Written & Provided by: Lo Mansfield, @thelabormama
As most of us approach new mamahood, it isn’t uncommon that birth (and the way we hope it looks) takes precedence. There're so many dreams for us there: skin to skin, vaginal delivery, midwifery, doulas, music, water birth, cesarean birth, epidurals, interventions, the smell of a vernix covered newborn finally on the outside. The list is long, large, and all-consuming - and then we blink, the birth has happened, and we are suddenly in a postpartum season (in a pandemic no less) that, it turns out, is the rest of our lives.
So how can we prepare? How can we really do some “good things” to be ready - for both the brevity and incredibleness of birth as well as the true high and lows of postpartum?
I want to make some suggestions that may seem a bit less mainstream. I’m going to assume that you know some basics (and if you don’t I’m always sharing more on my Instagram) for birth prep and postpartum prep, the things like nipple cream and pads, chapstick, birth packing lists, books to read. And I hope you’ve found a provider you trust and maybe (hopefully) a friend or two or social media account or group to encourage you too. But what else? Here are a couple lesser known or talked about suggestions that hopefully make these seasons a little bit easier.
Birth + Postpartum Prep Suggestions
Podcasts: Podcasts are nothing new today. But did you know there are SO many related to birth and postpartum? You may be listening already, but if you are not, I’d encourage you to start. After sound advice and information from a care provider, birth and postpartum podcasts can be such an incredible way to learn about the things you may encounter, as well as be encouraged by the stories of other women who have lived through good, beautiful, and hard things, and survived all of it. Some of my favorites are The Birth Hour, Birthful, Informed Pregnancy, and The Push Guide.
Food: I want you to ask for what you need. I want you to let people help you. Even in the age of COVID, contactless meals can be dropped on your porch, gift cards to Uber Eats and GrubHub are available in minutes. I’m not sure there is anything more valuable than a hot meal you don’t have to make, especially in that immediate postpartum season. It may feel bold or presumptuous to ask a friend to set up a MealTrain (or something similar) for you - but do it (before you are due). Many churches also assist new mamas in this way too. People want to help you - please let them.
Lactation: Though it’s one of the most “natural” things in the world - breastfeeding your little one (and pumping) can actually feel like one of the toughest, most confusing and frustrating things you’ve ever done. How can you prepare yourself for when you are home and there is no longer a RN or an IBCLC helping you every feed? Find a lactation consultant now (before you deliver). Keep the number on your fridge. If you need help, you want help immediately - and I don’t want you searching for someone when you’re exhausted, engorged, and weary with a crying baby on your lap.
Breast Pumps: Most of us know that nearly every insurance plan now offers a free breast pump to pregnant/postpartum women. Follow up on this. Figure out what is available to you BEFORE babe arrives. Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed, I still believe it is good to be prepared with a pump - there are just no guarantees that you won’t want or need one, even if only for a season. If you are able to receive yours before birth, sterilize it and have it ready. If you feel totally clueless about using it, you can also bring yours into the hospital and have the RN or lactation consultant show you how!
“Responsibility Talk:” This feels silly to include, but can I tell you something? This may be the MOST important thing you can do to handle those postpartum days with your partner well. I’d encourage you to have a VERY clear and specific conversation about ways in which each of you see yourself caring for that little one. If the baby wakes at 2 am and won’t go back to sleep, who is going to rock them? Is your partner going to change the middle of the night diaper before you nurse them? Who will go to your older kids when they wake in the middle of the night? What are your expectations of them if you are home on maternity leave and they are back at work? You are absolutely going to confront things you didn’t talk about. But the more you talk about now, when it isn’t 3 am and you all desperately need sleep, the better some of these potentially poor conversations will go.
Postpartum Anxiety and Depression: I’d encourage you to learn about these right now. For many women in the United States, there is not a care provider checking on you until you are 6 weeks postpartum. The symptoms of PPA and PPD can absolutely show up before then - and you may be the only one advocating for yourself before that follow up appointment. Can you get someone on board with this with you? Can you teach your partner, your mom, a dear friend the signs and symptoms of these - and then allow them to speak into your life if they believe you may be experiencing some of them? The exhaustion of adding a new babe to the family can easily hide PPA or PPD and I don’t want you to prepare for this potentiality alone. Bring someone into this education and then give them the freedom to walk alongside you.
Mama, you have a million things to think about. My guess is that everyday, the list grows longer - and perhaps, you feel a bit more overwhelmed. None of us can prescribe to you exactly what will make your birth and postpartum season go “perfectly” (pssst...I think that’s impossible anyway). But I hope you can be encouraged by these suggestions and that maybe, crossing one of them off of the list will feel really, really good.
Cheering for you!
Lo (The Labor Mama)
Lo is a (currently pregnant) labor, delivery, and postpartum RN who left her patients for her own babies when her first daughter was born. She loved delivering her own girls, delivering her patients' babies, and continues writing and educating about all of it. She lives in Denver with her husband and her two daughters, writing, mom-ing, speaking life to other mamas on her Instagram and (maybe) figuring it out. For more on pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum, newborns, and mamahood, join her there.