During my most recent pregnancy (which I knew would be my last), one of my goals was to try and honor the first forty days more mindfully. I had not done this with my other two pregnancies, but for some reason it felt right for me this time around. I did a lot of prep in order for this to happen, but most importantly I asked for support. From my friends, family, caretakers, colleagues, etc…I love to give support, but asking for it has always been a challenge, so this was a big deal for me.
Cooking and eating good food is something that I love, almost as much as I love to watch my family enjoy it! What is it about watching your kids eat and like the food your prepare? It gives me great satisfaction and I take so much pride in making nourishing, delicious meals for us to eat together as a family. But I knew that cooking with a newborn was not going to be easy. So with a plan to meal prep as much as I could, I also made the decision to ask for help from the wonderful Stephanie Matthias. We met a couple years ago, and I have been referring clients and friends to her over and over again. But since I didn’t know her with my first two pregnancies, I never got to actually receive her services.
Stephanie is such a delight! Her energy and peacefulness, combined with knowledge and training is exactly what a new mom needs. She wears many hats as a Postpartum Doula, Holistic Chef, Loss Doula, Reiki Healer and Baby Massage Educator. And yet I still don’t feel like those titles cover all that she offers. Having her in my home during the first forty days to support me and my family with nourishing meals and sound advice was a real gift. So I was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions for me so I could share her and her expertise with all of you!
AO: What is a postpartum doula?
SM: A postpartum doula is someone who is trained to provide guidance, support and education to new families following the birth of a child. A postpartum doula typically focuses most of their time and energy on the new mother- helping her transition into her new role/identity, making her nutritious food, preparing a sitz bath, guiding her on how to care for herself and her baby, etc.
Postpartum Doula support can include:
Emotional and physical support for the mother as she recovers from birth
Meal preparation: As the main focus of the support I provide, I offer meals that are especially formulated to deeply nourish the postpartum mother. Meals can be made just for the mother or I am happy to feed the whole family.
Newborn care: education and soothing techniques
Normalizing the postpartum experience: when you first become a parent, it's easy to feel isolated and not know whether your experience is typical. Having an experienced postpartum doula by your side to reassure you is invaluable.
Phone and email support before and after birth
Emotional support for the new mother’s partner, as needed - Basic infant massage
Provide professional referrals, as needed
AO: How is your approach/services unique?
SM: My holistic nutrition and food background sets me apart from most postpartum doulas. I believe that food is medicine and is one of the cornerstones of healing quickly and thoroughly. I also believe that the health of the mother is essential to the health of her newborn: eating well is not just for breastfeeding mothers (though that population is more vulnerable to getting depleted). Eating well is not just about your baby. Eating well is for YOU. You need to be nourished. You need to be nurtured. You need to be fed. You need to be revitalized and healed and replenished so you can flourish not only as a mother, but as a person.
Eating high quality, warming and nourishing foods- especially organic and natural foods as much as possible- is an important way to continue to take care of your body after birth. Protein is important to help with speed and effective repair and replenishment of body tissue. Do your best to incorporate iron rich, blood building foods into at least 2 of your daily meals, especially while you are still bleeding. This includes liver, red berries, red meat, dark leafy greens, soups, stews, broths, nettle tea, red beans, and sesame (tahini is a great source of iron and protein). In addition, drinking water abundantly throughout of the day helps with fatigue, depression and constipation. New mothers should plan to drink ten 8-oz glasses of water each day.
Alongside the importance of eating well is also an enormous amount of empathy for how overwhelming it can feel to feed yourself properly during those first few weeks and months. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve worked with who feel like it’s an accomplishment for them to even remember to have 3 meals a day, let alone making sure they’re nutritionally balanced. I advise my clients to try to have a week or two of meals planned out before the birth- this can be a combination of meals in the freezer and food you know that friends and family are going to be dropping by or hiring a postpartum doula to come in and make food for you.
AO: Working with so many women during this time, do you see any themes/areas where you tend to offer more support than others? (Ie: cooking, dealing with guests, helping the partner, lactation)
SM: Emotional support is the area of postpartum support that I love the most and also the space that my clients and I often spend the most time in, especially with first time moms.
The range of thoughts, feelings and emotions after birth are vast. There is a need to physically recover from birth while also taking care of your baby (or babies) and rediscovering yourself as a woman while your identity merges with that of yourself as a mother. It’s an incredibly delicate and complex process that, prior to birth, most women underestimate. Between sleepless nights, endless feedings, and a body you don’t quite recognize as your own, most women find themselves wondering who they are and where they are in all of this.
One of the most incredible things about motherhood (and this is something that never really leaves, no matter how old your children get) is that you can experience so many feelings all at once- pure and all encompassing love for your child and complete emotional crisis about being a mother. The beauty of it is that the full range of your feelings is allowed to exist at once- one feeling doesn’t negate the other. All mothers need to know that it’s completely normal to fall head over heels in love with your baby and in the very same moment yearn deeply for your old life. It’s ok for all of your thoughts and feelings to share the same space. Embrace all of it- be gentle with yourselves, have a sense of humor, let yourself feel ALL of it. It can take weeks, even months, to get comfortable and confident with your baby and your role as a mother so please be patient with yourself as much as possible.
Helpful suggestions for expressing these inner feelings include journaling, talking with your partner if you have one, sharing your experiences with your doctor or your doula if you have one, calling a friend who is also a mother, creating ritual, etc.
The other thing that I think it vitally important for new mothers to know is that your postpartum time can look however it needs to look for you to be happy and well. If that looks like staying home for 40 days, taking placenta pills, eating oatmeal every morning and co-sleeping with your baby, do that. If it looks like putting your baby to sleep in the SNOO and having a glass of wine at 6pm, do that. If it looks like getting together with girlfriends for dinner at your favorite restaurant before you’re “supposed to” be out and about, do that. If it looks like supplementing with formula because breastfeeding is either challenging or just something you don’t want to do, do that. If it looks like taking meds because your mental health is on the edge, do that.
I believe in happy moms. Happy moms make happy, well adjusted children who have their needs met. If parents’ needs aren’t getting met, it’s really difficult for them to fully meet the needs of their children.
There is a lot of pressure these days for postpartum and parenthood to look a certain way or be a certain way and that is so damaging for all of us because it’s just not a one size fits all kind of thing. We are dynamic, wonderfully complex and imperfect beings and our parenting experiences reflect that. And that’s ok!
AO: For women that don’t have access to support like you, what are your top 5 tips on setting up a more successful postpartum experience?
SM: 1 - Lean into your village
when people in your life as you if you need anything, say yes
Allow friends and family to show up for you and take care of you
Ask a friend to set up a meal train
If you have older children, have some playdates and babysitting scheduled for them ahead of your birth.
If you start feeling isolated or overwhelmed, ask a friend to come over.
Don’t be afraid to give visitors jobs! Most people want to help and will be grateful for direction.
I recommend putting a trusted friend in charge of organizing this: create a job list on a pasteboard or whiteboard and set it up somewhere very visible (near your front door is best). Anyone who wants to come and visit you and the baby should also sign up for a job while they are there. These jobs can be anything from doing dishes to doing laundry to taking your older child out for an ice cream.
2 - Consume the highest quality food and water possible
After birth your body needs to replenish everything it gave to grow and birth your baby. Taking care of your body is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I can’t stress that enough- eating well, drinking enough water, and getting enough rest is what will enable you to care for your baby. And, as a human, you deserve to be nourished, healthy and well.
3 - Practice empathy
Being tired coupled with learning something new (ie how to take care of a newborn while still functioning yourself) can be really hard and really frustrating sometimes. I deeply urge all new parents to practice empathy, compassion and kindness for themselves and each other through the process. Give yourself, and each other, the benefit of the doubt. Remember that it’s temporary!
4 - Stay off of social media, particularly if it’s a trigger for you
My advice is to stay off social media as much as possible during the first few weeks- and beyond if you’re feeling particularly sensitive or protective. Or if it’s triggering you! It can be really difficult to see your friends doing fun things without you or to see idealized images of motherhood. If you do participate in social media, be mindful of how you’re engaging with it energetically and remember that what you’re seeing is a very curated version of people’s lives.
Also, I really recommend that if you’re going to be on your phone while you’re breastfeeding to make sure that you’re not holding your phone anywhere near your baby’s head. EMFs are very real and your baby’s developing brain does not need the intense exposure from your phone.
NO GOOGLING. I can’t tell you the number of texts I’ve received from new moms at 11pm convinced that their baby has a terrible disease. Google is not your friend. If you have a concern, please speak with your care provider. If you need to talk through a situation, seek out your partner if you have one, a friend, a family member, a doula- anyone other than google. You will only end up feeling stressed and upset- and most likely for no reason.
5 - Boundaries
Be mindful of who you invite to spend time with you in the weeks immediately following birth.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel protected, honored, respected and nurtured
Place a sign at your front door to remind visitors that they are entering a sacred space. I like to suggest that the home of a new mother and baby should be treated like a house of worship- enter with the same respect and reverence as you would enter a place of worship.
The postpartum is a time for you to be preserving and pulling energy into yourself, not giving it out to family and friends. Others should be nurturing you.
AO: You are serving in a few different areas of women’s health besides supporting women as a postpartum doula. Share with us what those are?
SM: Yes! In addition to postpartum support, I also offer abortion support, women’s healing and holistic wellness mentoring, vaginal steaming, and reiki healing. I also have an herbal bath blend that I sell on my website and that will be available at Plumb Line very soon!
AO: What is your current self care must have/do?
SM: In my opinion the most important thing when it comes to self care is that it’s sustainable- I say that for myself and for others. If our self care practices are too time consuming, too expensive or too complicated, we’re less likely to consistently integrate them into our lives. So I keep things simple- I add magnesium flakes and my Radiant Woman herbal blend to my baths, take time to connect with nature (mountain hike, walk on the beach, looking up at the sky), eat foods that are nourishing and unprocessed, do my best to get 15-20 minute of unfiltered sun every day (ie no sunblock and not through a window), go to sleep before 1030 whenever I can, and make time to see my friends- time with my lady friends nourishes me in a way that few other things can.
Products that I’m currently really into are True Botanicals renew oil and Nucifera balm. My ritual when my skin is feeling dry, dull or just tired from living in a city with air pollution: put a thick layer of Nucifera balm all over my face, get into a hot bath and let everything really sink in with the steam and warmth, after the bath wipe my face with a warm washcloth to remove any excess balm, then finish with True Botanicals renew oil. Truly the best. My skin glows for days after that!
AO: What/who is inspiring you right now?
SM: Brene Brown- currently listening to “The Power of Vulnerability” on audiobook right now and it’s just incredible.
The women in my life - I am so grateful for all of my female relationships. I am continually in awe of the strength, power, beauty, empathy, magic, vulnerability, passion, creativity, etc that I get to witness and learn from in my friends and clients.
Mother Earth- nature is my greatest teacher in so many things, but right now the focus is on trust and grace. Trusting the phases, trusting the process, trusting the seasons, trusting the out-breath and handling it all with grace. Nature doesn’t question its purpose or jump ship when things get challenging or just give up the whole forest when one tree dies. Nature sits with whatever is happening- it meets us right where we are. It knows how to hold space without trying to fix us. Nature trusts that winter will turn to spring. It trusts that an inhale will follow the exhale. And if death comes, that’s ok too because that’s the cycle. Energy doesn’t die, it just transforms. The wisdom is just endless…
Zach Bush - honestly, you’ve got to just look him up. He is an incredible human being who is working tirelessly and gracefully to educate people on how to truly care for our earth, and each other, going forward. Definitely one of the more inspiring humans that I’ve come across in a while.