More Than Just Survive the Postpartum Period

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Realistic Expectations

Before I had kids, I imagined the bliss of a happy couple and a sleeping baby, just like you see in the diaper commercials. Then I started working as a Mother/Baby nurse as an impressionable 22 year old and that fantasy was quickly shattered. Nothing usually goes as planned during birth, there is a new kind of pain you’ve never experienced before, and now you are leaking from places you didn’t know existed before; mix that in with lack of sleep, a huge dose of hormones, a rapid shift in life as you know it, and suddenly you can create tension between partners. Don’t despair! After working with new moms and babies for many years, having my own three little ones, and helping countless friends, I know there are ways you can set yourself up for success. I want you to thrive, and with these practical tips I believe you can!

1. Make a Plan Before Baby arrives

I cannot stress enough how vital postpartum support is. This is something I am so passionate about. I dream that one day every single mom and baby in this country will get the postpartum support they deserve. I had one very traumatic delivery/recovery, one very easy and amazing delivery/recovery, and one somewhere in between. The range of help I needed after each one varied, so it is always good to be prepared! Call on family members, neighbors, coworkers, and people from your church if you attend. You will be surprised how many people are happy to help you after a new baby. Talk to your partner about realistic expectations and warning signs they should be aware of. Make a plan in which the whole family has support.

If you are planning on breastfeeding, fill out this form ahead of time to find out what your insurance covers for lactation support. Some insurance companies will cover 6 in-home visits at no cost to you! If it fits in your budget, postpartum doulas are also amazing for help with recovery. It is a great idea to ask for a gift card for one of these services while you are registering for baby items!

2. Supply preparation

There is not much you truly need before having a baby, so I always try to keep it simple. Here are a few personal products you may want to have before your baby arrives:

Reusable Hot/Cold Packs

These have so many uses! First, the ice is great for swelling, tearing or episiotomy recovery, and hemorrhoid discomfort after a vaginal delivery. These also feel great on c-section incisions. (Also, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but sometimes c-section moms can have some of the above issues, too, so it is best to be prepared). When your milk first comes in, there is so much inflammation; ice can help with that initial engorgement. Heat is great for postpartum cramps and contractions as your uterus shrinks back to pre-pregnancy size. It also works great to relieve clogged ducts and get milk flowing after the initial engorgement has passed. The best part is that you can remove the cover, throw it in the wash, and keep using the hot/cold pack over and over again! I have kept mine through all three kids and it was a life saver.

Nursing Pillow

If you plan to breastfeed, this can make a huge difference! Even if you are not breastfeeding, it works great to assist with tummy time in the early weeks. Don’t fret, though, if this is not in your budget. Your nurses can show you how to use regular pillows to give you good support while nursing your baby.

Nipple Butter

This is a must if you are planning to breastfeed! Even if you aren’t, this cream feels great when your milk comes in and can help to prevent cracking during engorgement. I am going to let you in on a little secret—coconut oil is the best nipple butter (as long as there are not coconut allergies in the family). Save your time and money with this hack, as you probably already have coconut oil in your pantry.

Depends

I’m going to just say it, I hated the mesh panties they give you in the hospital. They are awkward and the massive pad they give you never wants to stick. These adult diapers are great that first week postpartum! Again, this is just a suggestion. If it is not in your budget, the hospital will make sure you are all set before you go home. Make sure whatever you use is unscented, though, as you don’t want to cause any irritation.

Nutritious Meals

These are so important! This brings us to my next point:

3. Food preparation

Something that was a huge help after each of our children was a meal train. When someone texts you that they want to bring you a meal while you’re in the throes of post partum, you can just send them the link! This saves you from having to coordinate while you are in the middle of taking care of a newborn because all of the questions are already answered by you ahead of time (think meal preferences, dates, preferred dinner time, etc.). My mom made me this amazing soup when I was postpartum, and it was so nourishing to my body and soul. Prepping a few meals in advance and then freezing them can be very helpful as well. 

4. Rest!

I know everyone tells you this, but rest is vital for recovery. Even if it is just for 2-3 hours, hand the baby to someone you trust, turn on the white noise, and try to get some uninterrupted sleep. Something my husband and I did that worked for us during the newborn phase was taking shifts. I like to go to bed early and wake up early, while he is a night owl who likes to sleep in. I would go to bed around 8:00 p.m. and he would listen for the baby until 1:00 a.m. Then, he went to bed and I would get up with the baby until morning, usually getting in a quick nap when he got up for work. Communication and expectations are so helpful in find what works for your family while maximizing rest and recovery.

5. Call in the Professionals

With my first baby I loved going to breastfeeding support groups. However, with my second baby, I had surgery at 5 days postpartum and couldn’t drive. Plus, I was in too much pain to take the baby out and socialize. Baby #3 was a Covid baby, so we weren’t really leaving our house, and it was so amazing to have my friends at Central Alabama Lactation Services come take care of us. We are all experienced nurses and can answer questions or show you our best tips and tricks. One of my babies had jaundice, requiring home phototherapy, and it was wonderful to have a nurse come to our home everyday to check his levels and make sure everything was going well. You can read all of the books and blogs, but there is no substitute for having someone physically position your baby for breastfeeding, demonstrate positions for gas relief, help with swaddling for sleep, or all of the other countless things we Google at 3:00 a.m.! 

6. Prioitize Mental Health

It is realistic to expect a heightened sense of anxiety in the postpartum period. These survival instincts are how our ancestors knew to keep their babies close to protect from harm. However, there is a difference between “baby blues” and postpartum anxiety/depression. Please reach out to a medical professional if you have any concerns. Talk to your partner or a trusted friend and ask them to be aware of the signs and encourage you to get help if needed. If you talk to one doctor and do not get the support you need, don’t hesitate to get a second or even third opinion. There are instances where medication is necessary for treatment. Therapy can also be extremely helpful; one good thing to come out of the pandemic is that more people are talking about mental health and there are more options than ever for support. Finally, know that it is okay to feed and change your baby, lay them on their back in their crib, and walk away even if they are crying. It is not selfish or weak to seek help. You deserve to feel your best, and your baby deserves a healthy and happy mom. My hope for you is to not only survive, but to thrive while postpartum!

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