I recently finished reading The First Forty days by Heng Ou and it is a book I highly recommend to new and expecting mothers!
I am doula serving expecting mothers in Jacksonville, Florida so I am always looking for great resources to recommend. That being said, I also realize I cannot overwhelm new moms with 20 MUST READ books….this book, however, WILL be on my short list!
I would certainly put it on the top of my list of baby shower gift ideas. It is the book I wish I had before I gave birth with my daughter Cora.
I not only enjoyed the content (which I will get into a little more) but I also was able to try two recipes: A homemade bone broth and a small energy ball dessert.
So let’s get started on why I love this book
Zuo Yuezi: A Period of Rest
The author shares her experience and knowledge of “Zuo Yuezi” which is an ancient Chinese tradition going back thousands of years that emphasizes rest.
This period of confinement for 40 days is not exclusive to the Chinese. Many cultures around the world insist a mother rests and recovers from childbirth. Armed with support from mothers, sisters and grandmothers, the new mom is encouraged to stay in bed, nurse her baby and be cared for.
Without saying too much about the modern state of maternity care in the United States, you can pretty quickly see how this narrative differs from modern Western culture.
The US is the only developed nation that does not offer paid maternity leave. According to the Bureau of Statistics, only 12% of Americans have access to paid parental leave.
Another study showed that 16 percent of new moms took only one to four weeks away from work after giving birth. Even more tragically, 33% took no formal time off at all, returning to job duty almost immediately.
Push Back Against the “Bounce Back”
For moms that aren’t faced with stressful financial and social choices of when and how to return to work, there are other unnecessary pressures they face.
Many moms feel the constant pressure to bounce back after baby and to get their “pre-pregnancy” bodies back.
Again, I could write an entire book about how harmful this is. Not only do our bodies need time physically to recover from childbirth, but they need time emotionally and mentally too.
New mothers also feed pressure to keep the house clean, cook meals, and entertain and host guests who come to visit the baby. This can be especially true if the new mom feels like she must validate her worth staying at home.
In ayurveda there is a concept that ” the way a mother is nourished for the first six weeks after birth can determine how successfully she givers her light to the world for the next four decades.”
In other words, you must fill your cup before you can attempt to pour from it.
Five Insights from the First Forty Days
The book focuses on traditions and modern versions that center around 5 different insights of postpartum life.
The book emphasizes the need for stillness, for staying in bed with baby and not trying to return to normal routines too quickly. It does not mean isolation, rather family and friends (or maybe a postpartum doula) should come to the new mother to provide care and comfort.
With retreat, once mother and baby enter the world it can be hard to retreat back. Take your time being somewhat cut off and in your own world together.
Chinese tradition states that the recently emptied uterus is now extra susceptible to cold and wind and the body must be kept warm otherwise there could be a slowing down of blood flow to the area. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume more than doubles, but after birth, much of this is lost along leaving her in an open state.
Ayurveda talks about a similar condition, or an imbalance of vata, which is wind and coldness.
It is important than, for the mother to stay warm by using blankets and heating pads to provide external warmth. She should also focus on a diet filled with warm broths, soups and teas to nourish and heal her body from the inside. Cold drinks and foods should be avoided.
Of course, this can all be taken however a mom feels suitable for her and her lifestyle…no need to swear off a beloved iced latte.
Instead, the mother should concentrate on small opportunities to make sure she is protecting her body and adding warmth where possible.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” but where has the village gone. In today’s age we are more connected than ever before, yet many times its through a phone screen or social media platform.
The book focuses on a mother planning on gathering a support system to help as a pre-planned effort and not being afraid to ask for help.
By asking before the birth from friends and family about the ability to help with chores, food, taking care of other children, etc. the mother avoids feeling helpless in a time when she needs the most support.
Another important suggestion the author makes is taking advantage of HIRED help. Birth doulas, postpartum doulas, and lactation consultants are all great examples of resources that are available to new moms.
You can also look at paying for meal delivery, maid services and childcare for older children.
Paying for these things is not lazy, its resourceful…you can not do it all! Remember, it doesn’t have to be forever, and you can ask for these things in lieu of gifts at your baby shower.
If you want to find out more about my services you can find out more here!
As a doula I always emphasize to my clients that in order to prepare for birth, they need to prepare as if they are about to run a marathon.
They should be doing things to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally.
Resting as if you have just ran a marathon should be of equal importance. And in truth, the analogy should be many times more like you just ran 50 miles overnight with no sleep….oh and by the way you have a second degree tear!
Western culture has made rest a bad thing. Rest becomes equatable to laziness, to a lack of discipline or motivation, or of weakness.
In reality, the most successful people have learned to effectively rest…and this include the most “successful” mothers.
Sleep deprivation can make it harder for us to process new hormonal changes, can make it harder for us to bond with our baby, and can lead us feeling exhausted and hopeless
When you learn how to make space for rest you can be the best version of yourself for YOU and your baby
The book gives some great ideas about certain rituals that can be done that date back to ancient traditions….but it also talks about how a simple ritual of writing down your birth story can be memorable.
It made me want to learn much more about these symbolic moments that cultures have used for thousands of years to welcome a woman into motherhood.
I made two recipes with the book The First Forty Days. I made a chicken broth from scratch as well a coconut dessert. Both were excellent
The other “liquid gold” according to this book, broth not only provides warmth but also lots of gelatin that helps wounds recover as well as tons of essential minerals. The broth made can be frozen and then simply heated up in a saucepan with a medley of protein, noodles and vegetables for an easy soup.
I let the broth cook for a little under 4 hours and then froze most of it to keep in my freezer! So much better than broth from a box!
Vanilla Coconut Haystacks
These little treats were not only easy to make, but the egg whites and coconut provide protein and healthy fat.
They were so good to eat warm and had a very comforting, sensual feel.
I would love to make these on a regular basis!
The Final Word
I am always so excited to read new books that talk about postpartum care for moms. I am always also excited to read books about Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This book was about both of these things, so it was a home run in my opinion.
Above all that, the author does an EXCELLENT job in talking to you like a fellow mother.
She talks in a way that makes you feel instantly connected and like you can relate to her. She teaches without sounding like she has all the answers. She doesn’t.
The main focus of the book in my opinion is that women are meant to help other women. We need to ask for help. We need each other.
Should I buy the book even if my child is older?
I initially bought this book to provide more information and insight to my doula clients.
I didn’t expect was to be so impacted still as a mother. My daughter is a year and a half, but I still felt highly changed in my perception of my own place in motherhood.
I left this book wanting to give myself more grace. More forgiveness. More appreciation.
So no matter where you are in life, I suggest you give this a read….and then pass it on to a momma who may need it 🙂
You can purchase it on amazon here
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Thank you so much!
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