When I had my first baby, I bought into the myth that women could just “bounce back” within a few days of giving birth, resuming their normal activities and being the superwoman, multitasking martyrs who we women are expected to be. I tried to do just that: cooking, cleaning the house top to bottom, hosting guests — all when my son was just a few days old.
Soon after, I fell into a period of panic attacks and postpartum anxiety. Not only that, but my postpartum bleeding lasted much longer than the two to four weeks it was supposed to.
Looking back, I couldn’t help but feel that all of this was related to the fact that I pushed myself to do too much too soon during the postpartum period.
So the second time around, I decided to take a “babymoon.” What that means in crunchy hippie-land is that you clear your calendar and hunker down in bed with your baby for a few weeks, resting, nursing, and bonding. I know it sounds absurd and totally unrealistic for many, but I was determined to make it happen because I didn’t want to experience what I had experienced the first time.
I made my husband take two weeks off work without pay so he could take care of our older child and tend to the housework. I was pretty worried about what it would mean to lose two weeks of pay and whether our marriage would survive the extreme role reversal.
But let me tell you, I have zero regrets. Not only did I freaking deserve the break, but I ended up feeling much stronger, healthier, and more balanced for months after those first few weeks. It was a sacrifice, but it was also an investment in my physical and mental health, which benefited my whole family in the long run.
Here are some concrete reasons why all women deserve time to rest and be pampered in the postpartum period.
Your uterus needs time to whip itself back into shape.
Your uterus is an amazing organ and can stretch from the size of your fist before pregnancy to the size of a mini baby-house at the end of pregnancy. It actually takes up to six whole weeks for your uterus to complete “involution,” which is the fancy name for “shrinking.” And not without a fight: Those afterpains are little mofos that I was not prepared for in the least, especially the second time around. Not to mention the bleeding, which is much heavier than a period, at least in the beginning.
So does your vagina.
If you had a C-section, you know that nothing must come near your incision. Nothing. Not even cute baby feet. And if you’ve had any kind of vaginal tear — even if you’ve been stitched well and good — it’s not like you should be running around reorganizing the pantry for the baby food that will fill it in six months. Get your butt in bed. Rest. Heal.
Your hormones need time to stabilize.
When you’re pregnant, your hormone levels are 20 to 30 times higher than when you’re not pregnant. They drop pretty suddenly postpartum, and almost all moms experience “baby blues” as a result (which generally lasts just a few days and is not to be confused with postpartum depression, which lasts longer and is more intense). But extreme sleep deprivation and overexertion can make this shift much harder for your body to handle.
Resting and relaxing helps with breastfeeding.
You can be stressed and still have plenty of milk, but the hormone oxytocin, which allows your milk to let down, can be affected by extreme stress, and so mothers who are having milk supply issues should definitely take some time for a little TLC.
Your whole body is changing from “baby vessel” to normal woman.
It’s a huge bodily transformation that happens in those first few weeks, and it’s not just limited to what’s going on in your uterus, vagina, or boobs. Your internal organs have to shift into their old positions. Your bowels have to remember how to work. Your hair will probably fall out in horror-movie-worthy clumps (totally normal as a result of the hormone shifts), and you might be sweating like a banshee (again, hormones).
According to The Daily Beast, Colonial American women had a “lying in” period, where they stayed in bed for three to four weeks after giving birth, and their families and communities were expected to pitch in to help the mom recover and take care of her household. Traditions like this are still alive around the world. In China, for example, many families adopt the “30 days in pajamas” tradition for the postpartum period. And although it has its critics (according to the NPR article, the mothers are often told what they can and cannot eat and have other strict rules to follow), as far as I’m concerned, 30 days in my pajamas with my new baby sounds like absolute splendor.
You need time to fall in love with your baby.
Some moms think there is something wrong if they don’t feel instantly bonded with their babies. But that is not the case at all. Falling in love sometimes takes time. You deserve quiet, uninterrupted time so that you and your baby can get to know each other.
Listen, I know many of you are reading all of this and thinking, This is all fine and good, but how the heck am I supposed to make this happen? Most of us simply don’t have the financial means to hire help or have a partner take leave from work. Some of us don’t have a partner at all. And many of us are ushered back to work just a few days or weeks after giving birth.
But even if you can’t do a full two weeks of rest — or even one week — there are things you can do to make the postpartum period easier on yourself and squeeze in as much rest as you can: 1) Minimize the number of guests you invite over, 2) tell everyone who comes over to bring food, and 3) make a list of household chores and post it on your door so that anyone who enters knows what’s up (and who’s boss, which is you, of course).
If you’re pregnant and want to plan the babymoon you deserve, start now. Instead of baby gifts, ask for gift certificates for housekeepers or postpartum doulas or straight-up cash to fund any help you might need. Start investigating paid leave (or even unpaid leave, if you can swing it) for your partner.
Most of all, stand up for yourself. Unfortunately, most of the world still buys into the myth that moms are supposed to get back into the swing of things right after having a baby and that taking time for self-care, rest, and recovery is a sign of weakness or privilege. But it’s a right all postpartum women and their families deserve.
Yes, even you. You deserve the most lavish, pampered, restful babymoon on the planet. So go get it, mama!
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy