Restoration: A Commitment to Postpartum Rest

I used to think I should prove how strong I was after birth by being as productive as I could be, as soon as I could be. Now I realize how wrong I was, and how important postpartum rest is!

Restoration A Commitment to Postpartum Rest

After I had my first baby, rest was a kind of default. I was home in a small apartment, alone, all day, with this new infant that left me awestruck, in love, and completely overwhelmed with feelings of incompetence. Napping was a great way to pass the time.

Yet with each passing baby, that default of rest was wiped away progressively. I wanted to get back into the mothering game, or maybe just felt like I had no other choice. A couple of days, maybe a week, of rest had to be sufficient. I was strong.

Mashing potatoes by hand after three or four days. Traveling across the state, rather than being home alone overnight, after five days. Being the default cook for overnight guests after a week. Scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees after two weeks.

Some of those situations were those I didn’t choose and slightly resented. But some? I walked into willingly and convinced that my body could handle it.

I was so wrong, and though it took me many babies to realize it, rest and recovery is absolutely vital for a healthy postpartum period for every woman. And this sixth time, I’m committed to a solid month of rest after our baby is born.

Why I Scoffed at Rest, and What Changed It

Baby C sleeping

I remember having visitors pop in at the hospital after having our second baby. As I walked to greet them into our room, one marveled at how I was up walking around a couple of days after having a baby. You can imagine how I soaked that in!

And I let it plant a seed in my mind that being up and about shortly after giving birth was a good and admirable thing for a strong woman to do.

At times I’d feel my limitations, notice an increase in bleeding, and be frustrated that I wasn’t encouraged to rest more. Other times I let my returning strength and energy fool me into doing something unnecessary, just for the sake of being productive and strong again.

My mind started to shift after our third baby. She was our first home birth, and things went incredibly well during labor and delivery. The afterpains, though, were many times worse than labor and lasted for four days of sharp intensity. Once they finally ended and my strength started to return, I was eager to just do something.

So at two weeks postpartum, I got on my hands and knees while the baby slept and scrubbed my little kitchen floor. It was a very small kitchen, mind you. Surely I was up to it!

It didn’t take long for me to realize how foolish I was to do something like that. I set my healing and recovery back by days, maybe a full week or more, by doing something that my body wasn’t nearly ready to handle, all so that I could be strong and productive again.

One of my midwives later told me that it’s not terribly uncommon for new mothers to experience postpartum hemorrhage around 2 weeks after birth because they do too much as they start feeling stronger. After my experience, I believed it.

I also felt terribly weepy, anxious, and uncertain of myself after every birth but the fifth. At that point I’d finally settled on slowing down, noticing that the extra rest and recovery did wonders for me.

How I’m Planning to Make Rest a Reality

C sleeping

A major challenge for most moms when it comes to postpartum rest is feeling a lack of support. Our fast-paced society doesn’t emphasize the importance of postpartum rest and healing, as this article so accurately portrays.

My family lives hours away from us, and the local friends I have are moms to young children, as well. Though we may have some meals brought over post-baby, I’m never quite sure what kind of help and support to expect for the first couple of weeks besides my husband taking off work and my mom staying for about three days.

I realized that if I wanted to rest after birth, I needed to do some planning to make that possible.

  • Homeschooling with consist of independent reading and me reading out loud occasionally for the first month.
  • I stored up lots of sourdough bread, some other prepared items, and meal ingredients in the freezer so that my oldest daughter and husband can take over much of the cooking. If we have eggs and toast, no one starves.
  • I’ve talked with my husband about my goals to make rest a priority for the first month so that he remembers how important it is to me and can support me in doing so after birth.
  • I’ve lined up guest post writers for the blog and prepared my Lilla Rose team to expect me to be laying low, reminding them of how they can contact me if needed.
  • I’ve mentally planned out activities and tasks I’ve been wanting to take care of online that I haven’t been able to make a priority yet.
  • I taught my oldest two how to run the washer and dryer and let them know that I won’t be carrying laundry up and down the steps for about a month.

More than anything else, I’ve finally convinced myself that there is no shame in making rest an absolute priority after having a baby. Rather, there is immense wisdom in doing so!

I’m fully committed to politely passing on visitors as needed, delegating duties while lowering expectations, and resigning myself to my bed, couch, or rocking chair as the first month goes by. My family deserves me at my best, and I can’t get there by rushing the healing process through the neglect of postpartum rest.

Restoration A Commitment to Postpartum Rest 2

Do you make rest a priority after birth or are you tempted to rush into activity after birth?

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33 Comments

  1. Very wise. I am a homebirth midwife who tries to go against the flow of things these days and advise my clients to respect the postpartum time and take their time by slowly easing their way back into their lives and commitments. While many think they aren’t doing any damage to their health by jumping back into their everyday life, they don’t realize what a t toll it may bring 5 years from now, 20 years from now.. Also what many women don’t realize is that while they are nursing their joints are still hormonally loose, that they are more likely to have injuries that may be life long. Any post partum woman who begins to bleed again after bleeding has stopped, or bleeds heavier has overdone it and needs to back off their activities again and let their body heal. Then the whole, stitches, and skid mark thing is w whole other matter.. Respect your body and it will serve you well …

  2. As a maternity nurse for 40 years, I used to find other cultures traditions of long ” laying in” (often for 6 weeks) periods postpartum quite humours and self indulgent. I was proud of myself when I bounced back quickly after my 2nd and third births. ( my first was another story, still sitting on a pillow at 3 months so my body forced me slow down). With my 3rd birth(6 weeks premature) I felt impowered when I brought her home on day 5 and held a birthday party for my toddler the next day. Although I didn’t suffer any serious set backs with this regime of jumping back into my normal life quickly, I now believe that approach to be so wrong. I’ve learned that traditions of resting for 6 weeks allows us the much needed time to recover physically from the birth process and the demands of getting breastfeeding started off well. As a North American culture we need to reintroduce an extended postpartum rest period with extended support from family, friends and postpartum doula care. Loved this article!

    1. So true, Nancy! I felt the same way after my first two, thinking I was so strong for being up and at ’em quickly after birth. I wonder if we just value self-sufficiency too much and have lost the art and tradition of community support. I do see more birth professionals like you encouraging a longer resting period, so I’m hopeful things are turning around! Keep sharing your experience, Nancy. New mommas need it!

  3. Hi! I followed a link over to your blog and just want to say how much I LOVE your blog! I can’t wait to read more. I share many things in common with you, and love your site.

    My story of postpartum rest started out with seriously overdoing things with our first. I had an exhausting pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum. I had a super-hard 18-hour labor, ending at 11:00 p.m. that night. The next morning, I was up at 5:30 a.m., vacuuming the entire house – because I was DETERMINED that I was NOT going to let this baby disrupt my household routines. Yikes. That was one miserable postpartum. Thankfully, since then, I ran across a Mothering Magazine article talking specifically about postpartum rest. After our second I took two weeks, after our third I took two weeks, and after our fourth I took one week (work problems with my husband prevented the full two weeks). And that’s just the staying-in-bed part – I also purpose to stay home and quiet (no outings, no major projects) for six weeks. It really, really helps. And since I’m really an introvert, it’s also a treat! 🙂

    Thanks for the blog, I can’t wait to read more!
    Diana

    1. Hi Diana! I’m delighted you found me here. 🙂

      The story of your first postpartum experience definitely made my jaw drop! I can only imagine how rough that time period was for you, especially after HG, but it sounds like you have gained a lot of wisdom since then. I completely relate to enjoying the quiet time at home, too. I have a strong introverted streak and nothing brings it out quite so strongly as the last couple of weeks of pregnancy and the first month with a baby!

  4. I know it’s so hard for me to rest, especially now with my second. But the blood loss has affected me worse with the birth of my son than with the birth of my daughter, and that has really forced me to slow down. I can’t stand very much or do much because it will give me random waves of nausea and light-headed feelings. Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok to rest, and it’s not just me being lazy.

    1. Yes, Andrea! Please listen to your body. I’ve found over the births I’ve had that bleeding always goes up when I’m not resting enough. It might very well be your body’s way of telling you to slow down. That’s challenging when you have a toddler and a new baby, though. I think that’s the busiest stage of motherhood, honestly! Maybe keeping some books, puzzles, coloring books, etc. near a couch with you can keep your little girl occupied while you rest? Times like this we allow extra screen time, too. Sometimes you just need to do that!

      Give yourself lots of grace to rest as much as you can until you can recover from the blood loss. Maybe you could ask your health care provider about adding a quality iron supplement while your body rebuilds? Floradix Iron & Herbs is a great one to consider if anemia is a concern for you right now.

      Praying you can find rest and recovery while caring for your two little ones!

      1. We are definitely allowing extra screen time, but books and puzzles don’t keep her occupied very well because she’s only one. She’s into everything! We are learning to manage, though. 🙂 I am taking iron supplements the hospital gave me before I was released, so hopefully I’ll feel better after a couple more weeks. My baby boy is 3 weeks old already. Time goes by so quickly!

  5. If we do not force ourselves to take it easy after the baby is born, our bodies will make sure we get the hint quick! My mother had left to go back home immediately after I came home from the hospital. My husband had to return immediately to school and work that evening. I had a complete breakdown. I was scared, exhausted and hormonal. There I was completely alone 3 days postpartum with a rambunctious toddler and newborn. I prayed to God for help and strength. The next day I began experiencing severe pain, and fever. I ended up in the hospital for the next two days with a uterine infection. I was devistated, but realized that maybe God was answering my prayers. I had so desperately needed that extra rest and recovery in the hospital. I was always taught and raised as was my mother and hers, that we need to be strong, independent, women. That I could handle it all. Truth was, I couldnt and God knew that. I felt so much guilt for being in the hospital, but I am really not that strong and am not afraid to admit it. I admit I need help this time around. Even if I have to pay for a postpartum doula or help then that is what I will do. Mothers and families do not help eachother out anymore when it comes to these things. Its unacceptable! We need eachother! The Lord never created us to be able to handle it all!

    1. Life with baby and a toddler is very challenging, especially right away! I’ve been very thankful that my husband is able to take some time off. I can’t imagine doing it completely alone. You definitely needed that extra rest and recovery time, though I’m sorry it had to come through an infection! We definitely can’t handle it all. The postpartum period is a time to accept help, even though that’s sometimes hard to do.

  6. Kristin, thanks for this great post! I really appreciate it, since I’m very much a “doer,” and in this pregnancy (I’m currently pregnant with my first child), learning to allow myself rest has been hard. I’ve been learning it, though! 😉 I have no idea what my postpartum period will look like energy-wise, so hearing that it’s OK to take a break is reassuring. It’s helped me see that even if I feel really good after birth (which I may; like I said, I have no clue what I’ll feel like!) I need to allow myself at least some time to find the perfect balance to achieve healing and health in my life 🙂

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, AnneMarie! Different care providers will probably suggest different guidelines, but my midwives really stress a lot of rest during that first month, even if you feel like you could conquer the world. It’s so easy to overdo it unintentionally! But that may not mean you’ll want or need to be totally bedridden, either. Listen to your body with a good bit of caution. 🙂 I wish you the very best birth and recovery period!

  7. I have been all over the spectrum with this issue. With the majority of my babies I was up and about literally hours after giving birth. The sooner I was up and walking around and getting back into my routine the better I did mentally. Lol, with my first I had her at 8:30 am on a Tuesday and was back in college classes the next morning. It was just what I did – I honestly didn’t think of doing anything otherwise (nor could I have without jeopardizing my school work). I was able to bounce back postpartum rather easily and doing so kept the baby blues under a bit of control (just a bit, mind you). However, I sometimes pushed things too far and ended up cramping and upset when I exhausted myself. Then I had twins at 31 weeks and spent my days and night sitting either at the pump or holding first one baby, then the other in the NICU. I barely walked except down the hallway to use the bathroom or to get something to eat. I got a lot of rest – more than with my first 9 babies for sure! But physically it was absolutely horrible – my body was screaming for activity and renewed strength (even with a c-section). My mind was dull and sleepy, and my emotions were out of control. By the time I headed home with my babies a month later I was battling a sedentary lifestyle both physically and mentally that I couldn’t snap out of for over 2 years. When #12 was born I was up and about immediately, walking the hospital hallways. Once I headed home I tried to find a balance between doing the things that help me keep my sanity (laundry is my peaceful thing…strange, I know), and resting. Finally, after all those babies, I was able to tell my family that I was going to nap when my baby napped and I didn’t feel guilty about it. But I also did chores, ran errands, went to a bowling tournament and church with my 4- day old baby, and didn’t feel guilty about that. It only took me a dozen kids to find what worked for me (I’m a slow learner, lol). I cannot indulge in rest postpartum or the blues become a looming depression; walking in the door from the hospital with my 6-hour old baby and running a load of laundry then sitting on the couch checking schoolwork is what is best for me. I feel stronger for it in every way. I will not wash floors or do anything that severely strains my uterus (I learned that one the very hard and painful way!) but for ME personally I relate more to the women who would work in the fields even during labor, go off to push baby out, strap baby on their back and return to work. I am incredibly grateful for the strength I have and realize not every woman can do what I do or wants to do what I do. I envy women who can rest as described in the post and the responses! But I will push myself rather than return to a 2+ year funk following childbirth.

    1. Hi there, Womanintheshoe. 🙂 I think you’re right in that it’s important for every mom to find the right balance for her. Little bits of activity can certainly fit into a period of rest! I’m glad you feel like you found what was needed for you.

  8. This is great advice. I had planned well in advance but also had a lot of time off before baby came so I had 6 weeks of raw crockpot meals frozen down and 6 weeks worth of baking. However I found the greatest opposition to me getting lots of rest came from my mum who came from the “just plow through” generation and I think thought I was being really lazy. She raised us away from any family in the heart of London, no fridge, you had to shop daily and she was walking to the supermarket with me at 1 day old and my two year old brother right after she got out of hospital. There was a generation above us who did it really tough with tight budgets and a post war mentality and sometimes I wonder if that’s where a lot of our community way of living was lost. If she came to visit at 11am and I was still in my pj’s she would berate me and I would say “where am I going”. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great help, cleaned, sat with bubs and helped with so much just a generational gap there that was a challenge.

    1. That’s some incredible kitchen prep you had done, Tracey! I’ll be thrilled if my frozen bread lasts us a month. And I agree, it seems that with the community mentality that died away, there are differences in the way previous generations support moms today. My husband and I talked about the post war generation in particular, since they had to be so self-sufficient and “plow through”, like you said. The one article I linked to noted research done that seemed to point to the end of pioneering in the US as being the time when moms were less supported postpartum.

  9. I just had my 5th baby and hemorrhaged at 12 days postpartum. Thank the Lord it wasn’t bad and a few days off my feet helped immensely. However, every joint and muscle in my lower body ached for weeks afterwards and it scared me a lot. There was no warning and I was feeling good. Afterwards, and for several days, I felt slightly dizzy when I got up from lying down. The birth had been one of my best, so I was totally unprepared for the turn of events. I was almost entirely off my feet for the first 10 days with little exertion. I guess my body just needed extra time to heal. After some research, I now understand more of the why, as well. The placenta leaves a huge wound when it detachs and as the uterus contracts back it helps this wound close and heal. Multiple pregnancies relax the uterus and it doesn’t contract as well, often resulting in afterpains and sometimes a longer healing process. The afterpains can be helped by wrapping (it will hold the uterus in one position as it contracts) and by completely avoiding cold foods and beverages for the first few days to a week. The rest of the healing just takes time.

    1. Yikes, Leah! Scary indeed! Your story is definitely an important one to take note of. I personally really liked using a postpartum belly splint to help hold my tummy muscles together after being stretched out so much during pregnancy. Not sure how much that really impacts bleeding, but I know some cultures feel that it is imperative to have the belly tightly wrapped to help keep bleeding under control. Anyhow, I’m so glad that you were able to recover from the hemorrhage and are doing okay now!

  10. My last baby was in the NICU for 2 1/2 weeks. I lived at the hospital for the first two weeks and at Ronald McDonald house for the rest. That did force me to take it easy! There was no place to go, except take care if my baby and go downstairs to the cafeteria after they stopped feeding me. I used the elevator. That was the only time I got hemroids. I walked across the street to my doctor’s office and back.

    I think it is important to get good rest, but I never really got it. When my first girl was born, I went shopping with my sister to buy dresses. My first three are boys, we needed to celebrate the girl! But at three days post partum, my blood pressure was low and I couldn’t stand long… Ooooo… I had to sit down.

    For my daughters-in-law, I stay to help them get the breast feeding going well. Then take care of mom if she needs it. I think mommies need to get up and do some things, but they need rest too. Listen to your body.

    1. Your story about going out to look for clothes reminds me of something I did after our first was born. I was driving to a store to return the many things we couldn’t use for our baby while my mom stayed with her. The problem? It was my first full day home from the hospital! I drove the whole way with my sister, got incredibly emotional while gone, and was nearly panicked in my mind thinking about the baby I had waiting for me at home who might be crying needing ME! That errand definitely should have waited *much* longer.

      You’re also right about getting up and about a little. Walking around the house or even on a short walk down the street could absolutely fit in to a month of rest!

  11. I haven’t figured out why yet, but I tend towards sedentary. So, I was cooped up at home for months after having my first, and that wasn’t great for me as little walks can be healing and I became very isolated. Of course there are those nesting urges though that make us want to run around doing housework. We also have quite a bit of paperwork to file, related to living overseas, and that typically leaves me drained enough to not want to even attempt much else!

    I’ve noticed that American moms are often in church the first Sunday after childbirth, whereas here in Russia they typically come when the baby is about 2 months old. And even then they are careful not to expose the baby to unwanted germs.

    I’m lucky in that we will stay with my parents after the birth and then my in-laws will help us once we get home. I won’t need to cook and someone will always be on hand to carry baskets of laundry or groceries. But taking care of babies alone is a challenge! And I remember from last time how much I wanted to DO something between feedings, when really I needed the rest. So I think it is always, always challenging, continually pouring out your strength for your family, even if you are simply healing.

    1. That’s such an interesting contrast between Russia and the US! Truthfully, going back to church is the one area that is challenging for me. My husband is the pastor of our church, so when I go, it can be a lot for me to manage on my own with a toddler and 4 year old needing me, too. I plan to wait a bit longer to return this time to be sure I can handle the big day out! My three older children are lots of help, so it will definitely need to be a team effort.

  12. With my son, I just gave the assistant midwife a blank look when she informed me I needed to stay in bed for the first week. A WHOLE WEEK??? Of course I didn’t listen. My daughter came 21 months later, and I actually wanted to rest. I especially recognized the importance of it after we took her to the pediatrician at three days old and then wandered around Walmart to get clothes for her (not kidding). My husband and I also took her to the health department later that week because my midwife recommended a blood draw within the first seven days. If and when we are blessed with more, I plan to be much kinder to my body!

    1. I know what you mean about thinking a lot of rest was just out of the question! When I first learned about momma friends setting aside the first *month* to rest, I was dumbfounded! Then experience taught me better. 😉 I’m all for soaking in as much rest as I can after baby is born!

  13. Great plan, momma! I take a full month myself. I lower expectations, rest in bed or on the couch, and do as little as possible. My body has just ran a 9-month marathon. The least I can do is let it rest as much as possible!

    1. You are wise, Ashley! I wish I would have emphasized rest earlier in my mothering years. Those nine months are a marathon with a serious SPRINT at the end!

  14. Thank you for this. I too have realized the importance of postpartum rest. Especially since I’ve paid for NOT resting.
    About a week after my second, I felt good enough to go trim bushes…Well, that following week, I started down with a mysterious fever. Calling my midwife, she told me to go to bed and stay there! I did, and in the morning it was gone..I got up and guess what! Fever returned by evening. It was a threatened breast infection, only taken care of by REST. My midwife told me it was my body telling me to SLOW down.
    I too, wish that it was ENCOURAGED that we rest more postpartum.

    1. Such a great addition, Courtney. Our bodies have all sorts of ways of protesting when we push them too quickly after birth. Breast infections are another one! Perhaps as more voices speak about the need to rest and the craziness of America’s current postpartum mindset, we can encourage a more restful month after birth for moms down the road.

  15. Good for you!! I know for myself, the hardest part about resting is the guilt- or feeling like others think I’m being lazy. Research shows otherwise. Most cultures encourage post partum rest and I think it’s sad that in America new moms don’t have the support they need! No wonder we stick with 2 or 3 children. Blessings!

    1. So true, Mary Ann! It’s really easy to get stuck feeling like “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done” or “my family is depending on me!” I’ve definitely fallen into those two thoughts in the past. I wish it hadn’t taken me 6 pregnancies to become completely convinced on the importance of rest!