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:
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.
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.