Your Post-Partum Plan
by Susan Miller
Labour and birth is a life changing experience and most couples spend a lot of time planning for this big event. Because every mother and every labour is different, many expectant couples write a birth plan to share their “hopes and wishes” with their caregivers. Typically however, couples have not spent much time discussing their expectations and planning for the immediate and early post-partum.
Most new parents have not anticipated the powerful dynamics of the first days and weeks with their new baby. There are many touching and precious moments when baby arrives, but there are real challenges and stresses too. New families often report that they had not fully comprehended how exhausting and emotionally overwhelming the post-partum could be. Planning ahead for the post-partum will help ease some of the stresses and concerns new families encounter.
Times have changed since grandma was having her babies. Today hospital stays are much shorter and mothers and babies together need to have a healthy recovery from the birth process and a successful start with breastfeeding. Partners are expected to play an active role in supporting the mother and learning to care for the baby too. All of this has changed the way we approach the early post-partum days. As well, our growing knowledge about the needs and behaviours of the sensitive newborn has resulted in the incorporation of specific “baby-friendly” practices. Using these practices, babies can have a more positive adaptation to the outside world which translates into a calmer baby who feeds well and cries less.
There are four major areas that need to be considered when planning for your post-partum. First and foremost the new family needs peace, rest and privacy. They also need a constant supply of satisfying, nutritious food. Thirdly, the new family needs knowledge, support and resources to help them learn to care for their new baby. And finally they need help with the everyday chores and the running of the household.
Here are some of the highlights of what expectant families can do to plan for a smooth and satisfying post-partum. Not all items on this list will apply or appeal to every family. Use this list as a starting point for discussion and planning with your partner and post-partum helpers.
Peace, Rest and Privacy. The arrival of a new baby is cause for celebration and it’s natural for family and friends to want to gather around to welcome the newest member. No matter how baby was born, having numerous excited visitors in the delivery room right after birth is exhausting for the mother and father, and stressful and distracting to the sensitive newborn. When there are no immediate medical concerns for mother or baby, it is best for the newborn to have quiet and continuous skin-to-skin contact with its mother for the first six hours after birth. Passing a bundled baby from person to person for photos is ignoring the needs of the sensitive newborn at this time.
It is also wise to severely limit visitors during the short post-partum hospital stay or the first few days after a homebirth. Of course the baby’s grandparents, siblings and your very close friends will want to visit at this time. These visitors should only stay for about 10 minutes and should visit only once per day. It is best to let all other family and friends know ahead of time that you will not be offended if they do not visit you in the first two days. Families who have the benefit of uninterrupted time with their newborns in the hospital have more opportunities to learn to feed and care for their baby. Baby is more relaxed and adapted to her new world, and parents go home feeling more rested and confident.
Once home, the new family will still need every opportunity for rest and privacy. This is a very intimate and special bonding time for the new family and is often referred to as “the babymoon.” Put in these terms, it may be easier for out-of-town grandparents to understand that they should not arrive to stay during “the babymoon” period. Some families find that a “Welcome Baby” party is a good way to have family and friends meet their new child. Plan this for a weekend afternoon one or two weeks after you are home. Keep it simple and short, and ask others to do the organizing for you.
Food and More Food! New families need lots of satisfying nutritious food. New parent stresses along with sleep deprivation are best handled on a full stomach. Breastfeeding moms need lots of good food to support the production of milk, and new dads are always hungry anyway. Have a food plan in place:
• Fill your freezer ahead of time with pre-made meals such as soups, casseroles and stews that will last you at least a couple of months.
• Have a stock of canned goods and staples along with the corresponding easy-to-prepare recipes.
• Create a list of quick nutritious snack foods to purchase such as nuts, fruits, yogurt, cheeses, raw vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals and crackers. Ask a friend to go out and pick these up for you when needed.
• Collect take-out menus from local restaurants for those really crazy days.
• Ask family and friends to bring you meals or satisfying snacks such as muffins in the early days or beyond.
Parenting Knowledge and Confidence. Even if this is not your first baby, you will have questions since every baby is different. Before your baby is born think where you will go for support and advice. There are plenty of excellent books and websites for up-to-date information. You will also want to know who can provide breastfeeding support. Other new parents can be a wealth of information and will often validate what you are experiencing. Your public health nurse can provide you with a lot of information about common parenting questions and concerns. Do not hesitate to call your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns about your own health or your baby’s.
Running Your Household. When you have a new baby there’s not much time to do housework and chores. The general approach is to do the minimum to maintain sanity. At this time in your life, caring for yourself and your new baby is more important than upholding a standard of perfection. If family or friends are willing to come over to vacuum and clean the bathroom, this is a bonus. Having a clean and orderly house has a big influence on how some new moms feel. Know if this is your situation and plan for household help in the early days if needed. If you have the time and energy, do a “super-clean” before your baby is born. Another great strategy is to de-clutter your home so there is less to maintain. Simplify your life and committments so you are free to care for and enjoy your baby and get the rest you need.
Susan Miller, R.N. BScN, is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor. She works with prenatal and post-natal families in the Greater Victoria area and is the proud grandmother of Meredith born in July 2008.