The postpartum period is a tender one filled with huge changes for new mums. Here we speak to MamaCare Founder, Clinical Naturopath, Acupuncturist and mother, Kathleen Murphy, about the ‘Fourth Trimester’, holistic birth preparation & recovery tips and all things postpartum care.
When and why did you create MamaCare?
I started MamaCare when I was returning to work after maternity leave, in 2015. Prior to that, I had been working with women and their partners to support fertility, pregnancy and postpartum health, but through my own experience I really understood how crucial it is to have adequate support and care in the weeks and months after birth. I also realised how little emphasis is put on this, and resources made available for it, in standard postpartum healthcare. So…MamaCare was born!
Educate us about the concept of the ‘fourth trimester’.
The fourth trimester is the 12 weeks (3 months) following the birth of your child. We think of pregnancy in three trimesters; but pregnancy and postpartum is a continuum, which includes a fourth trimester following birth. Not only is it a time for your new baby to adjust to life outside the womb, it’s also an important period of adjustment for the birthing mother – physically and emotionally.
In all health traditions, from across the globe, the importance of the fourth trimester is understood and the period following pregnancy and birth is honoured as a special time for the mother herself: a transition. In fact, women are not expected to carry on their normal lives after giving birth, they are recognised and respected for the changes they’ve undergone and the journey they are beginning.
Why do you think it’s important for new mothers to be nurtured in the postpartum period (fourth trimester)?
Because they have literally just grown and birthed a new human! A brand-new human! Seriously though…the weeks/months following birth are a time of such significant change and adjustment, and anything that aims to nurture a new mother throughout this period is going to help her adapt and thrive. It also supports strong bonding with her baby; and it nourishes other significant relationships, with her partner and family. Ultimately, honouring the fourth trimester serves not only the new mother but also her baby and her community.
Let’s talk hormones. Are there any natural remedies that can help re-balance hormones after the upheaval of pregnancy and birth?
Look, there are, but I would say there is no ONE remedy or supplement that everyone should be taking. It’s really individual and what may be appropriate for one woman may not be the best choice for another. However, there are baseline practices that I always recommend, focussed on good nutrition (healthy, delicious, nourishing food), hydration (lots of water and herbal tea!), adequate sleep/rest (wherever possible!)…and then we might consider the addition of, for example, B vitamins, adaptogenic and nervine herbs…but that, again, depends on the individual. I also (of course) also recommend acupuncture – in the clinic or at home – to support postpartum health and promote wellbeing more generally.
Nutrition-wise, are there particular foods you commonly recommend to sleep-deprived mothers who are running on empty?
For sure. Ultimately, we aim to keep it simple and nourishing – things like veggie-loaded soups and broth (with organic meat or chicken, for those who eat it) are an excellent foundation for postpartum meal plans. Dishes like this can be cooked in large batches (ideally, by someone else!) and kept in the fridge/freezer to be re-heated as needed. It’s also great to have easy go-to snacks in the pantry and fridge e.g. crackers, nuts, dried fruit, hummus, pesto, nut butters, goats cheese, etc. Basically, you want to have a mix of meals and snacks on hand that are easy to grab and prepare and that are nourishing, delicious and satisfying.
Are there any specific herbs that can support post-birth recovery? And breastfeeding?
Again, yes and no. There is no ONE herbal medicine that I would recommend for every postpartum woman, but we do often reach for adaptogenic and tonic herbs (those which support the body’s stress response) such as Withania somnifera and Asparagus racecomsa, or traditional ‘blood building’ herbs such as Urticaria dioica, and often anxiolytic/mood supporting herbs such as Passiflora incarnata. But, again, this is entirely dependent on the needs of each individual mama!
How can acupuncture assist during pregnancy and postnatally?
Acupuncture is a wonderful treatment to receive at any stage of life but it is particularly nurturing and beneficial during pregnancy and after birth! Acupuncture can help to alleviate aches and pains, settle upset digestion, induce a sense of calm and relaxation (calming busy minds), promote general wellbeing and help to prepare the body for birth. After birth we also use specific moxibustion treatment (sometimes called ‘mother-warming’) over the lower back and abdomen, which is a wonderful restorative treatment that feels incredibly nice for new mamas.
What are your top tips for overcoming ‘postnatal depletion’?
Well…you know what they say: prevention is better than cure! Ideally, everyone would be encouraged (and helped to) plan for the postpartum period (e.g. putting supports in place ahead of time, filling the pantry and freezer, setting up a meal train, etc) will help to avoid unnecessary stress and depletion in the weeks and months following birth. But of course, it’s never too late and wherever you are on the postpartum continuum (days, weeks, months or even years down the track!) there are ways to overcome depletion and feel better/more yourself again. It always starts with the foundations: nutrition, lifestyle, calling in supports, etc… and from there additional dietary, supplementation or treatment recommendations will be made.
Postnatal depression is far more common than many people realize. Do you have any suggestions for women who sense they may be falling into the postnatal depression pit?
I know this is easier said than done, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to be honest about how you’re feeling with those close to you – people you trust and with whom you feel safe (e.g. partner, close friend, family member, practitioner, etc). Once they know, they can help you. Low mood, anxiety and depression are very common – particularly in new parenthood – and you are not alone. You are also not supposed to do it alone. There are many support options available.
What advice would you give first-time mum’s-to-be who are in the midst of preparing for the arrival of bub?
- Make a plan for your postpartum, just as you are doing for the birth itself. Giving birth is such an incredible experience…but the transition it heralds, to motherhood itself, is another thing entirely. It’s seismic!
- The more things you have in place ahead of time (food, support services, boundaries with family and friends) the more you can focus on the magic of the fourth trimester. While it’s very tempting to focus on cute onesies and baby paraphernalia (which are also strongly marketed at parents-to-be) I would encourage you to plan for: a well-stocked fridge/freezer and pantry (and/or meal train/food delivery plan in place); what support people/services will be able to help you during this time (e.g. midwife/doula visiting at home, trusted family/friend who can visit and offer practical help (cooking, cleaning, helping with other children, etc), cleaner coming to the house during those first 12 weeks, etc).
- I would also encourage a soon-to-be mum to set some clear boundaries and expectations with those close to her around what she wants to do after the birth (e.g. no visitors for the first month, or only a certain number of visitors at a time, etc) – it is much easier to have these conversations in advance and much more difficult when you’re sleep deprived and emotional in that vulnerable postpartum period.