Even when the nursery is picture-perfect and ready for the baby's arrival, you may not be prepared for the very real and raw experiences of postpartum. It’s true that choosing tiny onesies and toys is more fun than choosing disposable underwear and having tough conversations. But getting your head and heart in the right place for one of the most intense physical recoveries and profound emotional changes of your life means that you can have a better experience -- and this is especially important now with COVID-19 considerations layering the complexity of the postpartum period.
Many moms say they wish they had known certain things about postpartum. We can talk about the decor and bassinet choices, but we need to talk about healing and expectations once the baby arrives. We need to talk about how your body is likely to look and feel, what’s normal and what’s common in postpartum recovery, and how you can advocate for yourself and your new addition.
Postpartum is messy, but it can be so much better with the right preparation. Even though birth can be so unpredictable, there are clear ways to ensure the whole family is supported immediately postpartum. So as you get the bassinet ready for the baby, take some steps to get your mind, your body, your family and your home ready for postpartum.
What conversations do you need to have to prepare yourself and your family for your little one’s arrival?
Discuss your ideal postpartum with your partner. It will be very helpful to decide in advance who will do what. For example, if mom’s job is to rest postpartum, how can her partner support her? Maybe mom will be in charge of feeding the baby most of the time, and her partner will be in charge of changing the diapers most of the time. Your partner can be in charge of bringing you food, caring for older children, etc. Having clear guidelines for the most basic needs can help tremendously in avoiding burnout for moms in the immediate postpartum period and beyond.
Moms, a note here: your partnership will change with the arrival of your little one. How you approach this change can have a significant impact on your mental health. Prepare for this shift by considering what you can let go of. For example, allowing your partner to become the bottle cleaning expert can give you time to heal your body and find rest postpartum. Having these conversations also creates a strong foundation of communication needed as the baby grows and her needs change. To begin, here are 10 jobs for partners after you give birth.
Don’t be afraid to say no to visitors, especially now. If you do have visitors, be clear with them your expectations. For example, they should always wash their hands when entering your home, and should they wear masks? Assess your comfort level before their arrival and tell them in advance. Here’s a guide for visiting a newborn (pre-COVID) that you should share with visitors. Keep in mind your preferences with COVID restrictions can be very different and that’s totally fine. The most important thing is your health (mental and physical) and your baby’s health, so be clear with your partner and any potential visitors on your expectations.
We ride the roller coaster of emotions when the baby arrives, as we transition into motherhood, and as our families grow. But you may not realize when your mental health takes a dip into the realm of perinatal mood disorders (postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD). So educate yourself, your partner, and your family about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.
These perinatal mood disorders are very common, and they are temporary and treatable with professional help. If you are having these feelings and symptoms, you are not alone, and it is possible you are experiencing common illnesses that 15 to 20% of new mothers have, and they are completely treatable. Additionally, if you are pregnant and are having symptoms similar to those listed in the link above, you should know that you aren’t unusual either. You may have depression or anxiety during pregnancy, which is just as common.
Mental health care is more important than ever as new families deal with the pressures of COVID-19 restrictions. Please, please, please educate yourself and your loved ones on these symptoms and know this: there is support out there. You are not alone. You can get through this.
We all know that moms need support in raising children, but few realize that support in the process of becoming a mother is just as crucial. Consider and discuss with your partner what specialized support team you’d like to have once the baby arrives. From postpartum doulas to lactation consultants, pelvic floor physical therapists to mental health care providers, specialists can help new mamas better navigate the profound psychological and emotional changes that take place from pregnancy through postpartum.
Especially considering the evolving effects of COVID-19 on our healthcare system, the right *virtual* support team for you can mean the difference between suffering silently and thriving as a new mom. See my guide on Building Your Virtual Birth Team for more details.
Healing from childbirth is a profound physical and emotional transformation, so help yourself through it with specific approaches to self-care. While every mom and every birth are unique, some basic approaches can improve your postpartum experience exponentially.
Prepare a care kit for the immediate postpartum days and weeks. There are so many products designed to make you more comfortable as you heal. Here are some of my favorites:
If you have a vaginal birth:
Sitz bath (most hospitals provide this)
Peri bottle (A huge improvement from what most hospitals provide)
Padsicles (DIY recipe)
Waterproof bed liners (most hospitals provide)
Disposable underwear (most hospitals provide)
***Read this even if you're not planning a c-section.***
The number one thing to remember about c-section recovery is to physically slow down. It’s a major surgery and will hurt to walk. It takes months for people to recover from surgery, and a c-section is no different.
You need to ask for help - for example, have people bring the baby to you for holding and feeding. If you overexert yourself (and it doesn’t take much), you can swell up and then set yourself back for a few more days.
Be patient with yourself and be gentle with yourself. This is not the time to push through pain.
Also, please keep in mind that even with a c-section delivery, you may still have pelvic floor issues to work through.
As for your scar, there are techniques to massage it daily to keep it soft, which is a good way to reduce the hardness that develops around the scar and get used to the new part of you. Buy high-waisted everything for comfort. Honor the scar as a reminder of the incredible journey to bring your child safely into this world.
Here’s a user’s guide for your c-section scar. Be proud of it!
If you didn’t plan your c-section, know this: you did nothing wrong. For moms with other birth plans, an emergency c-section can be a huge disappointment. “Maybe I could’ve done something differently” can go through your head.
Here’s what no one tells you: labor involves two people. No matter your preparation, strength or athleticism, your baby might have different plans. This is an important perspective for all pregnant women to keep in mind before going into labor.
Emotionally, just know this: there’s an incredible connection between you and your baby from the moment they are earth-side. The way the baby got here has no impact on your bond.
If you plan to breastfeed:
Nursing tank top/pajamas *
Kindred Bravely organic washable nursing pads *
*Pack in hospital bag
In the immediate days and weeks postpartum, the most important thing you can do is REST. For many moms, this can be difficult, but necessary: put off anything that doesn't have to do with your own healing and baby’s needs.
Every mom’s experience is different, and you may like to begin moving with light walking once you’re feeling up to it. There are specialized programs for new moms to begin moving mindfully within the postpartum period - please see the resources below and consider once you’re feeling up to it and have been cleared for exercise by your provider:
Getting your home ready for your baby's arrival is more than just the nursery. Consider where you’ll spend the most time during the first days and weeks at home.
If you have a multi-story home, consider upstairs and downstairs changing and sleeping spots for the first few days and weeks. This can help minimize walking up and down stairs for mom, as well as help differentiate the day from the night for everyone (i.e. daytime downstairs, nighttime upstairs).
Prepare at least one “breastfeeding station” that includes a comfy chair with lots of pillows and enough side table room for: your glass of water, snacks, phone charger, nightlight and hand pump.
It’s also helpful to sterilize breast milk storage containers and your manual/electric breast pump parts in advance. Consider purchasing a freestanding sterilizer to make your life easier, especially if you don’t have a dishwasher with a reliable “sterilize” mode.
It can be difficult to prepare food for yourself while prioritizing rest, your little one’s demands and your own healing. For your own nourishment, prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them. Also consider organizing a meal train drop-off from friends and family or meal delivery service like Daily Harvest or Sakara Life. You could also ask well-wishers to consider giving you gift boxes from or subscriptions to Daily Harvest or Sakara Life, or sending you a gift card for DoorDash or GrubHub so you can order from your favorite local restaurants.
Consider the below as audiobooks, the easiest way for new moms to “read:”
The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby by Lauren Smith Brody
Written by Jane Daly Danese, ebb + flow co.
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