5 Ways to Improve Your Early Postpartum Health

Dr. Jolene Brighten Postpartum, Pregnancy Comments

Women rarely are prepared for the months that follow labor. Sure, you studied up on what you should eat during pregnancy, the prenatals, the safest carseat and really, all things baby. But did anyone talk to you about how to optimize your recovery from childbirth?

Childbirth is arguably one of the most demanding physical activities of a woman’s life. Yes, I just said that. It is demanding and after the birth of my son, I’m also going to call it heroic.

Heroic? Yup, heroic. Because walking up to that birth door and bringing a baby into this world is a courageous act and I just really want to honor you mamas out there for that.

And for the record, a C-section doesn’t make you less of a hero. We all have the same end goal — healthy baby. Sometimes that means medical intervention, which makes you just as much of a hero as other moms.

Ok, now that I’ve said that piece, let’s get into the meat of what this post is about. What are some of the essential steps to healing your body in early postpartum?

Drink Bone Broth:

Bone broth feeds your connective tissue (think skin, ligaments, tendons) and your adrenals. It also supports your immune system and as a mom, your baby’s immune health is dependent of yours.

I encourage all my patients to make a big batch of bone broth and freeze it prior to delivery. Take advantage of that nesting phase and stockpile your kitchen with bone broth and other healthy foods to ensure you’re eating nutrient-dense meals when baby is born. If you’re a new mom, trust me on this. If you’ve had a baby, I know you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Rest:

Oh, I hate to say this one because I can remember back to those early postpartum days and the curse words that wanted to fly when someone would say, “you need to rest.” So, why am I saying it? Because it is true.

The demands on your body don’t stop just because labor is over. Your baby is dependent on you for 24 hour care, but you have got to rest. Definitely sleep whenever you can. And definitely lay down often during those first 2 weeks postpartum as your uterus is heavy and your ligaments are still lax.

I completely regret not resting more in early postpartum. Miss A-type personality here thought she’d just jump back into life full force at about 5 weeks postpartum. Not smart. Yes, read: that was not smart of me, but one of the many mistakes I made and will openly share during this journey of motherhood. (By the way, still making mistakes over here which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in the future.)

Take Sitz Baths:

Love these! They will create better circulation in the pelvis and are so soothing. But let’s be real, as a new mom, there is no time (or energy) for making a hot bath and a cold bath. That’s the old school way of doing it and it is powerful, but if you don’t have someone prepping it for you it can be daunting.

Dr. Brighten does not want you being more stressed out, so here’s what I did and what I recommend. Buy Earth Mama Angel Baby Postpartum Bath Herbs before baby comes. You can steep them just like tea and then toss them into the freezer. Place them in those super sexy postpartum panties (oh, you don’t know about these? You will and then you will giggle too) and allow them to warm with your body temperature. In the early days following vaginal birth, the cold is incredibly soothing. When your swelling goes down, you can apply them hot.

I’ve written about sitz baths before, so if you’re really wanting to learn which herbs are beneficial click here.

Get Support:

If you can get a team in place before birth then your will feel less of the demands of motherhood. Your team should consist of people who will help you around the house, bring you food and just let you cuddle your baby without worrying about the day-to-day stuff. Know that you’ll need to be real with these helpers about what you need. But also know that you may have no idea what you need and will want “permission” to re-evaluate and communicate if those needs change.

What is that “permission” statement about? Well, as moms we get a lot of pressure to be all super and stuff (by the way, that is total B.S.) and it can be difficult to ask for the help you need. Your team needs to let you know it is ok to speak up when you are swimming in postpartum hormones. Send them this article if you need to. They’ll get it.

For people who are on mom’s support team reading this, please do not show up and say, “hey, I’ll watch your baby so you can get the dishes done.” No, no, no! Again, no! There will be a time for that and your offer will be so welcome. But in those early days, mom needs to cuddle up with babe and get that oxytocin flowin’. This is for her health and the last thing she needs is to do chores. Now if you want to say, “hey, I’ll watch babe and you go take a nap or a shower” (real talk: showers are a coveted time among moms) then you’re a super helpful awesome human and we love you. Also, if you want to start a meal group to bring the parents food you will be celebrated.

Ideas for who to consider recruiting to your postpartum team (and this means talk to them before baby comes):

  • Your partner
  • Your family
  • Postpartum Doula (Why on earth did I not have this?!?!)
  • Lactation Consultant
  • Midwife, OB or doctor experienced with postpartum women
  • Pediatrician
  • Other moms
  • Counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist

Restore Your Pelvic Floor:

Did you know women in France are prescribed about 10 to 20 pelvic floor physical therapy sessions following the birth of their child? No, this is not another article about how the French do everything better. But rather, I just want to highlight the fact that there are other medical models in the world that understand the importance of rehabilitating the pelvic floor after childbirth.

There are a lot of complications that can arise after a small human passes through the vaginal canal — pelvic pain, scar tissue, pain with intercourse, incontinence, vaginal prolapse. I think you get the picture. And many of these symptoms can interfere with day to day life and subsequent pregnancies.

What I offer women is a form of pelvic floor therapy called Holistic Pelvic Care. You can read more about why it is unique to traditional pelvic floor therapy here.

Now let’s talk kegels for just a minute here. Your doctor, midwife, mother, friend or someone has probably told you — “do your kegels.” (I’m trying not to roll my eyes here.) Kegels are great when 1. You perform them correctly and 2. You have balanced pelvic floor muscles.

I see plenty of women (actually almost all women in my practice) who really have no idea how to do a kegel. And why would you? It is nothing like a bicep curl.

Then there is the question of balance. If you are recruiting one side more than the other in a contraction you will find yourself strengthening the dominant side. Having an experienced practitioner perform myofascial work with you as an active participant can help alleviate trigger points and allow you to have a more uniform contraction.

I think kegels are great when part of a comprehensive rehab program, but are rarely enough on their own. I’d really encourage you to consider having internal myofascial work and working with an experienced physical therapist to work on all the other nuances of your musculoskeletal system. After all, your body has just had a pretty radical transformation and could probably benefit from some support as you recover.

Some of my patients work with me alone in restoring their pelvic floor, but if their condition warrants, I will refer them to work with a physical therapist in conjunction with the therapy I offer.

I generally recommend women begin pelvic floor therapy after they’ve been cleared at their 6 week postpartum check-up.

Looking for more ways to support your body after baby? This article is just a sample of what I share in my book Healing Your Body Naturally— The New Mom’s Guide to Navigating the Fourth Trimester.

Here are additional resources you may find helpful as you heal:

 

Photo Credit: Death to Stock Photo
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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor, best selling author, speaker, and mother. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. In her patient centered practice, Dr. Brighten thrives on navigating the space between conventional and alternative medicine, all while working with patients to help them achieve optimum balance, health, and happiness.