For 40 days the mother is suppose to remain in bed, recovering from birth and bonding with baby. The baby is attached to the mother, similar to how they were in the womb but there is slightly more distance, but not too much. This is the 4th trimester.
I learned about this concept several times. I remember first hearing about it when I heard that a well-known yoga teacher in Halifax, Jenny Kiersted, did this. That was shocking to me. I had no idea it was a thing. But granted, back then, I didn’t know (or care to know) a lot of things about being a mom that I do now. I didn’t know babies slept with their moms/parents, I didn’t know parents wore their babies, and I didn’t know there were beliefs that we were supposed to be attached at the hip. So when I first heard about the 40-day thing, I put it at the back of my brain. I didn’t forget it but I didn’t really engage with the idea either. I don’t think I knew that it was going to be something I would want to do, It was just too “weird” and by weird I mean “not how I grew up”.
My next introduction to the 40-days postpartum period idea came a few years before I got pregnant around the time that I started doing Iyengar yoga. I love Iyengar to this day and could talk all about it’s huge contribution to developing body awareness — and awareness in general — but that’s beyond the scope of this piece. I will say, however, that upon learning Iynegar Yoga I happened upon Geeta Iyengar’s book, Yoga a Gem for Women. That book was amazing and I highly recommend it… but that book actually lead me to another book: Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood. I bought that book when I was pregnant. It is a great guide for practicing yoga during each of the trimesters, including the "4th trimester" of postpartum. Here’s an excerpt:
“After delivery, women often forget to take care of themselves. It’s important though that you continue practicing asanas [i.e., the physical yoga postures] after delivery, which will help you return to normal and maintain your health. On the other hand, it’s not good to be overeager! We often see women who want to do yogasanas immediately after delivery to trim their flab and get back in shape. Both of these attitudes — negligence and over enthusiasm — are bad. After delivery, you must be ensured of mental and physical rest, even with your infant keeping you busy more of the day. You need rest because in the weeks after childbirth, the reproductive organs return to their approximate prepregnancy condition. In this important change, called “involution”, the uterus lowers to its original position in the pelvic cavity. The length of time required for these changes is shorter with mothers who nurse. It is usually best to refrain from strenuous activity for 6 weeks after delivery. In order to recover your energy and health, you should practice pranayama [the breath work practice of yoga].”
My naturopath also told me I needed to rest for at least 6 weeks postpartum. And that was what stuck the most because it has a very practical implication. That summer that I had my baby, was a summer like all others when I would normally be going to nationals for ultimate frisbee. The summer before we won gold and our team was eager to win again, securing a spot to represent Canada at the world stage. But my due date was June 10th and nationals were mid August. Even if I gave birth near my due date, that would still only give me 2 weeks of training if I followed the 6-weeks of rest. That would be tough without serious compromises to many things, including the integrity of my body for years to come. Not too surprisingly, this all admittedly very challenging for me leading up to giving birth because, well, for one I like to be moving and had hopes of playing in August.
Having a c section delivery, 10 days post due, complicated things beyond repair. It crushed all aspirations of playing at nationals. But in the end it was probably the best thing for me. The circumstances gave me space to actually retreat and take the 6 weeks to recover. I had no more timeline to skew the ideal. For recovery, I did my best to follow the post-operative guidelines. I was also very thankful for my strong practice of body awareness because I really did listen to my body as the ultimate guideline. When I started to feel adventurous enough to go for a walk, I did so very slowly and not for long. I built up my my strength and gained deeper awareness of this continually changing body that I was still living in and learning about. Eventually, exactly 6 weeks postpartum, I went for a run. It was the slowest, shortest run I had ever done in my life. I think it was 6 min. And I think it was 1 min running followed by 1 min walking for those 6 minutes! I did it very intentionally because I wanted to be able to determine the next day (and during that time) if my body was ready. It was. So 2 days later, I went for a 15 min REALLY SLOW run. Then I build up more and more, longer and longer, faster and faster. It was great. Patience was a virtue!
I can’t express how grateful my body is for me having the patience, awareness, and diligence to take my 40 days of physical rest. In hindsight, I wish I did the full 40-day vision of rest and bonding and actually stayed in bed with baby to let us bond more deeply. The reality is that I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t at a place in my awareness where I could fully retreat and know that my life would be there when I emerged in 40 days. I was eager to get going in many other ways. And to this day (2 years later) I am still being forced to retreat, to be less eager, to hold up. While I work on that, my 41-year old body continues to thank me for the patiences I was able to exert. And a year later I was back on the field in better shape than I would have been had I not committed to 6 weeks of rest and recovery.