They say, “Hindsight is 20/20” and boy, is that true when it comes to the postpartum season with my first baby.
Back in 2014, when I was pregnant for the first time, I don’t remember much talk about the postpartum season and what to expect or how to prepare for it. There’s so much focus on pregnancy and labor/delivery, and postpartum is kind of overlooked. A lot of the focus or talk about postpartum has mostly to do with the baby—items we’ll need to care for the baby, newborn photos, etc. And it’s hard to find real talk about momma and all the changes she’s experiencing. Our culture almost fails to recognize what a big transition postpartum is for both baby AND momma.
Fortunately, in recent years, I’ve seen glimmers of hope that this is beginning to change. Postpartum is a significant season—the beginning of the rest of your life as a mother—and one that deserves some attention, for new and experienced moms alike. I didn’t have a great postpartum experience after my first pregnancy, but my hope and my goal are to help you and others successfully navigate your season. Hindsight really is 20/20 and I know now that there are things that would have helped me through this precious time. That is why I’m here to share what I wish I had known: everything hindsight taught me about postpartum.
Is There Such a Thing as Postpartum Preparation?
With my first baby, I ended up having a very challenging postpartum season that I was completely unprepared for. I’ll share more about it in future articles, but to summarize, we had many challenges. We had multiple breastfeeding challenges, sensory difficulties for my daughter, some delayed recovery in my body, and I had a significant case of postpartum depression and anxiety. It was overwhelming! We rode it out, but it did take years to recover. It took dedicated efforts to heal in mind, body, and spirit.
Since then, I’ve been paying more attention to resources for postpartum, taking notes and learning. In the midst of learning, I’ve discovered one of my passions: using my professional background as a pediatric and postpartum nurse, combined with my personal experience as a new mom, to help other moms flourish during their postpartum season. Whether it’s your first baby or not, I don’t want any mom to suffer alone the way I did.
The truth is, there are ways to prepare for postpartum, just like we prepare for the arrival of our new baby. As I learned and developed my understanding of my own experience, I began to see where and how preparation can play a role in the postpartum season. As a result, I created the PEACE method for postpartum, a method I guide my clients through. Its categories contain the topics I wish I’d known more about before and during my first postpartum season.
I’ll be diving into a key point in each category of the PEACE method in my next article (so stay tuned!), but for now I want to share a wide-lens view of postpartum and some of the broader issues we can face as moms of newborns.
How Do We Define Postpartum?
We often think of the postpartum period as six weeks long because that’s when our follow-up is scheduled with our birth provider. In my opinion, postpartum lasts longer. There is some talk of the first 3 months of postpartum being likened to a 4th trimester of pregnancy that’s happening outside of the womb. The reason for this is that, during the first 3 months postpartum, there are a lot of adjustments happening for mom and baby.
Mom’s body is recovering, establishing a milk supply, hormones are shifting and so much more. And the baby’s brain is undergoing rapid changes and development as he is adjusting to life outside the womb. So we want to recognize this period as unique and full of transition.
We can benefit so much from treating this 4th trimester as sacred—this means allowing for extra rest, having grace for all the adjustments, and setting aside this time as important for bonding between mom and baby, which extends to the whole family.
Another way of looking at it is that postpartum is really the first year of a baby’s life (from conception to three months old) since there are lots of changes and adjustments that happen for both mom and baby that first year.
Lastly, it could be said that postpartum continues until breastfeeding is finished because of breastfeeding’s impact on a mother’s hormones, nutrient status, and the close bond that exists between a nursing mother and child. The length of postpartum will vary depending on each woman’s situation, but certainly it is longer than 6 weeks.
Protect Your 4th Trimester
I wish I’d understood that the postpartum timeline isn’t one-size-fits-all. I remember people telling me to “have grace for myself,” but I think I had a hard time understanding what that meant as a first-time mom. Now I understand that means protecting the 4th trimester (postpartum) by treating it as a special time, just like we do the other trimesters of pregnancy.
I want to take the pressure off of mothers to quickly return to “doing it all.” This looks different for each of us, but that permission to slow down and really pay attention to how our body is doing, our mental well-being, and how our baby is doing is so important.
I also wish I’d known how important it is to nourish and care for myself extra during those first three months. Rest is so important. And so is finding ways to be refreshed in the midst of an intense and demanding season. Self-care becomes about the simplest of things that have a huge impact—like taking the time to brush our teeth, change into clean clothes, playing our favorite music during the day, etc.
Most of all, I wish I’d known just how temporary this season is. The first 3 months can be SO incredibly hard, but it really does change as a mother’s hormones adjust and the baby potentially begins to sleep in longer stretches. Because this season is so fleeting, I now take a little bit more of an “all bets are off” approach and recognize that it’s okay to relax certain standards and expectations we have for ourselves during this time. I think permission to do whatever we need to do (within reason and safety) is important in order to make it through this season.
What is the Purpose of Postpartum?
Another concept I wish I’d understood during postpartum is that there can actually be a purpose for the postpartum season.
Our culture has some interesting messages about postpartum. It’s either a time where you’re a “hot-mess mom” surviving on coffee and wine; or it’s a time to bounce back to your pre-baby body; or it’s all about capturing Instagram-perfect moments of our newborns.
But what if it’s meant for more? I believe God’s purpose for postpartum is revealed in John 15:1-2, 4:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes that it may bear more fruit… Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
Could it be that the postpartum season is meant to be a time of deeply abiding in God’s presence, which leads to fruitfulness in our lives? Instead of succumbing to the messages of our culture, I believe we have the opportunity as postpartum moms to let go of all the extra pressures and expectations and really focus on drawing near to God’s heart as we recover after birth and nurture our little ones.
God never wastes an experience. And I believe He wants to use this unique time in our lives for so much more. He wants to:
- Develop our character
- Reveal to us more about our identity as both His daughters and as mothers to our children
- Teach us how to rely on Him when times are hard or circumstances are beyond our control
- Show us how to stay closely connected to Him, even during a season that pushes us to our limits
It’s also an opportunity for Him to speak to us about this little one He’s entrusted to us. I believe He wants to mark the first few months of our baby’s life by sharing with us about our child: who He created them to be and what His plans and purposes are for them in this world.
Jesus said it best in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you might ask the Father in My name He may give to you.”
Ultimately, the purpose of the postpartum season is to bear fruit that remains. There’s an opportunity during this time for God to do a work in us as mothers that will have an impact on eternity.
Stepping into Your Postpartum Season
When I was postpartum, I was blindsided by all the challenges. And I really struggled with what felt like the death of parts of who I was and opportunities I’d enjoyed before becoming a mom.
I had no idea that postpartum was a unique season with a purpose that I could lean into.
I wish I’d known that the pain of letting go of my previous life was actually purposeful pruning by the Vinedresser in preparation for the fruitfulness to come. My hope and prayer for you is that you grab hold of your postpartum season…whether it is forthcoming or you are currently in the midst of it. Know that there is purpose in this time, purpose that you can lean into.
The beautiful truth about postpartum is that God is capable of doing a special work behind the scenes as we are navigating the highs and lows of our postpartum season. And that is His heart for you.