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, because as Jordan Hemmerly and Amy Roudebush, founders and owners of Indiana Birth and Parenting point out, your body is attuned to your baby’s every sound and movement. Instead, it may be helpful to think of getting the same amount of sleep each day, even if the sleep pattern looks a little 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, Hemmerly says 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, such as beans, red meat, eggs, oatmeal, bone broths, vegetables and dark leafy greens. “We love anything that is easy to prepare, boosts iron, and helps get in plenty of healthy calories,” Hemmerly says. “Bonus points if you can eat it one-handed!”
Take the pressure off of meal prep by setting up a meal plan before the baby arrives. 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. “Food is an easy vessel to fellowship, and sitting around the table is something many new parents miss during those fresh postpartum weeks,” Roudebush says.
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.
“Both you and your partner should do some research about what to look for should perinatal mood disorders arise,” Roudebush says. Then identify who in your family or community you can reach out to for help. Writing a letter to your postpartum self before birth can serve as a helpful tool to remind yourself of the care you intended.
Even if you don’t experience a mood disorder, communication with your partner is key to good mental health during postpartum. Discuss your expectations and identify things you each need to do daily or weekly to feel like yourselves.
Assemble Your Support Team
The truth is, even your best laid plans can go awry, as those first weeks are bound to be messy and emotional, so it can be helpful to know who has your back. “Gather your village beforehand — friends and family can be wonderful tools with a little bit of direction in how to support you,” Hemmerly says.
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, tuning out any unsolicited advice and social media noise, and do what feels best to you.