Postpartum care is more than self-care, it’s community care, according to birth doula, somatic practitioner and author of The Fourth Trimester and Call of the Wild Kimberly Ann Johnson. In the weeks after birth, the birthing person is highly vulnerable and in need of people to remind them to lie down — people who will take care of mom while she takes care of baby.
First, this complex time requires a bit of preparation. Beginning at six weeks gestation, Johnson highly recommends people meet with a pelvic floor therapist (your postpartum self will thank you). Additionally, Johnson says you should decelerate little by little throughout the pregnancy. This way, when postpartum really slows you down, it isn’t as much of a shock. Johnson suggests a pregnant person and their partner, or the designated helper, also search for resources. Knowledge is power! Learn what to expect postpartum, such as what foods to eat and how people can best support you. In addition to this, Johnson says it can be beneficial to set up effective communication practices between you and your partner; start checking in with each other about your hopes and fears regarding the baby and ask the other how they’re feeling in their new roles. You and your team can prepare foods that will be warm and easy to digest. You can also prepare your space. Set up a station where you can feed your baby, perhaps near a window. Create a space where you feel comfortable and safe so you can soak up abundant rest in the weeks following birth.
Johnson has identified Five Universal Postpartum Needs that are, “shared by every culture, just done differently.” Building upon each other, the needs are: rest, nourishing food, the presence of wise women, loving touch and contact with nature.
The most important need is rest. “All around the world … there’s some kind of rest period that lasts between 40 days and three months,” she says. Johnson thinks of the time of rest as an investment. Rest is the reason people need community-care over self-care.
People need mineral rich, nutrient dense food after giving birth, according to Johnson. Prioritize drinking warm things and eating the warm, easily digestible foods that you and your community prepared.
The Presence of Wise Women
“A new mother needs all the things a new baby needs … You would never leave a new baby alone,” Johnson says. The presence of mothers, sisters and helpers guarantees the assurance of love, food and nurturing.
Consider a massage or bodywork to address the hormones rushing through your body. Johnson explains, “The hormonal shift in the tissues is so extreme. The progesterone drops 300% within two days of the birth. The bodywork flushes it out of your tissues.” A massage from a trained partner or practitioner can make a big difference.
Contact with Nature
Johnson says new parents can connect with nature through a multitude of methods such as herbs or visually. “Really, it’s about slowing down and noticing that you can’t rush a flower to bloom,” she says.
“You’re going to heal, and that healing will last so much longer if you can respect this time,” Johnson encourages. The postpartum period is a time for rest and recovery, and it requires patience. Write your birth story. Johnson created The Fourth Trimester Journal to give people the opportunity to do this and to externalize all the emotions that they would otherwise internalize after birth. Get to know your baby. Learn about the parts of yourself you are encountering now that you may have never met before. Johnson also created The Fourth Trimester Card Deck which includes breathing exercises, poems, insightful information and more to ease the transition into motherhood. Although everyone’s pregnancy, birth and postpartum is unique, everyone can pursue these postpartum needs in a way that is authentic to their lifestyle in order to attain the most physical and mental healing after birth.
Photos courtesy of Kimberly Ann Johnson.