A while back, someone interviewing new mom Meghan Markle asked her how she was doing, and it looked like she was about to cry when she thanked the interviewer for asking. Granted, Meghan’s got some stressors most of us don’t have, what with being the brand new American in the British royal family and so on. But she’s also a new mom, and that’s hard no matter what. As I’ve been interviewing birth professionals over the last few months, I’ve noticed a recurring theme. Almost every one of them has lamented what seems to be a heavy emphasis on preparing new moms for pregnancy and birth, which all but dries up the moment the baby is born.
There are a ton of vital services and education available to pregnant moms — as there should be! — but after delivery and the initial celebration, a lot of moms find themselves feeling isolated and overwhelmed.
And that sucks. I’m not saying new parents should be treated like invalids or anything. People have been having and caring for babies for centuries and they are super qualified to do so… even when they feel like they aren’t.
That being said, we’re created for community, and having a new baby can be scary and exhausting and emotionally draining, even when you’re healthy. Plus, postpartum depression is real. With that in mind, I’m on board with the efforts to expand the focus on birth and pregnancy to include an emphasis on postpartum care too. So let’s talk about a few ways to make those first few weeks and months a little easier and stay healthy.
Call in the Cavalry
A lot of us have churches or other community groups that make dinners for the first week or so after a birth, or a tragedy, so you don’t have to worry about it. This is awesome! The cool thing about these glorious people, is that a lot of them would be totally willing to provide support in other little ways, but they don’t always know what would be the most helpful to you, and/or they don’t want to invade your privacy. So don’t be afraid to ask them for help, and to be specific. Sometimes a little thing can make a huge difference, especially in the first few weeks. You don’t need to be waited on hand and foot, but you could try texting a friend and asking them to help you fold a load of laundry, or wipe down a bathroom if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Not only will it take a little bit of the load off, you’ll get some much-needed adult conversation as a bonus.
Plan for Bodily Changes
We all know our bodies change during pregnancy, but there are also a ton of things that can happen in the body while we’re recovering from childbirth that can be jarring if we’re not prepared. You might experience constipation, changes in the pelvic floor, sweating, cramps, vaginal discharge, and more. Sounds fun, right? Knowing these things are coming and what to do when they show up can take some of the stress and anxiety out of it. Make sure this is part of your education process during pregnancy. Know what symptoms to look for, and when it’s important to see a doctor.
Get Some Rest
Yeah, I know… this is like telling a thirsty man all he needs is water. You already know you need rest to recover, but with a new baby that’s easier said than done. There are some tricks out there though that can help you adjust to your new feeding-the-baby-every-two-hours-schedule. Support from your partner is super critical for this. Start by working out a schedule with him so that he can care for the baby and you can get some much-needed rest as often as possible. Also, when you’re sleep-deprived and struggling, feel free to say no to extra commitments. If you’re anything like me, you’re always like “Sure, I can make this work somehow.” Don’t do that! It’s totally cool to keep your schedule to a minimum so you can get some sleep.
I know everyone already says to sleep when baby sleeps, and sometimes that’s just not realistic. But when it is, remember that your health is more important than the dishes, and sleep is absolutely crucial to your health. If chores are keeping you from getting any sleep, circle back to step one and try to recruit a little help.
Pay Attention to What You Eat
When you’re exhausted, proper nutrition is probably the last thing on your mind, BUT… poor nutrition contributes to exhaustion in a serious way, so it’s a vicious cycle. This is another area where some pre-birth planning may seriously come in handy. Know ahead of time what foods are going to help you in the energy department, and make a plan to stock up. Or have them delivered by Instacart. Whatever you need to do. Just make sure your body is getting what it needs to convert the food to fuel and keep you going.
Fortunately, I can get you started in that department, thanks to my amazing client/friend/nutritionist Tory Keeter at Faithful Lotus, who helped me put together this blog on postpartum nutrition a while back.
See a Chiropractor
Y’all may remember a few months back I did an interview with the wonderful folks over at Hackney Chiropractic, and this was one of the things they really emphasized. As Webster-certified chiropractors, they do a lot to help pregnant women stay comfortable during pregnancy, but they say it shouldn’t stop there.
As Dr. Josiah Hackney explained, our bodies go through a lot of changes both during pregnancy and postpartum. As the weight that is in our bellies shifts to being (most of the time) in our arms, as we bend over to change diapers, as we sit to nurse, everything is flexed.
“Postpartum chiropractic care just helps support your body through those changes as well,” she said. “We tend to see more tension in the upper neck and shoulders, but the pelvis is still trying to figure out what just happened — regardless of the way your baby was born, whether it was a vaginal birth or a surgical birth —— your pelvis still went through all those changes in addition to pregnancy.”
And, as they reminded me, it’s hard to take the best care of your baby if you don’t take care of yourself. So make a visit to your chiropractor, and set yourself up for better rest, better posture, and better energy.
Find a Counselor or Group
Even with all the joy that comes with a newborn, feeling isolated is really tough. There are tons of other new moms out there going through the same things you are (or similar things). As Farah Antoine-Mayberry told me when we were talking about lactation counseling, “Hearing experiences from another mom is golden. That trust is there… that other mom is doing life just as you are, and there’s a lot of comfort that can be gained from that.” Reach out to your local mom’s groups, find a mom’s group on Facebook, or take a class aimed at new moms.
And don’t forget that postpartum depression is a real condition. If you’re feeling it, don’t be ashamed to seek help. Find a licensed therapist or support group. It’s okay to need a lifeline… that’s why humans need each other.