Although your health and nutrition are at the forefront of your mind during pregnancy, you may be more focused on preparing for your little one than planning for a healthy postpartum for you! But your health during the first few months of your baby’s life is critical for your well-being as a mother and your long-term health. If you’re not sure how to start postpartum planning, the book ‘The First Forty Days’ is an amazing resource.
Keep reading to learn about what’s in ‘The First Forty Days’ book, as well as how I used it to achieve my dream postpartum after the birth of my first baby.
(The contents of this post do not constitute medical advice. This post contains affiliate links. Click here to read our disclaimer.)
What Is ‘The First Forty Days’ Book?
At the beginning of my third trimester, I asked my personal Instagram community for book recommendations on postpartum nutrition. I knew that my postpartum recovery, as well as successful breastfeeding, would rely in part on nourishing myself in the early days after birth. I just didn’t know where to start.
The top recommendation from my community was ‘The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother’. Intrigued, I immediately looked up the book and loved what I saw.
In the book, author Heng Ou shares her experience of zuo yuezi or “sitting the month”, the Chinese tradition of postpartum care.
During zuo yuezi, the new mother stays home for a full month following the birth of her child. This allows her to rest and recover, to safeguard her future health and fertility, and to bond with her child.
Traditional Postpartum Care
‘The First Forty Days’ points out that the Chinese practice of confinement is mirrored in other traditional cultures. La cuarentena found in parts of Latin America is a “quarantine” lasting for 40 days. In Hopi tradition, mother and child remain in seclusion for 21 days. In India, a new mother may take her newborn to stay at her parents’ home for up to three months, finding support and nourishment surrounded by family.
By comparison, the Western ideal of returning to “normal life” – including work and exercise – as quickly as possible and often doing so independently seems lonely and shortsighted.
Between 10 and 20% of new mothers will experience postpartum depression (PPD) and around 17% will develop postpartum anxiety (PPA). The causes and risk factors for these disorders include sleep deprivation, isolation, chronic stress, and lack of support. These are all needs that would have been fulfilled by the traditional postpartum care we’ve lost in our modern society with its ideal of individualism. (1, 2)
‘The First Forty Days’ book aims to change that, and it helped me find a sacred space in the first six weeks of my postpartum period.
The first half of the book lays out its philosophy, the history of traditional postnatal care, how to prepare for postpartum during pregnancy, and the four phases of the first 40 days.
The second half of ‘The First Forty Days’ is chock-full of recipes to nourish and restore you after you give birth and as you continue this journey of motherhood.
‘The First Forty Days’ Philosophy
‘The First Forty Days’ takes the wisdom of traditional postnatal care and updates it for modern mothers.
If I had to distill ‘The First Forty Days’ philosophy into a few words, they would be, “Hold the mother.”
Basically, in a time where the attention often shifts from the mother to the baby, let’s continue to focus on her. Let’s care for her, support her, and nourish her as she gets to know this new life she has just birthed into the world.
While babies are adorable and exciting to meet and to hold, what is more important is holding their parents and providing them with what they need to parent their little one successfully.
This fosters parents who feel more prepared and capable, makes sure the baby truly gets everything they need, and sets up the family for success in the future.
See also: 7 Tips to Have a Mindful Pregnancy
How I Used ‘The First Forty Days’ to Plan My Postpartum
Reading ‘The First Forty Days’ was a revelation for me. Before, I struggled to imagine what I would need in the months following childbirth. People were offering to help me, but I didn’t know what to ask for.
But now, I had a clear vision of what I wanted the first six weeks of my baby’s life to look like and could articulate it to the people who wanted to support us.
These are the ways I used ‘The First Forty Days’ to plan my dream postpartum period and bring it to fruition.
Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. I had never had a baby before, and it was difficult to conceptualize what postpartum would actually be like.
Having the reality of postpartum laid out for me in a book I could reference again and again helped me establish my expectations. And seeing a postpartum philosophy that aligned with my values helped me to imagine and work for what I wanted for myself.
Sharing the Vision
While I was excited about the prospect of having a restful, nourishing, supported postpartum period, it was another thing entirely to ask for the help that would make it possible.
As I’m sure is true for many of us, being raised in such an individualistic culture makes asking for any help at all pretty difficult. To ask for as much assistance as we’d need to make my postpartum vision possible felt inconceivable.
The thing is, though, people were offering to help and really wanted to. But often, people don’t know how to help you until you tell them what you need.
So I started talking about ‘The First Forty Days’ and the vision it had laid out with the people I knew would be supporting us the most. And you know what? They got so excited about the ideas it shared that two of them actually bought the book themselves!
We used it to dream and plan together, choosing recipes that they would make once the baby came. I had felt nervous that what I was asking for would be too much or even seen as selfish. But they were so excited to be an integral part of this special journey.
I honestly would love to stay “confined” at home for a full 40 days, but I knew that this wouldn’t be possible with postpartum and baby appointments. And I knew I’d probably get antsy after a while.
Instead, I planned to stay mostly in bed or on the couch for the first two weeks, then to start moving around a little more. After the first month, I was open to leaving the house a bit, while still keeping trips fairly limited.
After those first two weeks, I allowed myself to take short walks with friends and family members for the purpose of getting outside – not for exercise. I paid close attention to my energy levels and whether or not my bleeding increased so I could reestablish rest if I overdid it.
With our support system, we planned and requested protein-filled, nutrient-dense foods to help me recover from birth and begin my breastfeeding journey. Our family members made several of the recipes from ‘The First Forty Days’ book and used its tenets as guidelines for other meals they brought over.
In the week before I went into labor, I made a batch of bone broth (page 127) and several servings of ginger fried rice (page 175). I divided both recipes into meal-sized portions and froze them for after the baby came.
I also stocked up on snacks that would be filling and easy to reach for when breastfeeding: cashews, Medjool dates, trail mix, and goji berries. Storing them in a tiered cart near our bed kept them close at hand during breastfeeding sessions.
We’re lucky to have so many people in our life who want to love and support us and our baby. And in our first weeks of parenthood, we knew that my husband and I (both introverts) would be overwhelmed by too many visitors.
So we kept visitors pretty limited. We live in my hometown, so my close family would come over to help around the house, bring food, and keep us company.
After the first two weeks, we also had a few one-off visits from very close friends, as well as longer visits from my husband’s family, who live out of state.
While we kept the number of people low, we still felt that we had plenty of support, and now we’re gradually introducing our baby to more people in our life.
The Verdict: How Were Our First Forty Days?
With my first six weeks of motherhood in the rearview mirror, I can say that our first 40 days of postpartum felt peaceful and supported.
Was it easy? Definitely not.
But things can be challenging and still beautiful. Looking back on early postpartum, to me it feels like a sacred space that I got to inhabit with my husband and baby, protected by the people who love us.
To be honest, I don’t think this sacred space would have been possible without ‘The First Forty Days’ and the guidance it provided me to create and communicate my postpartum vision. I will forever be grateful for it.
What I’ll Do Differently for the Next Baby
While I’m so happy with how my early postpartum period went, there’s always room for improvement!
Hopefully, we’ll have another baby someday, and I’m thinking about what I’d like to change about preparing for the first six weeks while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I went on maternity leave two weeks before my due date with the hope of having time to nest before our baby arrived.
My dad passed away when I was seven months pregnant, and grief and staying healthy came before baby prep. As we approached our due date, I was feeling behind on my to-do list and was craving the opportunity to ground and prepare. I decided to start maternity leave a little early for this reason.
But, as luck would have it, I went into labor 36 hours after finishing work, and all that nesting never happened!
Our baby came at her perfect time, and everything was just fine without checking off all our to-dos. But if we have another baby, I’d love to have more meals and bone broth tucked away in the freezer. I’ll just have to start a little earlier!
See also: Protein-Packed Pregnancy Smoothie Recipe
Calendar Out Visitors
Even though we essentially had just three people visiting and supporting us during the first two weeks, my husband shared after the first week that he was feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Creating a shared calendar for when those three people would be coming over was one of those to-dos I didn’t get to before our baby was born (oops).
That lack of organization, plus excitement about the baby meant that sometimes multiple people were coming over to help on the same day. We didn’t necessarily require that much support, and we also needed time with just our little family unit.
We started being more strategic about visits, and everyone was very understanding. But next time, I’ll be more proactive by creating a support calendar long before my due date!
Plan for After the First Forty Days
We’re now in the period where we still have a new baby, but there’s less daily support. This is natural but has come with some challenges, the biggest of which has been figuring out how to feed myself enough while breastfeeding.
I’ve been able to pivot by preparing breakfasts and lunches for the week ahead of time. Stocking up on nutritious snacks has also been a game changer.
But now I understand that it will be hard to keep up with my own needs when the food deliveries peter out. So when I’m pregnant with our next baby, I plan to freeze individual portions of nutrient-dense lunches and go a little crazy with snack shopping.
Saying Thank You to Our Postpartum Champions
While ‘The First Forty Days’ was the guide I needed to make my ideal postpartum happen, none of this would have been possible without my mom, bonus mom, and sister. Their help and encouragement brought my postpartum vision to life. I’m so grateful they were so deeply involved in my baby’s first few months.
I don’t know how I could ever express the extent of my gratitude to them, but I certainly wanted to try. So once we passed our first 40 days, my baby girl and I made some deliveries.
I wrote each of our support people a note and framed a photo of them with our baby. We took them to their homes along with a bouquet of the most vibrant sunflowers.
I hope these small gifts conveyed how deeply thankful we are for the role they played in supporting our family during this precious, tender time.
Recommending ‘The First Forty Days’ Book
If you’re pregnant or planning to support someone during early postpartum, I highly recommend reading ‘The First Forty Days’. The wisdom this book contains transformed my approach to postpartum and has set me up to be the healthiest mother – physically, mentally, and emotionally – that I can be to my little one.
Heng Ou’s Books
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