The initial postpartum period, the first six to twelve weeks after giving birth, is challenging. Whether it's your first baby or your fourth, you are adjusting to having a new member of your family, of meeting the demands of a helpless, dependent being, and of getting to know and love this new little person. Let's talk a little about what you can do to make this time of transition as healthy as possible for you and your newborn as well as the rest of your family.
Enlist someone to organize offers of help
You know you're going to need some kind of help after the baby is born. This can differ from person to person, but most new parents appreciate having others help them in some way, from caring for older siblings, to sending meals, to washing dishes, to folding laundry, to running errands. Figure out what you think you'll need the most help with before you give birth, and then ask someone to be in charge of organizing all the offers you'll (hopefully) receive. This can be a religious community leader, a good friend, a relative, a neighbor, or anyone else you trust and who you know can handle the responsibility. Often someone steps up to be the point person. Tell this person what you think you'll want the most help with and direct all offers of, "What can I do to help you?" or "Do you need meals?" to this person. There are also websites that can help everyone keep track of what needs doing and when.
A few things I can recommend, from experience, to put on the list:
- Help with your other kids: Entertain older siblings, assist with school pick-ups and drop-offs, take your toddler for a few hours (playdates, baby-sitting by grandparents/aunts/cousins)
- Food: Ask people to make meals that can be eaten cold or room temperature or that are easy to rewarm. Specify dietary restrictions, allergies, preferences to the point person.
- Laundry: Newborns generate a lot of laundry, and the rest of the family still needs clean clothes and sheets and towels. If someone can throw in a load of laundry or fold and put away clean stuff, this can be very helpful.
- Kitchen: You can use paper goods for a while, or you can take the offer from someone to wash dishes, load/unload the dishwasher, and put clean dishes away.
- Errands: If someone offers, send them to the store with a specific list of random things you haven't been able to get out of the house to pick up. Maybe you're low on certain staple foods, diapers, or receiving blankets and burp cloths. Be sure to establish how and when you'll be paying them back, or give them cash to take with them to the store.
- Company: Being home with a new baby can be lonely. Sometimes it's nice just to have someone come over with a cup of coffee and hang out. Keep the visits short and to close friends and family, and don't feel obligated to play hostess.
- Baby-Holding: The thing you'll probably both most and least want is for others to hold your baby. Make it clear that what you need help with is everything else, not holding the baby. However, sometimes you just want to take a long, hot shower in peace, and then it's nice to have someone around you can trust to hold the baby for 20 minutes while you take some time for yourself. Alternatively, if you know the baby is content and fed and should be fine for an hour, ask someone to keep an eye on him for you while you take a nap.
Keep track of feeds, diapers, and sleep
It's very hard to rely on your short-term memory when you've just had a baby. This means that even if you're used to being able to remember things like the last time you ate, I guarantee your brain will be too hazy and foggy to remember how many diapers you've changed, which side you last nursed on, and the last time the baby took a nap, all at once. Unfortunately, doctors and nurses LOVE to have this kind of information when assessing your baby's health, and it's important for you to have an idea of how often and for how long the baby is eating and sleeping and how many wet and dirty diapers he is producing in a given day.
Some parents keep a detailed spreadsheet of every diaper, feeding, and nap. Others jot down the information in a notebook that they carry with them all the time. I tried to just rely on my memory with my three, but I can tell you, I usually had absolutely no idea how often my babies were eating. I usually only knew which side I had last nursed on because that side of my nursing bra was unhooked! Thankfully, in this era of smartphones and iPads, we can make technology do the work for us. There are a number of apps out there for both iOS and Android that can help keep track of all this information for you.
One app I can specifically recommend is smallnest
. It's for iPhone, iPod, and iPad, and it has some really interesting features that make baby care a little bit easier to track. First of all, it has a very simple, clean interface that takes no time to learn to use. When you sit down to nurse, tap the "Food" button, select Left Breast or Right Breast, and it will instantly record that feeding. When you're done, stop the feeding. (You can also track bottle feeds and meals of solids.) It will then update the display to show how long since baby's last feeding and will add that information to a running list of the day's activities. You can also track pee and poo diapers and sleep. Secondly, the most exciting feature of this app is its ability to connect all of your baby's caregivers. By linking the app with your Facebook account, you can invite other caregivers, like Daddy or a nanny, to download the app to their device as well, and then they also can track feedings, diapers, and naps. This information is then shared to all devices that are connected to that particular baby, so everyone knows everything at the touch of a button. Plus, you can leave your phone downstairs and put the information into your iPad that you left by the bed, instead of worrying that you've left your device somewhere when it's time for a feeding. (Thanks to smallnest for signing up to be Jessica on Babies' first sponsor!* Click through and check out the app!)
Take care of YOURSELF
It's tempting to try to jump back in to all of your pre-pregnancy or pre-baby activities the minute you get home with your new baby. Often, we're still high on the hormone rush of birth and are raring to go. Take it from me: RELAX. The first six weeks postpartum are one of the only times we have in life to take license to simply rest. Your body needs rest. Your baby needs you to be rested. You have a lot of healing and recovering to do, whether you had a picture perfect, easy birth or a difficult c-section or something in between. The worst thing you can do is try to be up and training for a marathon two weeks after giving birth. Don't worry about weight loss. Don't worry about work. Don't worry about keeping up with your toddler. Take a few weeks to just RELAX.
One thing I won't say is to "sleep when baby sleeps." That was the one piece of advice I hated, because I know how impractical it can be. However, try to nap with baby at least once a day, or at least veg in front of the TV while he naps in your arms. You don't have to be running around all the time.
Surround yourself with SUPPORT
Help with meals and laundry is not enough. You also need to have a support system in place. Having people around who share your parenting philosophy and can offer support in the difficult early days is invaluable. They say it takes a village, and it really does. You need someone to commiserate with over the three-week growth spurt, the every-two-hours waking at night, the poo-splosions, and the boredom. You need someone who can answer your questions about feedings and give good advice (whether this is your mom, a trusted friend, or a professional IBCLC). You need people who will say the words you need to hear when you're feeling your most exhausted and worn out. You need people who will watch you for signs of postpartum depression, anxiety, or psychosis and ensure that you get the help you need. And you need people around who won't be driven away by your crazy hormone surges and moodiness.
Do you have other tips for new mothers that you'd like to share? We'd love to hear your comments!
* If you are interested in discussing a possible partnership or sponsorship with Jessica on Babies, please email jessicaonbabies (at) gmail (dot) com. I would be very happy to talk about what options there are to increase your visibility among new parents.