How to Prepare for Postpartum - 10 Tips I wish someone would have told me before I had my baby!
I really had no idea what would expect me in the so called 'postpartum' period. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read tonnes of pregnancy and birth books. I made an effort to prepare myself as well as I could until the day of the birth... but I didn't know that I could do much preparation for the months after birth. Yes, I collected all the baby paraphernalia of course and had them ready to go, but I missed out taking care of even more important things.
I can't believe nobody had told me! We somehow have lost a lot of that woman-to-woman sharing, from grandmother to mother to daughter, from friend to friend. I think we're afraid of sharing about our vulnerabilities and struggles, being judged as a failure. We forget that it can really help the other person. For a while I thought it was just me and that there was something wrong with me, however I learned quickly that what I was going through in my first postpartum, is only all too common. I won’t talk here about the most obvious things, like getting baby clothes or setting up a crib. In this blog post, I will talk about the things I wish someone would have told me before I had my first baby!!
Of course I recommend getting baby items ready. Whatever you can do beforehand is helpful. Having a stroller or breast pump set up and ready to go, and having yourself familiarized with those items - once baby is there, you will be sooo happy you already did that!
However one absolutely essential thing I totally overlooked was preparing POSTPARTUM FOOD... and that's funny because I was already a nutritional consultant at that time. I thought I got that. I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to make some simple food for myself and my family when baby would be there, however that was the most challenging thing during postpartum! I didn't know how much my state would be altered after birth, and, how all I could do for a few weeks was taking care of baby, but not of myself. How strange... Also I had no idea how much food I would need during breastfeeding (I had to eat every 2 hours otherwise I felt as though I was going to faint!) and I didn't fully grasp how specific a postpartum diet actually is, especially for nursing moms.
While a postpartum prep list could probably be extended endlessly, I give you some of the most important things I discovered are truly worth taking care of before baby arrives.. Round 2 with my second baby was a much easier ride in many regards because of what I learned from round 1 :) Here are my personal tips:
1. Plan for the 4th Trimester
In traditional cultures, new mothers had a time of ‘lying in’ for about 6 weeks. They were encouraged and expected to do little other than rest, recover and nurse the baby. Nowadays, we have the expectations that we’ll be up and ‘back to normal’ again in a few days. The faster the better? I wouldn’t say so. It can actually be really detrimental to your health to get right back at things after birth. I wish I would have taken more time myself. Often women feel under the pressure (either from others and/ or self-imposed) to do everything they had done prior to birth as before - only now they have a baby hanging off their hip and are recovering from a major physical and maybe even emotional birth trauma. Shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Yea, but it really is… I can’t emphasize enough to please allow yourself some good amount of time to enjoy taking care of your baby, rest (as much as you can) and recover. Some women take years or their whole life to recover from birth, because they haven't dedicated time and care to do so after birth. Everybody is saying that these early weeks “are over faster than you think”. I didn’t want to believe it myself either, because it felt to me like forever while I was in it.
I haven’t heard anybody say: “I wish I would have gone back to cleaning my house sooner” or “I wish I would have gone back to work sooner”. I would suggest to plan for at least 6 weeks (and longer if you can) to solely taking care of your baby and yourself, so that you don’t have to stress. If you then really want to pick things up sooner, you still can.
2. Organize Help
You might think this sounds good in theory, but how should I do that? There are like a million and one things to take care of?! Exactly, that's why you need to organize help. This is probably one of the most important points. Trust me, you don’t want to do this alone, even if you possibly could. I really don’t think we’re meant to do this alone. You’ve probably heard this saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” Traditionally family and community worked together to support a couple with a new baby in the early months and beyond. Nowadays, often we aren’t close to our family anymore and we are unnaturally ‘independent’. It might be family that you call upon, or friends, or you might hire someone for help, like a doula or a meal service. I know it can be the most difficult thing to ask for help, especially when we’re in quite a vulnerable state during early postpartum. What made me finally reach out and ask for help was the realization that I needed help, not only for my own sake, but for my baby’s sake, because if I’m not taken care of, my baby will feel it too. Not that it has to come to that - you should ask also for your own sake! However, I needed that kind of ‘motivation’ to help me ask for help. That realization might help you too.
3. Start a Meal Train
Summon community support to get you through the first few weeks without that you have to cook much or maybe not at all. I found is that often people don’t know how to help a family in postpartum. Even people that have children themselves forget what it was like! Giving others the opportunity to help you in the right way, is usually greatly appreciated by them. I found that people love it, if you give them instructions how to help a new mom and her baby. When they ask what we needed for the baby, I found that the best gift for us was a home cooked meal. Tell them which kind of foods you need and which ones you don’t eat. And I realized that I had to be not shy to ask for specific ingredients... It's better than being polite and then not being able to eat it, because it contained ingredients I couldn’t have in the first few weeks of postpartum. It wouldn't help you and it wouldn't honour their effort either. Best is to get a dedicated person on board that manages the meal train. Then you don’t have to ask yourself and deal with organizing it - you’ll be busy enough. Also make sure to give instructions how you want the food delivered. You probably don’t want to visit with every person that brings you a meal - at least not in the sensitive and quiet first few weeks after birth. Maybe get a friend to bring all the meals over, or let people drop the food off at your doorstep (without ringing the doorbell, text message is good). Or you can fill your freezer beforehand with readily cooked meals, then you can just take them out as needed. Another sweet idea is a cooking party with your friends and family a few weeks before baby comes. The cooked dishes can be stored in the freezer. Label well.
4. Get help with Small and Big Chores
I remember how I often stood before the decision, when baby napped, if I should rest and enjoy cuddling with baby (it's sooo nice being nap-trapped!), or if I should tackle my house chores. I really wish I would have chosen option 1 more often. The problem is though, while certain things can be neglected for a while and pile up, others can’t. While you don’t necessarily need to have a sparkling shiny house, you still need some clean dishes and you still need groceries in your fridge etc. Even little chores can be a big deal for a sleep deprived mother who is holding her baby almost all the time. It’s usually no big deal for a friend to wash a few dishes or drop off some groceries. Also the new daddy needs help. It can be a lot for the husband to go to work, sleep deprived himself, and hold down the fort entirely with household, food, shopping etc. Men can also get burned out during that time. Someone stopping by and picking up the snow shovel, can make a new parents’ day. I know it can also be the most difficult thing to surrender to someone else coming into your house and washing your dishes. When people offered, it was hard for me to accept. It’s important to understand that there is nothing shameful about not 'doing it all', especially during postpartum. It’s not a failure, but it’s a choice to do what matters most. If you’d really do it all, there would be something not quite right with that situation. Allowing yourself to receive help means humility and grace.
5. Have somebody for Childcare
Don't forget about organizing help with childcare for older children. In round 2, that turned out to be our biggest challenge. It can be quite a shock for the other child/ren when a new baby joins the family. For my two and a half year old, it was a big deal - it was like an abrupt transition from being the baby to being an older sister. She went through a challenging emotional phase. That's why we had a friend staying with us for the first 4 weeks, that mostly dedicated her time to playing with my toddler. Our friend got up early with my toddler and went for walks outside with her. That was God sent. Still it was a lot for all of us, however I can't even imagine how we would have done it without our kind friends supporting us.
6. Put Postpartum Visitor Guidelines on the Door
What might make it easier than filling everybody in, is putting up a sign at the door, either written by your doula, a friend or by yourself, giving visitors some instructions on how they can help best like washing a few dishes, picking up a broom, shovelling snow, checking in if the family needs any groceries etc. It can also tell them about keeping visits short, not coming without checking in with you first, washing their hands upon entering, etc. For me it made a big difference, once that sign was up. Even talking a lot and explaining things can be exhausting and distracting for the new mom. Also you really don't want to be entertaining and hosting people in postpartum. It can be hard to not do what we're so used to be doing. Postpartum is such a completely different stage in life. It’s such a quiet and delicate time. You'll probably find that your energy, your nervous system, your needs, your preferences etc. are gonna be very different. You don't have to keep up with your usual character, your usual pace - allow yourself to change. It's a rebirth also for the mother. It's truly an initiation and amazing opportunity for growth. No need to apologize for that. Own it. People will respect you for it. And the ones that don't, they really need to grow up.
7. Cook Double Batches
In the weeks before birth, you can make double portions when you cook, and fill your freezer with the extra food. Soups, stews and casseroles work well. One of the most important things to have on hand for nourishing and healing postpartum meals, is bone broth. Have a good amount of that ready to go in your freezer. Don’t forget to label the food saying when it was cooked and what the ingredients are. For example, I realized with my first baby, that my breastmilk irritated her when I ate broccoli in the early postpartum; so I was glad that I could identify which of the meals I cooked contained broccoli. I ate those only later, when baby tolerated it better. For more info on postpartum nutrition for mom & baby - I've developed a whole course on that! Coming soon... If your baby is coming soon and you would like that information now, just get in touch with me for nutrition consulting.
8. Set up your house with Groceries and other Supplies
Stock up on groceries as much as you can. Especially dry goods and packaged foods, such as oats and canned coconut cream, you can store for a long time. Think of easy foods you could quickly make and also ready made snacks that you want to have handy (see Wholesome Snacks Handout in my Postpartum Course). Some women like to have snacks stored (together with their water handy) in every room where they will sit to breastfeed. Also you'll be happy to have things like toilet paper and diapers in abundance, so you don't need to worry about these things when you're busy cuddling your baby.
I found it helpful to have a little basket with things I needed while breastfeeding, that I could carry from room to room. I added things like snacks, nipple cream, plastic wrap (PRO TIP: helps keep the nipple cream on and prevents rubbing against the clothing), breast pads, lip balm, paper tissues, a baby cloth, my phone, etc. This way you don't have to keep on running forth and back or be looking for these items all the time.
9. Get your Supplements
Make sure you have sufficient supplements to get you through the first weeks at least, so you don’t have to stress about running out. You probably want to continue taking your prenatal for a while. If you’re breastfeeding, I’d suggest to keep on taking your prenatal till you’re finished with nursing. Also check that you have other supplements in stock that you or your baby might be needing, such as vitamin D, probiotics, Vitamin K etc. It’s also nice to have a nutritious and clean shake handy for a quick nutrient boost. See the Supplement Guide in my Postpartum Course. Make sure you're selecting quality brands, professionally grade and science based, otherwise you might not even do your body (or your baby) any good. You can get professional grade supplements drop-shipped to your place (free shipping over $49) via Heart-Food (contact me for more info)
10. Other Helpful Items and Tips
This isn’t a finite list, but here are some other items that could be helpful for you:
Diapers (lots), baby wipes (lots), natural diaper cream, baby wash etc.
Comfortable and bigger clothes that make you feel good. Do yourself a favour and don’t try to fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes right away.
Soft and bigger postpartum panties
Lots of pads (in different sizes). It might happen that you get irritated from wearing commercial pads daily for several weeks. You could get washable cloth pads.
Nursing pads to stick in the bra to catch leakage
Breast pump and hands-free nursing bra
Breast therapy pads that can be used hot or cold to decrease engorgement or help let down, especially when milk starts to come in or when ducts clog
Cabbage! Stick a cabbage in your fridge for postpartum. Cabbage helps with engorged breasts and plugged ducts. You can just stick them in your nursing bra. The leaves have the perfect shape.
Peri-bottle and witch hazel (natural astringent for soothing skin - things will be different 'down there' for a while)
Hot water bottle for afterpains
Magnesium for cramps and to help relax
Okay mama, you got this! It's impossible to be prepared for everything. Let's be open to the unexpected and surrender to the flow. However, having some crucial things in place makes postpartum life much easier. The mental preparation is important too. I had expectations that were far from reality of my first postpartum with my first daughter. In round two, I didn't expect anything of myself other than keeping my kids alive - no just kidding... I was going into this second postpartum journey with the knowledge that I did the best I could to prepare and that I would do my best to take care of my kids and myself, and that I would allow others to help me. That was enough and more than enough. With that knowing I was able to relax into what was out of my control with much more ease.
If you read all of this, you might be expecting a baby or just had a baby... I'm happy for you that you get to experience this unique and amazing time. Enjoy it to the fullest, mama, and be kind with yourself. Trust me, you'll be different afterwards. Stronger, softer, and wiser. What an exquisite journey!
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