acidophulus yogurt, and sauces the family enjoys. With plenty of the above food items, you can create wonderful meals that will build and replace red blood cells, strengthen the immune system, and allow mom a strong and healthful recovery period.
Always pay attention to bedside fluids for the mother. If she is breastfeeding she needs to drink quarts of fluid daily. Always have fresh water near her before you go to bed at night, as she will surely need to drink throughout the night until her milk supply is established. This generally takes 6-8 weeks. If she enjoys nursing in bed be sure she has a fresh bath towel under her breasts each night to absorb leaking milk, keeping the sheets as clean and dry as possible. Some women enjoy wearing a support bra at all times, which may prevent stretch marks and relieve discomfort as the breasts engorge with milk the first weeks after birth.
When fatigue sets in, it is good to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The baby will usually fall into some type of routine for eating and sleeping by the third week, and a little more consistency will allow the new mother to ease herself back into some familiar routines of family life. Try to be patient and never pressure your partner to begin doing things before she is ready. Remember rest and diet are your allies.
New mothers can continue to take their prenatal vitamins right through the eight weeks of postpartum, when uterine involution reaches completion. To reduce the discomfort of strong postpartum contractions (afterpains), a strong infusion of nettle and red raspberry leaf tea can be prepared. Afterpains can be as intense as the contractions of labor for some women. Encourage mom to use any breathing techniques learned in childbirth classes to ease this postpartum discomfort. Oftentimes these contractions are felt as the babe begins nursing. The baby's sucking triggers the release of oxytocin which helps squeeze the uterus down, diminishing blood loss, and speeding up the recovery process naturally. Even if these contractions are especially uncomfortable, the breastfeeding mother should not stop nursing, but learn to breathe through the discomfort. These afterpains rarely persist more than a week.
Protect the mother from fatigue and excess energy drains. She may feel like hosting guests and well wishers for awhile, but it will be up to you to encourage short visits and possibly even ask some visitors to come back at another time. Many folks do not understand how exhausting new babies can be, and being in the presence of newborn energy is usually very appealing to most people. Placing a sign on the front door is appropriate and helpful.
Take time to nap. A tired care provider will have less tolerance and flexibility. Before napping, check and see if mom needs anything. Better yet, if you can accomplish this, nap together as a family: baby sleeps, mom sleeps, you sleep. If there are other small children, arrange for them to go elsewhere for a couple of hours. You'll be thankful for any undisturbed sleep you can manage with a new baby.
If tears are shed, provide comfort and understanding. It is no small task to juggle the needs of a new baby, and every woman experiences waves of emotion as she begins her journey with this new life. She will gain a new respect for her innate ability to nurture her children when she herself has an opportunity to be openly "mothered". Breastfeeding may be easy and natural for her, or she may experience frustration and discouragement from various problems that may show up. Help her access a knowledgeable resource in the community to answer all of her breastfeeding questions. Again, rest and diet play a pivotal role in establishing breastmilk.
Bond with your new baby by holding your little one frequently. Use the football hold or place the baby over your shoulder. Be careful about cradling an infant close to your chest if s/he is awake. Newborns and nursing infants display an instinctive rooting reflex in this position, turning their heads towards the breast in hopes of sucking. An alert baby may fuss in this position because s/he will want to nurse.
A sure indication of a mother who is over-exerting herself in the first eight weeks is an increase in lochia, the normal vaginal discharge after childbirth. This is typically red, changing to lighter shades of pink, then to brown, and lastly yellowish white, before disappearing altogether by the eighth week. If the flow of lochia increases or changes back to a brighter shade of red at anytime, mom needs to rest more and do less. At no time after the birth should she soak through two menstrual pads less than an hour. This would be considered hemorrhage, and her primary care provider should be contacted immediately, day or night.
Mothers need to be encouraged to allow their bodies to fully recover before getting back into full action at home. Bearing down motions like kneading bread, chopping wood, carrying heavy buckets or boxes, sweeping, or picking up anything heavier than the newborn (especially siblings), can cause tone loss to the recovering pelvic organs. At the two week visit have your midwife check your abdominal muscles for recovery tone before beginning heavy exertional activity. In the long run, a woman's body will hold up for many more years if she takes adequate time to heal after childbirth. A woman's sexual desires after recovery vary immensely. Most women do not have a strong interest in sexual activity in the postpartum period. A few women experience interest in sexual relations very shortly after birth, but this is rare. A new mother may be absorbed in adjusting to new routines, dealing with exhaustion, or finding sexual satisfaction in simple cuddling, or in breastfeeding the infant. Some women are coping with the pain or discomfort of stitches in very sensitive perineal tissue, making the idea of intercourse unappealing. (Sitz baths with warm water will promote more rapid healing of perineal tissue.) You may have feelings that the newborn is demanding so much attention that you no longer have time for each other. When sexual needs come to the forefront, it is important to discuss it together. Communicate with your partner openly about your intimate needs. Explore new avenues of gratification with each other in lovemaking. This is a time for compromise and emotional support. Take a few moments each day to tell each other what felt good or gratifying in the relationship recently. The postpartum period is always a time for personal growth and change. Meeting the challenge with an open heart is what makes us better parents.