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The 5-5-5 Rule Postpartum (and Why It’s Not Enough)

What is the 5-5-5 rule postpartum and why is it popular? In this blog post, learn the answers to those questions, find out why I have my own version of the rule, and discover an even better way to do things postpartum.

mother and new baby in bed

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Giving birth is a beautiful, life-changing experience. And it affects a woman’s body and mind in ways nothing else will. Because of that, a period of rest and recovery is essential in the weeks following.

That is where the 5-5-5 rule for postpartum comes into play. 

This rule is a guide to help women give their bodies the time they need to recover. And while it is a good start, I think women need more. 

In this blog post I want to explain what the 5-5-5 postpartum rule is, what it gets right, and what a better rule would be.

What is the 5-5-5 Rule for Postpartum?

After 40 weeks of pregnancy, several hours of labor, and giving birth to a baby, your body needs rest. Obviously you’ll be caring for both yourself and your baby postpartum, but if you follow the 5-5-5 rule you can do that without hindering your own recovery. 

Each of the 5s is 5 days. 

I should make it clear that my version of the 5-5-5 rule is a little different than most people’s. To me, my version feels more doable and realistic. 

The first 5 is 5 in bed.

In the first 5 days after giving birth, try to stay in bed. Get up only to go to the bathroom and maybe to take a shower after a day or two. Have your husband or older kids bring you food and refill your water bottle.

Let other people take care of all the housework and let them be the ones to communicate with those who want to visit.

The second 5 is 5 in your room.

This is where my version of the 5-5-5 rule for postpartum starts to differ from others’. While many people say the second 5 is “5 on the bed,” I broaden it to be your entire room.

In fact, in these second 5 days you can start to move out to the living room couch, as long as you don’t have to go up and down the stairs. Still try to stay sitting down and don’t be too active. Let other people make your food and bring it to you. 

Let your family take care of the housework or let it go undone. You may feel better than you did in those first 5 days, but you still need to rest.

The third 5 is 5 around the house.

Again, my 5 here is quite different from the typical third 5, which is usually “5 around the bed.” While it’s still important to avoid being too active, you likely will feel ready to move around your house.

You can start to go up and down the stairs now that you’ve had more than a week to recover. Just take them slowly. 

Sit most of the time and continue to let others serve you. 

By the end of these 5 days, you could start to go on short walks outside your house. Especially in the spring or on summer mornings, a bit of sunshine and some fresh air can do wonders for your physical and mental health. 

Why I Like the 5-5-5 Rule Postpartum

In the US, we seem to foster a culture of go-go-go, do more, and don’t rest. While that can help us achieve great things, it can be detrimental to health, especially for new moms.

The 5-5-5 rule is a great guide postpartum because it can help moms understand the importance of rest and recovery. It gives women an easy way to frame their priorities in those early weeks after giving birth.

The reason I tweak the rule a little bit is because though rest is vital, it doesn’t have to feel restrictive. If I were expected to stay in my room for the first two weeks after giving birth, I definitely would have been depressed.

This version of 5-5-5 is what my midwife recommended. Knowing that I could rest and still have some freedom to move around my house (with her approval) gave me the space I needed to not get discouraged or feel too stuck.

Reality Check: Examine Your Expectations

Here’s the thing. Having a new baby is amazing. It is a beautiful time of life. And it’s also hard. To be completely frank, it’s probably going to be harder than you think.

I don’t mean to be cynical. It’s just important that you and your husband or partner have an accurate idea of what early postpartum is going to be like so you can truly prepare. If you are blindsided by the difficulties of recovery and caring for a newborn, it will be harder than it needs to be.

In my experience, one thing can make a night and day difference postpartum: expectations.

When I had my first daughter, I struggled with expectations – expectations from myself and expectations from the culture I grew up in. Even though I knew how long recovery takes, I wanted to be back to normal quickly.

About 3 weeks after giving birth, I had a breakdown because I couldn’t imagine taking care of my baby and trying to make dinner.

Around 6 weeks I felt like I could help around the house again. But it took me even longer to really feel like life was normal again.

I say all that to illustrate that 15 days is not enough time for a woman to recover after birth. Even if the birth went well and didn’t cause major injury to mom or baby (like a c-section or a severe tear), there is no such thing as bouncing back. 

Having a child changes your life. It will never be the same. We need to normalize taking as much time as is needed to help a woman adjust to her new life.

Something Better Than 5-5-5

Postpartum is simply defined as the time period after childbirth. While many women may start to feel better after about two weeks (15 days), healing is far from finished.

Some people say full postpartum recovery takes 6 months. Others say that certain things may not return to “normal” – like sex drive and hormone levels – until about 1 year after birth. 

So why do we think 15 days will be enough? 

Now, I’m not suggesting you hunker down and don’t leave the house for 6 months. But what if instead of expecting ourselves to be the same as we were before birth within 15 days of giving birth, we did what women have done in other cultures for centuries.

Cultural Alternatives to the 5-5-5 Rule

For example, in Latin America they traditionally implement La Cuarentena, or “forty days of quarantine.” A mother in these countries will focus on healing and learning to care for her new baby while others do the housework and provide other support. 

This tradition likely comes from biblical teachings that women were supposed to take 40 days after giving birth before returning to social interaction.

India has its own tradition of “ayurveda,” which includes 42 days of rest and bonding with the newborn. 

Here in the US, the Amish also protect the 4-6 weeks after birth as a special time for mom to focus on her new baby while family and friends take care of everything else.

What’s interesting about the Amish culture is that they have much lower rates of mental illness. While this is true in the culture generally, it seems to be true during the postpartum period, too. 

My midwife, Amy, spent a year with the Amish community in Pennsylvania as part of her training. She watched as mothers were given time and space to heal and care for their babies while family and other community members took care of the housework.

Amy echoed the observation that the Amish rarely experience depression. And she believes it is precisely because of those 4-6 weeks of rest and care that new moms avoid it.

That is why I think we need more than the 5-5-5 rule postpartum. We need more than 15 days to heal, to get to know our baby, and to adjust to a new life.

What we risk when we don’t give ourselves more time is our own mental health, which can affect everything from our connection with our baby to our family relationships to our confidence as a mother.

That is certainly worth the effort of finding a support system and having a plan for postpartum.

Beyond the 5-5-5 and Next Steps

To summarize, the 5-5-5 rule postpartum is a good guide. But rather than considering it the entirety of your recovery, think of it as the first step. Your body needs rest and stillness in those first few weeks. But for full recovery – and for your mental health – you need more than that.

In a busy world of full schedules, one of the biggest challenges is finding people who can support you and enable you to take the time you need.

That’s why you need to prepare for postpartum before you give birth. If you are still pregnant, check out How to Prepare for Postpartum: The Ultimate Guide to find lots of helpful tips on what you can do during pregnancy to get ready for those weeks after birth.

If you are reading this with a new baby in your arms, it isn’t too late to organize your support system and get the help you need. One thing you can do now is to start using a postpartum sign-up sheet.

How to Use a Postpartum Sign-Up Sheet

People are going to want to visit you and chances are they’ll ask what they can do to help. So let them help you! As you coordinate times for family and friends to visit, ask them to add their names to your digital sheet.

And when you need things done – like a grocery pickup or someone to do your dishes – add that to the list so people know what they can do to help when they come.

You can download a postpartum sign-up sheet template for FREE below. 

More on Postpartum

For more tips that will make life easier postpartum, check out 29 Diaper Changing Hacks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner and 10 Tips for Successful Breastfeeding.

Most of all, remember that the best things in life don’t come easy. Hang in there, mama. Cherish your time with your newborn. Take the time you need and accept the help that’s offered. It will be worth it in the end.

Until next time,

Allison

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