6 Postpartum Doula Hacks To Recover From Childbirth
Take it from a pro with over 20 years of experience as a postpartum doula helping parents transition into their new routine after birth: the postpartum experience is very different from family to family with no one single story of recovery from childbirth. When it’s your first time birthing a child, it’s normal to feel a little apprehensive based on some of the distressing stories you have heard from your family and friends. But the fourth trimester is truly as unique as a newborn: some parents have the most wonderful time adjusting to their new reality while others struggle. With the right postpartum plan and care team to support you, it can be an incredible and magical time for your family.
Over the years as a postpartum (and birth doula!), I have learned and assembled a list of my best advice & hacks on how to recover from labor as smoothly as possible and I want to share them with you today. The 4th-trimester experience (defined as roughly the first 3 months after childbirth) is dependent on many things that you cannot control. Some factors are connected to your practical and/or emotional situation (like your expectations, your access to support, your newborn’s personality, and how your labor goes) but some elements that define how you recover and navigate this critical moment in your life are within reach. Below are some of the most critical elements, people, and tools to have in place for your postpartum recovery.
1. Prioritize Your Physical Recovery from Birth:
Fact: It takes up to a year or more for your body to recover from the physiological impacts of pregnancy and labor. Be kind to yourself and nurture this precious body that carried for months and gave birth to your little one.
List of items to have on hand to help with the physical recovery postpartum
Maxi pads or adult diapers:
For the first several days or weeks after having your baby, you may experience some heavy period-like bleeding, called lochial flow. You’ll be happy to have something extra-absorbent on hand! Some period underwear could come in handy too as a protective layer.
Padsicles are sanitary napkins soaked in witch hazel and placed in the freezer for a few hours. Use these to relieve and soothe any genital soreness, itchiness, or discomfort caused by pushing or hemorrhoids.
Peri-bottle or squirt bottle:
These bottles because they are extremely helpful in cleaning your genital area if it’s sore and tender to the touch. They are also used while peeing in the early days to reduce stinging and discomfort…Simply squeeze and push water onto your perineum while urinating. Try both warm and cold water to find out which feels best to you! Bodily has some good ones.
Nursing bras and pads:
Some postpartum bras make nursing and pumping easier with removable straps or fabric which can be moved out of the way. Nursing pads will collect your leaking milk so that they don’t stain your clothing.
Lanolin or any good nipple balm can work well to soothe chapped and sore nipples, as you and your baby establish a solid latch. Note: Sore nipples or continued nipple pain throughout a feed are indications to see a lactation consultant
There are many useful pumps to choose from! Pro Tip: if the one you have doesn’t seem to be working well is to make sure you are using the correct size flange. Many new parents are often pleasantly surprised at how helpful silicone “pumps” are. They use light suction and gravity to collect any letdown that would otherwise be tossed away in a nursing pad. They are a gentle way to begin a small collection of milk. Reminder: Breast pumps should be avoided in the early days as long as nursing is going well. Take a pumping class to learn more!
After delivering your baby, you may find the first few bowel movements you attempt are difficult or you may hesitate to apply any pressure in that general area. While the best store softeners are food-based like eating warm, easy to digest foods like broths and high-fiber foods in general, stool softeners are helpful if you find yourself in this predicament.
Stock up on Warm & Nourishing Foods that Be Easily Made
Prioritize warm soft digestible foods
During pregnancy, the birth parent’s blood volume increases by 50%, which serves to preserve and build warmth in the body. After birth, however, the loss of this warm, circulating blood, combined with the open state of your womb, means that heat must be recaptured and circulation boosted to optimize healing. Many cultures believe in eating warm foods during the postpartum period, such as bone broths, soups, and stews. These warm, soft, easily digestible foods, help stoke your digestive system, absorb as much nutrition as possible, and facilitate bowel movements.
Stock up on the good fat
Stock your postpartum pantry with raspberry, nettle, and red clover teas, nuts and sesame, hemp, flax seeds, and nut butters. Start ordering in bulk now so you do not have to worry once the baby arrives! Look for sources of good fat (think: grass and pasture-raised meat and butter, quality eggs, oily fish like salmon and anchovies, and raw plant fats and oils like coconut, olive, walnut, sesame, and avocado).
Prepare your postpartum meals in advance
As much as you can, make and freeze soups and meals now. Know the restaurants you can order from now, and ask for donations or gift cards on your baby registry. Some postpartum doulas have meal preparation as one of their services, too, which is another great baby registry gift to ask for.
During postpartum, our favorite drinks are soups, teas, fruits, water, or coconut water. Birthing parents need to replenish the fluids they lost in birth, and be fueled for breastfeeding/bodyfeeding.
2. Plan for Your Emotional Recovery from Childbirth
For lots of new parents, the first weeks and months after childbirth is a time of emotional upheaval. Intensely mixed feelings of joy, exhaustion, fatigue, confusion, loneliness, disappointment, anger, fear, and happiness are all common. So make sure to prioritize yourself. Here are some tips on how to ride this wave of emotions.
Rest is key:
While it can be difficult, it is incredibly important to prioritize your own sleep and rest. Taking care of a baby is an around-the-clock, 24-hour job and at some point, you will need an opportunity to rest. Discuss with your partner or support team how you plan to arrange overnight care for your baby so that everyone involved is getting the rest they need and deserve.
Set boundaries with visitors:
Who is allowed at your birth location or in your home? How long after having a baby or how long of a visit feels right to you? All aspects of having guests should be discussed as you create your postpartum plan. If any of your expectations differ from your potential visitors, it is important that these boundaries be made clear, so that they can be respected.
Try to make time for bodywork:
Healing your changed/changing body can also help you heal your mind and spirit. In many cultures, there are special massages the birth parent receives during the postpartum period. Family can provide foot rubs, scalp rubs, and other general body massage or professional massage, acupuncture, osteopathic or chiropractic care, and pelvic floor physical therapy are all excellent ways to spark off mind/body healing.
3. Educate Yourself on What’s to Come and Take some Postpartum Preparation Classes
In these modern times, we don’t really have the opportunity to experience life with a newborn firsthand. Some of us never held a newborn before, much less feed, diapered, and soothed one 24/7. Taking a class on preparing for postpartum, understanding lactation, newborn care, and infant sleep can help. The more you learn and understand ahead of time, the more prepared and less surprised you will be when the baby arrives. You’ll also have a good sense of whether things are going well or whether you need to reach out for help.
4. Build a Postpartum Plan
During pregnancy, many new families are learning and preparing to care for their newborns. After your baby arrives, managing your old and new lives can be challenging! Creating a postpartum plan ahead of time is important because it can feel overwhelming to be thrown into parenting and to wing it with little to no direction while being sleep-deprived. For some, it is very reassuring to have a plan on how to manage life as someone healing from childbirth but also someone with the new full-time job of being the parent to a newborn.
5. Plan for Your Newborn’s Care
Discuss these Vital Questions with Your Partner or Family
Who’s watching the baby?
Who will be staying home with your baby and for how long? Contrary to some other countries around the world, partners in the US are not always able to stay home as long as they would like to. Two weeks can go by really quick and your baby will still be a newborn with round-the-clock needs. The birthing parent will need to rest & recover. Getting extra support can be critical to navigate these intense first few weeks. Some of us are lucky to have family nearby to give a hand, but if it is not your case, consider hiring help. Postpartum doulas are there to care for your baby and support your recovery post-birth. They can support the family as a whole with errands, sibling care, food preparation, and partner support among other amazing things.
How and what will your baby eat?
There are many ways to safely feed your baby to ensure their development and growth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. But each family, baby, and circumstance are different. Think about how you would like to involve your partner to feed your baby, as it might dictate your approach as well. Methods of eating for a newborn baby could be directly from your chest, bottle, cup, spoon, or tube and could be breastmilk (your own or from a donor milk bank) or formula or some combination.
Where will your baby rest?
There is a wide variety of places that can be safe for your baby to sleep as long as they are placed on their backs on a firm surface. The sleep environment should be free from pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. Some use a crib, bassinet, Moses basket, or choose to safely co-sleep. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the best place for a baby to sleep is in their guardian’s or parents’ bedroom until at least 6 months old! This reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. A sleep class can help you learn the basics and Make the best decisions for your family.
6. Assemble Your Postpartum Care Team
Identify your Postpartum Community
As the old proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. As you plan for postpartum, make sure you know who you will call on in your ‘village’ for in-person and virtual support. This may be family, friends, or both!
Coordinate Additional Care for Postpartum
With the added responsibility of taking care of a newborn, it is important to consider who will be taking care of other important parts of your life, including older children, cooking, household chores and pets. It’s vital to also prioritize nutrition, hydration, self-care, mental health and your emotional well-being (more on this below). These can easily be placed at the bottom of your do list, but making sure you are running at your best is key for everyone, including your baby.
Consider Hiring Postpartum Professionals
Whether you have friends and family close, or perhaps you live far from your support system, a postpartum doula is a great person to help you adjust during this time! Not only will they listen to you and your partner, but they are there to educate you about anything related to your newborn. They can check in on breastfeeding/bodyfeeding and/or help you bottle feed. They might help with light housework, laundry, babywearing, or even help you get out of the house for the first time. Postpartum doulas are there to support you with whatever you need, really!
Other professionals, such as lactation consultants, perinatal mental health therapists, and pelvic floor therapists, have specialized skill sets that may be vital during the postpartum period. Consider hiring a birth doula, as well to start your journey on the right foot. Having a birth doula reduces the risk of cesarean birth and other interventions and decreases the risk of postpartum depression. While you are building your postpartum care team, consider how a supported birth can positively impact postpartum.
Preparing for your postpartum recovery is as vital an element of your new life as preparing for childbirth, and even more than planning a nursery. A postpartum plan is a great way to organize postpartum life so that you don’t feel quite as overwhelmed with so many firsts and so much new learning in the early days after childbirth. You and your growing family deserve special care in this step change.
A version of this article was first published on Babe, a Hatch e-magazine