Pausing Postpartum

Pausing Postpartum:

A guide to getting the rest you need after giving birth.

        You’re sitting in a bed clutching your newborn baby and feeling his soft breaths against your chest. You’ve just given birth a few hours ago and there’s a nurse fetching you water and bringing you meals. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy this momentary bliss.
Fast forward 36 hours, and you’re back at home with your “three under three” children, and you just can’t seem to stay on top of things. The dishes are piling up, the laundry has been sitting in the washer too long, no one has brushed their teeth, and you cannot remember the last time you ate or showered. Pretty soon you’re feeling the baby blues and thinking you are not cut out for this.

            What if bringing home a new baby didn’t have to be so stressful? In many places, it isn’t. For generations, cultures all over the world have thought of the postpartum period as a sacred time for the mother and the baby. The Chinese have “zuo yue zi” or “the sitting month”. In order to take care of the new mother, the Chinese grandmothers move in and take over cooking and cleaning for a whole month. Similarly, in Latin America there is a 40 day rest period called “cuarentena”, and in Korean culture, mothers practice a 21 day rest period called “Saam-chil-il”. It’s time for American mothers to start postpartum rituals of their own.

            In the early Christian Church, a new mother practiced a 'lying in' period, staying home for up to six weeks while the church community cared for her. She was exempt from attending church services and taking communion while her body healed. She wouldn’t even be present at her baby’s baptism. When she was able to return to church services, a special “churching” ritual would be done to bless the new mother (this tradition was a tribute to the commands of Leviticus 12:2-8).

            The Christian postpartum traditions began to fade in the 1960s and vanished by 1970, at the height of second-wave feminism. The tradition is now viewed as “unfair” to new mothers. Feminism is largely to blame for the American ideal of an independent super woman, who jumps back into her pantsuit as soon as her baby is old enough for daycare. This catastrophic standard has infiltrated traditional homes as well, even stay at home mothers feel pressured to “bounce back” to full capacity as soon as they’re discharged from the hospital.
            A mother is the heartbeat of her home, life springs from her! The Christian mother takes joy in her duties to her family, and she is not lazy.
She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong. She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night. She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.” Proverbs 31:17-18, 27 
That being said, the trials a woman’s body endures during pregnancy and after childbirth warrant rest. Taking a break from your regular duties is essential for postpartum healing, physically and spiritually. Just like a mother of five small children likely won’t be planting a vineyard by herself (Proverbs 31:16), a mother who has just given birth shouldn’t return to her duties right away. The most important duty a new mother has is to heal and bond with her baby.

            Taking time to recover from nine months of pregnancy and childbirth is not selfish or weak, but helpful. When a mother takes care of herself after childbirth, she is ultimately taking care of her family as well. When she is well rested, of sound mind, and physically fit- she will be an effective caretaker. She will be apt to give reverence to the Lord in her duties. If she rushes back into her responsibilities while she is exhausted, distressed, and weak, she is leaving herself vulnerable to the temptation of sin.

            Resting is easier said than done, and it does not come naturally to untiring, productive mothers. When running a household, there truly is a never ending list of tasks set before you. This is not a burden, but a blessing!
“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4
           Despite the never ending chore list, we are called to rest in the Lord. This is a gift He has given us, and we should be wise to follow his command to rest from our work.

            After having a baby, women’s bodies go through major hormonal changes, leaving them vulnerable to stress and anxiety. Excessive stress can lead to postpartum depression, a condition all too many American women face. According to the CDC, 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression, and that number is on the rise. The battle against stress after the birth of your baby should not be entered into carelessly, but with diligence. Avoiding stress and getting rest after you have a baby may seem unattainable, but with careful planning and preparation, the reward is great.

            Now that you know why you need to rest, you want to know how in the world one gets rest in a house full of kids and a newborn baby. Each family is different, so this will look different for all of us. Here are some general guidelines that can be tailored to fit your needs.

Cover your postpartum journey with prayer and supplication.
      Lean on God’s promises, take comfort in Him, and remind yourself daily of His greatness by reading your bible. While you are praying, remember the end goal: You are resting so that you may heal and continue to fulfill His calling for you, not to be idle. Ask to be strengthened so you can serve Him and His kingdom.

Stay in bed.
            Husbands and other family members/friends will have to help if you have young children. Stay in bed for at least the first couple of days. If you can achieve bedrest for a week, even better. While you’re resting up, try to stay off your phone and don’t watch too much TV. During this sensitive time, social media and too much TV can be overstimulating and stress inducing. If you have other children, let them “visit” you and baby. Most importantly, try to sleep when your baby sleeps.

Stock up on freezer meals.
            Whether you buy some from the store or make your own, freezer meals will be a blessing to you and your family after the meal train ceases. Start making them a couple months before your due date. Keep a list of the meals you have in your freezer to make meal planning easier.
Rally your village.

     After giving birth, your body is in a fragile state of healing. You need to take it easy, but    there’s still chores to do. Before you have your baby, ask friends and family to take over your duties while your body heals. Don’t let your pride stand in the way of accepting help when you need it.

Get your groceries delivered.
    You just had a baby, you don’t need to drag all of the kids into the store with you and push a heavy cart around when you can have your groceries delivered. Whether they come by a delivery service or a helpful friend, stay away from the grocery store for a few weeks. Your pelvic floor will thank you.

Stay at home.
    Consider staying home for at least a couple weeks. Get all the important errands done before the baby comes, take a hiatus from play dates at the park, and abstain from outings of any kind. If you need to socialize, your friends will be happy to visit you at home. It’s important to let your body recover before venturing out into the world.

            If you're not sure whether or not to attend church right after having a baby, consult with your husband. Consider what Hannah did after she had Samuel: She used to travel with Elkanah to worship the Lord on a mountain every year. After Samuel's birth, Hannah stayed home for three years to care for him. Attending church isn’t exactly like climbing a mountain, but depending on the ages of your other children, it can be exhausting and stressful, especially with a brand-new baby. It may be helpful for Dad to take the other children to church while you stay home and watch the service online for a week or two. Just don’t neglect your spiritual health while you rest. Remember to maintain the practice of prayer and supplication.
Don’t neglect yourself.
            While you are resting at home, remember to take care of yourself. It sounds elementary, but when you have just had a baby, brushing your hair and teeth might not occur to you. You will feel better if you get dressed, make your bed, brush your teeth, and bathe regularly.
Ease back into it.

            When you are ready to get back into the swing of things, take it slow and be patient with yourself. Now is not the time to fill your schedule with volunteer work, playdates, or dinner parties. Booming full force back into your routine can lead to burnout and stress. Gradually adding these things back into your life will be better for your family. Doing less now will yield more later.

Whatever you decide to do after you have your baby, remember to humble yourself before God and joyfully accept the mission He has given you. Do not set impossible expectations for yourself or your family. Lean into Him, and rely on His promises to you. Because Adam sinned this life will not be without hardship or suffering. Because of Christ’s sacrifice we will one day live with God, free from sin and affliction. While you are taking your postpartum pause, set your eyes on heavenly things.
“If you are a mother, you don't need to worry about looking elsewhere for service to God. Motherhood is your service.”
-Elisabeth Elliot
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