Thriving Through the 4th Trimester: Setting the Intention to Rest

Welcome to the second post in this series, Thriving through the 4th Trimester. Follow me as I share what I learned applying traditions from other cultures to my own postpartum journey. It is my hope that this knowledge will serve as a guide for how-to truly care for a woman, as she transitions from maiden to mother, in the most wholistic way possible.

The first 40 days of a mother’s postpartum experience are considered a sacred window for healing and should have an overall sense of “rest & retreat” in order for mother to recuperate and bond with baby. There is a saying regarding the first few weeks postpartum:

Five days in bed. Five days around the bed. 5 days around the house.

Well I’m here to tell you, 15 days attempting horizontal rest is hard! In my first few days postpartum I had a rush of energy and vitality and I kept telling everyone, “I feel so good! I want to be up and moving!” I was up changing diapers, bouncing baby, making myself tea, heating up my food, and even picking up my toddler’s toys just to keep my space clean so that I could feel settled.

I know it’s common for women to get that surge of adrenaline in the first few days postpartum. So even though I felt “fine” I knew that I still needed to rest. I kept thinking of that 5-5-5 rule, and I’m glad I had that quote to come back to. It made it easier to coax myself back to bed because I had set that intention to rest.

The one problem I had with knowing there was a “rule” was that I found myself feeling guilty or telling myself I wasn’t doing it right. I personally need to keep things more flexible than a hard-fixed rule, and remind myself that each person’s situation is unique. When I set rigid expectations, it feels like I’m just setting myself up to feel disappointed that I wasn’t able to meet my goal- even when the goal is rest. So just setting an expectation to, “Rest as much as possible,” helped me give myself some grace, and then encourage myself to return to bed.

Knowing that the first 15 days are reserved for rest, and that the mother should be encouraged to recline or remain horizontal throughout the majority of those days, is a good starting point for planning your postpartum experience.

When your support group understands that horizontal rest is the goal, you can invite them to gently remind you that you should lie back down if you’ve been up and about for awhile. As the first 15 days progress, gradually adding gentle movement like walking around the house, and stretching in ways that feel good or alleviate pain, is encouraged. This horizontal goal not only promotes rest, it also promotes healing of the core and pelvic floor by preventing additional pressure from gravity and daily activities putting too much stress on those tissues as they heal. This effort to rest can profoundly assist the body’s healing process in many ways, so I encourage you to try it for the sake of your: core, pelvic floor, hormonal balance, and your entire nervous system.

If you don’t have assistance to take care of daily household chores, food and drink prep, and an extra pair of hands for baby holding, remaining horizontal seems like an impossible goal. In fact, getting any kind of rest could seem laughable. But with the help of your tribe, it can be done. The first step is clearly communicating your expectations and needs.

Here are some things your partner/family/tribe can do to create a clean, peaceful environment that allows Mama to achieve her goals to rest, relax & retreat, without worrying about all the things being left undone around the house:

  • Gently remind Mama to lie down if she’s been up and about for a while.
  • Remove older children/siblings from the home. Do something fun with them!
  • Pick up around the house. If you see things that are out of order, and you know where they belong, put them away.
  • Do the dishes. Collect dirty dishes from around the house. Load the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, and put the dishes away.
  • Do the laundry. Collect dirty clothing, load the washing machine, remove clothing from the dryer, fold what is clean, and put it away.
  • Wipe down countertops
  • Sweep/mop floors
  • Take out the trash. Refill bags in trash bins.
  • Offer to hold the baby so she can do something for herself like: eat with two hands, go to the bathroom, take a shower, or even take a bath.
  • Offer to change the babies diaper so mama can remain horizontal
  • Create a relaxing ambiance.
    • Music– Ask her if she would like some quiet/relaxing music playing and if she has any requests.
    • Essential oils- Ask her if she would like any essential oils diffused. Maybe even bring some special blend for her to try during your visit. I love diffusing Young Living’s Peace & Calming, Joy, and Gentle Baby during postpartum.
    • Candle– Ask her if she has a favorite candle, or bring one as a gift. Light it for her and make sure it’s in a safe space.

Creating a clean, peaceful environment that encourages relaxation is a huge gift that you can give a new mother. It allows Mama to focus the time she would be spending, spinning her wheels trying to keep a house clean, on meeting her own basic needs: eating, drinking, toileting, showering, and most importantly sleeping. Having this time for herself will provide her with the nourishment and energy she needs to her care for her new baby.

A word of caution for Mama- Try not to beat yourself up if you’re not resting as much as you possibly could be, or you’re not getting enough support to remain horizontal for 15 days. This is where “mom guilt” begins. Don’t play into it. These blog posts will contain a bunch of recommendations as to what you can do to optimize your postpartum experience. None of them will be worth a damn if you set your sights on having it all, and then beat yourself up if/when you fall short. Chances are, you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got. The most important thing you can give yourself during this time, is grace.

If you are currently pregnant or have just had a baby, consider sharing this with your support group so that they can provide you with the kind of help you need to be able to focus your time where it’s really important!

Next blog post in this series- Thriving Through the Fourth Trimester: Caring for the Healing Postpartum Body & Mind

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