Lying-In After Birthby Elizabeth MacDonald
Women in our society are expected to give birth and be back at work within weeks. There is little focus on the bonding, the personal growth, the mother's well-being after she gives birth. Everything continues just as it did prior to her having a baby, and she is expected to keep up. If anything, she is expected to perform better than she did before, while juggling more balls.
But, what if we took a moment to look around the world. How are new mothers treated? What is expected of them? What can we learn?
The Lost Art of Lying-In After Birth
Cultures across the world treat laboring women differently than we do here. They are fed healing foods, cared for by family and friends, and expected to allow their bodies to heal – while staying inside and nursing their babies.
Many cultures have a 40-day rule for postpartum women:
Koreans have a special soup to drink.
Chinese women can’t go out for 30 days and are discouraged from showering.
Latin American women bind their bellies.
Ugandan women shave their heads.
Indonesian and Malaysian women are not allowed to cook or clean for the first 40 days.
In Mongolia, the 'Lying-In' time includes, among other things, drinking warm drinks and avoiding cold ones; keeping your head covered–especially your ears so you don’t “get wind”; a woman is not to get cold, at all. Warm clothes, layers. During the 40 days, anyone who comes to see mother and/or baby must bring a gift... it’s required to prevent breast infections.
In almost all cultures throughout the world the postpartum woman is treated gently, with respect and honor. She’s allowed to rest, nurse her baby and little else. She is usually cared for by other women in her family or community.
Lying-In is a practice that we need to adapt. It takes an entire society - or village - for this to happen, but it can.
After giving birth, a mother should not feel the pressure of life, work, or expectations upon her. It is a time of healing, bonding, learning, and growing.
What is the mother’s body experiencing during the 'Lying-In'?
Physically, Lying-In allows a mother’s organs to reposition themselves and provides time for more rest. Her legs and feet may become swollen in the couple of days after birth, so being off her feet will release any pressure felt in the bottom and allows blood to flow freely.
There are intense contractions that come during the weeks after birth. The uterus needs to shrink back to regular size and get back into proper position.
The bleeding that occurs after birth is called Lochia. It can last 1-6 weeks (or more) and varies in intensity. There are blood clots and tissue expelled.
The perineum is stretched significantly during labor and needs time and care to heal properly, especially if tearing took place. Postpartum healing baths are great to help! (Take at least 3 a week – or more.)
Every muscle of the body is used during labor, and they will ALL be sore and need time to recover.
Breastmilk comes in full within 2-5 days after birth, and it will typically cause the breasts to swell and become very hard. This is typically painful and will need iced, massaged, and constant nursing so that mastitis does not occur.
Emotionally, Lying-In allows the mother to focus all of her attention on bonding, breastfeeding, and setting the tone for the rest of the family to follow suit.
What is the baby experiencing?
Transitioning earthside is a lot of work for a baby. Lying-In is the first stage in the “Fourth Trimester” of acclimating the baby to the world in a non-rushed manner. Constant skin-to-skin, soft noises, lots of sleeping, and even more breastfeeding help make this transition calm and smooth.
This One-on-one time also provides the mother with an opportunity to watch the baby closely. This time lets her observe her newborn’s skin for things like jaundice, umbilical cord care, and any rashes that may arise. Diaper changes become more routine when her focus is on the baby’s cues and actions/reactions. Feeding routines take time to establish. Breastfeeding requires a learning curve for baby to get the latch right, and for the mother to learn her baby’s hunger cues before he/she reaches a level of distress. This can be done by spending time watching her baby play with her hands, turn her head, and look or “root” for a food source. Baby has spent 40 weeks (give or take) with constant contact to her mother. Allowing her to continue this during Lying-In will help a new baby slowly transition to her real world life.
Women who do practice Lying-In in our culture typically practice for 1-4 weeks postpartum. It is a time of quiet, reflection, and celebration. There is to be no fussing by the new mother over dishes, chores, or bills. She is to rest. This doesn’t mean sleeping, necessarily, but it means laying/sitting quietly for as much of the day as possible. This time is used to catch up on reading, nursing/bonding with the newborn, writing in a journal, catching up on phone calls, writing projects, starting a baby book, sewing, knitting, watching movies, or crafting. Bridging the woman into the role of a mother through the gentle way of Lying-In may create a gentler mother through the process.
Ways to Implement Lying-In:
- Hire a postpartum doula.
- Hire a babysitter or mother’s helper to watch young siblings so you can rest easy.
- Hire cleaners to come once a week to ensure the house does not become a disaster of spilt apple juice and crushed cereal.
- Have meals ready in the freezer before birth.
- Cancel all that can be cancelled: any extra-curricular activities, meetings, or playdates.
- Have the pantry stocked – or have your groceries delivered and order snacks to be delivered to your door.
- Ask for help.
- Plan a “Welcome Baby” party for a month after the birth! Invite friends to come and see you and baby after Lying-In has come to an end.