YOU’RE a mum. It’s an incredible feeling, holding your newborn baby after months of carrying that little being inside you. The whole process feels nothing short of a miracle.
But pregnancy and childbirth really takes its toll on your body, no matter how fit you are or uncomplicated your birth. You will feel sore and bruised in places you never imagined possible and your hormones are haywire! Yet we feel the need to get back to ‘normal’ straight away.
Imagine if you had an open wound the size of your fist, on your leg, perhaps, or on your torso. You would rest in bed to give it time to heal and people would do everything they could to look after you.
When the placenta pulls away from the uterus after childbirth, this is the size of the wound it leaves behind. Just because it is inside your body doesn’t make it any less important! You need to give your body time to heal and those around you need to honour that, too.
Getting to know your baby is priority, closely followed by rest. Nearly all new mums do too much too soon, especially if there are other children to look after. Why not ban visitors and have a babymoon? Cosy up with your partner, new baby and any other children for the first few days so everyone can get to know each other.
Make sure you have plenty of help from partners, family and close friends. I’d suggest keeping invitations to see the new baby to a minimum in the first few weeks unless you know the person coming to call is the type who can bring lunch and do a spot of vacuuming. You really don’t need to be looking after guests by making them tea and cake right now. Speaking of cake, eating well and staying hydrated is important. Your digestive system might feel sensitive, so eat little and often with lots of foods rich in iron and vitamin C.
Exercise is off-limits for the first six weeks (ten weeks if you’ve had a caesarean) but that doesn’t mean no movement at all. Breathing exercises and pelvic floor work, as well as gentle walks to get some fresh air (when you feel up to it) will help you heal, ease tiredness and lift your mood in the early days.
You may also feel tension in the shoulders, chest and neck from carrying and feeding your newborn. Try taking your fingertips to the shoulders and making circles with your elbows, moving them clockwise and then anticlockwise for relief.
A good routine to practise is a simple breathing technique whenever you feed your baby. Once baby is feeding happily, turn your attention to the breath. As you inhale through the nose, feel the expansion of the belly, ribs and chest. Feel your body fill with energy. As you exhale, feel your body release and relax completely. Continue this calming breath and notice how your body relaxes. Your baby, held so close, will get a dose of your calmness too. After you finish do several neck and shoulder rolls to release any tension.
Start kegel exercises to help your pelvic floor recover and your perineum heal. In French hospitals, a physio will have you doing these within hours of giving birth, so get going as soon as possible. You might not feel much going on to start with — don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.
One way to do them is by lying on your tummy, resting your head on your forearms. If this is uncomfortable, place a pillow under your ribs and chest. Close your eyes and inhale through the nose. As you exhale, pull up all your pelvic floor muscles (as it you were stopping yourself going to the toilet). As you inhale, release fully. Aim for ten sets several times a day.
Being a new mum can feel exhilarating, amazing, scary and overwhelming all at the same time. Life will never get back to ‘normal’ anyway, so take time out for selfcare and plenty of staring in wonder at your brand new beautiful baby.
Published in the Irish Daily Mail, March 20, 2018