Many new parents put a lot of focus, time and energy into learning about pregnancy and preparing for birth, but when the baby finally arrives, find themselves feeling lonely, bewildered and unprepared. We explore five simple steps parents can take ahead of time to prepare and make their lives easier following the birth of their child.
Many have said it, but we’ll say it again... your sole responsibility as a new mom is to rest, heal and nurture yourself and your newborn. It may be difficult to adjust your expectations of yourself, but taking time in the first weeks to focus strictly on yourself and your baby will help you temporarily step back from household duties and non-essential tasks and routines. Too many new moms tire themselves out sending birth announcements and thank-you cards, sorting through maternity clothes, or trying too soon after birth to tackle other projects that can wait.
Write yourself a reminder note somewhere where you will see it each day: “Sleep when the baby is sleeping!” If you can’t sleep, then do something restful and low stress such as cuddling with your partner, sitting in the sunshine, reading a book, journaling, or taking photographs of baby. Your body and mind need this downtime. Remember that this time is temporary and take advantage of the opportunity to go easy on yourself.
2. Get help from professionals
There are several types of professionals that new parents may rely on after birth. Some choose to hire professionals if they do not have family living nearby, while others feel comforted by the advice and assistance from trained and knowledgeable professionals, as opposed to the wide range of advice they may receive from well-intentioned family or friends. Some find that they need a little help, while others need full-time assistance. If possible, plan in advance for your needs by evaluating your situation (strong family support vs. little to no help), interview and hire the professional(s) you feel most comfortable with and then be flexible after the birth if you find you need more or less help. Here are a few of the most common postpartum services:
- A Postpartum Doula assists families in the days or weeks following the birth. She offers education, support, encouragement, and reassurance to parents as they learn how to care for their newborn and heal from birth. Her primary goal is to “work herself out of a job,” by educating and empowering parents during this transition in their lives. The specific job description can vary for each couple the doula serves, but may include mother care (making sure the mother has nutritious foods to eat, time to rest, or bathe), emotional support (a listening ear, reassurance and encouragement), newborn care (changing clothes or diapers or comforting and calming techniques), sibling support (educating siblings about newborn needs and care), household tasks (tidying, laundry, or shopping) or breastfeeding support (educating family on breastfeeding basics, helping baby latch, and/or teaching mom how to pump).
- A Baby Nurse or Newborn Care Specialist is similar to a Postpartum Doula, but generally focuses solely on newborn care, sleeping and feeding. Many are “sleep specialists” and help parents overnight.
- A Lactation Consultant (IBCLCs) is experienced in breastfeeding education, support and problem-solving. She works in a variety of settings and usually offers clinic appointments, facilitates group meetings, and/or provides in-home support. For mothers doing well, Lactation Consultants can offer reassurance and encouragement. Mothers who are struggling receive help identifying problems and making changes. Those with special circumstances, such as premature babies or twins, can receive valuable information and support that makes breastfeeding possible in the face of difficulty.
Research postpartum care services in your area and ask for referrals from your care provider, birth place, family or friends. Also note that some insurance plans offer in home visits by nurses, lactation consultants or midwives as part of routine postpartum care, while others may cover some or all of the costs should you utilize their services.
3. Enlist help from family and friends, and be specific
Family members and friends are honored to help new parents after the birth. Family and friends can help tremendously by providing meals or delivering groceries on scheduled dates and organizing the meal delivery, so you don’t have to worry when you next meal will arrive. Sometimes parents need to ask for specific help or direct willing helpers to useful tasks, such as laundry, shopping or cleaning, rather than just visiting or holding the baby. Often, it helps to have a schedule or a list of tasks that need to be done or gentle reminders that your job as new parents is to care for the newborn and rest and that you will be up for visiting at a later date. If family or friends are not able to help in person, they may want to provide financial assistance, such as gift certificates to take-out restaurants, paying for all or part of the services of a Postpartum Doula or Lactation Consultant, or providing house cleaning services for a period of time. These gifts may be far more helpful than a newborn outfit or toy! Communicate your preferences and needs ahead of time to avoid difficulties after the birth.
4. Plan ahead
While it is hard to know what to expect after having a baby, you can prepare by educating yourselves. There are many classes focused on newborn care, breastfeeding and postpartum transitions. Newborn care and breastfeeding books, websites and blogs are also good sources of information. In addition, ask other parents what is was like for them. They can tell you what was helpful and what they wish they would have known or offer encouragement that you will get through it!
As we have discussed, you may also plan ahead by setting aside non-essential tasks, enlisting the help of family or friends, hiring postpartum support providers (or having their contact information on hand should you need them following the birth), and setting up meal delivery or freezing prepared meals to be used following the birth.
5. Have faith and take one day at a time
The postpartum time can feel like an emotional roller-coaster. In your sleep deprived state, you may feel like it will go on forever. Remember that for most parents, the first six weeks can be a challenge, but each day you and your baby are learning, growing, bonding and changing. You will be able to look back and appreciate that it has gotten better over time! Keep doing your best, get help when you need it and take one day at a time.
For more information about what to expect and how to prepare for baby's arrival, check out our Settling In with Baby book.
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