The days and weeks following birth are an intense time of transition, learning, rest, and recovery. Both mama and baby are experiencing the fourth trimester, as they learn to go from sharing one body to being two separate beings. The modern mother, especially in the United States, is often not able to take the time or have the proper support to allow her to focus on self-care in the way her body truly needs it. Author Heng Ou, inspired by her own postpartum experience, which followed the traditional Chinese wisdom of zuo yuezi, which translates to “sit the month,” shares how mothers can nurture their physical and mental health in the six weeks following birth in her book The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. The book, which includes lovely photography and 60 recipes intended to replenish and strengthen post-birth, is broken into seven easy-to-read chapters. A great read, especially during the second half of pregnancy, for both mothers and their partners (or other postpartum support people), The First Forty Days includes pantry and shopping lists to prepare before hand, as well as step-by-step instructions for making everything from bone broth to body salves. It discusses how to approach relationships, setting guidelines for visitors, and asking for help and support from family and friends.
Ou, along with her collaborators Amely Green and Marisa Belger, each drew from their own days postpartum as they collectively mothered six children, 11-years-old and younger, during the writing and editing process. “We had unique postpartum experiences, yet were united by a clear vision and goal: to empower women to seek the care and nurturing they deserve after bringing a baby into the world,” they explain. The three incorporate the wisdom of ancient traditions around the world in which a new mother is pampered and cared for, sometimes isolated from the distractions of the outside world, so she can solely focus on rest and recovery for herself and the new baby. The book’s Five Insights (a.k.a. “common themes threaded through the colorful tapestry of traditional postpartum care”) include Retreat, Warmth, Support, Rest, and Ritual, and inspire the photographs, information, and recipes compiled.
With postpartum care and maternity leave in the United States paling in comparison to other parts of the world (watch Jessica Shortall’s eye-opening TED Talk for proof), it’s no wonder many American women are not able to take the time their bodies need to recover from birth. Yet, this lack of support along with the do-it-all mentality and unrealistic expectations put on new mothers in the U.S. are often setting unhealthy standards for both mama and new baby. Whether you are only able to take the standard 12-weeks off work (or less) or you are planning on being home indefinitely, allowing yourself to rest and recover with the support of family and friends in the first four to six weeks will set both you and your baby up for better health in the long run. The First 40 Days is a wonderful reminder of the importance of self-care and an excellent resource for soon-to-be and new moms (even those who don’t want to be completely homebound for the entire duration).
Interested? Scoop up The First Forty Days for yourself or an expecting friend right here.