holistic postpartum care in the fourth trimester

What is “The Fourth Trimester?”

The term essentially acknowledges that the first three months for a new baby are almost like an extension of the time in the womb. Human babies are born quite helpless due to a brain that is largely underdeveloped. (Within the first year, an infant’s brain size doubles.) The infant undergoes an immense transition from a confined environment that is dark and warm, with muffled sounds and constant nourishment and then enters a world where there is light, loud noises, lots of space, fluctuating temperatures and hunger. A baby relies on her caretaker for her every need (and those needs are many). Of course, babies need compassionate care and special attention during this critical period…and so do mothers. Just as infants have undergone an enormous transition, so, too, have the mothers.  We must consider the state of the mother, of whom so much is expected during this time. Are her needs being met?

We’ve all heard this word—holistic—perhaps increasingly so as of late. So, what does it mean to offer holistic postpartum care? As with any other holistic practice, we recognize that a person is a spiritual being and an emotional being as well as a physical being and try to help them find balance accordingly.

It is normal for women to experience a wide range of emotions. Maybe she’s feeling anxious, alone, in love, irritable, euphoric, connected, disoriented—or a combination of any or all of these emotions. However, women often feel guilt in expressing the myriad of emotions because there seems to be a belief that a woman should only feel a certain way after childbirth (utterly in love and grateful for a healthy baby). For this reason, women may not know that these feelings are normal because they haven’t heard any other new mothers talking about it. Sometimes women just need someone to talk to who will listen without judgment. Perhaps she would like some help navigating her birth experience, writing it down, talking about how beautiful it was or admitting frustrations if it did not go as planned. Many aspects of motherhood are not purely instinctual, but learned. It is crucial that a woman has support—from breastfeeding support to information about newborn characteristics to know what is to be expected--to alleviate some of these concerns.

The way to honor your body during this time is to allow yourself to rest. Childbirth is a physically demanding act and allowing the body to recover in the weeks following birth is crucial. Referred to as the “lying in” period, this is a time in which a woman’s activities in the immediate postpartum period are limited to lying in bed, resting, and nursing her new baby. The woman will only get out of bed to use the restroom or to take an herbal bath. When looking at comparative postpartum experiences, we see that in cultures throughout the world, this is still the norm, as it once was in America, too. Women are cared for by other women and are thus freed up from their household chores so they are not exerting themselves when they really should be focused on healing and recuperating.   For example, the traditional Chinese practice of “zuo yuezi” (literally translated to “sitting the month’) entails little beside resting and refraining from things such as going outside and drinking or eating anything cold for a month. Actually, many cultures emphasize the importance of keeping a mother warm in the postpartum period—sometimes referred to as “Mother Roasting” or “Mother Warming.” Some examples of these practices include feeding the woman a warm diet (especially bone broth and other nutrient-rich soups), ensuring that she does not shower in cold water, as well as using external methods such as warm oil massages and moxa treatments, in order to realign tissues and restore balance in the body after the blood and energy loss which occurs from birth. To read further about the rich postpartum experiences around the world and what to expect postpartum, I highly recommend Sally Placksin’s book “Mothering the Mother.”

The way to honor your body during this time is to allow yourself to rest. Childbirth is a physically demanding act and allowing the body to recover in the weeks following birth is crucial. Referred to as the “lying in” period, this is a time in which a woman’s activities in the immediate postpartum period are limited to lying in bed, resting, and nursing her new baby. The woman will only get out of bed to use the restroom or to take an herbal bath. When looking at comparative postpartum experiences, we see that in cultures throughout the world, this is still the norm, as it once was in America, too. Women are cared for by other women and are thus freed up from their household chores so they are not exerting themselves when they really should be focused on healing and recuperating. 

A postpartum doula can help you by ensuring you are able to rest and bond with your new baby by making sure you have nutritious meals prepared, water and a healthful snack by your side when nursing, doing light household chores, etc. She can also help you create a network of support and an environment for quiet and rest. She can be the one to set up your herbal bath and care for your babe as you relax and have a moment to yourself. She can provide evidence based information on newborn characteristics and care to alleviate some of your concerns as a new mother. She can accompany you to that chiropractic visit or doctor’s appointment. Finally, if a mother needs assistance with a matter that does not fall within our scope of practice or our area of expertise, we have an exhaustive list of local professional referrals to help you. Every woman (and family) deserves to be honored and nurtured during this life-altering time.