Having a baby is a tremendous life transition. Most couples prepare for this transition by reading books about pregnancy and birth, taking childbirth education courses, and discussing the myriad of options for the accompanying baby gear. However, having the best postpartum experience possible involves more than just making decisions about the proper gear to buy and which set of grandparents get to visit first.
Eighty percent of women experience some sort of postnatal mood disorder, the mildest of which is called the "baby blues". Symptoms of the baby blues include weepiness, sadness and anxiety, and these negative emotions can last for the first several weeks of the new baby's life. With proper preparation, the majority of women can avoid the baby blues.
Everyone comes with pre-conceived notions of how life with a new baby "ought" to be. Women spend the pregnancy imagining their sweet little bundle of joy's hair, eyes, nose, tiny fingers and even tinier toes. It is difficult, if not impossible, to truly anticipate how different life after baby will be. Having the proper expectations of yourself as a mother, as a wife, and as a housekeeper will be key. Understand that the housework will be put on the back burner - it will not be a priority, nor should it be. In those first few weeks postpartum, life will be a whirlwind, and you will be amazed at how the hours in a day can fly past in a blur of baby needs. Do not expect to accomplish anything, and when you have a free moment, spend your time on activities that rejuvenate you - a hot bath, reading a few pages from a good book, a NAP.
Do not expect your partner to know what to do for you or the baby automatically. If you're hungry, ask for something to eat. If you are out of those little onesies because of the incredible amount of fluid a baby can eject from all orifices, ask him to toss in a load of laundry (and don't complain when they are not folded into the perfect tiny mounds in the brand new dresser, like you had them when you folded them over and over during your pregnancy because they were so cute... and tiny). If the baby just ate and needs to be burped or changed, Daddy can handle it. Hand over the baby and don't hover over his shoulder sharing your critique of how he's doing. He'll figure it out, and baby will survive - even if the diaper is on backwards.
Do not expect your baby to eat on a schedule based on the clock, or sleep for five hours in a row. Breastfed babies eat every 1.5 to two hours, and all babies wake frequently. Sometimes baby will want to nurse again, and it will seem like you just got done. Hold your baby. Feed your baby. Expect baby to need you constantly. That's what babies do, and yours is perfect.
Support is an incredibly important part of the postpartum recovery. The last thing you need is criticism, when you are still trying to get the hang of the whole baby and mothering routine. If your mother or mother-in-law does not support your choices, don't invite them to stay for a week as soon as the baby is born. There will be plenty of time for Grandma to bond with the new little sweetheart in three weeks when you are getting a bit more sleep, are more confident in your abilities, and when you have gotten to know what this new little person needs at any given time. Surround yourself with people who will help build your confidence and the budding relationship with your child, not undermine it.
A babymoon is a wonderful way to get the support and help you need in the first weeks postpartum. There are native tribes who have a wonderful tradition of keeping the mother sequestered with her baby for 40 days, and she is not allowed to do any work other than tend to her newborn. The pair is completely cared for by the other women in the tribe. While our modern lives do not provide us the luxury of a full 40 days, there are things we can do to simulate this support.
Choose a period of time for your babymoon; one week would be great, two would be even better. Make it clear that you will not be entertaining visitors during this time (no, not even Grandma). Visitors are allowed to come for brief visits if they understand that they are there to help you, not just to ooh and aah over the baby. Visitors can bring meals - feel free to leave them by the door, thank you. Come on in and do a load of laundry, thank you. Yes, there are dishes piled in the sink, we'd really appreciate a hand with those, thank you. I've got the baby, thank you.
Practicing Attachment Parenting (AP) not only helps the postpartum period go more smoothly, it will help make parenting easier overall. Attachment parenting means responding to your baby's cues instead of trying to fit the baby into your routine and schedule. Newborns can not manipulate their parents; they can only communicate their needs. Responding to those needs will make baby happier, it will reduce your stress, and it will build your confidence as a mother and caregiver. Wear your baby - holding baby close is comforting to you both, and there are numerous health benefits for the baby as well. Invest in a comfortable sling; it is one of the truly indispensable pieces of baby gear that you should not be without. There are many other tenants of AP, and a great resource for more information is Attachment Parenting International.
Breastfeeding is not only the best nutrition for your baby, but it also releases wonderful "happy hormones" during the nursing process. It makes mama feel good, it makes baby feel good. Providing for your baby's nutritional needs with milk that is made perfectly for them by your own body helps build confidence in yourself, and your ability to care for your baby. The close physical connection during nursing, eye contact and skin contact all help with bonding. If you are worried about being unable to nurse your baby, there are many fabulous lactation professionals in your community that would be happy to help you when the baby is born. They will take as much time as necessary to ensure that you and your baby are working together for a positive breastfeeding experience. If you do not breastfeed, you can still take advantage of feeding as a bonding experience by holding your baby close, maintaining eye contact, and promoting skin-to-skin contact.
There are many resources available that will help you breastfeed successfully. You can even download an entire eBook on the subject.
Sleep deprivation is a fact of life after the baby is born. If you are used to getting a solid eight hours of sleep, adjusting to life with less can be difficult. But it can be harmful to just accept a total lack of sleep. Fatigue is the leading indicator for the development of postpartum depression later down the road. Fatigue has also been linked to postpartum psychosis. Adequate rest is an absolute necessity.
Do whatever it takes to make sure you are getting at least one four-hour stretch of sleep every single night. Your partner will play a key role in making this happen for you. Your baby will likely not sleep for four straight hours, and even if it does happen, the stars must align perfectly for you to both fall asleep simultaneously and sleep the same length of time. So, enlist your partner's help. Your partner can take over baby duties while you rest during the night. Feed your baby right before you are ready to lie down, even if you need to wake them to do so. Your need for rest is important too. Expressed breastmilk can be given to the baby if they wake hungry. If you don't want to use bottles so early in the nursing relationship, babies are able to slurp milk from a cup.
Sleeping with your baby will give you more rest throughout the night, but it is difficult for mothers to sleep once the baby wakes up. Plan to sleep separate from baby for this one part of the night.
Your partner can sleep with the baby in a separate room, or you can sleep in another room of the house that is comfortable and quiet for you. Once you wake from your four-hour rest, you can return to the family bed and sleep with your baby for the rest of the night. The first few weeks, plan on sleeping when the baby sleeps. If you have never been a "napper", now is a great time to discover the joys of crashing out during daylight hours.
Just because your baby has arrived does not mean that your physical needs disappear, even though they may be pushed onto a different schedule. Make time to eat. Plan on your baby waking up as soon as you sit down to a meal, so make sure your microwave is working. Wearing your baby can make meal times easier - come to the table with your baby in the sling. They will stay happier for longer, allowing you to finish eating. Plan in advance, and have meals stored up in the freezer. Businesses such as Dream Dinners can help make this a snap - you spend a couple of hours there and prepare a variety of delicious meals that are frozen, then thawed and prepared when you need them.
Enlist the help of friends and family - designate a particular person to be in charge of meals. That person can call your friends and set up a schedule for meals, so you have a fresh meal arriving at your house around dinner time each night (and it saves you from having to call and ask, which may be awkward for you). Have a supply of meal replacement bars on hand - they should not be your main mode of nutrition, but if you have not had time to fix lunch, you're starving and the baby needs to eat, you can grab one of them and a bottle of water and head to the couch.
Products such as Super Greens have fabulous nutrition that your body needs and will help you stay healthy and nourished. Drink adequate amounts of water; not coffee, not juice, not soda - water. It is easy to become dehydrated, particularly if you are breastfeeding.
Continue taking your prenatal vitamin after the baby comes, for as long as you are nursing. Use the placenta to help with your postpartum recovery. Your own placenta, made into capsules, is incredibly nutritious and beneficial to you. Women who take their placenta capsules tend to have better postpartum experiences, avoid the baby blues, have an increase in energy, and an increase in milk production. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used placenta for centuries to treat issues such as fatigue and insufficient lactation, and scientific studies have bolstered the use of placenta for these conditions. Using the placenta for your postpartum recovery is a very easy and natural way to help you feel better after the birth.
Motherhood is an amazing time in our lives, but it is a major transition and can be stressful. Be prepared, make use of every available resource (even the unconventional ones), and the stress of this time will be reduced. Every baby wants a happy mama, and your family deserves the best of you.
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