When we are pregnant, it is easy to focus on the pregnancy and the impending birth. While is it great to focus on the present and important to prepare for the monumental experience of birth, it is also crucial that expectant mamas (and their loved ones!) think about and plan for Life After Birth. And we’re talking more than just preparing the nursery and getting all the “stuff” of new parenthood. Postpartum is a special time that deserves careful planning and consideration. While the postpartum period is customarily thought of as the first 6 weeks after birth; many midwives, health providers and mothers recognize that postpartum extends beyond this initial intense period of transition and healing. In fact, midwife Raven Lang commented, “As long as the baby is still in diapers and you’re up in the night, you’re postpartum.”
While we could talk in much detail about that first year(s) of life with baby, today let’s focus on preparing for that initial month or two conventionally known as the postpartum period.
Here are five things to consider when planning for your postpartum.
1. Late Pregnancy Health: Nourish and Rest
A mama’s health in late pregnancy can have a profound effect on her experience of birth and the postpartum period. A mama whose reserves are low going into birth and motherhood may find the journey much more arduous than the mama who makes self care a priority in her last weeks and months of pregnancy (of course, we encourage prioritizing self-care no matter where you are at!).
Given that our society favors the “masculine” energy of action and motion—working up until the last moments before birth, continuing to meet demanding social, professional, and other routines, and the like—it can be difficult to give yourself permission to honor the more “feminine” going-within and stillness that is needed in late pregnancy.
Late pregnancy should be a time to rest as much as possible. Let’s repeat that, because it is important: women in late pregnancy benefit from resting as much as possible. Light exercise and excellent nutrition are also paramount to this time.
It won’t be long before your needs will be balanced against the intense and constant needs of another being that you will love and care for dearly. This is a special time to really honor yourself—to treat yourself with the utmost kindness in preparing for the adventure to come.
Rest enhances recovery and reduces stress. Lowered stress means a stronger immune system, better personal relationships, lowered risk of postpartum depression, and a more supported mother-baby bond.
So take naps, pamper yourself, eat well, take walks or enjoy light exercise (such as prenatal yoga), ask for help and invite in the calm and still energy needed to build up your reserves for the journey ahead.
2. Become educated about new motherhood
In our modern reality, many of us are not exposed to babies and new motherhood as much as our grandmothers and those before her were. While so much of parenting is instinct and intuition, seeking community wisdom and knowledge can make you a more confident new parent.
Take time to learn about breastfeeding. All our patients meet with our lactation specialist during their third trimester, but it’s also worth considering a breastfeeding class and other resources. La Leche League is one great resource for all things breastfeeding and they have some excellent books available. If you are interested in breast pumps, inquire with your insurance about reimbursement (more details about this can be found here). If you plan to bottle or formula feed, educate yourself about these options.
Learn about newborns (their needs, rhythms, etc) and learn about what is common for mamas to experience physically and emotionally after birth. During your Early Home Care class at Health Foundations, offered by the wonderful childbirth educator and doula Rochelle Matos, you will learn all about what is common and normal for baby and mom during the early weeks at home.
An excellent book that delves further into the postpartum and beyond is Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness by Aviva Jill Romm.
3. Familiarize yourself with the common needs of new mothers (and share with your support circle!)
Put simply, a new mama needs someone who will meet her needs so that she can meet the needs of her baby. New mamas in the postpartum period also need:
- Lots of rest
- Time and space for reflection and processing
- Someone who will guard her privacy
- To feel honored, protected, and nurtured
- Praise, encouragement, and validation
- Noncritical support and advice
- A good, nonjudgmental listener
- Time out daily for a bath, nap, or quiet time
- Nourishing food and drink
- Time to bond with baby
- Reprieve from the demands of daily life
4. Make a Postpartum Plan
Making a postpartum plan is an important pre-baby activity for an expectant woman and her partner and/or support circle (see below). The first two weeks are all about mom and baby—establishing a bond, establishing breastfeeding, healing from childbirth, and getting to know one another. The postpartum plan should be all about supporting mama and baby in those early weeks.
At Health Foundations, we really want our mamas to REST during the postpartum period and especially those first two precious weeks. We recommend mamas stay in bed for the first week, except bathroom and bath breaks and NO stairs. In the second week, we recommend mostly bed rest with a stair set once a day, max. In the third week, you can begin slowly reintroducing additional activities, though we recommend a max of one short outing per day. Evidence shows that the more you rest in these early weeks, the faster you heal, the quicker your bleeding will subside, and the better you will feel.
Given this, it is important to make a plan for how your usual activities will happen (or not happen). It’s a good idea to make a list of your responsibilities, delegate tasks that need to be done, and put off or plan ahead for other tasks. Here are some examples:
- Laundry—perhaps someone else washes the laundry and folds it, or maybe you fold it on the bed
- Cleaning—don’t clean! Don’t even look at what might need cleaning! Or if something absolutely needs to be done, delegate.
- Grocery and other shopping—try to stock up on non-perishables ahead of time (plan to have enough toilet paper, etc. on hand for a month). You can also shop online for food and other items, which can be delivered to your door.
- Cooking/meal preparation—if you can, try to prepare and freeze two weeks’ worth of meals to have on hand for the postpartum. Nutrition is very important for new mamas so consider simple nourishing balanced meals. Also, learn about take out and delivery restaurants in your area and give them a try or at least snag menus to consider for easy meals. There are registry websites, like foodtidings.com and mealbaby.com that can help coordinate meal offerings from friends and family.
- Bills—consider starting online bill pay, if that makes it easier (it may be easier to click a button than fill out paperwork!) or delegate this task to another house member
- Older Children—if you have older kids, make a plan for how they will be cared for once new baby arrives—can they stay at a friend or relative’s home for a couple days? Will dad or another family/friend be “in charge”? Will these children attend daycare/camp/school and how will they get there? How can you prepare them for the changes to come? How can you make this time special for them?
- Visitors—Just like in birth, your partner or other close support person should protect your privacy and your boundaries during the postpartum, communicating with eager loved ones about how and when you are up for company. If you are not ready for visitors, it’s okay to ask people to hold off on visits until you are ready (baby will still be there!). You might also consider a “visiting hour” during which people can stop by shortly. Consider asking your go-to person to make it clear to others that visits are best kept on the shorter side and that visitors are welcome to bring a meal or help out while they are over—maybe they take out the trash, load the dishwasher, change over the laundry, water plants, etc.
- Make it special—the first few weeks are dubbed the “babymoon” (like a “honeymoon”) for good reason. This is a precious time of strengthening the love bonds between family members. It’s also a time to treat yourself with the utmost care. How will you make it special? Consider gifting yourself with little treats during this time, you deserve it after the hard work of carrying and birthing your baby!
Ahead of time, maybe you:
- Get a manicure, get your haircut, get a massage(s), or go to a spa
- Buy new makeup, a new (nursing-friendly) nightgown, or the like
- Save a book from your favorite author or stock up on magazines
- Load up your Netflix or similar with movies and TV shows you’ve wanted to see. (funny, light shows are especially good for this time)
- Acquire some new music by a favorite or recommended band or artist
- Put up a beautiful piece of art or a picture that you can look at from your bed (consider natural images, which have been shown to help reduce stress and boost healing)
During your babymoon, you might:
- Consider placenta encapsulation
- Take sitz baths at least once a day
- Change into a new outfit, open the windows, and welcome each new day
- Look through albums of favorite trips or special memories
- Journal about your experiences (they are often profound even despite the sleep-deprivation!)
- Rest, rest, rest!
- Eat your favorite meals
- Drink lots of fluids
- Be unreasonably kind to yourself
5. Create a support circle
Some experts recommend that mamas delegate a close friend or family member as postpartum support coordinator—this person can arrange “assignments” for those in your support circle such as bringing a meal on a certain night, watching older children, coming over to doing a little house upkeep, etc. This takes any potential pressure and awkwardness off mom to ask for support from others, if this is the case. Of course, you can also arrange your support yourself! Consider these possible members of your support circle:
- Husband or partner—while every partner’s ability to take time off is different, it’s helpful to take as much time as you can—whether that’s a few days or several weeks
- Older children—older children may be given special helper tasks
- Other mothers (perhaps women you meet through childbirth ed classes)
- Postpartum Doulas—these experts are trained to meet the physical, emotional and practical needs of new families
- Hired Help—some families consider hiring help for cooking, cleaning, and other tasks
Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and enlist help in meeting your needs in the postpartum. In the words of midwife Aviva Jill Romm: “In order to fully nourish your family, you must have reserves to draw on—you need to be a full well. Every bit of help you receive adds to your reserves. Planning ahead for postpartum care ensures that you will have the help and support necessary to keep your well full.”