Why You Might Want to Consider Creating a Postpartum Plan
Most pregnant women know the term “birth plan.” Many women and their partners research and consult with their friends, families and care providers for months, honing the details of what they will write in their birth plan -- what their ideal birth experience will look like. The birth of a child is a life-changing experience, and the way a woman is treated while giving birth can affect her physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the rest of her life. So knowing our preferences before giving birth (as a birth doula I hesitate to use the word “plan” because you cannot plan birth, though you can prepare for it) is very important. It is good for parents to know what coping mechanisms, interventions, medications, etc. they are and are not comfortable with before labor begins, so that when it comes time to make a decision, they are informed and prepared. But something that I believe is equally important, and often neglected, is thinking about what life will be like after the baby arrives. What happens when you come home from the hospital or birth center, or when the midwives pack up and leave and you’re left to begin navigating life with this new little creature?
Our culture is so wrapped up in the idea of “bouncing back” that many mothers don’t give themselves time or permission to truly recover from the amazing and beautiful, but really hard work of giving birth. We want to be seen as strong and selfless, so we get out of bed and greet visitors, and try to keep up with dishes. We start exercising right at six weeks because that’s the arbitrary time-frame we’re given to be “ready,” and we’ve got to fit back in those pre-pregnancy jeans. The internet is full of articles praising the newest celebrity to give birth and get right back on the runway or behind the camera looking as glamorous as ever. I believe we are not made to bounce, especially after bringing new life into the world. We are made to sit or lie down and feed our babies and smell their heads and sleep and be fed. In other cultures, the idea of caring for a new mom and allowing her the time and space to truly recover and bond with her new baby is something that is built in.
Unfortunately, we are not always surrounded by family who are able and willing to help, or we have no choice but to return to work very soon after giving birth. Self-care as a mother is not going to just happen, so it helps to make a plan. Most of us no longer live in that “village” that would come together to care for each other. So we have to build our own.
So what might be part of your postpartum plan? The guiding principle, I believe, should be gentleness. Be gentle with yourself as you imagine how soon you will be able to receive visitors. Be gentle with yourself as you imagine how long it will really take you to get back to housework or exercise. And most of all be gentle with yourself if it turns out you’re not able to do what you thought you would be able to. Practically, here are some steps for creating a postpartum plan:
- Sit down before your baby arrives and talk with your partner, or whoever you might have around for support, about what kinds of household duties he or she will be responsible for and what they expect you to be able to do. If their expectations don’t line up with what you think is realistic, talk about that.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to people. If people want to visit and you don’t feel up for it, be honest. If you feel your baby is being passed around from grandparent to aunt to grandparent to cousin too much, feel free to remind them that this could be overstimulating for the baby or simply that you are ready to have the baby back in your own arms. Most people will not be offended.
Consider setting up a meal service where friends and family can sign up to provide meals for your family for a few weeks after the baby is born. If you truly don’t have friends and family nearby, consider stocking your freezer with pre-prepared meals or setting aside room in the budget for ordering takeout once or twice a week.
If you have a partner who will not be able to take time off work, think about what kind of support you could have in place during those first weeks. Or if your partner will have to return to work after a couple weeks, who can you have to help you when that happens? If you have the resources, a postpartum doula can be a great help. If not, consider asking a friend or family member to pop in every couple days and tidy up or do the dishes or clean the bathroom or make a meal. People want to help; they often just don’t know how or don’t want to intrude.
Think about what kinds of things you need each day in order to “feel like a person.” Do you need to have a cup of tea or coffee? Do you need time to shower? Time set aside for prayer or meditation? Think about the things that you need now in order to not feel “on edge.” Talk to your partner or support person about how to make sure you are able to get those things after the baby is born. Sometimes this can be just a matter of a mother feeling that she has permission (from herself and her supporters) to ask for that time.
If you have to return to work right away, is there some way that you can schedule more rest into your time while at home? Again, try forgetting about housework and cooking, realizing that this is just a season and that your most important work is caring for your and your baby’s immediate physical and emotional needs.
Don’t forget about your partner! Your partner did not go through the physical process of giving birth, but he or she did undergo a transformation. Partner also lose sleep and have emotional changes to process. Make sure you are both listening to each other so that you can both get what you need to feel human and to be able to parent well. Both of you might not get everything you want or need every day, but if you are practicing listening to each other, you will probably both feel more refreshed and strengthened.
And again, remember gentleness -- gentleness with yourself, gentleness with your baby (he or she has gone through a lot and also has a lot of learning to do in these first months and years), and gentleness with your partner. Be sure that you have permission from yourself and those around you to say how you’re feeling and what you need, even if those needs are different from what you expected or are different from what they were yesterday.
Remember that the postpartum period is not over after six weeks. You might not even feel ready to get back to “normal” life after the end of the fourth trimester (the first three months of your baby’s life). So don’t be afraid to get the rest and help you need for as long as you need it. I hope these have been helpful thoughts as you consider how to care for yourself and baby.