The next topic covered in our Natural Parenting Series is postpartum planning which is oftentimes overlooked and not planned for at all. However, it's just as important as a birth plan and whether you consider yourself a natural parent or not, it should be on your prenatal to-do list.
Postpartum is unpredictable. While many women have a blissful and easy transition to motherhood or additional children, studies show that 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression within the first year after giving birth. Like birth planning, it isn't a plan that will be set in stone. Things will change, but having an outline of already thought out topics will allow you to roll with the punches easier and be aware of your mental health and needs in those first few months. Let's take a look at how we can plan for an easier postpartum period.
1. Expectations of Self
You just gave birth. It may or may not have been the hardest thing you've ever done. Give yourself some grace and some time to heal. Don't expect yourself to bounce back immediately and keep an immaculate house, keep the older kids entertained without tv, or have a home cooked meal ready when your partner comes home every night. Give yourself some time and accept help! Prior to giving birth, make a list of everything you do. Then, break it down into categories of what YOU must do (like get yourself dressed or shower, no one else can do that for you), what others in your home can do (like cook meals, laundry, dishes), and what visitors and eager-to-help friends and family members can do (like grocery runs, watering plants, filling your water jug). Print these lists out and keep them on your fridge where everyone can see. Don't feel guilty for asking for or receiving help. Use those around you, they want to help, and overworking yourself isn't going to help anyone.
2. Finding Your Tribe
Motherhood comes with a whole new set of things to worry about, play dates, and topics of conversation (diaper talk, anyone?). By all means, keep your lifelong friends and work to keep those relationships strong. They're absolutely important! But you need to find your Mom Tribe too. These are women who may have the same parenting philosophies as you do, go to the same park at the same time, are those you can ask questions about some random rash at 2am, and more! They're women who are going through or recently went through what you are. They get you. It's hard to make friends in our digital world, but I challenge you to go out and strike up a conversation with another mom at the park or library. You may just find a lifelong friend out of it.
3. Mental Health
You read earlier on this page that 1 in 7 women will experience postpartum depression, so it's no doubt that mental health is a very important topic to research before you're in the middle of it. Knowing the signs can get you help and relief sooner rather than later. It also helps to know that there are more mood disorders than postpartum depression to be aware of. They are postpartum anxiety (PPA), postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD (PPTSD), bipolar disorder, and postpartum psychosis (PPP).
Some signs to look out for are
It's also important to know that between 4 and 12% of new fathers can experience postpartum depression and 50% of fathers whose partner has postpartum depression will develop it themselves.
For more in-depth information regarding postpartum mood disorders, check out this website.
4. Partner Expectations
Parenthood changes relationships, there's no doubt about that. It's best to plan out and discuss before baby is here what you and your partner expect of each other. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Write it down and stick it on your fridge if you need to (sometimes individuals need to see it written out to stick by it). Will he take care of dishes and laundry while you only focus on baby and what's for dinner? Everyone's duties and expectations will change, if even for just a little bit.
You should also remember to make time for each other. Are you or your partner feeling undervalued, disconnected, invisible? Take 5 minutes to each write what you appreciate about your partner and exchange your papers. Once a week, set aside time in the evening when it’s just you two to snuggle over a glass of wine or bowl of ice cream. During the week, make an ongoing list of things you celebrate and share your lists with each other. Struggling to find time together? Work with baby, not against him. Meal time = family time. Don’t try to fold laundry or sweep the kitchen while baby is eating, sit down as a family and enjoy each other. Have a baby that needs to be rocked to sleep? Put on slow music and slow dance as a family. You can also try 5 minute dates. Some examples are holding hands for one song or massage each other for 2 minutes each. Be sure to work in date nights a few times a month and find a trusting babysitter to watch your little one. You may not be able to go on expensive, elaborate dates like in the past, but the little moments you can steal together make a difference.
We cannot be our best selves when we are undernourished, especially during the postpartum period. Take some time to make healthy freezer meals while pregnant so you can easily pop one in the oven with baby on your hip when postpartum. Keep a list of healthy items you typically have on hand so if someone comes to visit and wants to do a grocery run for you, they know what you like and what is healthy for you and your family. The first few weeks are best nourished by warm, hydrating foods such as broth and soups. The book The First Forty Days is a great reference.
You should also make sure you are eating enough fruits and vegetables and getting a sufficient amount of omegas. Did you know you are supposed to have 10-13 fist-sized servings of fruit and vegetables per day? It is doubtful that you eat that many on a regular day, let alone during the postpartum period. Dr. Sears suggests sipping on a smoothie through out the day, taking a plant-based omega supplement, and eating salmon once or twice a week. Keep protein bars or homemade protein balls on hand for snacks when you get that breastfeeding hunger.
And don't forget to hydrate! You need half of your body weight in ounces of water per day plus more if you are breastfeeding. This helps your body heal, keeps your milk supply up, and even helps with your mental health.
Planning your postpartum is beyond important. I offer a postpartum planning workshop and will be offering a workbook for purchase within the next few weeks. Postpartum can be blissful and beautiful but it also can be hard and lonely. Don't let it get the best of you and plan for it prenatally!
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and three children. As a maternal support practitioner and educator of family sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about family sleep, wellness, nutrition, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, holistic health, and parenting.