I had my first baby with a midwife that had a reputation. She wasn't an old softie! Don't get me wrong, my beloved Charlie offered plenty of emotional support and compassion. But she was (and is) blunt and to the point about many things – and insistent on others.
Her reputation came because she monitors the nutrition of every client – asking about what you're eating at every appointment. She strongly believes that nutrition prevents complications and stands firm behind that belief.
She was also firm when she told me that I would have a period in bed after my baby came. No stories of being up and entertaining visitors and grocery shopping the day after the baby came for me! My midwife was going to make sure of it.
She advised that I take a week of “lying in” – staying in bed with baby, bonding, resting, nursing, and just getting to know the new little person and giving myself a period to rest. Then she advised that I take the next few weeks slowly, staying home as much as possible and having few expectations of myself other than to eat well and enjoy my baby.
Many traditional cultures also have a lying in period, often dictated by tradition or religion. I think that a lot of women throw off this tradition along with other things they feel are “oppressive” to women. Other women say they just couldn't stand it – they need to be out and about, then need to see people and do things. Why, they would go crazy being at home (and especially being in bed)!
But I found that lying in was a real blessing – and in fact I'm really looking forward to my week in bed after “Fiver” arrives. It's the only true vacation I ever get! My lying in isn't exactly the same as a traditional one. In general my house is not flooded with relatives and neighbors taking care of everything. My husband does the lion's share of the work during that time. But I make a lot of preparation beforehand to make things easier for him and to prepare things for myself. I'll talk more about that in the next post. For now, more about why you should consider your own lying in period.
It does not matter how, when, or where you give birth – lying in is good for you. If you birth in the hospital and spend some time there, you can probably count that as part of your week or so of time relaxing in bed. In the past women were in the hospital for longer and got more rest.
Of course, there were some things that weren't right. Babies were often kept in nurseries so Mom could “rest.” When you lie in, though, your baby is with you. Somebody else may hold the baby while you shower or go to the bathroom, or take a short herbal bath.
Somebody may walk with a fussy baby for a few minutes to calm him before you nurse (my mother-in-law did this with Asher in the middle of the night a few times in his first week – she brought him to me as soon as he was calm and he nursed beautifully. At the time I felt guilty – now I just appreciate her calming him so we got well-established with nursing).
But in general, the idea that mothers can and should take some time after birth to rest and be with their baby is a good one. Breastfeeding gets established much more strongly if mother and baby are together and focused on each other. If you're not worried about getting up and doing everything you are able to focus on your child and the art of nursing – it is a learned art!
A good nursing pattern helps your baby thrive – and it helps you heal. Nursing stimulates your uterus to contract, which helps it return to its normal size quickly and without complication. Afterpains aside, this is a real blessing of being able to focus on baby and getting nursing off to a good start.
When you are able to rest your body is able to heal completely. Your uterus is built for birth and postpartum – and it also has built in warning signs. You'll have bleeding after birth as your body sheds the lining that has cuddled your baby close for months. This bleeding tends to be heavier at first, but quickly becomes much lighter and tapers off completely. Excessive bleeding or renewed bright red bleeding after the flow has tapered off are your body's signal that you are doing too much! Lots of clots and blood suddenly appearing can indicate doing too much!
Taking a lying in period gives your body a chance to heal and your postpartum bleeding (called lochia) will probably be much lighter than if you bounced up and headed out and about right away. It's a good idea to take things slowly until the bleeding is completely stopped.
You get a good chance to bond with your baby while you're lying in. It's just you and baby, with husband, older children, and a friend or relative here and there – but mostly the time is for you to focus on your baby. Yes, you've carried this little person around for nine months… but now that little person is really HERE. You need to get to know him or her. To adore, to know, to love. You develop confidence in your mothering of THIS particular child when you take the time to bond and care for him or her without having to worry about everything else, too.
This is also a good time to get pampered. Meals are brought to you in bed. You get to read a book while your new nursling nurses (if you can stop staring at your nursling and pick up a book!) You can take a shower and enjoy it – or have somebody help you wash your hair and not feel guilty about it (my hair is really long so I ask Scott to shampoo it for my first shower… otherwise it's tiring standing up and doing it on my own!) You can take a warm, shallow bath with soothing herbs for your perineum.
Lying in is also a good time to process your birth experience. You can journal your thoughts, feelings, and memories of your baby's birth. These are important for you no matter what kind of birth your baby had.
Of course, you can also use this time to call everyone, send emails, texts, or post pictures of your new little one on Facebook!
I think the benefits to you make a strong argument for lying in – but there are many benefits to your baby, too. Of course, your baby benefits from having you there. As I detailed above, lying in strongly facilitates getting breastfeeding off to a good start. Your baby is less likely to lose a lot of weight and more likely to begin with good latch and breastfeeding techniques if you're able to focus on that.
Your baby also gets the chance to get to know you on the outside, and to begin getting adjusted to life outside the womb. You can keep a careful, unhurried eye on your baby's health. Cord care is simple and diaper changes (or elimination communication) quickly become less overwhelming and routine when you can focus on just how your baby likes them.
You can also keep an eye on your baby's skin for issues such as rash or jaundice. You can put your baby in indirect sunlight for a few minutes on your bed – in just a diaper – to help him break down bilirubin and keep jaundice away.
This is a good time for baby to begin expressing himself with cries, coos, and signs that you will get to know. You'll be able to observe your newborn sucking on his hands and realize it's time to nurse without a cry ever happening!
The benefits for baby move beyond the initial week or so of lying in while actually being in a bed, however. After that first week or several days when you're in bed, you'll be ready to get up and get going around the house some more. But I urge you to take it easy even then. Like I said above, your body will tell you if you're doing too much. But this time is also very good for your baby.
Newborns are, well, very new. Gently introducing them to the world is of great benefit to them. We don't notice things like lots of voices, harsh and bright lights, offensive smells, etc. as much. We're used to big stores and being in public. Babies are not. They are new. Your home and family are the best things for them. Eventually you'll be out and on the go with your baby (though I urge you always to remember that babies don't need lots of “stimulation”) But introduce your newborn to the world slowly. A baby who feels secure and knows the beginning of a gentle family routine will be more comfortable and content.
Get to know your baby and what he likes at home. Get the hang of nursing and using a baby carrier while you're at home, and when you do need to go out things will be much easier.
A gentle start to mothering this new baby has big benefits for everybody. You can take the extra time home to be with older children and your husband, too. They also need Mom and will appreciate that you're able to relax and focus on family time rather than the hectic pace of day to day life!
As I said, I am looking forward to my lying in. Many of my friends look forward to getting back to “normal life.” But the reality is that having a baby brings a completely new normal. Easing into it so that you and your baby are healthy and well-adjusted just makes sense. Plus getting a little pampering while you pamper your new baby is always fun!