If you read one book in preparation for your first three months at home with your new baby, read the The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. The book is a guide for how to prepare your home, your kitchen, your mind and your supporters ahead of baby’s arrival.
Here’s an excerpt of one of my favorite sections, and you can use this as a way to start journaling your own vision for what you want your postpartum period to be like:
Do You Deserve the First 40 Days?
The biggest obstacle to prepping for your first forty days may be your belief system. Though postpartum recovery has a long history, today, simply the thought of making time for yourself or asking for help may seem extravagant, luxurious, or even greedy. Ask people to cook food for me? Or clean the house? Refuse to accept visitors before I’m ready? Many modern women are uncomfortable voicing their needs or sitting in the spotlight in this way. But receiving help from others during this time is not a gift or indulgence, it’s the natural order of things—remember, this is the essential concluding piece of the childbearing cycle. You’re not slipping away to a spa weekend, or seeking out “me” time; this retreat is designed to ultimately serve the whole family. There’s an old saying about a mother’s well-being: “If there’s a kink in the hose, there’ll be no water for anyone to drink.” The well-being of the entire home—your partner, other children, even pets—depends on your vitality and ability to give.
If you are bumping up against resistance about claiming this time and space for yourself, remember that a gentle, supported postpartum period is your birthright. The five insights are as true today as ever before: All new mothers deserve to enjoy a quiet, safe retreat; healing warmth and nourishing food; plenty of rest; help and support; and moments of respite. Being denied these basic conditions might jeopardize your long-term energy and well-being, which also will impact your ability to parent the way you desire. Start using this language now with your partner, family, and potential members of your support team and keep using it until you all believe it to be true.
Another way to get motivated is to orient yourself to what the early weeks with baby will really feel like. You can do this by familiarizing yourself with the key factors that influence the postpartum period—and then imagine how you will handle each one and what kind of help you would be comfortable accepting in the process.
Seven Factors That Influence the Postpartum Period
(and Questions to Ask Yourself Before Baby Arrives)
- You will be recovering from pregnancy and birth. Carrying a baby for close to ten months and delivering that baby from your body into the world is a massive undertaking. Your body will need to heal and your mind and heart will need to settle into a new way of being.
Do I believe that I deserve this time of rest, healing, and bonding with my baby?
- Babies require twenty-four/seven tending and in the early days, especially, caring for your little one will be a very real exercise in trial and error as you attempt one way of holding, rocking, and nursing and shortly abandon it for plan B—or C or D. A good amount of your energy will be dedicated to decoding his sounds and movements. Babies can be mysterious creatures with strange—and loud—methods of communication. Sometimes you will succeed in soothing him. Sometimes you won’t. Getting to know your baby’s unique ways takes time and focus—and patience.
How comfortable am I with new challenges and situations? Who can I call if/when I get frustrated, scared, or confused?
- If you adhere to The First 40 Days protocol—and hopefully you will!—you will be spending the majority of your time at home during those first weeks. This is a period of great stillness as you recover from pregnancy and birth, and feed and doze with your baby. And after the flutter of initial visitors dies down—a guest list that you control (more on that later)—you will spend thousands of hours alone with a newborn, as partners and family members go back to their lives. These weeks are quiet and slow, a curious kind of downtime, yet you will be continuously on call, responding quickly to baby’s demands. How will it feel to be alone with a tiny baby? How will it feel to step out of the business of my life and do very little? Who can I turn to on good days, and who will be there on days when I’m feeling blue?
- Your relationship with your partner will change. It will absolutely change. The dynamic between the two of you must expand to include another person, one who will be literally attached to you for the majority of each day. Where it was once just the two of you, your family unit is now a triad. And an unfairly balanced one at that. The scales are tipped toward baby, here. Biological design requires that it be so. For your child to thrive, your energy and focus must be primarily directed toward his well-being. Affection and attention once reserved for your partner are now channeled toward baby. And while caring for your infant leaves you emotionally fulfilled—or tapped, likely both—your partner may often feel left out in the cold. If this dynamic remains unaddressed, it can damage your relationship in the long term. How can my partner and I talk about our expectations ahead of time? Do we both have a realistic understanding of what our respective roles will be once baby is here? How will we communicate when we reach our limits?
- New motherhood—and parenthood in general—is a study in paradox. You will likely experience conflicting emotions . . . at the same time. This can be a drain to your system as you negotiate the simultaneous experience of agitation and adoration; debilitating fatigue and heart-exploding bliss; frustration and magically expansive reserves of calm. How do I navigate conflicting emotions? Do I have someone I can count on who will listen to me without judgment or the need to dole out advice?
- Whether you’re using the breast or the bottle, feeding your baby takes up the bulk of your time and energy during the first forty days. But the quality and frequency of the food you feed yourself is equally important during the Gateway period. Sustenance takes on added urgency after you give birth and as you sink into the process of caring for baby. Nursing mothers require additional calories to support milk production and specific nutrients to make their milk as nourishing as possible. And all new mothers will be in a deep process of healing after pregnancy and birth. The right foods—warm, nutrient dense, easy to digest—can facilitate the recovery process and put you on a path to strong and healthy parenting way beyond the first forty days. Who will make food for my family and me during the early weeks with baby? How open am I to new flavors? Am I comfortable requesting specific dishes?
- The benefits of the first forty days with baby will only be as great as your ability to tune into your genuine needs and then communicate them to others. As we are pulled along by the bustle of our lives, it can be easy to break the connection to our authentic desires. We are often cut off from that place inside of ourselves that tells us what we need to remain fulfilled, peaceful, and inspired. We make decisions based on what we think we should do, what others tell us to do, what others have done before us. Now, as your due date approaches, begin to drop the “shoulds,” choosing instead to listen to what you believe to be best for you and your baby. The inner voice that communicates these messages will be your reliable guide throughout the first forty days and throughout the next eighteen years of parenting. The more you honor this voice, the louder it will get. Find the courage to ask yourself what you need and then to make decisions that are right for you and your immediate family, regardless of how they are received by others. (This includes being honest about whether you want a parent or in-law staying in your house after baby comes, and if so, when, and for how long. Be brave! It is okay to set limits.) Do I have what it takes to ask for what I need? If not, how can I build this courage? Can I begin practicing now?
Listen to Hang and Amely on episode 17 of the Fourth Trimester Podcast:
And do make sure to add this book to your baby registry, or buy it now, or buy it for the soon-to-be parent in your life: