Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Whether this is your first baby or your fifth, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. We’ve all heard the “put your mask on before assisting the children with you” speech on an airplane. When it comes to postpartum care, the same is true. Taking care of others starts with taking care of yourself.
While a new baby is a wonderful gift, it’s also a huge responsibility. Most first-time parents overdo it right out of the gate and burn out quickly. Parents with other children at home tend to burn out from the juggling act of managing multiple children with a new baby. Rest assured, these five steps can go a long way toward helping new and veteran parents alike get through the postpartum period.
The number one postpartum pitfall is trying to do it all yourself. Friends and family often offer to help watch the baby, make meals, run errands, and even more. Do yourself a favor and let them. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If someone is offering to come and sit with the baby for a few hours so you can get some rest, let them! Take a shower, take a nap, take the time to meditate. Whatever you do, make it relaxing, so once they leave, you are revitalized and ready to go for your baby. If you have multiple children, ask for help getting the older kids to and from activities or events. Meal trains are a great new baby gift instead of a baby shower for parents with multiple children. So is a babysitting train. People can sign up to babysit for two-to-four hour time-slots managing the older kids during your new baby’s nap-time so both you and the baby can get some uninterrupted sleep.
Allowing friends and family to help gives them a sense of purpose, and it gives you a much-needed respite during those early days. The same idea also applies to older children in the family. Older children can help with younger siblings, change diapers, and possibly even help with meals. Before the new baby is born, make a plan with older children for chores and “baby duty” times. This preplanning gives older siblings a chance to step up and help and allows for the whole family to band together to welcome the newest member into your home and routines. Even young siblings can schedule “quiet time” to make pictures for the new baby or fold laundry while the baby and mom get some rest. Simple age-appropriate tasks will make siblings feel like an essential part of the family when a new member comes home.
The same is true when it comes to your partner. Luckily today, several companies offer maternity and paternity leave when a new baby enters the family. If that’s the case in your house, make sure you both take the time off from work and create a schedule where you can tag in and out with new baby shifts. If mom is breastfeeding and needs to do the night shift feedings, dad can help by letting mom sleep in or doing the changings and other baby duties to give mom a break. Working together to create a shared responsibility routine is an excellent way for both of you to have time to bond with your new baby and help one another out. Remember, you both created this new life together, so asking one another for help to get through the initial postpartum period is perfectly normal. Neither of you needs to don a superhero cap and manage it all alone.
All parents need to make sure to keep the postpartum appointments with their OB/Gyn and pediatrician as well as any additional appointments with lactation therapists or any other needed providers. These appointments are vital to both your health and wellbeing as well as that of your new child. Ideally, as things come up, write down any questions or concerns you might have and bring them to your appointments so you can get the help you need from your providers. It’s equally important for your partner to attend these appointments. Your partner will often have valuable insight, especially if there is a concern regarding postpartum depression*. New moms struggling with postpartum depression may not recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and brush this serious condition off as fatigue and hormonal changes. Having your partner actively involved in postpartum care can help providers detect and treat the issue much sooner. Postpartum depression can occur at any time after any new birth, even to mothers who’ve had previous pregnancies and deliveries. Be open with your providers and support system if you have any concerns.
If you need additional help, talk to your doctor about the availability of services, coaches, and providers in your area. Some new parents need nutrition help or meal services. Often doctors have a list of available resources of all types they can recommend to new parents. Suppose you are breastfeeding and have concerns about nutrition, latching, or anything else. In that case, you can get referred to a lactation consultant, nutritionist, or postpartum doula to help address and remedy any concerns. Remember, there is a massive network of people available to help during the postpartum period, all you have to do is ask.
When you have a new baby, you will likely struggle to get more than three hours of sleep at a time for at least the first six weeks. That lack of sleep will make tasks like meal planning and cooking feel huge. If possible, meal prep ahead of time. Make some healthy freezable meals before your due date so you can grab something healthy, reheat, and eat in little to no time at all. Eating healthy is especially important if you will be breastfeeding. You’ll need to make sure you’re eating well-balanced meals that provide good nutrition for both you and the baby. If people ask about gift ideas for the new baby, ask for a meal train. This way friends and family can deliver hot meals.
In some areas, there are businesses that make fresh, home-cooked meals and deliver them weekly. A simple internet search can help you find these resources. Many new parents worry about the cost of a program like this. However, when they compare it to the expense of eating out and grocery shopping, they find these services comparable with the added benefit of healthy choices, diverse menu selections, home delivery, and reheat and eat accessibility.
When you are sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, a great way to jump-start your mental health is to get outside. Take the baby for a walk around the block or sit outside in the garden for a bit. The natural vitamin D from the sun and being out in nature is a great way to wake you up, remind you there is life outside the four walls of your home, and give you a bit of exercise. This seemingly simple act can stave off depression, rejuvenate your energy resources, and help tire you and the baby out so that you both get better quality sleep at your next nap.
Having a new baby changes everything. For first-time parents, it can be overwhelming how much time a baby requires. Between the new routine and time demands and the postpartum hormonal changes, it can make parents lose sight of one another during those early days. Each parent must schedule some “me” time where their partner takes full baby duty responsibility so they can unwind and relax a bit. So, plan a postpartum massage, a haircut, a trip to the coffee shop with a friend, or anything that will make you feel good.
It’s also vital for both parents to schedule some “us” time where they can reconnect and unwind together. Hire a sitter, ask a friend or family member to watch the baby, and go out and do something as a couple. Try to keep discussions of the baby to a minimum. This time away is your time to reconnect and make your relationship a priority. Just because you have a family doesn’t mean it’s time to stop dating one another and making each other a priority.
Many couples who schedule “us” time early into the postpartum period find they communicate better about the baby and have an easier time adjusting to the new routine and time commitment that comes with a baby. By prioritizing their relationship, they have a better pulse on how their partner is doing, their needs, and their feelings. This allows them to communicate more effectively and create a partnered approach to parenting.
This step applies to both the parents and the baby. All new parents have likely heard the age-old advice “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Many new parents brush it off as old-school hogwash. If you ignore all the other advice provided in this article, don’t skip this one. Many new parents will use nap times to wash dishes, do a load or three of laundry, catch up on the most recent episodes of their favorite television program, respond to emails, or a whole host of other tasks that can wait.
I’ve even seen parents have family and friends come over to help with the baby and then don’t take advantage of the time to rest and instead play host and hostess to the guests. That defeats the point of asking for help. Taking naps may sound silly, but by the second or third week postpartum, you will be more sleep-deprived than you were in your early twenties when you could go all night multiple times a week with school, friends, and work.
The best way to stay rested is to actually rest. Get sleep whenever you can. It’s like the rule of pain management where you take your pain medication at the appropriately scheduled time to stay ahead of the pain. This helps people heal faster with less discomfort than people who chase their post-surgical pain with meds taken late. The same is true for sleeping after a new baby is born. If you nap when the baby naps, you’ll be much more rested and able to handle the demand a new baby brings. This self-care solution is the most overlooked across parents all around the country. For those parents who do nap when the baby naps, they tend to feel more awake even if only sleeping in a couple of hour segments, more productive during waking periods, and more emotionally attuned to the needs of their family, partner, and self. A well-rested parent is a prepared parent. The laundry, meals, emails, etc., can all be accomplished while the baby is awake. Taking the time to rest will also help you realize what tasks are a priority and which tasks can wait until later.
The first six weeks postpartum are an excellent time to get acquainted with your new baby and new routines. Take the necessary steps to set yourself up for success by planning ahead as much as possible, accepting help (and asking for it), getting rest, eating well, and creating some sacred time for yourself and your partner. Keeping these tips in mind will go a long way toward making it through the first 12 weeks postnatal for you and your family.
*If you feel you need more assistance or care for postpartum depression, please contact your medical provider immediately as they can ensure you get the proper help you need.