Preparation, Rest, and Community: 3 Keys to Childbirth Recovery

by | Jun 8, 2021 | For Women, Parenting Young Kids, Uncategorized | 22 comments

3 Keys to Recovery from Childbirth: Preparation, Rest, and Community
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We women need to give ourselves time–and allow ourselves to ask for help–when we’re recovering from childbirth

Recovering from childbirth isn’t something that happens overnight, and it isn’t something you can achieve through will power or just “doing what needs to get done.”

Your body has just gone through tremendous trauma, and it needs time to heal.

That’s why in Scripture God actually ordained that women receive 40 days of rest after the birth of a boy and 80 days after the birth of a girl. She’d hang out in a tent with other women caring for her, and her husband wasn’t supposed to come near her for sex or anything. This was her healing time. She was “unclean”, which meant that she didn’t need to prepare meals for everyone. She couldn’t even touch their food! So she got that downtime that she needed.

I’ve written more about the Old Testament laws around periods here. 

I think other cultures sometimes understand that women are meant to be given time to recover from childbirth more than our own culture does.

Today, we don’t live in community in the same way that other cultures do, where multiple generations often live together, or you live near all your relatives in a village.

My mother is good friends with a younger woman who immigrated to Canada from Kenya several years ago after her marriage. When Julia (not her real name) became pregnant, she asked all the women in her Bible study group and her knitting group to help her, because had she been in Kenya, all the aunts and cousins and sisters would have been there all the time to help. My mother became the honorary grandma, and for several months she visited every morning. The baby is even named after my mom! And now that Julia has had a second baby, my mom has several more babies who call her Nana.

But Julia wasn’t uncomfortable about asking, because this was normal for her.

I think we need to make it a new normal! So I thought today we’d talk about the three keys to recovery from childbirth.

Recovery from childbirth needs rest

I’m not talking about lying in bed all day (and, indeed, not moving can increase your risk of clots). But you shouldn’t be walking very much or lifting heavy things, and you should not be doing housework.

Your uterus is still expelling a lot of excess fluid and blood, and when you do too much, you tend to bleed more heavily. Some women also suffer worse tears than others, and some are recovering from Caesarean sections.

If you try to do  too much too soon, you can increase the bleeding and get anemic; you can make  healing from tears and surgery much more difficult; and you can even cause complications. Plus your body needs rest simply so that your milk supply can come in and so that you have time to bond with the baby. You’ll also be getting so little sleep with the baby’s needs at night!

So think of those first two weeks as being time that you bond with the baby and allow your milk to come in, while you care for yourself with sitz baths and showers. You should not be making dinner, vacuuming, or doing major housework.

Rebecca with newborn Alex

When Alex was 3 days old, Katie came down to do Rebecca’s hair so she could have a shower and take some good pictures with the baby!

Now, that’s all very well and good, but how do you actually make this a reality? After all, this is super difficult, especially if your husband is working full-time and you have older children at home. So let’s look at the next two big things:

Recovery from childbirth is easier with preparation

Physical preparation for childbirth

Two things make recovery from childbirth harder: C-sections and bad tears. If you can reduce the chance of these things happening (you can never eliminate them, and don’t beat yourself up if it happened!), recovery will be so much easier!

We had a great chat with childbirth educator Jenn Riedy on last week’s podcast about this, and as she said, feeling comfortable during labor is one of the most important things, so do what makes you feel comfortable.

Meeting with a pelvic floor physiotherapist a few times during your pregnancy can also help, since the therapist can give you exercises to do to strengthen your pelvic floor, which can help reduce tears. Swimming and staying active during your pregnancy can also give you the stamina for labor. And allow yourself to rest in the weeks leading up to your delivery as well.

Also, talk with whoever will be there when you deliver, and make sure you agree on the birth plan and that you’re both clear about what it is. If you feel in the middle of labor that your wishes aren’t being considered or that nobody is listening to you, that can make labor much harder.

Practical preparation for recovering from childbirth

Before Rebecca gave birth to Alex, Katie and I visited her for a big slow cooker freezer meal prep day. We wanted to make sure that their freezer was full, so meals over the next few months would be super easy. Just make some rice, potentially put on some frozen veggies, and the rest is done.

Cooking Freezer Meals While Rebecca was Pregnant

Our super fun slow cooker freezer meal prep day!

Katie also cleaned and organized Rebecca’s apartment (she’s way better at that than either me or her sister) and that was a huge blessing.

Do everything you can to have your home clean and organized, and to have meals pre-made, before the baby arrives.

Practical preparation for caring for older kids after the baby comes

When you go into labor, if you have older children, someone is going to have to care for that older one. Have a plan of who that will be,

As Rebecca’s getting ready to have another baby in the fall, they’re also planning on having some fun new things for Alex (their toddler who will be 2 when the baby arrives) to make the time special for him too. They’re buying 14 new books and 14 new toys so each day he gets a new book from Mommy and a new toy from baby. (She’s just stocking up buying things cheaply on Facebook marketplace). Then it’s still a special time for him as well.

Looking after Older Child while Mom recovers from childbirth

With the next baby, I’ll be spending most of my time caring for Alex!

Recovering from childbirth needs community

Ask your husband for help

If it’s possible for your husband to take a few weeks off of work, consider doing that. He needs time to bond with baby too, and if you have older children, he’ll be the main parent for those older kids for the first little while. If he has to work, make it clear that he will still be responsible for meals when he is home. Talk about your expectations now. I have known moms who made dinner as soon as they got home from the hospital, because he sat in his chair and turned on the TV and waited to be fed.

Ask the moms and aunts around you for help

Now’s the time to make use of family! You may not always appreciate them, and you may find too much of your mom hard to handle. But this may be a time in your life where you put up with stuff you may not normally put up with just because you need the help.

It’s okay to set boundaries, too, and say, “we’d like  you to do the laundry, but we’ll be responsible for our own”, or “we’d love for you to help with the housework, and we certainly want you to spend time with the baby, but when the baby’s home, Dad will be doing the bulk of the work with the baby.” When I cared for Rebecca and Connor after Alex was born, I did all the housework and cooking so Connor could get used to changing diapers and burping him and settling him and bathing him. And Connor did great!

Bathing the baby for the first time

Alex’s first bath! I told Connor what to do, and he did it all and took it from there!

Ask friends for specific things

Many of us also have friends who would love to help, but we feel uncomfortable asking for anything specific, because we feel like we should be able to handle this. So your friend says, “Let me know what I can do!”, and you say, “thanks so much,” but then nothing else gets communicated. Maybe we need a lesson from Julia who just asked her whole group of friends to be like her Kenyan family. Say, “I need someone to come in on Saturday morning to do laundry and mop and vacuum,” or “I need someone to take the older kids Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to the park,” or “I need three meals.” You can even create a sign up sheet in your Google Drive and share the sheet with friends and family. People often love the more direct approach. Knowing, “I can do their laundry on Saturday morning!” is so practical and easy, and lets someone know they’re helping in a way that you really need.

If you run the service committees at your church, don’t forget about second or third time moms!

And now a word for those running these committees at church: Often we put so much work into making sure first-time moms have what they need, but it’s often much more difficult for moms the second or third time around! Even the practical, like who will stay with the older child when mom goes into labor? And mom can’t rest in the same way as she could with the first baby, so those meals are even more important once second or third (or fourth or fifth or whatever) babies come.

Yes, let’s roll out the welcome mat for baby showers for the first baby, but in terms of practical help, let’s not forget moms giving birth to the next babies!

3 Keys to Recovery from Childbirth: Preparation, Rest and Community

So there’s my list–what would you add? What was the most helpful thing for you in recovering from childbirth? What was the biggest struggle? Let’s talk in the comments!

Pelvic Floor Series

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

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22 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    My tribe has an age old tradition where the woman’s mum comes and and stays with her for 3 or more months immediately after childbirth. In her absence, an older or younger sister steps in. Sometimes, the mother-in-law steps in too. The women who come visiting look forward to those visits. Infact, one of the reason for exceptional excitement for having their baby girls is so they can also be part of this fun thing every woman gets to do.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Yes! I love this! My mom has done that too with all 3 of my babies, and it’s been SUCH a help! Plus, the grandkids love it when grandma comes to stay (& my husband does too lol. He and my mom get along really well and he loves having her help around the house and with the kids while I take care of myself and the newborn). I wish all woman could have this kind of postpartum care! The 4th trimester is REAL!!!

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    My tribe has an age old tradition in which the woman’s mother comes visiting for about 3 or more months after childbirth. If she isn’t available, one of her sisters steps in. Sometimes, the mother-in-law does that.
    One of the exceptional excitement these women have when they have baby girls is so they can partake in this really fun tradition. It is always anticipated.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s lovely! I honestly think that’s more natural in many ways.

      Reply
    • Newborn Haze

      Amazing timing on these articles! I was actually crying a bit this morning because of feeling overwhelmed. I’m almost 3 weeks postpartum with our second child (older is 4). I’ve had wonderful support from my small group (a bunch of moms) – they’ve brought enormous amounts of food.
      BUT we unexpectedly had to move 2 weeks before my due date and we run a home business that I can’t step away from entirely.
      My husband has been great about taking over as much of the business as he can but that means he’s working pretty much non stop.
      Yet I’m so grateful our business is doing well and feel bad that it’s stressing me out so much.
      I feel guilty because my mom comes over sometimes to help with the older one too, but somehow I’m always 10 steps behind on laundry or the business and the worst is that my oldest just isn’t getting the same level of care she was before.
      At night the guilt crashes in, remembering when I didn’t have time for something or I was grumpy with her or she watched tv way more than she should have (there was almost no tv pre-baby).
      I don’t know how to get rid of anything off my list and can only pray it gets better as the newborn gets older.
      We’re planning on doing homeschool kindergarten in the fall (we’ve done homeschool preschool the past 2 years) and I’m concerned I won’t do it well with a 4 month old on my hip.
      So thanks for writing about this. Somehow it makes me feel less isolated over how much I’m struggling (me, the type A, get-er-done girl!). Plus the fact that your daughters turned out so well after homeschooling has been an encouragement for years!

      Reply
      • So many babies, so little sleep . . .

        I hear you! Just had baby #4 6 weeks ago and the other 3 littles are 4, 3, and 1. We moved the day I came home from the hospital so stress, craziness, and clingy toddlers!! Our church family was amazing about bringing meals and the children played on the bed next to me a lot, and we watched way too many movies. It is what it is, I don’t think watching several extra hours of pixar and baby einstein hurts them and they have bonding time with baby when he is awake. We were pretty shameless about begging my sisters for babysitting the first week or so and I just wash a few dishes every time I get 2 minutes free near the kitchen! Just do what you need to and don’t worry if they watch some extra movies or eat cereal for lunch. 🙂

        Reply
  3. Estelle

    Prenatal exercise classes really made a difference in my postpartum recovery. I really noticed the difference with my third and last child. I bounced back far better after her birth despite a Caesar (my third) and turning 40, than I had with her brother two years earlier. With him, I stopped going to exercise class when I was diagnosed with a placenta previa halfway through the pregnancy and my postpartum time was just horrid. Being fit really made a difference.
    And my mum in law was an absolute star, each time.

    Reply
  4. Becky

    Yes to not forgetting the moms who already have kids! I did have some help for my first and second, namely my mom and my husband since his job at the time had a paternity leave policy, and I prepped a bunch of meals before both of those babies came. But I was absolutely shocked, in a good way, at how much outside help I got with my third. We’d been new at my church around the time my second was born so no one really knew us, but they really stepped up to help with meals for my third baby, as did the homeschool co-op that I’d just joined for my oldest. The latter was especially touching, because the class started a week after she was born and most of the group didn’t really know us, but they still brought meals over!
    The physical recoveries have definitely been the hardest for me. I had both of my rounds of pelvic PT after my first two kids, the first time to deal with a horrible tear that didn’t heal properly and the second time because my hip got all out of whack. (My PT theorized that my vaginismus spasms very well may have been the cause, and to be honest, I’m still having daily pain from that one over 4 years later.) I probably should have gotten PT again after my third, since my attempts to deal with the lingering pelvic floor issues at home haven’t really helped, but 2020 happened. I am finally going to a doctor for a general checkup today, for the first time since my postpartum exam, so hopefully I can finally start getting that sorted out.

    Reply
  5. Cynthia

    I just used mealtrain.com to organize meals after my friend’s mother died (in my community, we do this for the week after the funeral while the family is in mourning). SO much easier than trying to make arrangements with a zillion different people. You set it up on their calendar and input each thing that is needed each day with instructions, and then send the link to whoever wants to help so that they can sign up for tasks. I posted my Meal Train link to our friends’ WhatsApp group and had the meals taken care of the morning of the funeral.
    The 1 meal per day version is free, the more complex version that allows more stuff per day was $10. You could have tasks for meals, cleaning, care of older children, picking up groceries, etc. Totally worth it, especially as we couldn’t have paper sign-up sheets at the home as we normally would due to the COVID stay-at-home order.

    Reply
  6. Kim

    So all of my family and husband’s family live out of state. I’m lucky where my husbands job gives him paid paternity leave so he’s home with me for at the minimum of 2 weeks. But I normally don’t need him for that long. I like my space and I like routine so after we come home from the hospital we send our families home. I’m pregnant with baby number 4 so I have had the opportunity to know what I prefer. Last time I gave birth my mother in law came the week after I gave birth and she commented how she felt she wasn’t much help because I had everything under control. My parents are coming this time to watch my older kids while I’m in the hospital then they have said they will get a hotel when I get home and probably leave the next day or two. They understand that I like to keep things normal for my kids as much as I can and my husband is really hands on with the kids.

    Reply
  7. Kya

    When I had my daughter, my mom offered to come and stay with us and I told her not to. (That’s just me–I don’t like having others around to watch me figure out new things, like parenting!) If we have another kid, though, I’m definitely taking her up on it. Doing Kid #1 on our own actually went great, but I can’t imagine doing all of that again PLUS taking care of a toddler. Help will be much more necessary with subsequent children, I think!
    Also, my co-workers wanted to help, but I already had a meal train from church, so I requested a snack train! Maybe twice a week for the first month a coworker would send a box of snacks that all got placed in a bowl near my favorite breastfeeding spot. A little unconventional, but I loved it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s awesome, Kya! Asking for specific help is actually so useful–both for you and for people who truly do want to help but don’t know what is the best thing to do.

      Reply
  8. Jane Eyre

    Don’t be afraid to push back on social expectations. There are people who try to meet the baby days after the mom gave birth, or even try to push their way into the delivery room. There is nothing wrong with saying that you will have “meet the baby” visits when you have recovered.
    Stay in shape. It helps.
    Recovery is multi-faceted. Tears or C section scars, bleeding, sleep, hormone swings, abdominal weakness, pelvic floor issues, hip alignment, abdominal weakness (yes I am mentioning that twice), weight gain, lingering joint issues…. It really takes a long time for everything to feel normal again, and things heal at different rates.
    You cannot really compare your healing with some else’s. Your friend might be back into prepregnancy jeans two weeks after giving birth, but having painful sex a year later; you might have a healthy sex life two months after birth but be unable to get rid of 15 pounds. That said, have a good relationship with your doctor if things are really not healing.
    Make a list of things that need to get done: order birth certificate, order social security card, put baby on insurance, change tax withholdings, enroll baby in day care, enroll in a dependent care account, etc. Before you give birth, figure out HOW to do these things. Who at your office is able to add a dependent to your insurance? Where do you get a birth certificate?
    This is NOT an expectation of postpartum intercourse: buy condoms before you give birth. Most other forms of contraception cannot be used right at that six week mark, and yes, you can get pregnant really really soon after giving birth. Just have the condoms, or, Catholics, take a postpartum NFP course.

    Reply
  9. Natalie

    From my own experience, I can’t say enough about how much staying active helps with the ease of recovery!! Unless a woman’s doctor has told her she needs to take it easy or be on bed rest, staying active (along with a healthy balanced diet and hydration and good sleep) is, I think, the best thing you can do to support your pregnancy body and prepare for birth. I gained the most weight with my first and also exercised the least (just some light prenatal yoga 3x/week and walking a couple miles most days) cuz I was worried about overexerting myself while pregnant. I’d say, if anything, my pregnancy experiences and recoveries have gotten easier as I’ve gotten older and more physically fit.
    My first was an emergency c-section due to an ECV that resulted in placental abruption at 37 weeks, so I never went into labor but still had to recover from the incision. I know not going into labor helped with my surprisingly easy c-section recovery (& the fact I didn’t have any other children to worry about or tend to at the time). But I also credit the 4 cups of strong red raspberry leaf tea I’d been drinking since 13 weeks and into my postpartum phase, along with the c-section panties and wraps I used. I brought my herbs with me to the hospital to make lots of tea in my room and got a lot of funny looks; but when I drank it within the first 2 days of giving birth, I could actually feel more blood coming out and more contractions as I drank it… same thing I felt when I would breastfeeding, so I know it was working. It was such a weird sensation! And for the wraps and c-section recovery panties, I used the Belly Bandit brand too, but there are many great ones out there. Those offered SOOO much support for my recovering body and also made it easier to move and tend to baby. (And the hospital made me get up and start walking around 18 hours after my c-section, which I know helped too). I was walking comfortable up and down stairs with no pain while wearing my compression garments just a week after deliver… still taking it easy of course, but feeling back to my normal self more or less, and really feeling back to my normal self by 2-3 weeks postpartum.
    In addition to staying physically fit (this pregnancy #3, I’ve been doing spin classes and prenatal yoga and pilates, and definitely have the best cardiovascular fitness I’ve had yet compared to my past pregnancies), I’ve also been following the Ina May Gaskin recommendation to do 300 squats per day. (It sounds like a lot, but I just do 30 sets of 10 reps over the course of my day… while stirring a pot of food, while brushing my teeth, while washing my hands, while I supervise my kids cleaning up their toys, etc… which is a lot more doable). My chiropractor similarly recommended sitting in a deep squat position for 5 minutes total throughout the day (5 sets of 1 minute reps, or 10 sets of 30 second reps, working your way up to holding a deep squat for the full 5 minutes or longer). I did those both (well, either/or in a single day) with my second pregnancy. And while the labor itself was very long and exhausting (32 hours cuz he’s a stubborn little guy – still is very strong-willed as a toddler – and didn’t want to descend even though I was almost completely effaced and dilated 7-8cm for a day, and eventually ended up getting an epidural and a little pitocin due to maternal exhaustion despite the natural hospital VBAC birth I’d been preparing for), the actual pushing was extremely quick and effective with no tearing. There’s some evidence out there (mostly from non-Western countries) that shows that women who squat a lot as part of their daily activities actually tear less during birth than women who sit in chairs more. That was my experience with baby #2, so we’ll see if it proves true again for baby #3. Hopefully it won’t be 32 hours again since my body has already experienced labor this time around lol. 🙏🤪

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that, Natalie! And congratulations on baby #3! I missed that you were pregnant somehow. That’s awesome. You and Becca can have babies together.
      Yes, I think exercising is so important. I love that 300 squat thing. I’m not even pregnant but I may try to do that more.

      Reply
  10. Wild Honey

    Someone else mentioned paternity leave, so I’ll chime in. Hubby took two weeks off with each of our kids (unpaid for the first kid, accrued “vacation” time for the second.)
    Our oldest, he took two weeks fully off and went back to work full-time on week three.
    With our second, he had the opportunity to spread it out a bit more. Took one week off fully, then the next two weeks worked part-time, then went back full-time for week four. So he took off the same amount of time, just spread it out more. I found the more gradual return to work super helpful. If the kids and I had a rough day, I knew there were only one or two days left before he was back home with us all day, and that made it more bearable.

    Reply
  11. Anne

    Be in touch with La Leche League before the birth. Feel free to attend meetings. They have a wealth of information!

    Reply
  12. SC

    My husband was able to take time off after each of our children which was super helpful. However, after our 4th child, when he went back to work after 2 weeks, I still needed help because our older 3 children were school age and needed transporting for school and I was not getting sleep because the baby wasn’t sleeping consistently at night yet. Bless my sister in law. She came for more than a week and would get up in the middle of the night and take the baby after I fed him to get him settled back down so I could go back to sleep. She also drove the older kids back and forth to school so I could rest and get the baby on a schedule. It was a huge gift.

    Reply
  13. Wifey

    This is all great! Both my babies we were unexpectedly given about 8 meals which was amazing. I was back to life as usual by 3 days postpartum both times. I had a 3rd degree tear and hemorrhaged after 121 hours of labor with my first, and a 2nd degree tear after 12 hours of labor (induced). Both boys were exactly 9 lbs 13 oz. I was constantly overdoing it and bled intermittently for 7 weeks with both. Taking chlorophyll finally halted the bleeding. But this time I went to a pelvic floor physical therapist and I’ve started her program working on rebuilding my core (which isn’t entirely possible because I have an umbilical hernia). 2 babies in 23 months means there is a bit of work to do! Hopefully someday we’ll have more community- we’ve lived in 4 houses in 3 states in 5 years. God has definitely been growing me through this process though- showing me He sustains in so many ways. He has also moved my heart to look for ways to reach out to others. I’m grateful for this season!

    Reply
  14. Emmy

    A great and interesting post that made me a bit sad also. I wish I had knewn this stuff as a young mother.
    I have had my kids already, no chance to do it all over again. It was almost 40 yeas ago when I got my first baby. A demanding husband and a church that asked for a lot of “committement”. When I stayed home from church services too long for our “pastor’s” liking I got sermon tapes about people who found their families more important than God. When our pastor heard from my husband that breastfeeding took me a lot of time he send to me his “advice”: “Let the baby drink 10 minutes from each breast every three hours, that should be enough. If the baby says hungry she will learn to drink more the next time. If she cries between feedings, let her cry. She must learn regularity and discipline and not expect to being served on every whim.”
    Needless to say, this piece of “advice” ruined the breast feeding of my first baby and my self confidence to breas feed our second child, who did not want to be nursend under the mandatory blanket.
    I must give my husband credit for not insisting for post partum sex before I was ready myself. He did insist, however, for post partum cooking for visitors, post partum dishwashing, post partum other chores and post partum several church services a week, which also meant post partum clothing a bunch of kids for every weather and also to look nice at church. For these things, I do not give him credit. I’m not giving credit to myself either. I should have had the sense to protest and put my foot down in order to protect myself and the kids. But no. I even believed my husband was right. Of course we should be committed to God’s kingdom and be hospitable to the members of the church all the time, which also meand that cleaning the house, the house, the house was a big priority. If this was not done well enough, it was a bad testimony and bad hospitality I was not doing my duty as a christian wife.
    My first job outside home felt like a vacation!
    It took me about 15 years to get very exhausted, very angry and to find my voice. I do regret it took me so long because all this, plus many other damaging American-Evangelical stuff was damaging to my children. And I can’t turn the time back.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Emmy, I’m so sorry! I’ve heard so many women say something similar: Work felt like a vacation. It should never have been like this. I hope you’re able to talk to your kids about your regrets openly. Sometimes that can be so healing for everyone.

      Reply

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