Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Babymoon

Traditionally, a honeymoon is a time when a newly married couple—a new family unit—remove themselves from their everyday world, relax, and bond physically and emotionally.

The babymoon, though less in practice, has a similar function. It is a seclusion, a removal from the world, and a time for a new family unit to bond. A child’s first 40 days in this world are very important. When I worked on the sheep ranch, I learned how important immediate secluded bonding time was for the sheep. If the mother’s didn’t get it, they were more likely to abandon or be inattentive to their lamb(s).

But what exactly is a babymoon and why is it important that it last 40 days?

As far as I can find, the term babymoon was first coined in 1996 by Sheila Kitzinger in her book The Year After Childbirth, but the concept has been around in different forms for eons. In the last few years, the travel industry has tried to change the meaning to: a trip one takes as a last hurrah before the baby comes. Don’t be confused. Traveling is not part of this kind of babymoon.

Probably the most well known reference to the 40 day postpartum babymoon is the 40 days of purification that Mary observed, as part of the Law of Moses, after giving birth to Jesus.

When it comes to the Law of Moses, I don’t usually think too much about the what and why because we don’t have to live it anymore—but this is interesting for many reasons. Heather has some great insights on this and why Mary needed to make a sin offering after giving birth (by bringing life she also brought death), but what I want to focus on is the idea of purification. When I looked up purification, it was synonymous with Sanctification and Hallow. When many of us think of purification today, we think of taking something dirty and making it clean—like tap water. But sanctification is the process of taking something ordinary and making it holy, hallowing it.

As we know, Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses. His Atonement made a sin offering no longer necessary. But the 40-day postpartum period is still uniquely bracketed in time because we bleed for 40 days after having a baby. So even though we don’t live the Law of Moses anymore, what is the significance of these 40 days?

40-day time periods occur in the scriptures many times. Here are just a few of the things that happen in 40 day periods:

  • The Flood – Rained for 40 days and nights (Gen 7)
  • Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt 4)
  • Jesus taught his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1)
  • Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jonah 3)
  • Moses was on the mountain 40 days (Duet 9)
  • The spies were in Canaan for 40 days (Numb 13-14)

What I found about the 40-day period in all of these references was that they were a period of purification/sanctification, and also a preparation and transition from one mission or role to to another. For example, Jesus fasted for 40 days right before He begins His ministry. It is also symbolic that He is led by the spirit into the wilderness to fast--separating Himself from the world. Then, at the end of His ministry, after His resurrection, He spends 40 days to prepare His apostles for when He will leave them. This also happens away from the world.

Of course, 40 years is also a recurring theme in the scriptures and if you are wondering if there is a connection, there is. 40 years is also a purification and denotes a generation. In Numbers 14:34, God speaks directly of a connection when he says that 40 days (that the spies were in Canaan) symbolized 40 years (that Israel would wander in the wilderness).

Using days to symbolize larger units of time is interesting when you consider that normal pregnancy is about 40 weeks, and there are 40 days of bleeding afterward. I don't believe this is arbitrary. God is a master. And while bleeding for 40 days isn’t my favorite thing, I am convinced it is a blessing. It is a reminder, and a reason (excuse), to stay home, remove yourself from the world, bond and get to know your baby (and your spouse as a father) so that you can go forth into your new role with confidence and preparation.

So, how does one observe a babymoon? That is something individual, but I believe it is much like Sabbath observation. During my 40-day babymoon I didn’t work, didn’t go to any stores or events. (I bought everything online or sent willing friends and relatives who came to stay). I didn’t cook much (thanks R.S. sisters!). I didn’t even drive my car because dealing with a car seat and traffic was too much of the world for me. I took walks, lots of baths, had my favorite people over for short or long visits, figured out nursing, napped, read my scriptures and some good literary fiction while my little Bunny napped on my chest. I also kept the lights low and played soothing music. It was a veritable love nest.

I was very lucky to find the perfect pediatrician only 2 blocks away so we walked to her check up. I even got my hair dresser and my therapist to come to my house. (If you tell people it is your spiritual practice to observe 40 days at home they are surprisingly awesome about helping out).

I should mention that I also did not go to church for 40 days. For those who have never missed a Sunday, you can feel better knowing that Mary didn’t go to the sanctuary for 40 days either. While I believe that the sacrament is an essential part of the sanctification process, I also knew the reality of my situation. My daughter was awaited with as much anticipation as any celebrity baby, and I knew it would be too much for both of us. I also didn’t want any little kids breathing on her (things change when you have two, I know). In retrospect, I should have asked to have the sacrament brought to me, but I still had a hard time asking things of the priesthood—and none of them have figured out how to read minds like the sisters can. Next time I will.

I can’t express to you how fast the 40 days passed. It was just the right amount of time, but I was so sad when it was over. When I got into the car to go to my 6-week check up and then to the grocery store, I felt the world closing in and sweeping us into a fast current that would only take us farther and farther from that place. I am so glad I took the opportunity, though. I healed quickly, and felt prepared when I did jump back in to the world with a baby.

I haven’t found any official surveys, so I’d like to conduct an unofficial one. Did you observe 40 days at home? How did you observe it? What was it like for you?


  1. My first baby, I had a long, nesting babymoon of about 4 weeks. I was going to wait 6 weeks to go to church...but by 4 weeks I was getting really excited to show her off! I hardly even came downstairs the first few weeks and didn't even think about cooking at all during that time. For the first 10 days, we were fed mostly by ward members. My mom came about 11 days after Zari was born (she wanted to come right away, but I wanted some time to ourselves first) and helped out for about 2 weeks. It was a lovely, quiet, peaceful time together, especially those first 10 days before we had my mom visiting.

    With Dio, I definitely was up and about much quicker. In part because my physical recovery was much quicker than Zari's. A few days after, I hardly felt that I'd had a baby, whereas with Zari my body took a long time to heal. Probably a second baby thing. I went to church 2 weeks after he was born and even played my violin in church! I had to make myself stop doing things and take it easy because I was just feeling so good and energetic. It's also different having 2 kids, because you don't really get that dreamy, quiet, peaceful time alone with your newborn. Instead, you're sharing the time with an energetic child who needs love and attention still. My mom came the day after Dio was born, at my request, and it was lovely to have her there right away. She cooked, cleaned, and kept Zari occupied for 2 weeks. Lovely.

    BTW, I only bled 8-10 days each time. My placentas are fairly small, the size of a salad plate at best, which might explain the shorter bleeding time (from a smaller placental attachment on the uterus).

  2. I did with my first baby who was born at 34 weeks. Once I got him home, I didn't go much of anywhere, because it was winter I was supposed to keep him away from people for 6 weeks!

    With my next 2 it was harder as I had to go places with the bigger boys. Though I tried hard to arrange it so I didn't have to. I also tried not to go to church for 6 weeks.

    I really use 6 weeks as my guideline and excuse to take it easy!

  3. Hmm. I have heard that some women don't bleed very long. I wonder if, besides having a small placenta, if it might also have had something to do with the fact that you took it easy. I have a friend who did not do the babymoon with her first baby, and bled 40 days, but did it with the second and only bled 9 days. She swears the difference was the babymoon.

  4. I've never had a babymoon, but then again I only bleed for two weeks after my UC babe's birth.

    In fact, I was up and at Sacrament Meeting 6 days after her birth. I wanted to be there! I find that I don't like to be isolated after birth. I isolate myself enough during the birth. Afterward I want to celebrate.

    I do sling my babies and no one - I repeat NO ONE - holds them or touches them in the early weeks except our immediate family. That's an occasional holding by Daddy and one or two holdings by siblings. The rest of the time the babies are exclusively with the mama.

    So maybe we're babymooning out in the world? We have our little nest on my body instead of inside the house?

  5. Oh, and I forgot to mention that my UC birth was absolutely unhindered and we left the umbilical cord (and babe by extension) attached to the placenta for about an hour after my body expelled the placenta.

    I also had my DH make placenta fruit smoothies for me and I consumed the placenta over the course of two days.

    That was not something that happened with the previous two births and my recovery was incredibly rapid and the bleeding was minimal. Oh, and my placentas are HUGE, so I don't know if placental size is an exclusive reason for short bleeding times.

  6. I've never observed 40 days, but I think I will next time. I think it would have been so helpful as I transitioned into motherhood the first time. I had such a difficult time. This last time (home birth) I felt so great that I was up and doing things way too early. I wish I'd had someone telling me to "take it easy" and rest 'cause I was hit with a huge wave of exhaustion on day 3. So yeah... next time I think I'm going to give myself and my babe a babymoon.



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