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the first forty days - Heng Ou

This is one of those books which, once you’ve been told about it and read it, you can’t help but tell people about it and refer back to it yourself time and time again.. even after your babies aren’t babies anymore!

Aside from the content, the way it’s presented is just beautiful, the kind of book I’d happily place on my coffee table for friends to pick up and look through as they sit back and relax on my sofa with a mug of tea and piece of cake while a calming scented candle flickers in the background.

The author, Heng Ou, takes her own lived experience of her entrance into motherhood and passes on what she has learned along the way. It’s this that gives this book that sense of having a friend by your side at what is a “time of amazing intensity and massive adjustment” as Heng Ou states herself (p. 8) a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree.

“This book was designed to be your ally as you move through the first tender weeks with your baby. It was written under the pulsing beat of one guiding question: What does a new mother need to feel supported and nurtured?” - Heng Ou (p. 13)

Over the course of the seven chapters, Heng Ou delves into the main topics which should be taken into account when supporting new mothers after the birth of their baby/babies.

In Chapter 1: ‘my story’

I love hearing about people’s life experiences and the experience of becoming a mother is right up there with one of life’s most memorable times. However, for something so so important and life-changing for every single woman, irrespective of her background, race, religion, financial or social status, society doesn’t give this life transition the support, or value it deserves.

“Asking for and arranging a system of help during your postpartum period, creating an optimal environment for restoration and breastfeeding, preparing your relationship for the changes to come and tending kindly to your body and mind with small acts of self-care.” Heng Ou (p.11)

“For one week after birth, I was to eat especially slowly because my digestion was weak and prioritise soft traditional foods.” Heng Ou (p.16)

An expectant birthing person is cherished and waited on hand and foot while they grow the baby/babies but following the birth, they’re too often forgotten about. Postnatal planning, and working with postnatal doulas, in addition to reading resources like this book will be like being hugged in those early sleep deprived days and weeks with a newborn.

In Chapter 2: ‘from the old ways to our way: postpartum for a new world’

Around the world, postpartum care is carried out very differently. Some cultures get it right and some not so much, which is where awareness is needed on our part so we know what we need to put in place for a smoother transition into motherhood.

As Heng Ou says so well: “It is time to reclaim the postpartum period and reinstate it to its rightful place as the important conclusion of the childbearing story, something that deserves as much forethought as pregnancy and birth.” (p.31-32)

The author speaks of the "5 insights: Retreat, Warmth, Support, Rest & Ritual” (p.32-36) and goes on to explain more about our levels of activity after birth, the impact of warmth on our body, asking for help, the importance of rest for a new mother and how acknowledging this life transition will definitely help.

In Chapter 3: ‘the gathering’

Heng Ou describes the ‘gathering’ as the time during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy where we need to look ahead and plan for the postpartum period. (p.43) However, even thinking ahead and planning can seem impossible in our fast-paced lives, especially ahead of our first-born.

“Though postpartum recovery has a long history, today, simply the thought of making time for yourself or asking for help may seem extravagant, luxurious or even greedy.” (p.45)

In this section, the author goes into great detail about the seven factors that influence the postpartum period including our body and mind, relationships and food.

I particularly love what Heng Ou states here: “We make decisions based on what we think we should do, what others tell us to do and what others have done before us. Find the courage to ask yourself what you need and then to make decisions that are right for you and your immediate family, regardless of how they are received by others.” (p.48)

In Chapter 4: ‘the passage’

Heng Ou talks of labour and birth as ‘the passage’. “Giving birth is one of the most significant initiations in a woman’s life, for when a child is born, his/her mother is born too.” (p.71)

You will find a recipe for a ‘Ginger lemonade switchel’ (p.73) which can help during labour.

The placenta and how it can help postnatally is discussed in this chapter too.

“Giving birth requires a huge amount of trust and surrender. You must believe in your body’s ability to bring your baby into the world.” (p.77)

In Chapter 5: ‘the gateway: the first forty days’

For those of you reading this who have already had their baby, you will remember the challenges of this first few weeks and months with a newborn. Personally I felt like I was often in a daze and must have somehow had an ‘auto-pilot’ button as I would wonder how I’d reached the end of the day!

As the author explains here: “Days and nights have taken on an elastic quality that condenses your world into a series of newborn feedings and stolen moments of sleep. Days of the week become loosely held ideas and mealtimes and bedtimes fantastically vague notions.” (p.84)

In this chapter, Heng Ou speaks about nutrition, hormones, the need to be gentle with yourself, healing and recovery, sleep deprivation, baby’s sleep, baby’s growth spurts, letting go of control, listening to your body and so much more.

“Your new baby will mirror your state, calm & grounded or overwhelmed & stressed, making it paramount to take care of your own needs with as much dedication as you give to his/hers.” (p.95)

In Chapter 6: ‘filling your cup: what to eat’

“Nourishment is more than a bowl of soup: It is the sensation of being cherished and sustained.” (p.97)

How and what we eat throughout our lives has an impact on our health and the postpartum period is no different. In this chapter, the author provides us with the types of foods that are best to focus on during this period of change and recovery.

The main aspects to focus on are “warming, energy-giving, blood-building foods and those which support with breastfeeding” (p.99)

Heng Ou discusses the importance of the texture of foods to consume at this time, the temperature of the foods, why fats are important and why good hydration is necessary.

In Chapter 7: ‘the first forty days recipes’

This has to be one of the best parts of this book where you find some wonderful nourishing recipes including broths, stews, congee, snacks, sweets, drinks as well as body products!

Towards the end of the book are some lovely parts on what a ‘Fantasy Visitor’ is, (p.165) what the journey from Maiden to Mother entails (p.177), how to cope when you feel at ‘The end of your rope’ (p.192-193) and looking beyond the first forty days (p.222).

I hope you enjoyed reading a bit more about this book here and that you can get your hands on a copy so you can look into some of the subjects further!

I offer stand-alone postnatal planning sessions, whether you’ve done a birth preparation course with me or not, so do get in touch for a 2-hour session during your third trimester to feel better prepared for what’s needed after your baby/babies has/have arrived!

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