What is the “Wochenbett”? Preparing for the Postpartum Period01 March 2023 | Before Your Baby is Born | By Lisa H
As you are getting ready for the time immediately after your baby is born, you may have come across the German word “Wochenbett.”
The Wochenbett is the immediate postpartum period after you have given birth to your child(ren). You can distinguish between the early postpartum period (the first six weeks) and the late postpartum period, which runs up to eight weeks after giving birth.
Our expert Shanay Rocker will give us all the information needed for this very special time for new parents.
Shanay is a mom of 3 and an English speaking birth and postpartum doula in Berlin. She also co-founded Mama Muun, a postpartum meal delivery service designed to nourish and heal new families:
I've gone through the postpartum journey 3 times and each time was remarkably different because I was at different stages of life. Postpartum truly is forever – trying to navigate through motherhood with body changes, potential injuries from the birth, postpartum nutrition depletion, to mention some of the challenges facing new parents and moms specifically.
At the same time, it can be a wonderful time to bond with your new family member(s). It's a time for rest and recovery, to slow down, be soft, be kind to this new role, and most importantly be nice to yourself. Remember: raising babies is hard and we are not meant to do it alone!
Where does the term Wochenbett come from and how does it compare to other “concepts” around the world?
Wochenbett is a German term translated to “week bed,” which is your postpartum time. The first 6-8 weeks after birth are for resting, healing and nourishment.
And why is that? Depending on your birth story, not only do you need to heal but your uterus is returning back to its original size, there are hormone changes on top of that and producing milk for our baby, as well as caring for a newborn.
In many cultures (like Chinese and Indian cultures) there are traditions that support the mother and families in welcoming this new role. I think we can definitely learn from this ancient wisdom of elderly guides. They are strict and in most cultures, new mothers cannot leave the house if they just had a baby or the baby cannot meet other people either.
For the first 40 days a female family member or expert comes to cook for the new mother, gives daily massages, provides sibling and newborn care – most everything is done for the mother so she can focus on feeding and bonding with her baby and getting the rest she need to recover after the birth.
As most of us in Berlin have very little family support, it's so important to get all the help we can get, such as by outsourcing with a postpartum doula or Mutterpfleger*in (more on this in an upcoming article).
Why is the Wochenbett so important and what can it look like?
The immediate postpartum time is so important because we have so many changes (both mentally and physically). You will notice that if you try to do too much, your body will tell you very quickly. So listen to your body as otherwise it may extend your healing time to longer than 8 weeks.
So in more concrete terms: Take it slow the first few weeks, avoid heavy lifting and walking for long periods of time. This is so that your pelvic floor, uterus and stomach muscles can heal.
In Germany, the Wochenbett Hebamme (postpartum midwives) are quite strict with telling clients to stay in bed and only take small walks, but this may be hard as a modern day family.
So I have found the following guidelines to work well – all depending on how well you are healing according to your midwife and how many children you might already have at home:
First 10-14 days in bed only (of course bathroom trips are a must, of course)
After 14 days move to the living room, set up camp there
Then you can slowly start to venture out – fresh small walks in nature are great to keep sane but keep other plans and social commitments to a minimum. Also, initially, walking still can be straining and hard so make sure you get enough rest.
This early postpartum period is the time to bond with your baby and learn how to nurse it, if you choose to do so.
It can look hard, messy, overwhelming, beautiful, quiet, lonely, blissful, exhausting and so in love.
How can an (expecting) family prepare for the Wochenbett?
Wochenbett planning is super important since having a plan for your family will support everyone!
Here are some important questions to run through before the baby comes:
How much time is the non-birthing partner able to take off?
Who will do the household chores – shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.?
If you have older children, who will take them to daycare and pick them up?
What happens when you're sick?
Can you outsource some of the work (such as cleaning or childcare for older siblings)?*
*This can also be a wonderful gift for new and expecting parents to put on their wishlist!
It’s also helpful to have a resource list on hand for support you may need after the baby is here, such as lactation consultants, osteopaths, physiotherapists, pelvic floor therapy, mum and dad support groups, doulas, etc.
How can the non-birthing partner prepare for the postpartum period?
Raising children is a team effort and there’s lots of ways for the non-birthing partner to get involved.
Here are some ideas of how the non-birthing partner can support in the early weeks:
Meal planning and preparation before the baby comes, such as pre-cooking and freezing meals or getting a postpartum meal service, such as Mama Munn
Take time off so you can support your partner or make a plan together
Get educated on nursing and newborn care – nursing mothers are always hungry and thirsty, so offer your partner a glass of water or food while she is nursing
It is also very helpful as a “family team” to set boundaries and roles. Who will be doing what? It's easy to take the traditional role of mother in charge of all baby roles – cooking, cleaning and baby care. So speaking about this beforehand will make the relationship smooth sailing. You're a team after all!
What is the role of nourishing food during the Wochenbett?
Having nourishing food on hand will support you but also support your baby.
So many new parents and mothers ‘forget’ to eat well during this busy period but it's actually crucial to be well hydrated and nourished for your milk supply and to heal.
Eating nourishing food and regular snacks balances hormones, boosts energy levels, prevents bone loss and hair loss, and also promotes milk production.
Our organs have not only been pushed for 9 months and are now trying to find their place again but we really need to be careful with our digestion after birth as well.
So a postpartum eating plan that has foods containing whole grains, leafy greens, lentils and legumes, root vegetables, nuts and seeds, and spices and herbs is great. Plus making sure to stay hydrated.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Warming - Cooked foods and foods with warming elements
Building - Consuming enough whole calories to account for what you’re giving out (keep in mind you’re burning more calories if you’re nursing)
Balancing - Avoid processed sugars, eat every three hours and prioritize fiber-rich foods (focus on whole plant foods)
Anti-inflammatory - Reduce alcohol and caffeine. Focus on antioxidant-rich foods like berries, leafy greens, cauliflower, cacao, pecans, etc. Also great are omega-3-rich foods like hemp, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, salmon and spices like ginger and turmeric
Stress free and shame free - Postpartum is also about feeling good, and food can help with that. Food is fuel and you should be able to have food that you enjoy without feeling guilty!
But if you're feeling down and tired or sluggish, try to change up your meals and see if you can squeeze in some extra naps as well.
Thank you, Shanay!
Learn about the different types of postnatal exercise classes and 'Rückbildungskurse." Plus a list of Berlin courses offered in English.