There’s a wonderful Indian saying: ‘the first forty days of life will impact the next forty years of life’. These words refer to the period just after birth, a transitional time of recovery. It’s an opportunity to adjust from pregnancy to motherhood – a short season that extends into the fourth trimester, dedicated to resting, healing, and nourishing both mother and baby.
The Fourth Trimester
Many cultures consider this time necessary because it benefits the mother, child, their family, community, and society at large. It’s an unpredictable phase in life with many new challenges, and mothers need just as much support and care as their babies.
The body and mind go through a deeply powerful transformation. There are lots of changes happening physically and emotionally, on top of fluctuating hormones, lack of sleep, and the new responsibility of caring for a baby 24/7.
Our western society fails to acknowledge this, expecting new mothers to bounce back quickly. With no dedicated time or space to become mothers at their own pace, many women experience a confusing time full of worry, disappointment, guilt, frustration, and fear.
This process of becoming a mother is called ‘matrescence’, a term originally coined by Dana Raphael, Ph.D. in 1973. It’s recently become more widely known due to a brilliant TED talk by Dr Alexandra Sachs, a psychiatrist who works with pregnant and postpartum women. With over 1.5 million views worldwide, Dr Sachs eloquently describes the natural transition into motherhood and the concept of matrescence:
‘My hope is that every mother, every woman who wants to become a mother, and everyone who loves them will start sharing their matrescence stories without shame in their homes, coffee shops, and around the modern-day fire-pit of social media. Together, we can make #motherhoodunfiltered so that we can all feel less alone, feel less stigmatised, and reduce rates of postpartum depression worldwide.’ – Dr Alexandra Sachs
The First Forty Days
Approaching this natural process in a caring, supportive and loving way helps alleviate stress and pressure. It also creates an environment where mother and baby can bond, recover, and enjoy this precious time with acceptance, ease, grace, and understanding.
If you’re already a new mother, planning a pregnancy, expecting a baby, or supporting someone else as they become a mum, I recommend reading Heng Ou’s book ‘The First Forty Days – The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother’. It’s an insightful guide full of wisdom and self-care practices gathered from different cultures. The book is designed to help you prepare for the postpartum period and foster long-term health and wellbeing.
Ou offers expert advice on setting boundaries to conserve energy and adjust to a new routine. She focuses on five key areas: retreat, warmth, support, rest and ritual. The book also includes lots of nutrition-rich recipes and medicinal drinks to nourish, sustain, and revitalise.
As I prepare for my own postpartum period, I’ve been enjoying the planning and gathering process. I intend to honour the first forty days after our daughter arrives, making time for plenty of preventative self-care, so this will be the last blog post from me for a little while.
See you on the other side!
Love Lizzie x