In prenatal sessions with my doula clients lately, I’ve been devoting more time than I did before to preparing for the postpartum.
Many of us North Americans tend to fixate on pregnancy and birth as these gloriously monumental, life-transforming events (which they are!), but mostly gloss over the part that follows…except to obsess over, say, how to get the baby to sleep longer (I hear you, sleep-deprived parents!).
Maybe it’s because I was an anthro major in university, but I’m feeling super-inspired by learning more and more about nourishing fourth-trimester traditions in different cultures. As I wrote in a previous post, for many around the world, the four to six weeks following birth are treated as a sacred, special time during which friends and family care for the new parents while the parents care for their new baby.
So yes, new parents need nurturing too! But when it’s not ingrained in your culture, it requires some planning.
Here are a few tips for planning ahead for a blissful postpartum.
Line up help.
Before you need it.
It’s become a cliché, but I’m going to say it again anyway: It takes a village. Or at least it should. If you have a partner, he or she will be there for you…until it’s time to return to work, often a week or two later. If family members can’t come take care of you, then it’s time to take your friends up on their offers to help. Modern North American culture admires extreme independence, and accepting help can be hard. But people truly do want to help, so this time consider actually letting them.
Also, look into resources—paid or free—in your community. You don’t need to use a single one on your list, but why not have their contact info handy, juuust in case? I’m talking postpartum doulas, night nurses, lactation consultants, and nurses who will come to your home to perform newborn check-ups, vaccinations, and more. As well as (often free or low-cost) support groups and parent-and-baby meet-ups on topics ranging from breastfeeding, yoga, particular styles of parenting, postpartum depression, you name it.
Consider including some extras such as a housecleaner or cleaning agency (even if just for a week or two), a massage therapist who makes house calls, a babysitter for your other kids, a photographer to come and document those first few weeks, anything that resonates with you. (I know they’re expensive. But they make fabulous shower gifts, wink wink. Friends and family might want to do some of these as well.)
In short, write up a big, long list of anyone who’s offered to help, plus any resources or services you think you might ever possibly need or want. And keep it in a prominent place!
YES, my friends and family want to help. What should I tell them?
First off, even if you do nothing else, ask someone to organize a meal train for you. Imagine how nice it would be not to have to worry about preparing meals for, ideally, a couple of weeks postpartum. Seriously, having nutritious, delicious food prepared and brought to you will make everything better.
And of course, you yourself may love cooking. If you do, obviously go ahead and prepare a few large batches of nourishing meals and snacks that you love, and pop them in the freezer (e.g., stew, chicken soup, lasagna, raw truffles). Or learn about traditional postpartum foods in your own or other cultures. Hoping to go into labour soon? Bake a groaning cake!
Friends and family can also babysit or take your other kids to the park, clean the kitchen, fold laundry, pick up groceries, snap pictures, stock your Netflix with good shows…whatever!
Particularly if this is your first baby, someone may want to throw a baby shower for you, a rite of passage in much of North America. Baby showers often focus primarily on, well, the baby. When creating a registry, reflect on what you the parent will need—not just what your baby will need. (Babies actually need very little other than you, a source of milk—possibly also you—and a place to sleep—possibly also you.) Remember that you don’t have to register only for things, you can also register for services. Including everything I mentioned above, such as housecleaning or postpartum doula services, or a home massage. Here’s an online registry that lets you include “meaningful gifts you can’t buy in stores (like homecooked meals).”
Set expectations for visitors.
Unless they’re helping you out (see previous section!), there’s no need to have visitors immediately after giving birth. Or even several weeks after giving birth. It’s up to you, of course. But it can be an energy drain on both you and the baby to have to entertain (or even just low-level interact with) well-meaning friends, neighbours, and family. It’s 100 percent OK to just say no to visitors. Or at the very least, limit them and create some ground rules.
Feel weird about doing this? Outsource it. Ask your partner (if applicable) or a friend to send an email or post something on social media saying that while you and your baby are excited to see them, could they please wait a few weeks (and maybe drop off a meatloaf or shovel snow from the front walkway in the meantime)?
See my additional tips for an awesome postpartum in Part 2!