Postpartum Invention #4: The Milk Retreat

A “Milk Retreat” is a set amount of time a mother chooses to receive nourishing food, warmth, rest and special care in order to fully recover from birth.

Yes, I have come up with a new name for something as old as the hills, with nearly as many names as there are languages on the planet.

I have done this because many Americans are no longer in touch with their cultural lineage of postpartum care.  For those Americans that are, my hope is that you are able to continue your traditions and pass them to your daughters.  I am speaking of the Mexican Cuarentena, the Chinese Zuo Yue Zi, and the Somali Afantanbah, and so many, many more.  Those of us who are not connected to lineage traditions through our family cannot simply decide to do a Zuo Yue Zi.  It is not ours.  But we absolutely can plan on having rest and care during the postpartum.  We can have a Milk Retreat.

I chose the word milk to honor the importance of feeding a new born.  Newborns feed a lot and often, around the clock.  It can feel non-stop.  For the breastfeeding mother-baby duo this time is crucial for developing the breastfeeding relationship.  They may need to work out supply issues -either over or under supply of milk.  It is so easy to think that because it is natural it will be easy.  And it can be.  Other times mother-baby duos are faced with significant breastfeeding challenges.  Often in the early weeks just keeping the baby and the mother fed can feel like an overwhelming task.  So let this important work, be THE work.

I chose the word retreat because for me it conjures up images of quiet, self care, and joy.  The old fashioned word “confinement” holds an deeply negative feeling.  Staying home and resting is not about being forced, nor is it about being lazy.   I believe the mother-baby duo needs weeks in the beginning to retreat from the world.  It is also worth pointing out the obvious that right after birth, the health of the mother-baby duo is in a heightened state of vulnerability.

Life is so demanding and so full of drama. Without intentionally retreating from work, social, and house-hold responsibilities, a mother who has just given birth may get swept back into the swing of things all too quickly.  The dominant US culture applauds mothers who are able to jump back in and says they’ve adjusted well to motherhood.  Meanwhile, a mother maybe horribly stressed about feeding her baby or have severe pain in her pelvic floor, or be struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Mothers deserve time to feed her baby without stress,  time to bond, and time to fully recover.

If a family is not supported by age old postpartum traditions with plenty of family around who knows how to offer support during the postpartum, they must make a plan.  This is why I am creating the Mother Way Postpartum Workbook.

In my workbook I urge people to set the length of their Milk Retreat.  Maybe it is 2 weeks, maybe 40 days.  Work with the realities of your life, ask for help, and know that you won’t get it wrong.  Listen deeply to your needs and your baby’s needs.

If you are having multiples, healing from a cesarean birth, your baby spent time in the NICU, or you are having breastfeeding challenges ask your friends and family to give you more time.

With my first born, I had no concept of resting and recovering.  I was at a construction site when my baby was 10 days old working out the details for how to paint a large custom light.  It ended up taking months for me to fully recover and it was so hard.

With my second I planned for rest and support.  It was beautiful. And I will always be grateful to our family and friends who provided support.

You can read more of my “postpartum inventions” here: #1 The A-team, #2 The House Fairy, #3 Mama Sitter.


(Afterward: I am also moving away from the term “babymoon” because this has taken on a new meaning which is a honeymoon trip before the baby comes with just the parents.  With the intention of being inclusive, I am leaving the term “lying-in” to refer to European and European American traditions.  That said, if you read this and have another view point or ideas about supporting a birth work culture that is for all Americans regardless of race or culture, I want to hear from you!)