When in the trenches of nursery planning and prenatal visits, the weeks following birth can seem so distant they’re not worth wasting brain space on. Especially if you’re planning for the arrival of your first child, it can be easy to overlook the care you’ll need during the postpartum period. To be frank, the six weeks or longer after birth will be painful and bloody, and your body will require major healing. Your uterus has an 8-inch wound about the size of a dinner plate from where the placenta detached, and you may have external vaginal tears or cesarean scars that need to heal, as well. Not to mention the roller coaster of emotions you may be feeling from depleted or gushing hormones.
Even though you’ll have a baby requiring constant attention, it’s essential to get into the mindset of caring for yourself during this time. Making plans for how you’ll get sleep, nourishment, hydration and fresh air, and taking a hiatus from other things requiring your focus, can play a vital role in your quality of life during those first few months with your newborn. Here are some things to consider before the baby arrives to plan for the support you’ll need.
Plan for Sleep
Often new parents will hear the advice “sleep when the baby sleeps,” which can seem unhelpful, as your body is attuned to your baby’s every sound and movement. “I tell families I work with to think of how much sleep they usually get a night,” says postpartum doula Molly Sternberg of Little Moon Doula. “If it’s seven hours, they should shoot to get seven hours after baby is born, too.”
Acknowledge that while you’re aiming to get the same amount of sleep, the pattern may look different. Seven hours of sleep may translate to five hours at night and two during the day. Work out a sleep plan with your partner, figuring out shifts with the baby, and if needed, bring in outside support who can watch the baby while you rest.
Plan for Food
As your body heals, focus on consuming nourishing, comforting foods. Try incorporating things like beans, red meat, eggs, oatmeal, bone broths, vegetables and dark leafy greens to boost your iron levels and get plenty of healthy calories.
Sterberg recommends setting up a meal plan before the baby arrives, taking the pressure off of meal prep when your hands are full. Have a friend organize a meal train, prepare freezer meals ahead of time, subscribe to healthy meal kits, and set up a weekly grocery click-list that multiple people can access. People naturally love to help new parents with food, and a little guidance on your food preferences will ensure your needs are met.
And consider inviting those who prepared the food to share the meal with you, giving you the emotional nourishment you need, as well.
Plan for Mental Health
While it’s common to experience baby blues during the postpartum period, stats from Postpartum Support International say up to 20 percent of mothers may experience significant symptoms of a perinatal mood disorder, such as postpartum anxiety or depression. Often, it is up to the suffering parent to find the help they need, Sternberg says. As such, it can be wise for both you and your partner to research ahead of time what to look for and set up a plan for how to take action. Communication with your partner is key.
“Really be on the same page with your partner about expectations and your needs,” Sterberg advises. “Who in your family or community can you call on for help? What are important things for each parent to do each day or week to feel like themselves?”
Writing a letter to your postpartum self before birth can serve as a helpful tool to remind yourself of the care you intended should postpartum depression or anxiety seep in.
Assemble Your Team
The truth is, even best laid plans can go awry. “Those first weeks are bound to be messy and emotional,” Sternberg says. “But it’s also an important time to set up an emotional support system and accept help from those closest to you.”
Think about the people in your life who you can trust to hold space for you — your mother, a sister, a friend — and identify specific ways they can support you once the baby arrives. If your support system looks lean, seek out other ways you can get support, perhaps by hiring a postpartum doula or joining a postpartum support group.
Above all else, don’t forget during those first few weeks to speak up for yourself. You have permission to express your needs and let those around you know how they can help.
“Tap into your motherly instinct and follow that,” Sterberg says. “If something isn’t working for you then stop listening [to the outside noise] and do what works for you.”