Preparing for a new baby is exciting and stressful. As soon-to-be new mothers, we create baby registries, read books, and take hospital tours and birthing classes. Most of our focus is on getting everything baby will need and preparing for labor.
But there's a crucial component missing from our preparation, and it's not our fault. New moms just don't know about it yet...postnatal care for ourselves. We've all heard about labor, but there's very little talk about the recovery phase. My guess is because we're worried we'd make a mom-to-be nervous or terrified for the "aftermath" in the weeks following childbirth. I know I try to be mindful of how I advise a pregnant mom of things to consider.
Three weeks before I delivered my daughter, a dear friend sent me an email with the subject “Read Only When You’re Ready”. It was all postpartum FYIs and suggestions. I felt nervous and scared about giving birth, and was NOT ready to hear what follows. Literally two days after being home with newborn Sophie, I text that dear friend with “S.O.S. resend that email!”
I learned so many helpful ways to care for myself after labor and delivery. When I delivered my son three years later, I was ready! But found I didn’t expect managing the new element of baby + preschooler! Other moms have learned these tips and tricks from having baby #1, #2, or beyond. I rallied the mama troops, and we together made a checklist of Mama Postnatal Considerations! Read this when you’re ready, and know you have a Village within FIT4MOM to support you along the way.
The Big Picture
Mama, you are R E C O V E R I N G from giving birth. Whether you had a vaginal or C-section delivery, you will be sore, tired, and need to heal. This is challenging to do because there’s a newborn baby in the picture.
You’ll get lots of advice, often unsolicited. Do what feels right for you, your baby, and your family. Take what you want, and toss the rest. ;) You Do You, Mama.
Expect to your emotions to be all over the map during the first two weeks. You may cry one moment and be elated the next.
Be mindful of signs of postpartum baby blues or depression/anxiety. Your partner may see these signs before you. Let them make you an appointment with your medical provider to get you the help you need to feel better.
One in 7 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers experience postpartum depression or anxiety. Only 15% get the help they need. Know you’re not alone, not to blame, and can feel better with the right help.
You may experience postpartum night sweats, which means you may wake up soaked with wet sheets during the night. Keep an extra sheet, another set of pajamas, and baby powder by your bed. Wash yourself off with a washcloth, sprinkle baby powder all over yourself, and change your jammies. Put the new sheet atop the wet sheets so you don’t have to climb back into a wet bed.
Breastfeeding is a lot harder than it seems. Seek help from hospital nurses and Lactation Consultants to learn nursing positions. Have them help check baby’s latch around your nipple. Lactation Consultants are available at UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health and the Women’s Birth and Wellness Center.
If breastfeeding, prepare for your painful nipples for about 10-14 days. Ease this pain by airing your breasts between feedings (mama, just go topless at home); use Nipple Shield for Sore Nipples when you wear clothes (it keeps your nipples away from the clothing); rub nipple cream, coconut oil, or extra virgin olive oil on your nipples between feedings.
Have a nursing pillow in every room you nurse (living room, your bedroom, baby’s nursery). Don’t buy 3, just borrow extras from other mamas! My Breast Friend is a mama favorite. It clips around your back so you position it where you want it to stay and gives you a free hand. Cesarean mamas, the My Breast Friend nursing pillow may hurt your incision. Use a Boppy Nursing Pillow until your incision line heals, then you may want to try a My Breast Friend. Do the same strategy with your Boppy (one for every room where you nurse).
Check out My Milkies to catch dripping milk.
Lady Parts & Core
Caring for your lady parts takes new products you probably haven’t used before. Buy these ahead of time to have ready at home. You’ll get them at the hospital, but it helps to have them ready at home too. These products include: perineal irrigation bottle (you'll squirt warm water on your lady parts after you urinate), perineal ice pack (this will be your pads for a while. The cold from the ice helps reduce swelling), Tucks medicated pads (you'll put 3-4 side-by-side on your perineal ice pack or giant sanitary pad. My husband called this making Subway’s "The Cold Cut Trio", LOL!), lidocaine spray (it's a numbing spray to help relieve the soreness), hemorrhoid cream (you can squirt it right on of of the tuck pads on that Cold Cut Trio you just made).
This is a sitz bath. You'll get one at the hospital. Take it home with you and aim to use it 2-3 times a day for 15-20 minutes each time. The warm water increases blood flow to the perineal area. This can promote faster healing. A sitz bath also relieves itching, irritation, and minor pain.
Your core muscles will be weak and sore. A postpartum support belt can help a lot. The purpose of this belt is to support your core and low back. There are lots of choices. I found this one worked fine for me. Buy it in a few sizes, as you’ll transition from larger to smaller sizes over your postpartum weeks.
New Mama Life Hacks
Keep a journal or set your phone alarm to stay on track with your pain medication. Your body will tell you when it needs another dose, but it’s helpful to not get this point by taking what’s prescribed every 4-6 hours.
Need to track breastfeeding or diapering? There’s an app for that.
Big water jugs with a straw. Put them everywhere you might nurse or feed the baby. You'll get one at the hospital. Ask for another, and take it home too!
Make a basket in every bathroom you use with the following items: mesh undies or Depends, perineal ice packs, sanitary pads, Tucks pads, squirt bottles, hemorrhoid cream, nipple cream. It's like home decorating...for your lady bits. "Welcome to my house, please help yourself to a perineal pack or tuck pad."
Consider an easy-install handicap toilet seat cover. The fewer inches to squat to the toilet, the better for now.
Pre-order ready-made family dinners from Whole Foods or The Root Cellar.
Hire a cleaning company.
Hire a baby nurse or postpartum doula. This is far from indulgent or lazy, but imperative and could save your sanity by restoring your severely depleted sleep bank. Local agencies like Triangle Mothercare and Emerald Doulas offer daytime and nighttime help. These are trained caregivers who help with all baby duties, from diapering, sleep training, washing, food prep, etc.
Buy a new bathrobe with pockets, button down or nursing jammies, nursing bra, nursing tanks, large lounge pants, button or zip hoodies,
Use dry shampoo (in lieu of an actual shower, this makes your hair look fab!)
Use facial cleansing pads to feel refreshed
Get a postnatal massage. Your shoulder, upper back, and chest muscles will be sore from holding and feeding your baby (not to mention recovering from pregnancy and giving birth)
Schedule a hair appointment for 6-8 weeks after birth. Have a friend come with you to hold the baby while you get your mama pamper on!
Have everyone/anyone who says, “How can I help?” actually do something useful. Ask them to bring your family a meal, vacuum your living room, fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, take out the trash, etc. Even better, have a “Please Help Us” list on display in the kitchen with any/all chores listed.
You can say NO to visitors. If you can’t, tell your spouse they are “No Visitor Duty”. If someone is bringing your family a meal, ask them to leave it on the porch and text you when it’s there. Trust us, if it’s another mother, she knows now is not the time to visit and hold the baby. You may be getting a precious nap during this time.
You can even say No Visitors while you are in the hospital. There’s plenty of time for baby snuggles and visiting when you are home and settled. It’s completely fine to let the hospital time allow for your new little family to rest and get care from your medical providers.
You don’t need to wait until your 6-week postpartum check to seek help from your medical provider if you need it. It’s completely fine to call and get an appointment if you experience pain or discomfort you’re concerned about. It’s okay to be a pitbull for your own care.
At your 6-week postpartum check up, ask your doctor to check your core for diastasis recti. Also ask about a referral for a physical therapist if you need to strengthen your pelvic floor. You may find you urinate when exercise. This can be discouraging and frustrating. The good news is your pelvic floor is a muscle and can strengthen.
If baby #2 or beyond, have playdates or childcare arranged for your older child(ren). And by “playdate”, we mean your child goes to someone else’s house without you there. Who cares if they go in their jammies without their hair or teeth brushed. After a long night with a newborn, caring for your toddler or older kids can be nearly impossible.
If older children attend school, line up carpools. And by “carpools”, we mean you do neither pick up for drop off. You’ll have plenty of time down the road to do your share.
Slow down. Let yourself snuggle your baby all day if you want. Let yourself live in the living room watching movies with your preschooler and tending to the baby. This phase of motherhood is exhausting, but it will pass.
Becoming a mother is life-changing in so many ways. So much attention and care goes to your baby, which makes sense as the new baby is completely helpless. Your mental, emotional, and physical well-being is vital for you and your new family to thrive.
Congratulations, & welcome to the tribe, Mama!