Claire Whitman has developed a workshop for new mothers six weeks to six months postpartum – a nourishing time to help their bodies recover and restore. Focused yoga practices, community support and quiet rest without the distraction of new babies are all part of the programme. Learn how this idea evolved and why it’s a must-attend for new mothers.
How did the idea for ‘mothertime’ evolve?
When I did my postnatal yoga training I remember being told that women need to “properly recover from the trauma of birth, whatever kind of birth they had”. This has really stuck with me over the many years that I have been teaching both yoga for pregnancy and birth, as well as yoga for mothers and babies.
Many women are not recovering properly from birth and go back to general yoga classes and other forms of exercise before their bodies are really ready. The postpartum period can last up to six months, when muscles and connective tissues return to a pre-pregnancy state. It is an important phase of recovery from birth, which varies greatly from woman to woman, and has huge cultural variations too.
How has postpartum changed?
In the UK we used to have a period of postpartum confinement which included bed rest for a period of time. Certainly, my mother’s generation who were having their babies in the 1960’s, were encouraged to spend at least a week in bed. During this time the new mother would have been looked after whilst establishing feeding and caring for their babies.
Different cultures have various approaches to this vitally important time, when women really need care, support, rest, good nourishment and exercise tailored towards their particular needs. Taking time to gently regain core strength properly and not rush.
What does modern-day postpartum look like?
In our modern-day busy culture, there is a huge temptation, and perhaps pressure, to regain pre-pregnancy weight, shape and be ‘normal‘ again. I think that many women present the image that they are fine, and don’t perhaps admit when they are struggling, and feel shy, or postpone asking a GP for help when things don’t feel right in their body. The danger is that not recovering properly from birth can lead to problems such as diastasis recti (abdominal separation), pelvic prolapses, urinary incontinence and postnatal depression – all things which many woman suffer from without really understanding the long term consequences in later life. We need to talk about these issues more and address them at the right time.
Yoga and community during pregnancy
As a pregnancy yoga teacher, I am passionate about helping women prepare for birth, both mentally and physically, and aim to give women confidence in their bodies’ ability to birth. We know that yoga is a wonderful way to connect to the body, thus pregnant women can feel and understand what is happening to their changing bodies as the pregnancy develops. They can also connect with their babies, become knowledgeable about the birth process and be with other woman who are experiencing similar issues. Pregnancy yoga classes can create a real sense of community for a woman, especially important in a big city like London, a chance to make friends, much needed in the early days of being a new mother.
Women really enjoy the classes for a variety of benefits, to relax, release tension, stretch, strengthen birthing muscles and also for support in the period leading up to birth. I often form very strong bonds with my students, as teaching pregnancy yoga is a very nurturing and intimate practice, and feel their absence for a while when they leave and become new mothers. I get many messages from new mothers saying how much they miss their weekly pregnancy class, and I think it is the emotional support they miss as much as the yoga.
Baby-free postpartum yoga, focused on recovery
Many of the women I teach during pregnancy come back to do mummy and baby classes. This is a lovely way of keeping the community feeling yoga going with the pregnancy teachers and other mothers. These classes are a wonderful way for mothers to spend special bonding time with their new babies, to get out the home, do some postnatal yoga and baby massage, and share experiences with other mothers. However, I can see that many women cannot relax even when their babies are sleeping beside them in class, with their babies with them woman naturally put their needs first.
For this reason, many women have asked me over the years if I could teach a postnatal recovery yoga class, where they could come without their babies. I understand this is not easy for many women – even when you have someone you trust available to care for your baby, leaving your new-born can be hard. Therefore, I have been pondering how to offer this for a while. The more I thought about it and asked mothers and midwives, the more I realised that there is not enough focus on this crucial time of recovery. There are so many classes for birth preparation, (pregnancy yoga, pregnancy pilates, hypnobirthing etc.), and classes for mothers to attend with their babies, massage, yoga, music… but very few which focus on postpartum recovery per se.
Therefore, I have developed this postnatal workshop to offer women some nourishing time for themselves, practise yoga to help their bodies recover and restore post birth and have some deep, quiet rest without their babies to distract them. Women who are breastfeeding will be most welcome, we will have a break halfway through and babies can be brought in for a feed and a cuddle.
Why women deserve some ‘mothertime’
I feel very strongly that many new mothers are not supported enough and not getting enough rest in the crucial postpartum period. There is so much focus on the pregnancy and birth, and once the baby arrives, and the initial excitement from friends and families has died down, partners may return to work, and many women are left literally “holding the baby” at home with little or no time to focus on her ’self’.
The first six months with a baby are precious, time which cannot be repeated. To be there and present looking after a baby’s needs 24/7 is exhausting, and at times overwhelming and even lonely. I would like to give these mothers a chance to recharge, repair and share together, without the distraction of their babies. They deserve it, some ‘mothertime’.