You’ve heard of birth plans, but making a postpartum plan can be equally if not more important.
A postpartum plan is a way to help you prepare for those first few months after giving birth. Many women create birth plans in anticipation of their labor and delivery, but often neglect the postpartum period. This can result in sleep deprivation, breastfeeding problems, added stress and may even contribute to symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety.
Here’s how and why you should create a postpartum plan for the months following your baby’s birth.
The postpartum period is often called the fourth trimester and usually considered the first three months after giving birth. However, women require different amounts of time to recover after childbirth. The physical and hormonal changes usually regulate within six weeks, but mental health can sometimes take longer. Whether it’s your first or your fourth child, it can be hard to predict how long you will need postpartum care until the time actually comes.
The birth of a baby is like a mass signal to all our family and friends that it’s time to come and meet them. But too many visitors at once can interrupt the postpartum healing process. You may either feel excited to show off your new baby, or anxious about too many people crowding them (and you).
If you’ve given birth in a hospital, then there are usually specific rules that visitors must follow and this should also be the case when you are home. Try to schedule specific times for visitors, and don’t have everyone come all at once. Make sure visitors are washing their hands before holding or touching baby and don’t let anyone to kiss your newborn baby. Don’t allow visitors to simply “drop by” because that could interrupt your sleep or breastfeeding routine. And if at any time you feel anxious or overwhelmed by your visitors, feel free to ask them to leave or excuse yourself to your your bedroom. You’re not a party hostess.
Communicate these rules to your family and friends, even if it feels awkward. Adding this into your postpartum plan and letting them all know your wishes ahead of time can make it easier. Once baby arrives, the excitement can often distract everyone from the plan, so make sure to remind them in a text, e-mail or a printed note on the front door. No one should feel offended by your decision to focus on your postpartum health.
Keep Track of Your Appointments
Just like during pregnancy, both you and baby will require regular check ups during the postpartum period. It’s important not to skip any of these appointments, and making a schedule of them can help.
Take a look at a calendar and figure out your postpartum timeline. When will you be 2 weeks postpartum? Baby will need a check up with their pediatrician. What date will you be 6 weeks postpartum? That’s when you will need your checkup. The postpartum period can often go by quickly, so knowing the dates that you hit these milestones ahead of time can help you stay focused on your recovery.
If you can, try to book all of your appointments in advance. Doctor’s offices can sometimes be difficult to get into, and a lot can change in just a few days during the postpartum period. If you know that you have an appointment coming up, you can prepare any questions that you have ahead of time. Making notes of things that you want to discuss can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
And don’t forget to include any appointments with lactation consultants, the public health nurse, newborn photographers, for religious ceremonies, to get government paperwork or passports done, etc. When you think about it, there’s a lot that needs to be done to welcome a new person into the world.
It really does take a village to raise a child. Many moms these days tend to go it alone thanks to our ever busy lives. But historically and in many cultures today, it’s unheard of for a new mother to tackle the postpartum period on her own. Asking for help during the postpartum period does not make you any less capable of a mother. If anything, it’s one of the smartest things you can do.
Make a list or schedule for those who are available and willing to help you out. Your spouse or partner is going to be helper number one but it’s understandable that they won’t be available 24/7 as most workplaces only offer minimal amounts of parental leave. Try to schedule additional help during the times they are not around. Parents, siblings, friends, neighbors are often more than happy to help you out – all you have to do is ask.
If you really can’t find anyone to help, and your budget can afford it, considering hiring help. A postpartum doula is specifically trained to help you with everything you need in the postpartum period. You can also consider hiring a housekeeper or cleaning service, a food delivery service or night nurse. If there isn’t room in your budget for these kinds of things, add them to your baby registry.
Make Time to Rest
Your postpartum plan should be centered around getting rest. Rest is so incredibly important in those first few months postpartum. Regardless of how your labor and delivery went, all moms need to allow their bodies time to heal. A lot is happening inside of us that we don’t always see from the outside. So while making your postpartum plan, make sure to schedule in lots of time for sleep, naps and lying down with your feet up.
Moms tend to feel guilty when it comes to rest. The urge to cook and clean and take care of everyone else is a strong force within us. But rest is an important part of the healing process, both physically and mentally. Thankfully, newborns are pretty cooperative when it comes to this. Even if you’re not “sleeping when baby sleeps” make sure that both you and baby are getting enough sleep.
Once you’ve enlisted help to take care of all your other responsibilities, spend as much time as you can in bed with your baby. Focus on breastfeeding, have lots of skin to skin contact and sleep whenever baby does. This will also help with the bonding process, which can help with symptoms of the baby blues or postpartum depression.
Plan Out Your Meals
A healthy diet is essential to healing in the postpartum period. What type of food you eat can affect breastfeeding, your postpartum body and your mental health. You shouldn’t have to worry about cooking during the first few weeks, so having prepared food ready should be an essential part of your postpartum plan.
Stocking the freezer with healthy meals is a common practice for many moms during the “nesting phase” of their pregnancy. This will ensure that you always have something hearty that can be ready with very little effort. Stock your pantry with healthy non-perishables that are easy to whip up, like canned meats or beans, soups, pasta, or instant oatmeal (great for boosting your milk supply.) Buy them little by little throughout your pregnancy so that you have a fully stocked pantry by the time baby arrives.
Create a list of some of your favorite healthy dishes that family and friends can cook and bring for you when they come to visit. The majority of people (especially veteran moms) love feeling helpful by bringing food, but you don’t want to end up with a bunch of casseroles that you’ll never touch. They don’t have to be full meals either, you can request some simple things like fresh fruit or vegetables, smoothies or sandwiches.
Or try a food delivery service. There are so many different ones available now. Many of them offer free dishes and trial periods which can hold you over during the postpartum period. Don’t forget to add gift cards to these services on your baby registry, they make great last minute or long-distance gift ideas.
Add in Light Exercise
Your postpartum body is very different than your pre-pregnancy one. Many moms are anxious to start dropping the baby weight and get back into shape, but postpartum fitness should be more about strength and wellness than weight loss. Once you’ve gotten the green light from your doctor or midwife, you can begin to add in light exercise to help your body recover from pregnancy and childbirth.
Focus on your pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles do the majority of the work when it comes to pregnancy, labor and delivery. During the postpartum period, they will need some work to get them back into shape and reduce the risk of pelvic pain, urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. There are several light exercises you can do to strengthen them, including Kegels and pelvic lifts. Or you can invest in a pelvic floor training device to do them with ease.
Try low-impact workouts, like yoga. Postpartum yoga is a popular option and some places even offer mom and baby classes. Walking or jogging is another great option for moms, with local stroller walking groups popping up all over the place. Any kind of light exercise will help get you feeling like yourself again. But until your body is fully healed, it’s a good idea to hold off on weight lifting or high-intensity workouts.
Monitor Your Mental Health
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are one of most common complications of childbirth. Even if you are low risk, there are chances that you could get postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis. This is something all mothers should be aware of and prepare for in their postpartum plan.
Keep track of changes in your moods and daily habits. If you feel less energy, are prone to rage and anger, become frustrated or cry easily and often, these could be warning signs that it’s more than just the baby blues. If you think that you are suffering from postpartum depression, perform a self assessment to help you see things more clearly.
Don’t stay silent about it. Speak up if you feel like something isn’t right. Tell your spouse, your mom or best friend. Talk to your doctor or midwife. Call a postpartum support helpline. There are several different options available and it’s better to get help sooner rather than later.
A postpartum plan should be designed with you and baby in mind. Just like with a birth plan, make sure to communicate what you want with those who will be supporting you in the first few months. And, also like a birth plan, bear in mind that things may not always go according to plan. Your labor and delivery will have a lot to do with your recovery process. Make sure to leave room for adjustments as needed. Most importantly, rest, relax, and get to know your new baby!