Parenting a newborn will provide you with some of the most exciting and precious memories in your life, yet it is also a time of adjustment, challenges, and overwhelming decisions. Having a plan in place can help you feel confident and calm during those early days with your baby. A lot of attention during pregnancy is given to the upcoming birth and making sure you have a support system for labor in place. That's wonderful and absolutely necessary. Yet just as the marriage follows the wedding so does the baby follow the birth. It's equally important to dedicate time to planning for your postpartum (after childbirth) period, also known as the fourth trimester- or approximately 12 weeks after you give birth.
The first step is the most important and often the most difficult. ASK for help and ACCEPT help that is offered to you. It's OK to not be able to do everything. You've just given birth, your body is healing, and your hormones are raging. Most of your energy is spent caring for and getting to know your baby. Many women are eager to help others but reluctant to ask for the help that they need. Know that your friends and family will likely be more than happy to lend a hand. If you're really struggling to ask for favors, consider appointing a close friend to be your care coordinator. She can contact your other support people and organize what needs to be done- picking up an older child at school, bringing dinner, walking the dog, etc.
If you don't have an extensive support network (or even if you do) it is often helpful to hire professional assistance. A postpartum doula is trained to support women and families during the postpartum period. They can offer comfort measures to promote healing, provide newborn care and information, and help you manage the household. Learn more about after baby care and how it may benefit you.
It's important to plan how you will afford postpartum help and budget as best you can during your pregnancy. Save a certain amount from each paycheck if you are able and beyond that- get creative! Borrow or buy gently used nursery items and put the savings in your postpartum fund. Dedicate a yearly bonus or a tax refund to be used for your care. Ask friends and family to donate to the cause at your baby shower; many will be happy to skip the shopping and know that they are giving you a gift you will definitely use. Also know that most doulas offer flexible payment plans.
Next, plan on being a little selfish. Take care of YOU, Mama. Say no to requests that put undue stress on you, let the little tasks go for awhile, and set realistic expectations. If you accomplish nothing in a day with a newborn other than caring for the baby, having a quiet moment to yourself, and spending some time with your other loved ones- that's a great day. Some days will look a lot easier and you'll cook a meal or run an errand. Some may be a little harder and you need help just to get everyone fed and dressed. That's ok too. Be kind to yourself. You have just accomplished the monumental feat of growing, birthing, and nurturing another little human and you deserve some grace. Carve out a little time to read, watch a show you like, or take a bath or short walk. Just a few minutes doing something you enjoy can make a world of difference in how you feel- and that matters a lot.
More tips for your postpartum plan
Create a meal plan that works for you and your family. Organize a traditional meal train- there are apps and websites that are very easy to naviagte. Use your second trimester (when nausea has usually subsided and you have some energy) to make freezer meals and catalog easy recipes and grocery lists.
Prioritize social outings and support. Attend a mother's group or start one of your own! Even a phone call with a fellow mother can lift your spirits. Plan short errands or a daily walk around the block. Fresh air and a change of scenery will do wonders for both you and your baby. *You may not feel ready for this step immediately. Many women “cocoon” with their baby, especially during the first 6 weeks after birth.
Figure out what household tasks must be done daily or weekly for you to feel good in your home. This is very dependent on your individual preferences and usual routines. Make a list of must-do chores, when they need to be done, and assign someone to do them. Knowing that the basic household concerns are taken care of can give you peace of mind and prevent you from getting overwhelmed.
Know your community resources. There are wonderful organizations to help you with everything from breastfeeding and baby wearing to classes and groups. Ask your care provider or doula for recommendations, browse on Google or Facebook, and ask other moms about their experiences.
Consider the rest of your family. Mothers and their infants are in the process of learning each other, figuring out feeding and daily care, and falling in love. It can be easy to let your relationship with your partner or older children fall by the wayside. Involve them in care of the baby, plan quiet date nights at home, and spend quality alone time with each child, even if it's five minutes a day.
Recognize the postpartum period for what it is. Yes, it's often physically and emotionally exhausting. But it's also the all too brief time when you are focused on welcoming and getting to know a brand new being. Embrace it and your baby.