Birth is just the beginning.
Of course birth and birth planning is important. The day you give birth will be one you remember for the rest of your life. But it is just one day of your child’s life and it is just the beginning of your parenting journey. This is why you might want a postnatal plan as well as a birth plan. The first six weeks with your baby are likely to be some of the most intense of your life. It’s really normal for the time to feel like it is going so slowly and this newborn phase is going on forever when you’re going through it. Then to wonder where the time went as soon as you reach 8 weeks and look back now your baby has made themselves at home in your life. As the saying goes the days are long but the years are short.
Don’t worry this isn’t one of those trite exhortations to love and cherish every hard moment. This is an encouragement that if you feel the length of these days you are not alone and there is support available and it’s okay to look after yourself too.
So what is a postnatal plan exactly?
Just like a birth plan a postnatal plan is a list of things you can and will do to help yourself. It’s also a list of things those supporting and caring for you can and should do. Like with labour and birth there are certain challenges to being a new parent and these challenges can be managed in several different ways. Different things will help different people and your decisions are right for you. However, it’s much easier to see and think clearly about what will help you when you’re not already sleep deprived. So a postnatal plan is a list of things you may need support with and your choices for the form that support will take.
What should be on your postnatal plan?
- Ways to look after yourself. Things that help you feel relaxed and cared for. Plan for keeping yourself hydrated and nourished. This might mean creating a snack station with plenty of easy to eat but nutritious food (like these yummy chocolate balls for example) and a big water bottle. It also includes making someone (your partner or your mum or your postnatal doula for example) responsible for making sure that it stays topped up. So it’s always there for you when you sit down to feed your baby or when you get a moment between your baby falling asleep and you joining them. Plan for what you will do when someone else is holding your baby (knowing that babies rarely like to be put down for long). Will you have a shower, or take a walk around the block by yourself or do some meditation or relaxation? This can be anything that you already know will restore you mentally. Planning to make those things your priority and knowing that they are important will help avoid the temptation to let other things (like filling the dishwasher) steal your time.
- Know you need to be looked after and be prepared to accept help. Our culture has tended to leave us believing strong people can manage everything themselves but we’re really not biologically designed to parent alone and unsupported. We all need our tribe, accepting help and support actually makes you stronger. Really getting that into our heads is one thing that can help us keep our mental health good during this time of new parenthood. Your postnatal plan can include a list of tasks that you will feel better if they are done so that those who visit can read through and pick a task to do while they are there. Plan to sleep when your baby sleeps and clean when your baby cleans (one way to do that is to get yourselves a sling and any time you really feel something needs doing you can do it and baby can keep on having a cuddle which is every baby’s second priority – feeding being their first).
- Make a list of all the places you can go for support when you need some. The people you can message or call any time of day or night to say is this normal? It’s especially common to need help and support with getting breastfeeding established. Breastfeeding promotion sometimes makes it seem like it’s the most natural thing in the world and everyone can do it easily. But really the majority of people need some support to get breastfeeding established. Sometimes that’s peer support, just people who have been there and done it and can offer encouragement. But often it’s also professional support. Knowing where to find a local breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant and having their number in your postnatal plan will help you remember that it’s normal to need help and you know where to go for it. Check our post on breastfeeding suport to help you make sure you’re finding good quality supporters.
Would you like some help and support making and carrying out your postnatal plan? Pop over to our find a doula page and book a postnatal doula.
It’s not unusual to feel sad about birth memories especially when you compare to how you hoped it would be.
If it’s too late for you to make use of our birth planning tips because your baby has already been born then you might be looking back on your birth and loving the memories. If you are please do go along to your local positive birth group or join tell me a good birth story as a buddy. Share your positive story to help change the narrative pregnant women are hearing.
If things didn’t go according to your birth plan you might be feeling more mixed feelings or the feelings could be overwhelmingly negative. Please know that mixed feelings and feeling disappointed or guilty or traumatised are completely normal and legitimate feelings to have after a difficult birth.
Bottling up the way you feel about your labour and birth because you and baby are alive so you don’t like to complain is not going to help you feel better in the long term. You matter too, your mental and physical health are just as important as anyone else’s and how you were treated and how that made you feel is one of those things that can stay with you for the rest of your life if you don’t find a way to process and make sense of it.
Birth trauma and PTSD
Sometimes birth experiences are so difficult that women can develop post-traumatic stress. This can sometimes be miss diagnosed as (as well as often happening alongside) postnatal depression. Often women don’t seek help for it even though the symptoms such as panic attacks and flashbacks can be really overwhelming. But just as with postnatal depression it’s time we change the stigma that prevents women from seeking help.
If your birth felt traumatic to you for any reason reach out and talk about it. Talk to your midwife if you’re still seeing her or to your health visitor or GP or refer yourself to your local support service such as italk in much of Hampshire. Talking change in Portsmouth and Steps2wellbeing in Southampton. Another place you can find information and support is through the birth trauma association. There’s also an ever-growing list of resources on the make birth better website.
There are lots of options for support and treatment explore your options and pick the one that works for you and please don’t be reluctant to try something else if the first thing you try isn’t helpful.
A birth debrief is a service that some experienced midwives offer (and sometimes other professionals such as counselors). It is often taken up by women who are pregnant for a second time and realise they aren’t happy about what happened last time they had a baby. But it can be helpful to some people at any stage post birth. Contact the hospital where you had your baby and ask if they offer this if you feel you have questions about what happened during your labour, birth or postnatal hospital stay, you don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant again.
Not traumatic just disappointing.
But even when birth wasn’t traumatic sometimes we may feel a bit sad about birth memories and disappointed by what happened. That is also completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. We all make the best decisions for us in our own unique situation with the information we have at the time. When we look back we may feel sad about the situation that led to that decision we might even think if we did it again we would make different decisions. We can’t go back in time and change what happened what we can change is how we think about ourselves now and in the future. Accepting and loving yourself and your decisions can be hard work but it’s really worthwhile.
One of the options that many women find helpful recovering from a birth that didn’t go to plan is to take a bath with baby. There’s some information on how you can do this and how it can help in our blog about skin to skin.
No matter how much or how little time has passed since your baby was born you can take some time to change how you think about your birth experience and often changing how you think begins to change how you feel.
Birth story writing exercise.
This exercise can be done alone but it’s much easier if you do it alongside a supportive friend or partner (or if you find it brings up very overwhelming feelings a therapist). It’s a great opportunity to recognise you’re feeling sad about birth experiences and to change that around so you can feel proud of yourself.
- Write your birth story with all the details in.
- Add how you felt when all the things happened, don’t worry if you can’t remember what order things happened exactly writing the feelings is the most important part.
- This can be hard going and you might need to take it gently, take breaks when you need and have a really good cry.
- Next, imagine it’s been written by a good friend or your sister and read it through thinking what would you say to encourage and support her.
- Ideally get someone who is your good friend or sister or partner and who is positive about birth to read through and do this with or for you (a doula is another person who can help you with this).
- Then rewrite the story. This time write things you are proud of yourself for and use positive language about all of your decisions through the story recognising that you made the best decision for you at the time.
For example, if your first story says “I’d been having contractions for 6 hours and only got to 4cm dilated I couldn’t stand it anymore I gave up and asked for an epidural I feel like I really failed as I always wanted to avoid an epidural.” You might look back and change the story to say “I did an amazing job of breathing through really strong contractions for six hours. Then when my midwife checked and gave me the information I had made it to 4cm dilated and completely effaced and I knew I probably had quite a few more hours of work ahead of me I took the decision to make use of an epidural to allow myself to rest and regroup my strength.”
Always remember not to brush aside or diminish the way you feel; your feelings are what they are. But they are feelings, not facts, the facts are that you are an amazing woman and a loving mother and that you deserve love and respect not just from those around you but also from yourself. Feel the feelings and then allow yourself to move on and be proud of everything you have been through in life and the person you are now allowing yourself to become.
Other helpful resources include:
Skin to skin it’s the answer to everything.
You may have already read about skin to skin and how many benefits it has for babies when they are first born. If you’re pregnant now read up on those benefits and think about if you want to add skin to skin to be kept in your birth plan whatever else happens.
But if you’re looking back on what happened when your baby was born and skin to skin didn’t happen as you hoped for whatever reason don’t despair it’s not too late. Equally, if you’re looking back thinking how lovely that skin to skin time was now is a great time to get back skin to skin with your baby.
If you had a birth that didn’t go to plan or if you and baby are struggling to get breastfeeding going well or if you’re finding it difficult to feel that overwhelming bonding and falling in instant love that you’ve been lead to expect will happen as soon as baby arrives skin to skin can help. Skin to skin can happen as much as you like, any time you’re in the house you can snuggle skin to skin under a blanket or pop baby skin to skin in a stretchy sling. Skin to skin raises oxytocin (the feel good loving hormone) levels so don’t worry you can not overdo it. Babies and mothers (and dads, siblings, grandmas etc) benefit in many ways by spending as much time as possible skin to skin.
Bathing with your baby.
One way of being skin to skin that many people find really positive is to have a bath with your baby. Sometimes this is called re-birthing but it’s nothing spiritual or just for hippies just an opportunity for mum and baby to get the skin to skin and cuddles they might have missed out on at birth or just to get some more. Here’s a quick how-to guide if you think you might benefit from this.
- Have someone help you, run a nice deep bath, get in and relax.
- Have your helper pass you your baby.
- Hold baby between your legs (in the warm water) as you sit in the bath make eye contact and talk to your baby about how long you’ve been waiting to meet them, how important they are, how beautiful they are and how much you’re going to love them.
- Then bring your baby up on to your tummy/chest so you are tummy to tummy just as you would have been had birth gone to your original plan. Relax like that as long as you and baby are happy.
- Have your helper put a towel over your baby to keep them warm if necessary and be prepared to hold your hand or stroke your arm if the tears start to fall. If the tears fall do not be surprised, let them come and let the emotions out. Make sure you’ve picked a helper who is prepared to be with you through the emotion and offer loving sympathy not try to cheer you up or fix the problem. The talk and the helping may come later but this is the time for just feeling and letting the feelings out.
- It’s quite likely that in this position tummy down, head between your boobs baby will start to root. As long as baby isn’t getting upset try to leave them to it to find the nipple and latch on themselves.
- Your helper can take your baby and then offer a support if needed for you to climb out of the bath when you’re ready.
Your birth or postnatal doula will be more than happy to be your support person or helper through this process. If you don’t have anyone who’s right for the job yet check the find a doula page.
Here’s a recipe for our Nourishing the New Mother series that can be made meaty veggie or vegan whatever your preferences. It’s great comfort food and really nourishing. Perfect for your doula to make for you or to make and freeze in small batches ready for when you need it.
Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
Notes: apparently strictly speaking it’s only a shepherd’s pie if you use lamb mince, with other kinds of mince it’s a cottage pie. The original inspiration for this recipe came from Alexandra – BBB doula.
Ingredients. Quantities for two people.
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 200g mushrooms
- 225g mince of your choice (lamb, beef, quorn, or substitute lentils or cannellini or pinto beans)
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 200ml stock of your choice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons mixed herbs
- 200g sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into squares
- Peel and chop onion and carrot slice mushrooms. Cook sweet potatoes in boiling water for around 10-15 minutes, until soft and well done.
- Saute onion in olive oil in a large/deep frying pan or wok (if you like you can add some garlic too). When it starts to look transparent add carrot mushrooms and mince (you can change these for other vegetables if you prefer or have different veggies in the fridge). Stir-fry for a couple of minutes then add stock, tomatoes and herbs, some people like to add a teaspoon of sugar too. Season to taste.
- Cook for about 20-30 minutes stirring regularly until the sauce has reduced. Place in casserole dish. Drain and mash sweet potato (sweet potato is so soft it usually doesn’t need any liquid to mash easily if you feel it does use a little of the sauce from the mince mix.) Top the mince with the sweet potato and a little grated cheese (or vegan cheese substitute) and when ready to eat pop in a medium oven until hot and bubbly around the edges.
Macaroni and Cheese is such a simple staple we often forget how good it is as a comfort food. This is another great recipe for making in advance and freezing in portion size pieces for when you need something filling to pop in the microwave and enjoy. It’s also something your postnatal doula could easily make for you while you enjoy a rest and a chat or go and have a bath.
- Broccoli, Cauliflower, or your prefered vegetable
- Cheese Sauce
- Bread Crumbs mixed with grated cheese
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet and cook the vegetables al-dente (mostly cooked but still a little crunchy). Drain and mix with the cheese sauce in a rectangular casserole dish. Top with breadcrumbs and cheese and grill top to brown.
Making a cheese sauce is much easier than some people think. Basic cheese sauce is just made by melting a tablespoon of butter in a pan over a low heat, adding a tablespoon of plain flour and mixing then gradually adding milk a splash at a time and mixing till smooth with a plastic whisk each time until you have a smooth sauce of a consistency you like (probably between half a pint and one pint of milk total). Add grated cheddar cheese to your taste (about 100-200g) and mix it in until it’s all melted.
These yummy chocolate energy bites are perfect for nibbling in labour or when you’ve got a new baby and need some quick energy now. They’ve also got dates in them which have been shown to be potentially very helpful to pregnant women. Find out more about that from the Evidenced-based birth website.
The only problem my taste team discovered was they were all gone too soon.
There are loads of ways to make easy energy bites so watch out for more soon on the blog.
Here’s the second post in our new category: Nourishing the new mum. This recipe is for vegan broth. Soup is easy to eat and easy to fill with lots of good energy boosting foods so it’s perfect for those early postnatal days and weeks.
This is just one example of a yummy nourishing soup great for making ahead and brilliantly easy to eat when you’re recovering from birth and learning how to survive on a broken night’s sleep. If you’re looking for the meaty version click here.
This is just an example, use things you like from your cupboard. Make it high in protein and high in vitamins and minerals. Enjoying eating it is the most important criteria.
-2 tablespoons coconut oil
-2 sweet potatoes
-2 teaspoons vegan stock powder
-2 teaspoons turmeric
-1 teaspoon paprika
-1 teaspoon cumin
-2-3 pints water
-1 teaspoon molasses
-2 teaspoons almond butter
-1 teaspoon super green powder
-1 teaspoon yeast flakes
-salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel and chop onion. Saute in a large saucepan with coconut oil.
2. Peel and chop the carrot and sweet potatoes. Add to pan with stock powder and the spices. Add water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for 1/2 hour to 1 hour until all the vegetables are soft.
3. Blend to a smooth soup.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients and warm through before serving.
Today we’re starting a new Blog Series which we’re going to come back to regularly.
Nourishing the New Mum
This new category for our blog is a chance to share some of our favourite recipes with you. When we work as postnatal doulas we’re all about looking after new families and especially new mums. One of the most important ways you can look after yourself and we can look after you is with good nourishing food that will help your body recover from the birth and give you energy as you get used to your new role as a mother.
So our first two recipes are nourishing soup and broth recipes. These are really good for giving you healing and energy and great for making ahead and keeping in the freezer ready for when you’ve not got as much time for cooking. Soup is also good for the postnatal period because it’s easy to eat with one hand. This is the meat version click here to skip to a vegan version if you don’t eat meat.
Bone Broth Basic Recipe
-The leftover bones from your Sunday roast
-2 Carrots Peeled and chopped
-2 Sticks celery
-Fresh herbs of your choice
-Salt and pepper to taste
-1.5 litres water
1. Place everything in a large saucepan.
2. Simmer for 2-3 hours on low.
3. Strain. Discard bones and vegetables and use broth either as a drink or as a base to make other soups or stews.
When you’re pregnant much of your focus goes into planning for your birth and practical purchases for your baby. But once your baby is here the reality of how much your life has changed in that one instant can be quite overwhelming. The first few weeks with a new baby in your life are a mix of emotions, learning to feed, change, cuddle and find ways that your baby will happily sleep all at once.
Some of the skills you used preparing for your birth can help you through this time too. Any deep breathing and relaxation exercises can help you calm down when things start to get stressful, going for a walk or dancing around your kitchen can bring some light relief and help soothe a crying baby and positive affirmations can help you to keep your focus and remind you what’s important. Here are 5 of the Hampshire doulas’ favourite positive reminders for new parents. If your baby isn’t here yet you might also find these positive affirmations for birth helpful.
- The days are long but the weeks are short. When the day seems to be going on forever, when it feels like you haven’t slept in as long as you can remember, when you wonder if you will ever drink a hot cup of tea again. This reminder is that in the whole length of your life with this new child these first few weeks are not really very long at all.
The other wonderful thing about reaching the end of each week is you can look back and remember how far you have come.
2. One of the inevitable parts of being a parent is worrying, is my child well, are they developing ‘properly’, am I doing a good job? Sometimes books about how babies grow are helpful and reassuring but sometimes, especially with the ones that claim to be able to solve all your problems and make your child a ‘perfect baby’ they can increase the stress we feel. The good news is there’s no such thing as a perfect parent and your baby just needs you to love them. The way things work for you is the right way for you.
3. It’s so very easy as our new identity as someone’s parent develops and begins to flourish to forget that we are people too and that we matter as well. We need to look after ourselves. When there’s a new person in your life, who you are so in love with and who has so many needs it’s easy to get to the end of the day and realise you’ve not had a moment to yourself. Now that moment doesn’t need to be totally alone or something out of the ordinary but it needs to be a time when you’ve realised you need to care for yourself and you’ve done something that feeds your own soul. This can be as simple as taking a walk in the fresh air with baby in the sling, asking your mum to cuddle her new grandchild for half an hour while you have a nice long shower or just putting on your favourite music or TV program and relaxing in your chair once your baby has finally fallen asleep.
4. Sometimes we feel euphoric with a new baby and sometimes we feel just amazingly tired. It’s completely normal to have ups and downs, good days and bad days. It’s also OK to admit you don’t love every moment. It’s important to seek out your tribe at this time, to build a network of friends you can trust to be honest with, to be able to say I had an amazing day and I feel wonderful without worrying they will think you’re showing off. But, to be just as able to say “I had a terrible day, I haven’t showered I have eaten only chocolate all day and my baby has been super grumpy I’m so fed up,” without worrying they will think you’re a bad mum. To have people who will always say ‘me too’ ‘I get what you mean’. Sometimes we can know the way we feel isn’t ok with us, we can’t seem to ever feel really happy, we’re always worrying everything seems to be on top of us and we haven’t had any good days and it’s OK to admit that’s how you feel. In fact, it’s important to talk about it if you feel like that. Find someone you can trust, GP, Health Visitor, a really good friend who will help you get the help you need to stop feeling like that and go back to the usual ups as well as downs of life.
5. Whatever your first few weeks are like with your baby they are part of your story and you will make the right decisions for you and come through the other side. You won’t be exactly the same as before you had your baby, and that’s all good. Your new you and new reality may take time to get used to but know you are amazing. Learn to love the new you, you’ve got them with you for life.
Which is a positive affirmation we can all use and remember, whatever stage of our life we’re in right now. This is part of my story. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you’ll never change or never grow it means you love yourself enough to make good choices for you and to keep on learning.
What are positive birth affirmations and how do I use them?
Doulas, above everything else, are positive about birth and about women and about new families. One of the most outstanding benefits of inviting a doula to your birth is the positive way she will talk to you and encourage you. Sometimes (especially as women and especially as British people) we’re not all that kind to ourselves and thinking positive thoughts about ourselves and our abilities doesn’t always come easily. This is one reason positive birth affirmations can be so helpful. Make your own or print ours if you like. Stick them around your house where you will see them when you’re going about your day and read them every time you pass. That repetition of thought will make those thoughts start to get into your brain. Then when you’re in labour you can choose the one that works for you and repeat it to yourself as you breathe through your contractions. If your baby has arrived already you might find the positive affirmations for life with a new baby more useful.
I love my baby and I am doing all that is necessary to bring about a healthy birth.
This one can be helpful as you’re planning your birth, especially if you’re making choices that are not in the normal routine of things. People may say discouraging things to you but focusing on why you make your decisions and remembering you’re making good choices for you and your baby is important. It can also be helpful if you reach a point in labour when you make a different choice to your first choice birth plan you might need to help yourself focus on letting go of that first choice and feeling positive about your new choice knowing you’ve made it for good reasons.
2. Keep breathing slow and even. Inhale peace, exhale tension.
This is a good affirmation for anytime you need to relax, for times you feel stressed while pregnant and as your contractions start to feel like really hard work during labour and then when you’re holding your new baby wondering at the enormous love and responsibility you’ve taken on.
3. I feel the love of others around me.
It’s always good to remember as we birth we’re never alone, we’re surrounded by the love of the long line of birthing women we come from. The love of our sisters (by blood and by choice). One of the most positive things you can do for yourself as you prepare for your birth is to surround yourself with that support. Hang out with people who tell positive birth stories. Prep your birth partners to focus on increasing your oxytocin through every stage of your labour. Always remember if someone is in your birth space and is not helping you feel the love you have the right to ask them to leave no matter who they are.
4. My body will give birth in its own time.
Due dates are just estimates. Guidelines that stipulate a certain number of centimetres of dilation per hour are not the rules. There are no rules in how birth unfolds. If you’re happy and your baby is happy it’s all good.
5. I accept myself completely here and now.
Each birth is a new adventure for you and how you deal with contractions, the choices you make and the way you feel in each moment is always okay. Birth is not a pass or fail event it’s part of your journey and it’s up to you to speak kindly to yourself and accept how you feel and love yourself through each moment.