The first few days postpartum was something I thought about (and worried about) a lot the last few weeks before baby girl arrived. I had no idea how I would feel and what I would want – both physically and emotionally – but I knew that as an introvert (def: recharging on your own, as opposed to recharging in the presence of others) I might struggle with some of the current societal norms. I spoke with a dear friend about this a lot, and she had some amazing advice (in hindsight), but at the time I felt like I simply couldn’t follow it. And holy moly I wish I had. So, as I do with all of my life experiences – I am learning and growing, I will make changes next time (if there is a next time), and I hope to share with others to help you on your own journeys.
On that note, the most important thought I can offer, based on my postpartum experience, is this: Immediately after the arrival of a baby…
Time & Space
The most important thing for recovery from labour, to encourage bonding, to establish breastfeeding and to protect against PPD is to spend the first few days in bed, with your baby, with constant skin-on-skin contact. It is incredibly unhelpful thing to feel the pressure to get out of bed and visit, especially if it means handing over your baby.
In my experience, I was in pain, bleeding, covered in other fluids (both from labour and from the baby), exhausted, worried, emotional and already on a super steep learning curve that did not include any sleep for mental or physical recovery. I needed more time.
Here is how you can help a new mom, by giving her the gift of time and space:
- Avoid visiting in the first 24-48 hours. Even if you’re family. This might sound extreme, but I stand by it. I had my mom with me, and I would definitely do this again, but the reason for that is she was there 100% for me, not for my baby. She made me food, did laundry and only snuggled the baby to-and-from the change table, so I didn’t have to get out of bed. She was a godsend.
- If you are anything outside of immediate family, consider waiting a few weeks to visit.
- If you are family, limit the number of your visits. The big part of my physical recovery took about 3 weeks. So for those first 3 weeks, every day I needed to rest, most of the day. I also needed at least one nap every day, and – for my own sanity – I needed to try to do one thing like shower, or change my clothes, or even make a batch of muffins (which were critical for overnight breastfeeding sessions). A visit usually prevented me from doing both of those.
- Limit the duration of your visit. I recommend 20-30 minutes max, those first few weeks. I could barely manage a 10 minute walk even at 3 weeks postpartum. Getting down the stairs week 1 was a trial – and I was lucky not to have a c-section or any stitches to recover from!
- Please, do not expect to hold the baby. It might happen, but it might not. New mom instincts are powerful. There were many times that I cried when I got my baby back – out of sheer relief – which sounds silly, but it is what it is. Hormones are super intense, especially postpartum. The only time I felt right, was when I was holding my baby.
- Be flexible and understanding. Breastfeeding sessions the first few weeks are SO long. Anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours. And you often only have an hour at most in between. This reinforces the importance of earlier points.
We needed help. I might have looked like I had my sh*t together (and in some ways I was fairly prepared) but oh boy I did not. I really needed help, in any way shape or form.
Here is how you can help a new mom, by giving her the gift of help:
- Bring nourishing food. (If the mom in question has dietary limitations, like me, just keep it simple – chicken and salad, roast potatoes, healthy muffins). I couldn’t get my brain to think about making food for weeks and weeks. Thank goodness my husband is not only great in the kitchen, but enjoys it.
- Do the dishes or clear the dishwasher.
- Throw on a load of laundry.
- Pick up a few groceries.
- Play with the other children (this is especially important if baby #2 has just arrived, since the firstborn will likely be feeling left out!).
- Walk the dog. Even for 15 minutes.
- Ask, really ask, what you can do to help. Most people will say “nothing”, so try offering a few suggestions.
Gentle reminder: holding the baby so a mom can do these things, is not very helpful during those first few weeks. However, it does become very helpful as time passes!
Every individual in unique, and depending on a mom’s tendency towards introversion or extroversion, as well as the nature of her birth and immediate postpartum experience, some of these recommendations might be too much, or actually might be not intense enough. My intention with this post is to plant some seeds, for both expectant mothers and those around them…
To help new moms know what they might need.
To help those around new moms, who love and support them, know how to do just that.