Pregnancy and birth are hard. The changes your body goes through growing a tiny person is nothing short of miraculous. If you are anything like me, you read every book, article, study and must-have baby item list you could find. You took childbirth classes, breastfeeding classes and spoke to other women about their birth experiences. You thought you were prepared. Then, whether your birth went smoothly and to plan, or not; you were no doubt completely surprised by what it was actually like. Then you looked at your baby: perfect, beautiful, yours. All of a sudden it hit you. You are a mother now. Nobody could prepare you for how you would feel.
Becoming a mother for the first time is different for every woman. Some are quiet, confident and do not get phased, some have major anxiety about how to handle the new baby, and others have traumatic birth stories to process at the same time as learning to care for this little person who relies on them for absolutely EVERYTHING. There are many factors that can affect this; if you come from a big family and grew up taking care of siblings and babysitting for neighbors you will probably be more confident. If you have never been around babies you may be the more nervous type. Learning to breastfeed can also be very challenging. The first weeks are a blur of cluster feeding around the clock and you will experience a level of exhaustion that you had no idea was even possible. But, the first time your baby unlatches from the breast and gives you a big smile your heart will explode, and it will all be worth it.
A few words of advice from a mother who has been through it before, twice;
Prepare as much as you can. Before your baby is born, make a post-partum plan with your husband/partner and family so they know what you will need. If you have people who want to bring food, let them (but don’t let them stay too long) or make freezer meals yourself that are easy to bake when you need them (there are hundreds of ideas on Pinterest). Hire a post-partum doula if you can afford one, if you can’t, ask around local birth groups as there may be someone working towards certification who may help you for less. A post-partum doula is invaluable for many things; helping around the house, meal prep, breastfeeding, babywearing, baby care advice and listening to help you process your birth and post-partum experience.
Rest as much as you can. As soon as you get home, get yourself set up in bed or on the sofa with the baby and stay there. Make sure you have snacks, water, phone etc. within reach. Your body just did something huge, and especially if you got stitches or had a cesarean you need to let yourself heal. This is also the perfect time to snuggle, study and bond with your new baby.
If you are breastfeeding, get professional help to make sure baby is feeding well. A little soreness in the early days is common, but if you have pain, cracked nipples, baby clicks or slips off the nipple while feeding or you are worried for ANY reason, call someone. A post-partum doula will have some training and/or experience of breastfeeding, or a La Leche League leader or IBCLC will be able to help you. Getting off to a good start in the first few weeks is crucial, and most problems can be fixed easily with proper support. The milk supply is established by baby removing milk effectively and cluster feeding a lot and if this is not happening it can impact baby’s growth and ability to thrive. Getting proper support cannot be emphasized enough.
Don’t worry about the chores. Tell your family/partner/husband that you will not be able to do any housework in the first few weeks. Some women will think they are ok after a few days and try to do too much, then find that their bleeding and pain increases. Get the house as clean as possible before baby comes and take advantage of the nesting instinct. Your support team may have to help you to do some chores around the house in the early weeks.
Babywearing and co-sleeping are life-saving read up on safe co-sleeping and bed sharing guidelines (the safe sleep 7), you can also read Sweet Sleep (a La Leche League book) to learn how to get some rest AND be safe. Bed sharing may not be an option in all situations, but you can decide what is best for your family. Also find local babywearing groups to get advice and try out some carriers. A ring sling or soft structured carrier is a smart investment as it helps you to keep baby close to you safe and happy, as well as ease of breastfeeding and being able to do things hands free.
Take care of yourself. Make time for some self-care every day. Let your partner bond with a baby (make sure he/she has a full belly first) while you take a shower, go for a walk or whatever you want to do, even if it is just 10 minutes. You will be amazed how much better you will feel. Especially if you have been alone with the baby all day.
Be aware of Post-Partum Mood Disorders. 1 in 10 new mothers suffer from post-partum anxiety or depression, and in rare cases, psychosis. Read about the various ways these can manifest, and make sure your partner reads too so you may spot the warning signs. Certain factors, such as history of mental illness, depression and anxiety, past trauma or a traumatic birth experience can mean it is more likely a mom may have issues. Talk to your doula or medical professional who can help you. There is no shame in admitting it, it is always better to get help, and many anxiety/depression medications are safe for breastfeeding.
Find mommy friends. Go to local breastfeeding/birth circle meetings, mommy and me classes etc. and find others in the same stage of life. Having someone to call or message to get support is invaluable. You can also take walks together and help each other on your journeys.
These are just a few recommendations. Just know that the transition to motherhood does not happen overnight, but it is a transformative journey that is different for us all. Be kind and give yourself some grace. Recovering from birth takes a long time and do not do too much before you are ready. You will never get this time back, and it may not feel like it, but your baby will be crawling, walking and climbing on the back of the sofa before you know it. Snuggle, bond and love that baby. You cannot “spoil’ a baby with too much love.
Post-Partum Mood Disorders: www.postpartum.net/learn-more/pregnancy-postpartum-mental-health/
Sweet Sleep (La Leche League International) by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J Smith and Theresa Pitman
Mel is a 37 year old doula who lives in Waynesboro PA, but was born in Sheffield England. She lives with her husband Nathen, daughters Naomi and Leah, dog Duke, guinea pigs, parakeet and a turtle. She is passionate about birth and breastfeeding and improving the experience of new mothers.
Melissa Eyler, Birth and PP Doula Services
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