The First Forty Days - Book Review

The First Forty Days

During the forty or so weeks of pregnancy, there is so much anticipation and planning for the birth! Often, there is less planning when it comes to postpartum, especially in caring for the birthing person and/or new parent(s).The transition into parenthood or post-birth healing is filled with joy, challenges, and adaptation. Preparing for postpartum beforehand can go a long way in those early weeks when sleep is lacking, your body is healing, and you’re possibly doing everything for first time.  

Heng Ou, founder of MotherBees, wrote The First Forty Days - a gentle guide for postpartum healing and care inspired by the Chinese Tradition of zuo yuezi, the practice of sitting for forty plus days post-birth.  Zuo yuezi, and similar practices, occurs within many different cultures and countries as a way to support postpartum recovery and prepare for parenthood. While for some it may not be possible or ideal to completely shut the outside world out for this length of time, there is a lesson to be learned from this practice.

North American parents are praised for being able to ‘bounce back’ quickly after childbirth, but this overlooks a crucial period of healing and adjustment. The First Forty Days is meant to guide individuals through this period and adopting zuo yuezi to their lifestyles and postpartum experience.  Using ‘five insights’; retreat, warmth, support, rest, and ritual, Ou presents plenty of methods for self care and recovery that are easy and ranges from creating a support team and preparation for parenthood to spiritual and emotional practices.


Fundamental to The First Forty Days guide is giving yourself time: to heal, to learn, to make mistakes, to be cared for, and to move through your postpartum journey whatever it may look like. There can be a lot of pressure placed on new parents and plenty of advice and opinions (both wanted and unwanted). Ou does an incredible job of highlighting how the transition into parenthood is personal and a process through which individuals should be honoured and supported to encourage both confidence and recovery. For those birthing people not becoming parents, this can serve as guide for your physical and emotional recovery after birth as you will need time to focus on your wellness.

Ou suggests doing some of this planning beforehand, including food preparation, compiling a list of friends and family for support, having conversations about how a baby can change your relationships, and establishing the boundaries necessary for your selfcare. If you allow yourself this time and approach postpartum without expectations of certain outcomes, you will find you can adapt throughout the experience with the many tools and approaches laid out in this guide that prioritize your health and wellness.

The Food! The recipes are delicious and easy. Warming and soft foods, like soups and stews, are the basis of most meals outlined for the first forty days as these are more easily digestible and hearty enough for fueling and nourishing postpartum. When your focus shifts to caring for and becoming acquainted with your little one, it’s easy for you to neglect eating well, yet food is so important to postpartum healing and health. Heng Ou reminds readers that by nourishing themselves it will benefit baby too! What’s great about these recipes is that they could be made in bigger batches ahead of time and are easy enough that others could make for you. Beyond this, the recipes encourage simpler food preparation and eating habits, using local and seasonal produce, and can be adapted depending on dietary preferences. Some favourites include the Ginger Tumeric & Honey Tea, the Avocado Coconut & Lime Smoothie, and the ‘C-recovery’ vegetable stew.


The choice of language in the book largely assumes that the birthing person is a woman and a mother, the baby is gendered, and the birthing experience is feminine. Nevertheless, the approaches put forth in the First Forty Days are beneficial for any birthing person, parent(s), or person playing an active role in care and support during the postpartum period.  The care practices and recipes are so beneficial and rejuvenating that they can be used by anyone, not strictly for postpartum parents.

Much of what Heng Ou recommends is easy and accessible in practice, but it requires some pre-planning and setting up supports. Ou does the stress the importance of doing this work beforehand (even better if you can start before baby arrives). It also helps those who will be a part of your postpartum journey know better how to support and help you. Depending on your personal and life circumstances, some approaches may not be for you, but this book has been set up as a gentle guide so that you can pick and choose what is useful for meeting your needs.


The First Forty Days is a wonderful resource for anyone having a baby, recently given birth, or for a person supporting another during postpartum. It acknowledges the experience one goes through in childbirth and why a period of recovery and being cared for is important to their health and wellness. Heng Ou puts forward five insights for postpartum care that can be adapted and used during postpartum period. There are many ways to use these insights, but some favourites include:

  • Retreat: doing something nice for yourself, your favourite self care practice, or simply finding some quiet time to be alone.

  • Warmth: a warm cup of tea, a bowl of soup or soaking in a relaxing bath.

  • Support: start early, practice asking others for help (it can be hard for some), and compile a list of people you can reach out to when in need.

  • Rest: SO important! But getting an adequate amount of sleep can be challenging after baby. Rest also includes minimizing your activity, this is not the time to jump back into your pre-pregnancy activities. Reach out to your support people. Most people will be happy to spend a couple hours with baby allowing you to rest. There are doulas and night nurses who do just this.

  • Ritual: if you are becoming a parent, this is a transformative time in your life and you may benefit from a ritual that allows you to honour who you were before baby and welcome this new aspect of your identity. Look into to ‘Mother Blessings’ if interested in this. Anything can become a ritual, what this books suggests is that it’s important to create a ritual that promotes your health and care.


Kaia and the Spectrum Team

Spectrum Doula Collective offers postpartum and meal planning support that can help you during your postpartum journey. Our doulas make sure your postpartum transition is as smooth as possible by providing unique, expert care that suits your every need.

Get Snacking: Leftover fruit

fruit salad

Do you ever buy something to use in a recipe and just...forget about it? That's what happened to me this week. I was going to make this wonderful winter slaw and then I didn't, which meant I had a sad mango and an even sadder papaya lying around. That's when inspiration struck and they became a wonderful fruit salad. 


1 mango

1 papaya

2 limes

2 handfuls of shredded unsweetened coconut

1-2 pinches of sea salt (trust me on this one)

Cube mango and papaya. Add to a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix and enjoy! 

Full disclosure - I ate half of this salad right away. It's delicious, keeps well in the fridge, and little and big ones love it! You can have it as a snack - or even as dessert! 


Corina and the Spectrum team

Sleep Training: The Science of Infant Sleep - part 3


In my two previous entries I offered a (perhaps) different approach to sleep training and a discussion surrounding expectations versus reality that new parents often experience. My goal has been to invite parents to think about infant sleep in a new way; mainly reflecting on their own relationship to sleep and the adult expectations we often place on infants introduced into the family unit. I want to expand this into a conversation about the science of infant sleep.

Let's look at sleep in general. There are many ways that we can approach the ‘problem’ of sleep in our society today, but I offer this basic introduction: the world requires more of us in a day and has gotten BRIGHTER and LOUDER during the dark hours when our minds used to rest.

The 20th century saw many of the inventions that embedded these nocturnal disruptions in our society and culture. Electricity, radio, TV … massive amounts of stimuli that require more time to recover from to achieve the optimal amount of rest. What has remained the same through these technological developments? The evolutionary embedded sleep needs of the infant.

Baby sleep cycles are different from adult sleep cycles. Period.

There is nothing to ‘teach’ an infant about sleep, nothing to impart about how to be a ‘good’ sleeper at 4 months of age. Barring any diagnosed condition (colic, acid reflux, etc.) humans are hardwired with the evolutionary know how to sleep and for how long. In fact, interfering with these cycles to prolong your infant’s sleep could affect their development. Babies from 0-9 months old need 17 to 14 hours of required sleep per day (decreasing with age) in intervals ranging from 3-7 hour stretches mixed with varying nap lengths. What becomes frustrating after the fourth trimester for new parents is the marked difference in the infant’s relationship to sleep as compared to their own.

Adults typically move through sleep in 90-minute sleep cycles, which include a period of light sleep moving into deep and R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is during these times that we will get up to go to the bathroom or toss and turn. Infants have much shorter sleep cycles - an hour or less - and this is a good thing! Frequent periods of light sleep regulate breathing, allow the infant brain to process the events of the day to consolidate information and aids in cognitive development. Forcing a baby to sleep deeply early on can have a limiting effect on the baby’s cognitive development.

“Why does my baby keep waking up!? I fed my baby until both breasts were emptied, put them to bed with a new diaper, beside me, in a pitch-dark bedroom. Why did they wake up an hour later?

They were too cold, too hot, needed a cuddle, were lonely, scared, need a new diaper change, or are thirsty … again! Breast milk is digested much easier than formula so will result in more frequent feedings. Infants know that their immediate environment (the chest of the birth parent or primary caregiver) represents their survival. The heart beat, body warmth, breathing, and feeding regulation that the adult provides to a new infant is necessary for development. Regardless of which sleep personality an infant is blessed with, it is up to the adult to determine the most stress-free accommodation of it in the initial years of growth for optimal cognitive development and psychological well-being. Certain sleep training methods have been shown to produce anxiety in children, and require multiple attempts at re-training after each illness, travel, or teething episode.

A sleep educator can help a family plan for and work through these stages in a way that won’t disrupt the infant’s development but meets as many needs of the family unit as possible. As always it is useful to remember that these stages are temporary and providing a healthy relationship to sleep early on will result in a positive association to it later in life.

Babies possess ‘arousal skills’ as a protective measure against pulmonary or cardiac crisis. They cannot yet change position in their sleep if they are uncomfortable and they cannot problem solve to achieve their own immediate needs (feeding or changing or calming themselves if they’ve woken up alone and afraid). At birth, babies have a fully developed amygdala. As such, they are immediately wired for fight or flight responses, i.e. crying. However, they require another person to resolve their needs for them. Infants are not born with hippocampal development. This is why they can’t talk themselves out of irrational fears like being put down or left alone for periods of time. They do not process cause and effect and cannot reasonably understand that their caregiver will return if they leave. As they age, this changes. 

Our society’s focus on individualism over community has created an isolating experience of parenthood. Humans aren’t meant to go through life alone. Infants are a constant reminder of this fact. They need help to meet their needs, and so do adults. Find your village and put it to good use. A postpartum doula can act as a first responder and provide referrals to new families in this area. The more we work to normalise infant sleep and the temporary sleep disruption in a family unit as necessary and productive to achieve long term cognitive benefits, the less we will question our infants sleep patterns. We are social beings from birth to death, let’s not allow the individualistic structure of our society deter us from fulfilling our needs. Our babies prove every day that they aren’t letting it deter them.


Jenna Inglis is a Toronto based Nanny, Birth Doula, Postpartum Doula, and Infant Sleep Educator. She is passionate about empowering new families on their journey into parenthood; providing compassionate care before, during, and after birth.  With a background in Community Healing and Peace building, she believes that building healthy happy communities begins with empowered parents making informed decisions that are best for themselves and their infants. 




5 Grounding Practices during your Fertility Journey

ground practice

As full spectrum doulas we work with many people at different points in their perinatal journey. This includes supporting folks through their fertility journey - this includes anything from attending appointments with our clients, providing information, as well as providing a listening year when needed. We love to equip our clients with coping strategies for all (if not most) situations - whether we are there or not. 


For those times when we may not be there, here are 5 grounding practices you can do on your own:

1) Drink a warm beverage

Hear us out - we live in Canada and about now (mid-February) we are only drinking warm beverages - tea, coffee, hot chocolate, warm smoothies, hot broth, etc. It just makes us happy and we think you may enjoy it too. It's cosy and hygge. It makes us focus on the present and warms up from the inside out. 

2) Count your breaths

Give it a try - try counting 100 or 150 breaths. It doesn't matter if you think about other things - go back to one and remember it's not a race or a test. Pay attention to your breaths as you count them and as you reach close to 100 or 150 you may notice your breath pattern changing and your nervous system calming. 

3) Dance* for 5 minutes

Set your timer and (without music) dance - hardIt releases tension from both your body and your mind. (Meredith Grey does it)

*If dancing just isn't for you, job quickly on the spot or air punch forward and sideways #accessible

4) Get outside for an hour or two

We know it's cold outside but you could bundle up! Take a walk in a park, on a trail, on a busy street - whatever works for you (but watch our for that ice!). The change of scenery, air, and pace might get you thinking about other things - or about nothing at all. Consider it your pause and recharge. 

5) Call/meet a friend

We are social creature - even those of us who are introverted benefit from people around other people. Be mindful of when it's time to leave the social interaction for self-care. 

We hope you gives these practices a try and see what works for you! 


The Spectrum Team

Get Snacking: Postpartum

 self-saucing vegan banana caramel pudding

self-saucing vegan banana caramel pudding

At Spectrum Doula Collective we are all foodies! We love cooking for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our clients! 

 broccoli blue cheese pie with tomato salad

broccoli blue cheese pie with tomato salad

A big part of postpartum support is specialised baby care but it doesn't always have to be. Your postpartum doula is there to support you in so many different ways - it could, of course be, baby care but also be holding baby while you take a shower or a nap; healing wisdom both physically and emotionally; listening to your birth story and holding space for you; tidying up; light laundry; helping with pets; and providing you a nutritious meal or snacks! 

And we really really love cooking for our clients. We make mostly vegetarian and vegan meals (based on our dietary restrictions) and we will cook anything from soups to stews, pies, stratas, lasagnas, puddings, cakes, muffins, and energy balls. We post some of these recipes to our blog on a monthly basis and photos of the finished product on our IG.

Want to learn more? Contact us. 


The Spectrum Team