Being Type A, and having a few other little ones running around, I have never stayed in bed for a prolonged period after birth. In all actuality, I have done the opposite. After our first baby, we grabbed lunch and a beer at a restaurant before she was a day old. (I’m not kidding.) Our second baby came with a BBQ at our house the next day, in which I helped cook and prepare. Our third baby came before Thanksgiving, in which we hosted the family at our house. I had never thought twice about any of these experiences. That is, until now.
I have started really looking at this upcoming birth in a different light. It may be our last baby (I can’t say for sure, because – well, I just can’t yet.) I know my body and mind are prepared to labor and birth this sweet boy. My husband is an amazing coach; my children are prepared for the labor experience, and everything is as it should be at 35 weeks pregnant. However, this time, I find myself pouring my soul into scouring the internet for things I do not want to miss out on with this baby. While every birth has been amazing, I want to make sure that I have really covered my bases on the birth front – in case I don’t ever do this again.
Do you know what I came across? “Lying-In”
Now, I have heard from a few other hippie mama friends that they don’t leave their beds for at least 2 weeks after birth. They snuggle their babies and rest. My type A personality thought that was a joke. Not only am I out of bed, but I am shopping, cooking, and running errands within days of giving birth. Well, my interest has been peeked this time around. The tradition and history of “Lying-In” has me intrigued.
The Lost Art of Lying-In After Birth
Cultures across the world treat women who have labored 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.
I won’t get into the maternity leave problems our society has in place, but it is appalling. (That’s another post within itself.)
Just a few cultural beliefs that I read about:
Many cultures have a 40-day rule for post-partum 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 almost all cultures throughout the world the post-partum 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.
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. (This is not a joke!)
What is the mother’s body experiencing?
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. Being off your feet will release any pressure felt in your bottom, give your guts time to reposition, and allow blood to flow freely. These physical changes are critical to our health and shouldn't be brushed aside for daily chores or lunches with well-wishers.
Uterine contractions: There are intense contractions that come the weeks after birth. The uterus needs to shrink back to regular size and get back into proper position.
Lochia: 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.
Perineum: 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.)
Swelling: The legs and feet may swell after labor.
Soreness: Every muscle of the body is used during labor, and they will ALL be sore (even my elbows are sore after having a baby).
Engorgement: 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 her attention on the new infant 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 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 baby closely. This time lets you observe your newborn’s skin for things like jaundice, umbilical cord care, and any rashes that may arise. Diaper changes become more routine when your focus is on 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 you to learn baby’s hunger cues before he/she reaches a level of distress. This can be done by spending time watching your 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 YOU. Allowing him to continue this during Lying-In will help you slowly transition to his 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 you possibly can the first couple of weeks to a month. Use this time to catch up on reading, nursing/bonding with your newborn, writing in your journal, catching up on phone calls, blogging or other writing projects, starting your baby book, sewing, knitting, watching Netflix, or crafting.
Bridging the women into the role of motherhood through the gentle way of Lying-In may create a gentler mother through the process. (Something our society needs more of.)
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 stacked – or jump on the amazon prime pantry bandwagon 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.
If you do not have the extra money to hire help, you will survive. Bring your baby downstairs and park your rear on the couch. Movies, books, board games, and crafts will buy you time until your partner is home to run around with siblings.
My Take Away
After digging into all of this, I’ve decided to give myself – and this baby – the time we deserve after birth. I am going to try (REALLY TRY) to swallow my OCD and Type A-ness and follow this lost art. I want to soak it all in this time. I need to let go of my need to entertain everyone else. My husband will take off work every Wednesday for a month so that I do not have to drive the kids to activities. My mom and mother-in-love will be here for (separately) approximately 10-14 days after the baby arrives, my husband will take a few days off after they are gone, and then the kids and I will spend about a week being lazy, paying games, and doing our homeschool things in a low key manner. I know I’ll still cook and do all the needed chores when no one else is around, and of course write as much as possible, but I’m going to try to respect this time period, ask for help – and then take the help!