A couple of weeks ago, we shared some of the gear that I consider essential for the first few weeks of a wee babe’s life. Today I wanted to share a few ideas for the new mamma, even if it’s not your first time to the rodeo. It was hard to break these ideas into two posts, because some items in the baby post may look like they’re for the mom (hello, nursing tanks), but really, few moms are excited to wear those things ~ we’re wearing them to give the little ones easy access to their food. Likewise, I have a few things on today’s post that seem like they are for the baby, but when you really think about it, we’re using them to make the mamma more comfortable, and that’s so important.
I think that the best thing a mom can do after a pregnancy is to relax, make yourself comfortable, and give your body the time to heal. You’ll see that my priority items really focus on those ideas. I also believe that addressing every aspect of mamma care is equally important (from physical to mental), so don’t think of this list as being in any sort of order ~ all items would come first if they could!
In addition to my tips, we asked one of our closest friends and certified professional midwife, Nicole Schwartz, what she would stress, you’ll see her comments, suggestions, and resources in the boxes within this post.
Rest should be stressed. Allowing for your body to fully return to a pre-pregnant state and lactating requires a lot of energy and moms that feel great (or even not so great) and jump out of bed and begin doing housework, cooking, crafts, etc. are using the energy that should really be designated for postpartum healing and recovery. I tell mom's that even when they aren't doing anything their bodies are still doing a lot of work. Most cultures carve our and respect a full baby moon, or a full moon cycle, before mothers are encouraged to begin increasing their activity level. Now, most American mothers lack the full supportto rest for a full baby moon, but we can be mindful of our activity level and conscious of what we willingly take on during that time. (Hey, when our hubby comes down with a head cold theymake time to say in bed for 2-3 days, right?!?)
In addition to Nik’s really valuable reminder, I have a few tips for helping your perineal area to heal if you were lucky enough to have a vaginal birth. After birth, you’re likely to be swollen and bruised, you may have minor tears, and possibly even stitches. In addition to keeping the area clean, there area few other things you can do to sooth the area.
- Witch Hazel: I didn’t know about witch hazel’s benefits until I started to research healing during my first pregnancy, but it does wonders to cool, sooth, and help heal. Aside from being an astringent, witch hazel has a number of other properties that are great for postpartum care. It feels cool against the skin, eases pain & itching, and constricts blood vessels to help stop bleeding and reduce inflamation. If you give birth in a hospital, they will likely give you witch hazel pads (also used for hemorrhoids) to place over a pad and against your skin. You can also make your own frozen witch hazel and aloe pads: Making these is simple : buy large pads, add a thin layer of aloe gel followed by a teaspoon or so of alcohol-free witch hazel. Wrap the pads in foil and put them in the freezer. Apply when necessary!
- Sitz bath : this is really just soaking your bottom in warm water, but it makes such a difference in your comfort level and healing. With Alex, I was given a little basin that I could use on the toilet, and I personally found that more comfortable than having to undress and get down into a tub to soak. On our hospital tour for this birth, I learned that they don’t provide the basins (it’s a great question to ask), but you can easily order them on Amazon and you may be able to buy them at your local pharmacy. You can keep it simple and soak in warm water, but there are also herb mixes designed specifically for the healing mom (you soak in a “tea” made with the herbs and warm water).
- Good Diet (see more in the nutrition section below) : I think that diet is so important when it comes to healing. Give your body all of the building blocks it needs to repair and build new tissue, this includes keeping up with your prenatal vitamins and drinking plenty of water.
- Water : I just said it, and I’ll say it again. Your body needs so much water. Water to produce milk, to flush out the waste as your body begins to repair itself, and to keep your body functioning at its highest level, which will let you feel that much more alert & happy as you navigate those early days.
- Prune Juice : Yes, buy it. I wasn’t sure how my digestive system would respond after giving birth, but the one thing I knew is that I didn’t want to do any more pushing anytime soon, so I religiously downed prune juice just to keep everything easy.
Warm the mama! In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a recommendation to warm a mother in the immediate postpartum period. This is both literal and energetic. The use of warm baths, showers, and (my very favorite things) heating pads and a great pair of wool socks (preferably hand knit!) as well as foodswith warming or heating herbs help to deeply nourish our post- partum bodies. Warmth stimulates circulation and having good blood flow is important in allowing for your body to heal becauseit helps stimulate the physiologic functions that repair our tissues. If a mother in my care has a lot of perineal inflam- mation I recommend a few hours of cooling witch hazel and aloe pads and then, nice, warm compresses. The initial coolness helpswith comfort and relieves inflammation and the subsequent com- presses help with speedy healing. Belly binding and warm com- presses below your belly button can also really help with after- pains and general discomfort. Think warm! Warm! Warm!
So many of the items on the list below are helpful whether you’re nursing or bottle feeding, and it may take some trial and error to find the best feeding set-up in your house. If you find yourself always feeding your little one in the same location, then that’s great – set up a side table with all of the essentials. If you find that you feed in multiple locations around the house, then you may want to set up multiple stations or you may want a nursing basket that contains your essentials and that you move with you.
- Support Pillow : you’ll spend a lot of time holding the little one, whether you feed by bottle or breast, so it’s helpful to have some support and give your arms and back a rest. Plus, if your baby falls asleep while nursing, the pillows provide a great place for them to nap if you want to keep them close, but want your hands free. Still not sure if it’s worth it? The pillow does double duty as a prop for your baby too. They can “sit” with support and be angled upwards while on tummy time (making it more comfortable for them).
- Lanolin : if nursing, you’ll want to take good care of your nipples before there are any problems. Putting a dab of a lanolin-based cream or ointment on them will help to stop chapping.
- Glider : however you feed your newborn, you’re going to spend quite a bit of time doing it and rocking them to sleep, and just holding them and marveling at their little nose, fingers, toes, etc., so it’s worth finding yourself a comfortable chair. Personally, I loved having a glider with Alex, and spent so much time using it.
- Water : I can’t say enough about water, especially if you’re nursing. Make sure you always have a full water bottle or glass (or both!) within arm’s reach.
The most common complication in the first year following the birth of a baby is perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. This classification of mental health concerns is under diagnosed and under treated in our society. Transitions, whether it is from couple to family, or from parents of one to parents of many, is astressor. It is perfectly normal for the postpartum period to be filled with equal parts joy and overwhelm. The first week is filled with a long list of "firsts" regardless of how long you'vebeen parenting. And broken sleep, natural hormonal shifts and attending to the needs of a newborn demands a lot from us. But, if you continue to feel overwhelmed, scared, anxious or having invasive, unwanted "scary thoughts" please make a plan to reach out for support. Postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive- compulsive disorder and postpartum psychosis are all treatable complications of the postpartum period. Treatment most often includes a trained therapist that can help you develop ways to manage the unique symptoms that you are experiencing.
- Nursing Support : there are a whole host of issues that may arise while trying to nurse, from problems with the baby’s latch, to low milk supply, or just general discomfort. Fortunately, there are also a whole host of support options to help you work through them. Please take some time to learn about nursing before you give birth; as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers as well as Dr. Newman’s website. Know the phone numbers for local lactation consultants and the meeting times for your La Leche group before you even need them. Find out about any programs within your company. When I had Alex, I was surprised and amazed by the support that was provided my job (there were lactation rooms and monthly support meetings for breastfeeding and working moms).
- Entertainment & Mental Stimulation : While we can all spend hours gazing at the babe, admittedly, the feedings can get a touch boring once in a while, so think ahead and store up some entertainment. I found myself relying on my phone, especially since it’s so small and could be controlled with one hand. I had a stockpile of podcasts and some ebooks waiting for me. After being in the baby zone 24/7 for a couple of weeks, you may find yourself starting to feel depressed simply because you aren’t using your brain & having the chance to interact with people the way you did before the baby. Even though we’re supposed to rest, I say it’s OK and even good to do something that challenges your brain and makes you feel good – if you like to work, have a few tasks waiting for you that don’t come with the stress of a deadline. If you have a hobby, like knitting or jewelry making, have the supplies ready for a small project that you can easily pick up and put down.
- Time for Yourself : think about building this in before the baby comes. It doesn’t have to be a lot, even just a couple of hours on a Saturday morning, but getting out of the house by yourself and going to the bookstore or taking a long bath and a walk can make a world of a difference in how you approach the rest of your week.
- Other moms : As I mentioned above, my workplace had a monthly nursing support group, and I attended regularly, even taking Alex along on my days off. I was lucky to not need the nursing help, but it was so nice to sit in a room with other new moms, ask questions, and hear about what they were experiencing.
I think we’ll often hear that you should plan ahead and have meals ready, let our friends help, and/or give yourself a break if you order takeout, etc., but I also think it’s really important to do a bit of planning so that you’re eating nutrition-packed food. This will help with your physical healing and with your mental well-being.
- Aim for well-balanced meals packed with protein & calcium (especially if nursing).
- It can be so hard to prepare meals during the first few weeks, so planning ahead is key. During both pregnancies, whenever I would make a soup, I would always put a jar of it in the freezer. Then I can easily thaw them and use them for a couple of lunches or as a side dish.
- Another simple idea is to look at the prepared food section of your grocer. Meal prep can be so much easier if you supplement with one or two pre-made items. For example, we love to buy roasted chickens, and then it’s easy to steam broccoli or bake potatoes as sides. You could also just buy the sides and then put a salmon fillet in the oven.
- Water! Again, you can’t get enough, and your body will let you know that it’s thirsty, but be prepared to drink, drink, drink.
I know that’s a lot of advice, but while it’s so much fun to plan for the baby, it’s so very important to also plan for yourself. Taking a little bit of time to make sure you have everything you need will make it that much easier to start caring for your wee babe. And, possibly most important, don’t forget to take as many naps as you can in the days leading up to the big birth day ~ that’s the primary goal on my to-do list today!