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.
If you’re feeling prepared for your birth but really worried or apprehensive about what comes next, you’re very much not alone. A lot of people haven’t even held a newborn baby before they are handed their own and expected to immediately take complete responsibility for them. One of the things we do as postnatal doulas is to reassure parents that their newborn is behaving normally and that they are doing a good job of finding and following their instincts.
This list isn’t comprehensive but it’s a good start for checking many of the things newborns do that are completely normal.
My newborn wants to be held all the time.
Yes, this is normal. Your baby is in what we call the fourth trimester (just like the trimesters of pregnancy). This term recognises that compared to other mammals human babies are born relatively early in their development due to our large brains and relatively small pelvis shape. As a result, babies are happiest when kept in similar conditions to the womb (warm, low light, skin to skin, hearing your heartbeat) and allowed to get used to the world gradually and at their own pace. One of the easiest ways to keep holding your baby but also be able to go anywhere or eat anything is to use a sling. Check out our post on the benefits of slings for more information.
My newborn is always hungry.
Yes, that’s normal. Newborn babies have very tiny tummies. They feed little and often. They also get lots of comfort from being close to you and from suckling. Your breastfed newborn needs to feed at least 8-12 times in 24 hours. Your bottle-fed newborn can also be fed little and often as required but follow your healthcare providor’s advice about how much formula is needed in 24 hours. There’s lots of good information about normal breastfeeding on the KellyMom website and lots of good information about bottle feeding for newborns in this leaflet.
My baby doesn’t follow any routine.
Yes, this is normal. Our expectations of babies and ourselves in the newborn period is often heavily affected by the myth of a ‘good’ baby perpetuated by childcare ‘experts’ based on the Victorian ideal that children be seen and not heard. So the ideal has been to separate as quickly as possible from our children, for them to follow a routine set by us and to sleep without our input during the night. The problem with this is it simply goes against our natural instincts and what our babies are naturally capable of. Keeping our babies close to us, carrying them and sleeping close by, feeding them when they are hungry follows our natural instincts and helps build a secure connection and good future mental health for our children. Routine is not important to your baby but if you feel better in yourself when you have a routine to follow it’s fine to work out a flexible routine that works for you once your baby is a little older (maybe around 6-8 weeks) and more used to life in the world.
My baby doesn’t sleep ‘like a baby’.
Yes, this is normal. It might feel like your new-born never sleeps. It’s probably not true but it’s probably true that they don’t have any idea what time of day or night it is and they definitely don’t have any idea we’re ‘supposed’ to sleep mostly at night.
Newborn babies usually sleep quite a lot in the first few weeks but it’s usually in comparatively short bursts and more often than not they sleep best in close proximity to their mother.
New-born babies will gradually start to concentrate their sleep a bit more to nighttime once they reach about 6-8 weeks but they will still need to feed frequently day or night. For the first six weeks at least, for your own sanity, you may need to think of yourself as having a 24 hour lifestyle. Plan your day and night around sleeping when your baby sleeps. Make comfy places to relax and feed your baby, be prepared with something to keep you occupied during long night feeds. Delegate housework to other family members or do it while your baby is awake in the sling or baby swing. Go to bed early or get up late and feel free to pop off for a nap when a trusted visitor arrives and can take over holding the baby for an hour. For more information on normal baby sleep click here https://www.isisonline.org.uk/
My baby’s poo is black / brown / yellow
Yes, that’s normal. The first poo your baby does is called meconium. It’s black and sticky and a serious job to clean off. As milk feeding is established your baby’s poo will turn gradually through brown to a yellow colour and about the consistency of runny scrambled egg (or sometimes more liquid). All that’s normal. This change in colour and in the first few weeks and a poo at least a couple of times a day (which may or may not be explosive) is all normal. Some green poo is also normal. If your baby has always got really green frothy poo and or if it smells really terrible then it might not be normal, this is the time to check with your health visitor or breastfeeding supporter if everything is going ok or if there might be something that needs tweaking.
Always ask your doula any questions about anything you’re worried might not be normal. There’s no such thing as a stupid question and that’s what she’s there for, to help you gain your own confidence. Another way of encouraging yourself to gain confidence is to use positive affirmations. You will make up your own ones that are relevant to you but we’ve also put a few together to get you started.
New baby Self Care. Not impossible and not trying to find time for a facial.
Once you have your new baby there’s a sudden shift of interest from friends, family and often even health professionals. From everyone being concerned with your health and wellbeing as a pregnant mum suddenly all the interest is in how your new baby is doing. Most of your interest is there too. Now you are a mum, the centre of your world has shifted. Your most urgent need is always to make sure your baby is happy and healthy. But this doesn’t mean you don’t matter anymore. Looking after yourself and having someone to look after you is still important too.
This might be the point you really need a doula in your corner because this is likely to be one of the most intense six weeks of your life and someone who knows how to support you to find your way through could be vital. Your postnatal doula is there for you however you need her to be there. She’s there to remember to look after you when you forget to look after yourself, to help you have a shower or a nap when you need one, to remind you to eat, to make sure the basic housework is done so you relax and don’t try to do it yourself. Most of all she’s there to listen to you, to understand your worries and joys and to support you with caring for your new baby and learning to be a mother.
I asked the Hampshire Doulas what their top tips are for making it through those first six weeks we came up with lots of ideas which all fit into a few main themes.
First look after yourself, be gentle with yourself.
This time is precious, you don’t need to get back to normal, you don’t need to fulfil some kind of superwoman ideal that involves living the same life as before your new baby arrived as if nothing has changed. Everything has changed, sleep will be different, learning to feed and care for a baby can be hard work. Looking after yourself may seem like the last thing you have time for but you can’t pour from an empty cup, now is the time to make time for self-care. For you, that might mean staying in your pyjamas for a week or it might mean getting up and having a shower and getting out the house even if it’s just to go for a walk around the block, this is about you, do it your way.
Listen to your instincts.
Trusting our instincts (or gut feelings) is not something we’re always used to doing in our everyday lives but they don’t go away just because we don’t notice them all the time. When we have a new baby the raw and sometimes overwhelming experience is the perfect time to reconnect with what comes to us as instinct. You won’t have to think about whether or not to respond to your baby when they cry your whole body and mind will do it and as you care for your baby you will learn gradually to understand your baby’s communication. You will learn which cry is for hungry, which is for wind which for dirty nappy and when your baby is telling you they are tired.
Be gentle with yourself it takes time, but listen to yourself. If you know you are too tired take action and get some help to get some sleep. If you know something is not quite right but you can’t put a finger on it then call your midwife or health visitor don’t over think and worry you’re just wasting their time, your instincts are there for a reason. If you feel like you can’t connect with your baby or you can’t cope with all your feelings or you can’t feel happy or you can’t stop the worry and panic, trust your instincts, it’s not supposed to be like this, talk to someone. Talk to your partner, your midwife, your doctor, the PANDAS helpline, just don’t bottle it up, get help.
Finally, always accept and ask for help and support from those around you.
Don’t fall for the myth that women should do this alone. We need our friends, family, baby group, online support group whichever works best for you. One thing you could do is get the people who want to visit to pay for cooing over your baby by pushing the hoover round or doing the dishes or bringing some dinner with them. But always feel free to say no, I’m not up for visitors today, or just invite the people who will sit by your side on the sofa and not notice the mess, do what works for you. Lots of mums find it’s helpful to be super honest with their close friends, admit it’s hard and talk about the ups and downs. Often, we find being honest gives others the freedom to be honest too, we all find it hard sometimes and we need each other to encourage us to keep going and enjoy the good times.
As doulas we never give advice, all of these are just ideas, information from people who have been there and got the t-shirt (it’s covered in baby sick) which we hope you will find helpful.
If you already have plenty of people in your life who have an opinion on the best way to care for your baby then a postnatal doula can be a great person to have on your side. We always trust that you will make the right decisions for you and your baby and we are there to support you to do things your way. We think new mums and dads are awesome and we want them to feel that way about themselves. Our ultimate goal as postnatal doulas is to do ourselves out of a job, to support you in a way that leaves you with the feeling, I can do this.