How to recover and thrive after childbirth
My baby girl was born in July 2019 after 3 nights of labor, with her eyes wide open, finally ready to offer her light to the world.
After I gave birth, while I was always proud of what my body had accomplished, the power that I had come to know as my birthright as a woman, I also yearned for a body that didn’t hurt.
Now, that constant discomfort feels far away. But for weeks, even months, my feet felt like they were full of shards of glass, my knees throbbed, my pelvis felt like it was barely sewn together. I have always been athletic and fit, in a body that enjoyed movement and was good at it. I felt like no one had warned me. I didn’t understand how I would ever recover physically on the little sleep I was getting. But herbal teas and nourishing food helped me so much. And one year on, I’d love to share what I've learned with all the new mommas out there.
Phase 1: Recovering from birth
No one can prepare you for the magic, pain and power of labor. Even those feel like the wrong set of words to describe something as earthly and animalistic as it is spiritual and transcendental. I bow deeply to the midwives, nurses and doulas who guide women on that journey. But I also bow deeply to the plants that have accompanied women over the centuries on this journey through birth and the transformation of their bodies and identity.
I felt unprepared and yet now I see why. I had hundreds of contractions and within 24hours I could barely recall what one felt like. You experience the surge of energy it takes to create new matter, new life. You become the volcano, the tidal wave, the sand storm. And then Mother Nature casts a spell over you so you forget it all. This made me feel a little like I had survived a car crash that I couldn’t remember. But these are the teas and foods that got me through it:
What to drink:
Cold infusions of Marshmallow Root to re-moisten your insides
Warm infusions of Chamomile to lower the inflammation
Warm infusions of Nettles and Raspberry Leaf to nourish your blood and increase your milk supply. (Fenugreek and Fennel are also the classic herbs for this but I don’t like the aniseed like taste)
What to eat:
Warm stews. Slow cooked meat to replenish your iron. Root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Mushrooms. You can cook with spices like ginger, cumin, coriander, thyme, rosemary, sage, cinnamon, cardamom.
What to avoid: The baby’s digestive system is brand new and there are lots of things that will pass through your milk that will irritate their little tummy. For the first three months, new mommas need to avoid cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, salads, raw onions and garlic, tomato sauce, nuts and anything spicy.
Phase 2: Surviving sleep deprivation
I used to wonder why they let new moms drive. There were days where I could see kaleidoscopic colors out of the corners of my eyes because i was so tired. My advice is take it one day at a time, even one nap at a time. Some days, some nights, won’t be easy but everyday is different. Your body will surprise you. You will survive this phase. Like everything else, it will pass. Be gentle to yourself.
Mineral Rich Tea - Raspberry Leaf, Oatstraw, Nettles, Alfalfa. This will help with your energy, your milk supply, your iron levels, your hormones. Again, Fenugreek and Fennel are great additions if you like the flavor. See this post for how to make an infusion.
Try and avoid caffeine if you can because it can impact the baby’s sleep if you are breastfeeding.
If you are struggling with postpartum blues you should also introduce some Lemon Balm and Motherwort either into your tea blend or as tinctures (5-10 drops 3x/day).
If your baby is suffering from colic you can brew a quart of strong Chamomile tea, drink some, and then pour the rest into the baby’s bath water. The baby will benefit from its carminative properties both through your milk and through the water. It may also help them get a longer sleep.
Phase 3: Returning to work
I am writing this in the middle of the COVID pandemic, so returning to work doesn’t have the same meaning as it used to. But psychologically, there is still a rupture from solely caring for your baby to having other concerns swarming around your brain. Regardless, a change of pace occurs and whether you enjoy it or not, it comes with a certain level of stress. Mothering isn't easy without the support of family or care. But, we are strong and adaptable, and we will also learn this new dance.
There are a group of herbs called adaptogens that are amazing at supporting us mentally and physically through moments of transition. I would drink Tulsi in the day and make Golden Milk with Turmeric and Ashwaghanda and Shatavari at night.
Sometimes it’s not easy to make teas depending on your job, so you can also take a tincture on the go like Motherwort or Skullcap to help with the anxiety of commuting, being far away from the baby or being stressed about money, work etc.
Milk supply can drop at this point because of the hormone shift of no longer seeing and smelling your baby all day. The best thing to do if you want to keep breastfeeding is to keep eating well and drinking your Mineral Rich Tea.
Transitioning is always uncomfortable for humans. Even though it is inevitable most of us avoid change. Transitioning to motherhood is profound. You are shedding parts of your old identity to discover who you are as a mother. That comes with wonder but also grief at times.
Recovering is not about feeling like your old self. Recovering is lovingly and patiently waiting for your new self to reveal itself.
Herbal medicine isn't the only healing modality that can help. You will also need a community of mothers, newbies as well as wizened ones, to keep you sane. Massage, chiropractic readjusting, cranio-sacral therapy and pelvic floor videos on Youtube are also going to be life changers.
My baby girl is nearly one and I feel good. Tired, but strong. My body doesn’t ache anymore. She is my greatest teacher. She is my window into the now, into my ancestors and into all Life.