I had my two babies in two different countries, Switzerland and the United States, respectively. People often ask me, “What was the biggest difference having your first baby while living abroad?” Although there were many differences, the quality of postpartum care remains the most significant. In Switzerland, a midwife came to see me at home five times, and the visits were all pre-arranged for me before I left the hospital. Everything changes when you’re a new mother, and the midwife supported me in ways I will never forget. She gave me confidence in my ability to take care of my infant. When I had my second baby in the States, what became very clear to me is that outside of family, there is not enough support for postpartum mamas, especially during the “fourth trimester.”
The “fourth trimester” is a term used to refer to the first three months after giving birth. The nights are long and the days are just as exhausting. The world as you know it revolves around caring for a tiny human. Their needs are endless and we as mothers give all that we know to give, often putting ourselves and sometimes our most basic needs last (like when 2 p.m. rolls around and you ask yourself, “Did I even brush my teeth today?”).
The following calming postnatal sequence is dedicated to the fourth trimester mama. I’m here for you, I believe in you, and I support you. One of the nice things about the early months of infancy is that babies this age (usually) love to sleep. This can be a great time to take a few moments to give back to your body and calm your mind. If your baby is struggling with naps or prefers to be held, I strongly encourage you to ask for help, whether it’s from your partner, family, friends, or a postpartum doula. Taking time for yourself is not only healthy for you, it also benefits everyone around you, including your beautiful baby.
We often overlook the power of the breath and its ability to shift our perspective. Find a place to sit, tune in, and listen. Calm the mind and create balance through a few rounds of Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. Take the thumb and fourth finger, and place them over the bridge of your nose. Gently close off the right nostril as you take a full inhale through the left nostril. At the top of the inhale, take a brief moment to pause, feeling the fullness of the breath. Then close of the left nostril as you exhale through the right nostril, taking a brief pause at the bottom of the exhale. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right, pause, close off the right nostril and exhale through the left. Continue through 5 more rounds, ending with an exhale through the left nostril.
*If you need a little more energy today, instead of alternate nostril breath, try practicing Surya Bhedana. This breath can help to awaken the energy from the sun, or more yang channels of the body. Closing off the left nostril, inhale through the right nostril and closing off the right nostril, exhale through the left, repeat inhale right, exhale, left.
2. Belly breath: Reconnect to your core.
Lying on your back, place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Adding a deeper awareness around the belly, begin to draw the navel toward the spine on an exhale count of 4 or 5. Try not to create any tension around the upper back, shoulders, or neck. Imagine as if you are giving your abdomen a deep internal hug. Continue for 10-15 rounds. Make sure you do a full inhalation and a complete exhale, drawing in around the belly.
*This breath can help you reconnect to your core and begin to promote the healing of any diastasis recti that may have resulted from pregnancy. Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal wall usually occurring in the rectus abdominis or the outermost layer of the abdominal wall. The severity of this separation differs in all women and can be measured by your healthcare professional. Most cases, with proper awareness and mindful abdominal techniques, heal on their own, but some may require physical therapy. Please refer to your health care practitioner for more information.
3. Cat/Cow: Move the spine.
Life with an infant can do some pretty interesting things to your posture, but movement can help. From all fours, move the spine by taking variations in Cat/Cow. On an inhale, let the belly drop as you lift the chest and spread the collarbones. On an exhale, round the back, drawing the navel toward the spine for Cat. Repeat 5-6 rounds of Cat/Cow, allowing the breath to guide your movements.
4. Child’s Pose: Restore.
Take 5-10 minutes in a restorative Child’s Pose. From all fours, gently send the hips back to sit on your heels. Bring the knees about mat-width apart (or if you prefer, have the knees together) and slide a bolster under the belly. *To promote blood flow and healing in the abdominals, gently place a folded blanket between your hip crease and belly. Allow the focus to be on full breaths expanding through the front and back body.
5. Modified Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose: Reset.
I often call Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose the reset button. Postpartum swelling around the ankles and feet is fairly common. This posture has the potential to relieve swelling, as well as the ability to send blood back to the heart to promote recirculation. It’s the perfect pose the relieve tension in the legs and feet, as well as to balance the nervous system.
Moving close to the wall, place a bolster, pillow, or folded blanket approximately 5 inches away from the wall. Sitting parallel to the wall on your prop, slowly start lowering down to the floor, coming onto your side. Using your hands and feet to support you, move onto your back, placing your legs against the wall. Place the feet into the wall and lift your hips to slide over, finding balance under your prop. Once you arrive, come into your breath. Take a few vocal sighs on the exhales. Then, let the focus be on long, lingering exhalations. Set a timer and stay for 5-10 minutes, with every breath inviting you to move deeper into a state of rest.
6. Savasana: Rest.
Rest can be one of the most challenging things for a new mother, yet it’s so important for your nervous system. Instead of thinking about the next feeding, what you need to buy at the store, or how your baby is sleeping, bring the focus onto you and your internal state. Drop into a state of relaxation, shifting the focus from doing to just being you.
Find a comfortable position you can relax in, and try one of my favorite Savasana modifications for SI joint (the joint between the sacrum and the ilium bones of the pelvis) stability. Grabbing a strap, scarf, or even a belt, make a taut loop around your mid-thighs. Place a block between the thighs and rest your knees under the support of a pillow or bolster. Lying down on your back, support the neck by making a neck roll right under the curvature of the cervical spine. Set your timer for 5-10 minutes, place a cover over your eyes if desired, and rest. Let your whole body release into relaxation. Repeat the following mantra: I am a good mother, I am fully supported in my journey through motherhood, I trust in my body’s inherent wisdom and intelligence.