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.
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.
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.
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.