Eek..... I just had a baby.....now what?!?
Let’s take a moment to honor the enormity of the first year after your baby’s birth.
If you’re anything like me, you started preparing for your birth as soon as you found out you were pregnant. You called a midwife (if that’s your thing) and looked into birth classes. You maybe took prenatal fitness classes, researched the best baby gear, and even stocked up on diapers and clothes.
You made your birth plan…..but, likely it didn’t go exactly as planned (when does it ever?!?). Needless to say, you had the baby, were overjoyed – and so in love.
And then you went home…
And looked at this baby and had no clue what to do.
I think it’s noteworthy that we focus so much on a mother’s pregnancy and birth experiences, but no one EVER mentions preparing for postpartum.
You weren’t meant to travel the postpartum time alone
You’ve likely heard the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child.” This concept has been almost lost in our current culture. But, I believe it’s so important for new mothers, so I did some extra research behind this phrase.
And guess what I found....some cultures throughout South America, Europe (Greece), the Middle East, and Asia require a 40-day rest period for new mothers, which is considered mandatory after an infant’s birth.
In this time, the mother is not expected to leave the house—family members and the “village” come together to take care of day-to-day tasks so that the mother can rest, fully heal from the physical and sometimes emotional trauma of birth, and bond with her baby (Eberhard-Gran, Garthus-Niegel, Garthus-Niegel, & Esklid, 2010).
What an amazing model of support for new moms. The village, and the support that comes with the recognition of the importance of the postpartum transition, is so crucial to the well-being of mothers and babies.
Unfortunately, our Western culture often fails to properly support new mothers. There is rarely a village to help us navigate our new identity as a mom, while also taking care of this new little baby.
Nope! Instead, we spend all this time preparing for birth. Once we give birth, we are handed our baby and sent on our merry way.
We are essentially left to figure everything out on our own!
There is little wonder that new mothers, many of whom have little or no experience with babies or children, are often physically exhausted and emotionally depleted. They may find themselves easily anxious and confused about ‘doing what is right’.
“Our alarmingly high rate of postpartum blues in this country (50-85%) occurs, in part, from the mode of thinking that says - do it yourself and learn instantly, without experience, with little training, and with little or no guidance, perhaps the most essential role you will ever perform.” (Heller. 1997, p. 25)
So how do we prepare for postpartum?
It’s simple. We learn what to expect and we prepare for the postpartum time, just like we did for birth.
And while we all know that babies are unique and somewhat unpredictable, here are my top 5 insights. Basically, what I would go back and tell myself before bringing home my first-born from the hospital.
1. Breastfeeding is harder than you think.
During pregnancy, you may have thought briefly about breastfeeding. But likely, you thought about it only long enough to make the decision that yes, you would exclusively breastfeed for at least the first 6-12 months! Right?!?
No one warns you that breastfeeding is harder than you think. It might not come naturally, at least not initially.
There is a lot to learn. You need to figure out latching your baby on, how to hold your baby properly (and comfortably), while trying to maneuver all the clothes without squirting milk everywhere. Not to mention the challenges of painful or cracked nipples...ouch!
And nobody tells you that if you had a C-Section or induced labor, your milk might not come in for a few days. So, you feel discouraged. But the delay is expected as your body figures out the intricate balance of various hormones that happens more quickly when your body goes into natural labour/delivery.
Nobody talks about how your breasts might be sore & engorged those first few weeks once your milk comes in. This is normal as your body figures out how much milk to produce for baby.
But, guess what! You do not have to do this alone! There's a professional for that!
Get lactation support from an IBCLC or Lactation Consultant. And with the right support at the beginning breastfeeding can become a cherished ritual and bonding time that you have with your little one.
2. You WILL be tired!
Most likely, your baby will only sleep a few hours at a time…. day and night! And will probably only want to sleep on, or next to, you!
This is biologically NORMAL because they NEED to eat, they NEED to feel safe and secure, they NEED you to regulate! And so they wake…..
Yes, it can be hard. Yes, it can be tiring
But know, it is normal, and if you need help, then find support so you get sleep to function.
Oh, and you do NOT have to do sleep training to get better sleep!!! Start by figuring if your baby actually has difficulty sleeping, and why that might be happening. Then you will achieve better sleep by fixing the root cause(s).
Quick tip: Watch the wake windows - your little baby is learning how to process all this new sensory information from the outside world. Initially, baby can only handle being awake for 45-60 minutes at a time (and that includes feeding and diaper changes). Look for the early signs of them getting fatigued and get them to sleep before they get overtired.
3. Rest Your Body, Mama (and enjoy your baby)
You just went through a HUGE transformation and not only made a tiny human in your body, but also birthed said tiny human! Holy Cow woman!!! That is incredible! (And also physically, mentally, & emotionally draining.)
Your body needs to heal.
So put your feet up, spend guilt-free time in bed, snuggling with your baby.
And delegate, delegate, delegate!
This is not the time for your to-do list, making extravagant meals, cleaning the house, or even running all the errands. Delegate other non-essential tasks or childcare duties as able.
4. Be Patient and Don’t Get Discouraged!
Motherhood is a rollercoaster of emotions. You are overjoyed with the new addition to your family but exhausted from delivery and late-night feeds. The initial weeks of postpartum is a huge adjustment for your baby, you, and your family.
Ask for help when you need it, sleep when you need it, and shower when you need it.
And know that, each phase is just that....a phase. Yes, the days & nights may seem really really long..... but your baby will eventually learn to sleep longer stretches. You both will conquer breastfeeding. You’ll adapt and adjust and so will your baby.
It’s also perfectly normal for a new mom’s mood to fluctuate as hormones, coupled with tiredness, can play a lot of havoc on your emotions. So make sure to keep an eye on yourself, and be honest! If your emotions are preventing you from meeting your own or your baby’s day-to-day needs, then please don't be afraid to ask for help.
Remember, we were not meant to do this alone! Find and rely on your village!
5. Build Your Own Village
In addition to getting likely much needed lactation and sleep support, I also recommend finding some mom/baby classes or groups in your neighbourhood (or online). Supportive places where you can come together, vent, laugh, and just have fun, while also learning a tip or two.
In my experience, this is such a huge support....just hearing from other mamas, that have been there, done that, and can show you that all the things you are feeling and worrying about are totally normal.
And hear repeated as often as you need, “Your baby is most likely just fine.” And, "you've got this mama!"
Don’t be Shy! I’m Happy to Share More!
Want more tips to surviving those first few months with baby, also known as the Fourth Trimester?
And hey, if you’re like most of the mamas I work with, you already have your baby in your arms and it never even crossed your mind to prepare for postpartum. But no worries! It’s never too late.
I’ve gathered all the information and resources you need to travel the first years of motherhood.
You deserve more than barely surviving the first years. You deserve support and resources to enjoy it. You deserve the confidence to trust your mama instincts.
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Eberhard-Gran, M., Garthus-Niegel, S., Garthus-Niegel, K., & Esklid, A. (2010). Postnatal care: A cross-cultural and historical perspective. Archives of Women's Mental Health, 13, 459-666.