The Undervalued Therapeutic Power of Rest

I developed very sore nipples when my youngest daughter (now 28 years old) was about 8 months old. I was working as a midwife at the time and I was completely perplexed and dismayed to be having sore nipples for, what I thought was, no reason at all. I called the La Leche League to see if they had any ideas about cause or cure and the first response on the other end of the phone was “Have you been getting your rest?” Oh, how I hated those words. . . I wanted a much fancier diagnosis than “you’re tired, dear”. The truth was that I’d just come off a very long birth and had been up two nights in a row. I was rushing around trying to pull my own household together and do postpartum care for the new family, too. That LaLeche League Leader gave me such a gift by causing me to pause and see that I wasn’t taking care of myself and my nipples were a first alert that things were falling apart.

I notice that my clients have the same dismayed reaction when I bring up rest. Isn’t there another way? Isn’t it possible to have those 3 birthday parties I have scheduled for my 4 year old? Can’t I pick someone up at the airport, go to the library and cook dinner for six in my first week after giving birth? Whaaaaaaaaa.

We live in a culture that has no value or respect for rest. If you’re resting, you’re lazy and incorrigible. We have been raised on Tampax ads that say “Go play tennis, golf and volleyball when you’re having your moon time. An active woman is an attractive woman.” I love the Orthodox Jewish practice of giving women a bed of their own from when their period starts to 12 days later and arranging a complete day of rest from all household duties on Saturday. We would all be well advised to adopt these customs.

Some of the problems that are cured by rest in bed:
-breast problems of all kinds in nursing mothers
-heavy or prolonged vaginal bleeding in post partum or perimenopause
-general crabbiness or depression

RECIPE FOR A POSTPARTUM BABYMOON

For building up milk production, go to bed with the baby for 24 hours. Mother should wear only panties, baby only a diaper. A tray with fluids, magazines and flowers beside the bed for the mother and all diaper changing needs for the baby close at hand. Another adult woman in the house brings meals to the mother. After 24 hours of this bed rest, the milk will be abundant. (I’ve had one client who said it didn’t work. When I went through what she had done, it turned out that instead of following these instructions exactly, she went to her cousin’s place for the day and lay on her couch.) No, no, no. The naked skin and privacy are a big part of this “Babymoon” formula. Don’t modify. Probably, when you read this, you thought “This would be a luxury for a new mother.” It’s actually very basic and pays huge dividends for the family and larger community. Some cultures understand this and make sure the new mother is given a 40 day period of rest/care when she has a baby. (interesting: when I just looked on Google images for a photo to go with this post, the first 3 pages of pictures were new mothers and babies ALL sitting up.  The baby in this photo looks about 3 months old.)

I hear many dramatic stories from midwives and nurses about women who had to be operated on after giving birth because they were bleeding heavily and had “retained pieces of placenta” or “retained clots”. My personal experience is that ALL post birth bleeding is remedied by resting in bed. The lochia is red for the first two days, changes to pink and serumy around the third day, and then proceeds to being brownish and quite smelly for about two weeks. If it turns red again after going through the pink and brownish stages, it means the mother is doing too much. She needs to follow the “BabyMoon” lie-in instructions above. Remember, THIS IS NOT A LUXURY, IT’S BASIC. The family needs to be told that, if they don’t help the mother to rest in bed, they will end up visiting her in hospital.
We need to give up the notion of supermom. Do whatever it takes to get your rest time after the birth and then you will be back to your busy life sooner. When women have homebirths, they usually feel so well that they want to get up and “prove” to the world that they can do anything. Be mindful of the Zen maxim “If you have something to prove, you have nothing to discover.” The really smart women don’t even get dressed for weeks after the birth. If you’re all perky in a track suit, people will expect you to run . . . therefore, find the nastiest old nightie possible and wear that to convince family and friends that you need their assistance.

If you can’t figure out how to ask for help in the early weeks with a new baby, photocopy 20 copies of this list and hand out freely.

Rest, high protein meals, and lots of skin to skin time in bed with baby . . . these are the basics of getting motherhood off to a good start.

About gloria

I live and work in Vancouver BC Canada. I've been in the childbirth business for 30 years. I teach midwifery and doula courses both online and in person.
This entry was posted in Postpartum care. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to The Undervalued Therapeutic Power of Rest

  1. Woman, are you reading my LIFE? I’m 10 days pp and EVERYONE has been driving me crazy telling me to rest. But…I HAVE THREE CHILDREN. I have three children and it’s just not even POSSIBLE to spend all day in bed. And…I’m still dealing with on and off again bright red bleeding. I know, I KNOW it’s better to rest. But how, exactly, does that WORK in our society? My husband has to WORK (we are very, very poor, time off isn’t even an option). The only saving grace is that we live with my MIL. But…she’s a Lupus patient, herself. Oh, we’re quite a team! :P

    Anyway, all whining aside, I appreciated this post. It’s so hard for me to validated “letting things slip”. We live in a TINY house. Letting things slip not only makes me crazy, it makes living here impossible for everybody. So I deal with a lot of guilt when I don’t do much. It helps to know this is what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing.

    • Lisa says:

      My thoughts exactly. I have always thought it an odd and frustrating paradox that birth, by nature, demands so much rest and that our society is not in support of that. Every one of my friends talks about how it would be heaven to just lay in bed with our little ones postpartum, but unless it’s an only child the household would fall apart in that situation! I too battle wanting to stay in my bed and keeping the house in order. Ideally, this is where a mother/grandma/sister/aunt would come in and take over. The “village” would step-up and support the postpartum woman and her baby. My own mother walked into my house, stepped over piles of unfolded laundry, and walked out. No support here. Doesn’t mean we let go of the ideal!

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  3. Kolin says:

    I total agree!!

    I am a Malaysian living in Dubai. In my culture, new mothers are looked after and spoilt by their mothers or MIL. If they prefer outsiders then they can always hire a confinement lady that will help out with household chores on top of giving therapeutic healing massage, steam bath and cooking special meals for the new mother.

    We are not allowed to get out of bed for the first few days and strictly no getting out of the house for 44 days. No walking up or down the stairs either. I got bored with the treatment with my first birth and took off to the supermarket after 14 days and got what I deserved for not abiding by these rules.. Now I am looking forward to my confinement (postpartum care) rituals in January. I have already booked my mom and MIL to fly in from Malaysia just for that!!

  4. Elodie says:

    Oh Gloria!
    Every midwife and doula says the same thing, as all pregnancy books, but none of us listen… I was cooking for my in-laws a week PP and running around taking them on “tours”… my milk production became very scarce and I called my midwives and doula for help. They told me to get naked in my tub with baby and then naked in bed with baby. I realized that I wasn’t taking the time for me or my little boy. When I finally came around and rested, milk production went right back up and my health just got better and better. Now I take the time to have a nap when I need one, even if it means putting some work off for a day or two. We are so conditionned to “do better” and go beyond our limits that we forget how precious that resting time is. In some traditions, women were not allowed out of their beds for 40 days postpartum and were catered too by family and friends. 40 days! Imagine what that would do for all the struggling mothers who have breastfeeding issues…

  5. Penny in TX says:

    When my youngest son was in the NICU, one of the nurses who cared for him was from India. She would massage the babies under her care after bathing and explained to me that in her culture, mothers also were supposed to lie in with their babies for six weeks, with the mother or MIL managing the home and giving regular massages to both mother and baby. Sounded like heaven to me at the time (fending for myself day and night at a large children’s hospital while trying to recover from birth). I’d have settled for my first midwife’s “queen for two weeks”!

  6. Steph says:

    I am going to be sharing this post so thank you so much for writing it. The only problem I have with what you have written is: why do the meals have to be brought to the mother by “another adult woman”? Why can’t the father of the child take on this responsibility? In fact, where is the father (or other parent to be completely unbiased) in this scheme at all?
    Other than that I admire you standing up for us new mothers and forcing us to take care of ourselves so that we can better care for our babies.

    • Georgina says:

      I’ll be interested to see what Gloria says about Dad…personally I think, if you have the man with the energy to do that, thats great. My children’s father was also tired after the birth of our babes, was tired looking after older children, and was tired supporting me with night time parenting. So by all means, get Dad to cook meals, but I still beleive, if you have more support from other women, then even better. xx

  7. Sarah says:

    This is a good recipe for ANY woman, even those whose babies are grown! I’ve been really insistent that I have at least a day during each week to slow down, rest, put my feet up, and the like. I’m a big fan of simplifying life. It makes my family happier, and my body and mind, too. Thanks for this reminder. :)

  8. Judith says:

    Wow. I was able to read this via my girlfriend’s post. Thank you for this article. I will be keeping it on my radar for all new moms. It took me having twins to finally gather this concept… but it was such a hard concept for others to understand. I needed my babymoon to be able to make breastfeeding happen… if I hadn’t had those days of skin to skin contact, I don’t think that the journey would’ve been as successful as it has been. The babies are now 5 months old and I only long to have help in home for my 5 and 2 year old in order to have more days like those… I know my body still longs for that time. Your article speaks of the need to have women helping women – and the village mentality of raising our children so that we don’t fall into the habits of isolating ourselves in the supermom syndrome. I am grateful for this article as I had had a great deal of my circle not understand my need to have this time at home alone with my babies… this has confirmed so many of my ideas. Thank you!

  9. Amen, Gloria. Simple, wise, and powerful. While our culture has changed, our basic needs haven’t, and we need to recreate a postpartum culture that nourishes health, not appearances of being on top of it all.

  10. Genevieve says:

    I wish that this would have happened for me with my daughter. I had a hemorrhage right after birth and then a second bleed due to a piece of retained placenta at 9 weeks. I was a zombie and I had zero help from family or friends, my daughter had colic and the only way I could calm her was to walk around with her in the Ergo or bounce her on my birth ball. My husband went back to work after one week, and was completely useless when he got home from his job.

    I’ll never forget my husbands father and grandparents coming for a “short” visit at 2 weeks PP and staying for 4 hours (my husbands grandpa actually had the nerve to ask me to get him a cup of coffee and something to eat). Never again!! Before we got pregnant with this baby I had a serious talk with my husband about the complete lack of support I got from him. His father/grandparents will not be invited over and as far as I’m concerned unless someone is bringing us food or supplies they can stay away for the first month. The only good thing that has come from the lack of support after my daughter’s birth is knowing that if/when my children have children of their own I will be there for them after birth taking care of them no matter what.

  11. Bettie says:

    Oh, I beg my ladies to rest! I say, moms who take it easy early on feel fabulous months later. The moms who try to suck it up and go back to normal will be dragging around wondering what it wrong with them three months postpartum. Resting and healing is a good use of time! No more guilty postpartum moms, lay there and know that you are doing yourself and your family a favor in the long run.

  12. Chelsea C says:

    Good post, just curious to your thoughts on the “Babymoon”. Do you think it would work on a mother and baby who are 2 months PP and her milk supply is low and has been since the baby was born. She has tried everything else, domperidone, blessed thistle, fenugreek. Maybe I can suggest it to her and see if that helps. What are your thoughts, do you think its too late for that?

    • gloria says:

      I call that the “24 Hour Cure” for breastfeeding problems.

      1. woman stays in bed for 24 hours, only gets up to use toilet.
      2. woman wears underpants only and baby is naked except for diaper (lots of skin to skin contact)
      3. lots of fluid and nourishing, protein rich food brought to the bedside
      Within 24 hours the milk supply is up and bountiful.

      • Jen says:

        I find this so frustrating. My supply took a sudden precipitous drop when my daughter was 7 weeks old – it coincided with a sudden illness that knocked me flat on my arse for 24 hours. It never recovered. I tried chugging water, eating oatmeal eight times a day, and spending as much naked lounging time with my kiddo as I could manage. My supply never returned. By the time I returned to work six weeks later, we were supplementing with formula. I did everything I could to pump and breastfeed until she was 10 months old when I gave up. Getting 3 oz a day over five pumping sessions was just depressing.

        I had been consoling myself that I did the best that I could and now I’m hearing that I wasn’t naked enough. Wasn’t cuddling enough with my daughter (who I was loathe to set down even for tummy time). And still, if this post is to be believed, it seems I did not do enough to breastfeed my baby.

  13. Missie says:

    I once saw something, Gloria, I think you had written (maybe on BirthLove?) about the 6 week postpartum bleed (final gusto of healing type of thing). Do you have that anywhere?

    • gloria says:

      doesn’t sound like anything I’ve even thought. . . the lochia should complete between 14 and 21 days and, hopefully, after that no bleeding for 12 months to 2 years with breastfeeding exclusively for first 6 months.

      • Lacy says:

        Gloria,
        I’ve experienced several weeks and up to 3 months of bleeding with all 4 of my babies, with lots of rest and nakedness with naked baby. I have an abundant milk supply, always. What gives? :) I definitely don’t want to continue experiencing this excessive postpartum lochia with every baby I birth. I would love to hear your thoughts!

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  15. tiffany says:

    This is so great. After the birth of my third my two older girls developed the stomach flu. So my husband took extra time off of work and baby girl and I hid in the master bedroom. I only got out of bed that first week to change her and occasionally shower. All meals were brought in to me, I did no housework. I just cuddled the baby, slept, nursed, read, and watched TV. It was glorious. Sure I felt bad that my husband was dealing with two sick little girls by himself, but we didn’t want to risk baby or I getting sick and so he made it work. But the thing that happened that we didn’t expect was how much faster I healed and how well I healed and just how much sooner I felt “normal” again. As such this go around (pregnant with my fourth) we are planning for a week in bed for me and baby. I highly recommend it to everyone that can, rest really makes a difference.

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  19. Sazz says:

    Great post Gloria. I have such trouble permitting myself to rest (even when sick). It’s the main reason we chose to lotus birth. I HAD to slow down with a placenta and cord to consider. Best decision ever :)

  20. Betsy Dewey says:

    Gloria, you are I are soul sistahs. Found you on Twitter and I LOVE your site. Problem – I can’t figure out how to subscribe. Maybe this will do it. I love home birth, intact penises, staying in bed after birth and all the other things doctors don’t know about. I will direct many many folks to your site. Happy to have found such a great resource. My book will be out soon – but you of all people, don’t need to read it. It’s about natural pregnancy and birth.
    Love,
    Betsy http://www.betsydewey.com Twitter: @betsdew

  21. Scarlett says:

    Thank you for this Gloria! One of the few things I regret about my homebirth is that I tried to do too much afterwards. Just as your article describes, I went through the different lochia phases and then I’d do too much and it would start all over again. I tried to rest but my husband didn’t understand and thought I was just being lazy. I’ll have to bookmark this for our next pregnancy and enlist my mom and MIL to be there to help me. Thank you!

  22. Kay says:

    I love this article Gloria! Yes our society does not value rest, at all. I have suffered from a chronic illness and found that rest was required to get well, and yet that is something that employers, friends and family do not fathom!

    It has also worked for me in pregnancy and I know that after my last baby I did not rest (I had a birthday party for my 3 year old!!). This time in a few weeks, rest is the ONLY thing on my agenda post-baby for at least 2 weeks.

  23. Lia Joy says:

    I am so glad I found this post!! I’m nursing a 2.5yr old and for almost a year I’ve been dealing with nipple pain like what you’d expect from a newborn (chapped, cracking, excruciating!) but it comes and goes. I recently noticed that it comes on during the second half of my cycle (starting after ovulation and becoming worst during my moon) Could getting more rest be the key? I relish the opportunity to give myself permission to try it out!! :) Thanks!!

  24. Kathy says:

    I so wish my family and I had known how true this is when I had my first baby!! My husband and I were living with his parents for the first few months as he didn’t have a job. I felt continued pressure to be busy and work all the time from my in-laws.

    My mother-in law (who used to be a midwife and probably should know better) told me I should take clothes in to hospital as “you should get dressed during the day”. I only took pjays. After my daughter was born I felt really critisised because I was “home all day and could have got something on for tea”. I was really struggling with severely painful attachment and post-natal depression (not acknowledged by my older in-laws) and this was not something I felt I could ever get around to. My father-in-law said I needed to “do some work” to warm up when I felt extremely cold. Not only was the house being renovated and had no heating but it turned out I had mastitis anyway!

    That was 5 years ago and I still feel really angry about it. The most they ever did for me after having my daughter was that my mother-in-law told me she would do the vacuuming for the first 6 weeks because “you shouldn’t do that right after giving birth”.

    One thing I’m really grateful for is that in spite of all this stress and pressure with insufficient lying down and rest, I had an ample milk supply. If I hadn’t I would have been even more stressed out. In spite of this it took me a little while to realise that my daughter hadn’t ‘drank all my milk’ but that I needed to relax for my let-down to happen.

  25. I had an emergency c-sec with complications (a complete dehiscence), which left me stuck in bed for the better part of a few months. The only good thing about that is that it absolutely forced me to rest and to accept help from family. Not sure my type-A/perfectionist personality would’ve allowed me to do that, if not for the wound. At any rate, I have a cute pic of me and my 5-month-old napping in bed together (clothed, alas), if you ever need one in the future ;-)

  26. Hi there, I absolutely LOVE this post. It’s a fantastic reminder to slow down…something I really struggle with. Would you mind if we re-posted this on our birth stories blog? It’s such an important thing for new mums to read, we’d love to share it with our readers.
    Thanks
    Michelle

  27. Ellen says:

    I wish I had read this earlier. My baby is now 11 weeks old and we’re doing fine. But we had some problems in the beginning, trying to be superwoman. Oh, and I wish my man had read this. He was dissapointed I didn’t want to run around visiting his family two weeks after giving birth.

    Thank you for writing such powerful words.

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  29. Ashley says:

    I really think that my two week long babymoon really helped nursing go so well for my daughter and I. I didn’t really put on clothes, especially a shirt, for a long long time. Just wasn’t worth it when she wanted to eat every hour or hour and a half. Nursing was new for me and I already had too many things to “juggle” around without having to worry about a shirt. I also think what really helped was having her pediatrician tell me that he “prescribed” a “prescription” for me to stay home for two weeks and that he would write me a note telling everyone that I was to do NOTHING but drink water and nurse her. It really gave me a lot of confidence in my decision to hear a pediatrician say that! Here I am, 15 months later, at the end of a VERY happy and healthy nursing relationship.

  30. Shelly says:

    I’ve got about 6 weeks until baby comes. I also have 6 other children to care for. So, I’ve been working on making freezer meals for after baby comes. My other kids are 23 months to 12 years of age and are on a schedule with chores and homeschooling. Though we are flexible with that schedule, we all keep it sane and fairly orderly around here, even when I have to go on bed rest. All the preparation is great and helps a ton. BUT after baby comes, I have a seriously hard time taking time to rest and sleep because I feel guilty when I could be up and helping. Knowing that I have prepared and made the job easier for my hubby and family will make things go smoother but hearing that its okay not to be supermom when I don’t have to, that just means a lot. ;)

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