postpartum health

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.

Sleep Training: The Science of Infant Sleep - part 3

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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.


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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. 

 

 

 

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. 

Love,

The Spectrum Team

Sleep Training: Expectations vs Reality - Part 2

sleep training

In the last blog I offered a potentially unpopular view about looking at sleep training adults as opposed to our common cultural practice of sleep training our babies. Of course, I don’t suggest that parents sleep train themselves literally, but evaluate their relationship to sleep and recognise that perhaps it is those schedules, routines, and expectations that could change. After all, newborns cannot regulate emotions, understand action and consequence, or understand that change is temporary, so why is the sleep burden put on their tiny shoulders?

Infants are in a constant state of learning, processing, and growing in their first few months. This lasts into the first three years and we now know that it culminates in the most formative cognitive development period of our lives. Each day offers new challenges and new opportunities for skills to be learned and processed, and as a result I offer this suggestion: There should be no ‘schedules’, only ‘routines’.

A schedule suggests set expectations that are to be met. A routine suggests opportunities for creating healthy habits. If society started looking at infant sleep cycles like this, maybe parents could let themselves and their babies off the hook for a missed (or a too short) nap. Maybe they could let themselves off the hook for having a ‘bad week’ or even a ‘bad month’. Maybe we could stop using phrases like “I wish my baby was a good sleeper”.  Instead, we could look at each transition in and out of routines as an opportunity for growth and necessary change to meet new needs.

Let’s look at some scenarios where new parents might have certain expectations that might not meet the reality of a new baby.

Expectation: Baby sleeps in crib

Reality: Baby never wants to be put down

The reality here is that infants are hardwired to wake themselves for a variety of physical reasons, but also for safety through proximity to their caregiver. Some babies may be fine hearing their parent’s voice in the same room, but others may need constant touch to achieve the same level of comfort.

If you find yourself with one of these little humans who need your touch constantly, I feel for you. The amount of yourself you give to your new infant in its first few months is tremendous. The birthparent/baby dyad is an incredibly powerful and necessary bond. A common complaint is that errands, chores, and meals fall by the wayside because the baby always needs to be held. Baby wearing often and early can be a fantastic way to meet your infant’s needs and still have hands free (mostly) to accomplish necessary tasks.

There are many options available for baby wearing, so I won’t get into them all here. The advice I will offer is to try them with baby, after reading how to safely position your infant within the wrap. Even better would be to receive hands-on help and instruction from a store clerk or Doula (birth or postpartum) to help you with positioning. Hip dysplasia and neck placement are the most important concerns, and care should be taken each time your infant is placed in the carrier.

The benefits of baby wearing are amazing. Close, constant contact with a caregiver or birth parent regulates baby’s heart rate and breathing, lowers cortisol (stress hormone) which facilitates easier and more beneficial sleep cycles, and ultimately reinforces a foundation where the infant knows it is safe and cared for in this world.

Expectation: Evenings Alone (mat leave specifically)

Reality: Feeling too drained or exhausted to go out, clean, cook

When a newborn is fussy we ask ourselves: Are they hungry? Do they need a new diaper? Are they tired? I pose these same questions to parents when they are exhausted or feeling drained… okay, not the diaper change one!

A good place to start is looking at your nutrition and hydration.  Keeping on top of a balanced, healthy diet and a high intake of water in these first few months of parenthood is so important. Breastfeeding parents should intake 2100 calories a day at least, as well as 12 8-ounce glasses of water. Once those needs have been met, we can ask other questions. Have you exhausted yourself trying to keep up the house and cook ‘Martha Steward’ worthy meals? Let that go. Get a CrockPot and prepare meals in the evening or morning then walk away. Keep easy one-handed snacks accessible in heavily used areas of the home in containers so you can grab a handful of nuts, seeds, veggie sticks etc. on the go, or alternatively, if you’re stuck with a sleeping baby in your arms.

Re-asses previous expectations about how you thought your house would look, what you’d have time for, WHO you’d have time for, and let. them. go. The best analogy for this is the safety instructions given on an airplane: Before securing an oxygen mask on children or dependants, make sure you secure your OWN mask first. Take time for yourself so that you can take care of others. Make a list of non-negotiable self-care routines and get creative with your village to see how you could fit these into your new lifestyle.

It is an uncomfortable time in a new parent’s life when schedules and routines that used to bring cohesion and joy are disrupted. Feelings of not being good enough or that something is wrong with their baby are also very common. It is those feelings that lead some parents to choose sleep training as a last resort once they have reached a point of desperation. If expectations around what we needed to achieve during this sensitive time in a newborn’s development changed then maybe so would the frustrations with the reality when it doesn’t live up to the social media or TV/movie standards. My final advice remains the same: Be gentle with yourself. It is a great place to start.


sleep training

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 Peacebuilding, she believes that building healthy happy communities begins with empowered parents making informed decisions that are best for themselves and their infants. 

Winter Walking: 4 options to walk in Toronto

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Movement is so important for promoting health and wellness in pregnancy and yet busy lives means that many of us have difficulty meeting our exercise goals. Thankfully there are many movements that can be incorporated into our daily lives. Such as walking!

Walking is often overlooked as a form of physical activity. It strengthens your legs, back and pelvis and improves your alignment and flexibility. These can help relieve prenatal aches and discomfort and prepare your body. It’s great during labour too!  A 2013 Cochrane Review showed that upright positions, such as walking, lead to greater comfort for the birthing person and a shorter length of the first stage of labour.

Walking for thirty to sixty minutes each day or several times a week is great option for meeting movement goals. As it gets colder and the days shorter, we often tend to become less active and its harder to find the time or space for movement. Luckily, there are many options for walking within the city even on the coldest days:

1. Art Gallery of Ontario

It’s easy to walk for an hour or more while enjoying exhibits from classics to contemporary canadian art. There are four levels all accessible by elevator, but if you’re looking to increase your activity use the winding ramp to move through the gallery.

Every Wednesday from 6-9 pm the AGO collection galleries are free for the public!

2. Allan Gardens Conservatory

One of our favourite winter activities is visiting Allan Gardens, a greenhouse conservatory in Cabbagetown. It is a perfect way to escape the cold, grey winter days into the warm, tropical plant gardens.

Every December, the conservatory hosts their Christmas Flower Show with hundreds of flowers and holiday plant displays. On weekend evenings the conservatory can be enjoyed by candlelight.

3. Holiday Markets and Pop Up Shops

All throughout December, there are holiday markets and pop shops that let you shop while being active. These markets are great for finding unique gifts and crafts, many of which are made locally, and your favourite holiday drinks and treats!

A full list of holiday markets is available here

4. Brave the Cold

We can understand why so many chose to stay indoors during these winter months, but bundling up and heading outdoors has its benefits. We love the freshness in winter air and the beauty of the sun shining through bare trees and grey skies.

Green spaces, such as High Park or Evergreen Brickworks, are great options for outdoor walks. On those cold days, we opt for routes where we can stop in shops and cafes along the way, such as the Distillery District, Queen Street West, or Roncesvalle Avenue.

** Walking is one activity that many can incorporate to their daily activities or holiday plans, however we acknowledge it and the above suggestions will not accessible for all. Of the ideas listed above, Allan Gardens and Art Gallery of Ontario are accessible for those requiring mobility assistance.  

Love, 

The Spectrum Doula Team