All you can focus on is the birth of your baby.
But, you give birth and then what?
How do you navigate your transition to parenthood and make the whole experience more comfortable and restful?
You focus on your pregnancy, preparing for the birth and building your nest but have you thought about your new life with your baby? No? Then I am going to urge to do just that. Because along with the sweet newborn cuddles and an overflow of congratulations and good wishes come very real challenges, adjustments, and a need for deep healing. I run a New Mum's Drop In for the Brussels Childbirth Trust and I hear again and again how completely overwhelmed many feel and how difficult it can be adjusting to life with a new baby. In fact the whole family go through profound changes with the addition of a new baby. But, with a bit of careful planning and thought you can ease that transition. So, here are some areas to consider:
1. Prepare to rest!
We are constantly bombarded with images new mums doing everything they did before having a baby within weeks or even days of the birth and generating feelings of guilt and inadequacy. You have just spent 9 months growing and birthing your baby and you need time to recover and heal. Your body has been through a profound physical experience. You may be recovering from surgery or tending to a very tender perineum. Beyond just the physical experience of giving birth, your mind and heart will need space and time to process and adjust.
So, set yourself up to rest! Create an environment where you can stay in your pajamas' mooching around at home and cuddling your baby for several weeks. Make a plan for the chores and general housekeeping - prioritise what needs to be done daily, weekly, monthly, what can be ignored, what can be outsourced. Do this with your partner if you have one - your priorities may differ so some compromise may be required on both sides. If you are outsourcing the cleaning, laundry, walking the dog do the research and set up the service or ask your family and friends before your baby is born. Then:
BUILD YOURSELF A NEST!
A cosy place in your home. It could be your bed or sofa (or both). Somewhere where you surround yourself with all that you need to be comfortable for long periods of time. Snacks, water, nappies/wipes, phone charger, Netflix, warm blankets, extra pillows, cushions and clothing for you and your baby..... If you have a partner or a postpartum doula, ideally they can be in the nest with you and give you lots of opportunities for rest and connection. They can also take responsibility for keeping your nest clean, fresh and well stocked.
2. Manage visitor expectations
who, when, and for how long?
This is a biggie especially with the ex-pat mum's I meet (their families arrive in succession and stay for weeks often in a tiny appartement) but is something all new parents need to wrestle with and something you really need to discuss with your partner before your baby is born.
Your home is your haven, your safe space and just as it is wise to choose carefully who is at your birth, choosing who visits your new family can make a world of difference. Usually, a new mum KNOWS who she wants around (their own parent, a sibling, a trusted friend, a postpartum doula) and who she would prefer to have space from. It may be helpful to think about two kinds of visitors:
those who will show up and be there for you
the ones there for you will gladly wash dishes, sort laundry, make you a meal, give you time to share your feelings and hold your baby while you take a shower, and happily give the baby back to you afterwards.
those that just really want to see the baby
there to see your baby, although well-meaning, may make you feel like you need to host them. This may cause you more stress and be exhausting. If these visitors are coming, it may be best to limit how long they come and be honest about your needs and the needs of you and your baby to rest together.
For some people, setting strong boundaries may be tricky and take some practice. It may be easier to set firm boundaries that you can relax over time than less clear boundaries that leave you feeling vulnerable.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but when caring for a tiny baby and trying to rest yourself it can easily get overlooked!
Decide what works best for your family
There is no right answer, but a little planning ahead of time will make the first couple of weeks so much easier. Even if you and your partner LOVE to cook, assume you won’t have time early on (and maybe a fresh home-cooked meal can happen when one of those "for you" visitors comes by!)
Maybe you can ask a few friends or family members to drop round a cooked meal. Probably a good idea to get them to stagger their pre-made or frozen meals over the weeks and months. You don't want to be overwhelmed. A meal train is a great idea that a friend or family member can easily set up. Check out Meal Train
Meal kits like HelloFresh may seem like a good idea but maybe best avoided. It’s a lot of reading, standing, and actual cooking. Meal services that deliver “heat and eat” meals make much more sense during this time.
And don’t forget about bite size snacks. Foods you can eat with one hand. It’ll be a while before you have both hands free for eating.
4. Stock up on supplies
New parents have got to be the most marketed-to group of people ever! So how do you decide what you really need to have on hand early on? And you know what it is really very little. In general, babies need you, nappies, a car seat, and some clothing. You on the other hand need supplies that will support your healing and some tools for feeding. Extra-large maxi pads, or postpartum absorbent underwear like Thinx, soothing sprays or sitz baths, a peri bottle, and some witch hazel pads can help you feel comforted and covered. You might even freeze a few maxi pads soaked in witch hazel for the first few days when you need the most care. Talk with your midwife about postpartum pain medication, they will likely recommend you have some available for when you get home. You might even consider a TENS machine for the post natal cramping. Your breasts will need some care so breast pads. If you are breastfeeding you may like to purchase a breast pump - again a good idea to seek the advice of your midwife. While not every new nursing mum needs to pump, early on you may find you are using your pump to encourage your supply or manage engorgement. If you decide to have a few bottles on hand, look for those with the slowest flow nipple. And lastly for both you and your partner a soft wrap baby carrier or a soft-structured baby carrier can be a game-changer. Seek out your local sling library such as the one run by the Brussels Childbirth Trust where you can try before you buy.
And don't forget all those basic household items - toilet rolls, cleaning supplies, toiletries, tea bags, coffee, pet supplies and store cupboard basics (pasta, rice, tins of soup). Set up an online shopping account with your favourite supermarket and get them delivered.
5. Connect with professional support
When you are first home with a newborn–especially if you are experiencing pain or feeding is getting off to a rocky start you will want help at your fingertips. So, set yourself up with postnatal care well in advance - a midwife, lactation consultant, postpartum physiotherapist, postpartum doula, dog walker, sibling care, and house cleaning. If you are already seeing a psychologist or counsellor, great! If not, know that many new parents benefit from mental health support after birth either individually, as a couple so it might be an idea to know what support is available.
6. Rest some more
It is very common to rest early on after birth and then start to feel ready to be up and about only to find yourself exhausted again! By all means, start to take walks, leave your nest and enjoy the company of friends and family, but also know that healing in postpartum isn’t linear. You may have a busier day only to find that the next one you prefer to spend cuddling your little one in bed. Give yourself permission to slow down anytime and be sure your loved ones understand that too.
7. Take time for yourself and your partner
This can be tough—especially with your first baby! Your whole world has truly changed overnight. A warm shower, a solo nap, a podcast, a chat with a friend, or a short walk. Think about what you enjoy and let your partner or support people know that you will need that time every day. While loving your new baby can be incredible and all-encompassing, a few minutes to step away to refresh and re-connect with yourself may be very necessary. Remember it is an overwhelming change for your partner as well. Their need to step away and refresh also needs to be factored in. Similarly building new routines with your partner can help your relationship grow as you transition into your new roles. Maybe you walk together every morning or snuggle with your baby together every evening. What you can do together each day?
8. Give yourself love
Be gentle on yourself!
This comes easily to some people and harder for others. You are truly amazing even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Be kind to yourself! Many of us are conditioned to feel like being successful is getting things done. During this tender time, you will do so much, but it may not be things that you can easily check off a list or that tangibly move your life or career forward. The newborn phase is over in a flash. Prepare yourself for a deep dive into rest, eating food you love, enjoying showers and short walks, and surrounding yourself with people that are committed to taking care of you. Allow yourself to speak your emotions freely to your partner, a trusted friend, or an empathic professional. In a new family, the postpartum parent is the center and should get loved and cared for with the utmost respect.
Preparing for the postpartum period includes having a sense of what may come and being open for the changes ahead. Self-care, communication, and professional support go a long way in making this time more manageable. And all this planning starts with honest conversation both with your partner or nearest and dearest. Conversations that set expectations and clear both physical and emotional space ready for your new baby to fill.