preparing for postpartum
Preparing for postpartum, in our culture which focuses heavily on pregnancy and birth preparation, may seem unusual, but along with the sweet newborn cuddles and overflow of well wishes comes very real challenges, adjustments and a need for deep healing. Even when your pregnancy, birth and early postpartum period is going “well,” it can be overwhelming for some people! And of course there can be concerns for the birthing parent or baby—expected or unexpected—that leave a family needing even more support. .“Nothing could have prepared me for this!” is a common and (oftentimes) exasperated refrain from new parents.
By the time you reach your third trimester, you are inundated with classes, books, websites and advice from everywhere. As a birth professional, however, it is not uncommon to encounter expectant parents who haven’t even considered what having a new baby is really like. Or that the birthing parent will need real time and space to heal. Or that the whole family will go through profound changes with the addition of a new tiny human.
Even if “nothing” can truly prepare a family for their first postpartum experience, we hope this list will help buffer the challenges and make the whole experience a lot more comfortable and restful!
1. Prepare to rest
This is truly the most important thing you can do. The lack of paternal leave laws and media portrayal of birthing parents “bouncing back” might make you feel that you should be doing everything you did before having a baby within weeks or even days of your birth. There is a reason most cultures around the world have practices around birthing people resting in postpartum—your body has been through a profound physical experience. You may be recovering from surgery or tending to a very tender pelvic area. Beyond just the physical experience of giving birth, your mind and heart will need space and time to process and adjust. Tell everyone you love (and especially your partner) that you will be staying in bed and cuddling your baby for several weeks. Make a plan for it. Create a “nest” around your bed with snacks, water, diapers/wipes, and clothing for you and your baby. If you have a partner, ideally they can be in the nest with you and give you lots of opportunities for rest and connection.
2. Tame visitor expectations
Even before Covid-19 made decisions about visitors agonizingly difficult, new parents have wrestled with who, when, and for how long! A postpartum home is truly a sacred haven and just like it is wise to carefully choose who is at your birth, choosing who visits your new family can make a world of difference. Usually the birthing person KNOWS who they want around (their own parent, a sibling, a trusted friend, a postpartum doula) and who they would prefer to have space from. It may be helpful to think about two kinds of visitors—those who will show up and be there for you and those that just really want to see the baby. The ones there for you will gladly wash dishes, sort laundry, make you a meal, give you time to share your feelings and hold your baby while you take a shower and happily give the baby back to you afterwards. Those there to see your baby, although well meaning, may make you feel like you need to host them and this may cause you more stress and be exhausting. If these visitors are coming, it may be best to limit how long they come and be honest about your needs and the needs of you and your baby to rest together. For some people, setting these strong boundaries may be tricky and take some practice. It may be easier to set firm boundaries that you can relax over time than less clear boundaries that leave you feeling vulnerable.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but when caring for a tiny baby and trying to rest yourself it can easily get overlooked! Decide what works best for your family—would you love friends to drop off pre-cooked meals for your freezer? Prefer to cook yourself before your babe is born? Or are you happiest with ordering takeout each night? Will simple foods work for you during the day (think warm, soft foods, bone broths, high protein and easy to eat) or will you want full meals? There is no right answer, but a little planning ahead of time will make the first couple weeks so much easier. Even if you and your partner LOVE to cook, assume you won’t have time early on (and maybe a fresh home cooked meal can happen when one of those for you visitors comes by!) This book has great recommendations for early postpartum foods and nourishment.
4. Stock up on supplies
New parents have got to be the most marketed-to group of people ever! So how do you decide what you really need to have on hand early on? In general, babies need you, diapers, a car seat and some clothing. You on the other hand need supplies that will support your healing and some tools for feeding. Extra large maxi pads,adult diapers, or postpartum absorbent underwear like thinx, soothing sprays or sitz baths, a peri bottle and some witch hazel pads can help you feel comforted and covered. You might even freeze a few maxi pads soaked in witch hazel for the first few days when you need the most care. Or purchase a postpartum recovery kit for vaginal or cesarean birth to make it easy on yourself! Talk with your provider about postpartum pain medication, they will likely recommend you have some available for when you get home. For your breasts/chest, you may want to have on hand saline/salt for saltwater nipple baths and hydrogel pads—this is my go-to for damaged nipples—and a breast pump (almost always covered by your insurance). While not every new nursing parent needs to pump, early on you may find you are using your pump to encourage your supply or manage engorgement. If you decide to have a few bottles on hand, look for those with the slowest flow nipple. And lastly for both you and your partner a soft wrap baby carrier or a soft-structured baby carrier can be a game-changer.
5. Connect with professional support
When you are first home with a newborn–especially if you are experiencing pain or feeding is getting off to a rocky start–you will want help at your fingertips. Make a list of all
your providers—your midwife/OB, and pediatrician probably come to mind first—but add to that list a lactation consultant , postpartum physical therapist, postpartum doula, dog walker, sibling care and house cleaning. If you are already seeing a mental health therapist, great! If not, know that many new parents benefit from therapeutic support after birth either individually, as a couple, or in a support group format (boober can help!). Postpartum Support International is another good place to find groups and information.
6. Rest some more
It is very common to rest early on after birth and then start to feel ready to be up and about only to find yourself exhausted again! By all means, start to take walks, leave your bedroom and enjoy the company of friends and family, but also know that healing in postpartum isn’t linear. You may have a busier day only to find that the next one you prefer to spend cuddling your little one in bed. Give yourself permission to slow down anytime and be sure your loved ones understand that too.
7. Time everyday just for you, time everyday for you and your partner
We know this can be tough—especially with your first baby! Your whole world has truly changed overnight. A warm shower, a solo nap, a podcast, a chat with a friend or a short walk. Think about what you enjoy and let your partner or support people know that you will need that time everyday. While loving your new baby can be incredible and all encompassing, a few minutes to step away to refresh and re-connect with yourself may be very necessary. Similarly building new routines with your partner can help your relationship grow as you transition into your new roles. Maybe you walk together every morning or snuggle with your baby together every evening. Almost every couple experiences “passing the baby back and forth,” or as we call it in my family: “Divide and conquer.” While this is to be expected, see what you can also do together each day.
8. Give yourself love
This comes easily to some people and harder for others. You are truly amazing even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Be kind to yourself. Many of us are conditioned to feel like being successful is getting things done. During this tender time, you will do so much, but it may not be things that you can easily check off of a list or that tangibly move your life or career forward. The newborn phase is truly fleeting. Prepare yourself for a deep dive into rest, eating food you love, enjoying showers and short walks and surrounding yourself with people that are committed to taking care of you. Allow yourself to speak your emotions freely to your partner, a trusted friend, or an empathic professional. In a new family, the postpartum parent is the center and should get loved and cared for with the utmost respect.
Preparing for postpartum includes having a sense of what may come and being open for the changes ahead. Self-care, communication and professional support go a long way in making this time more manageable for new families.