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.

WHERE THIS BOOK SUCCEEDS

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.

POINTS WORTH NOTING

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: THE 5 INSIGHTS FOR POSTPARTUM CARE

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.

Love, 

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.