Ever since you found out you were expecting, plans for the birth of your baby have been all consuming. You’ve done everything you could to prepare for the big day. You chose a provider, interviewed and secured a doula, took a childbirth education class, wrote out your birth plan, and you already have your birth bag packed! The big day will finally arrive…and...the big day will pass.
All your careful planning may influence your big day, or maybe everything will turn out completely differently than you expected, but still your beautiful newborn will land in your arms. You will be excited, you will be full of wonder! You’ll also probably feel like you’ve been hit by a train, that someone gave you a new job that you are completely untrained for, and inexplicably, you’re left to fend for yourself. Did you plan for this?
The birth of a mother accompanies the birth of a baby, and it is a whirlwind of huge learning curves, sore body parts, and big emotions. But by expanding your birth plan to include what comes next, your postpartum need not feel so chaotic and difficult.
All the “must have” baby gear in the world won’t prepare you for a 4th trimester lacking in support. By figuring out who your postpartum team is in advance, you will transform your experience as a newborn mother, and give your family a beautiful beginning.
Lighten Your Load
“Bouncing back” quickly from pregnancy and birth, as our society so heartily encourages new mothers to do, is actually exactly the opposite of what will make you feel strong and confident. To facilitate healing, breastfeeding, bonding, and a smooth transition into your new role as a mother, you need time. You need space. Don’t mistake this time for a luxury, as it is essential for the health of you and your family for years to come.
Plan to stay in bed with your baby for the first week (or two!) after birth. Your sole responsibilities should be feeding your baby, being fed by others, bathing and resting. And resting...and resting some more! This is your chance to learn your baby’s cues, and how to best meet her needs without sacrificing your own.
Everything to do with normal daily routines should be taken care of by other people, and now is the perfect time to ask.
Identify Your Helpers
Make a list of people you know who are potential sources of support. Next, divide the list of support into two categories - “Visitors” & “Helpers”
Visitors are people who want to hold your baby and chat over coffee. They often come with a whole lot of good intentions, but take up a lot of energy that you won’t have when you're learning a whole new skill set.
Helpers are people who happily do your laundry, your dishes, or cook a meal (and then leave!) with no questions asked.
Visitors should be limited during the first few weeks, even if they are family, and helpers should be given direction. Helpers love knowing how they can be of use, so don’t be shy! If your list of helpers is short, begin researching professional help. Remember, your partner needs time with you and baby as well, and shouldn’t be bogged down with a mile long to do list.
If you want someone who can offer practical household help, and non-judgemental emotional support as well, consider the help of a postpartum doula. Her job is to make sure you are well taken care of so that you can more easily take care of your baby and find your own unique parenting style.
Build Your Parenting Village
Make a list of your friends who have babies or small children. Have their numbers ready in your phone for the times when you feel like no one else understands the magnitude of your life change (because this WILL happen), or for when you just want to hang with someone who isn’t going to blink twice at a crying baby. It is incredibly helpful to normalize your experience with others who have been there!
Particularly if you don’t have friends with children, make a list of local parenting groups, breastfeeding groups, and mom and baby yoga classes. When you are up for leaving the sanctuary you’ve created at home, the list will be waiting for you. Join your neighborhood online listserve, where you’ll find parent connections, school advice, gently used baby gear and more. Unfortunately, isolation is common for too many new moms, but it is definitely preventable.