Advice from a Doula: Practical Planning for Postpartum Self-Care
Hi Friends! I am so excited for you to meet Nicole Ramsey, mom of five and doula with Ada's Gift Doula Services, who serves the greater Lafayette, Indiana area. She has generously written this valuable post on planning self-care for your postpartum self, and makes a great case for why you should do it while you're still pregnant. So, without further ado, here's Nicole!
It’s the last trimester of pregnancy; you’re feeling huge and as if there’s nothing productive you can do except grow the tiny human. This also seems rather unappealing, as growing this tiny human means getting increasingly uncomfortable yourself. It’s the paradox of motherhood: so often taking care of those we love best means we are sacrificing parts of our well being. It doesn’t have to be like this, though, and there are several ways to prepare for proper self-care with a newborn even before birth and ways to still practice healthy self care even with a newborn at home.
While You Are Pregnant
Find Good Support ~ Consider investing in a postpartum doula. You can set up a contracted number of hours even before birth, and doing this will give you an opportunity to get to know your doula beforehand and discuss your expectations. Having a postpartum doula on hand will smooth some of the exhausting transition from hospital to home, when your milk is coming in and the baby isn’t latching as beautifully as they did in the hospital, and nurses aren’t there to offer to hold the baby so you can sleep… being home with a new baby is wonderful, but there are big challenges in finding a new home routine.
Plan for Mental Self-Care ~ Consider ordering a magazine subscription on a topic that interests you. You may not have the time or the energy to read a fat book on the history of Italian cooking, for example, but reading short articles on your favorite ingredients will keep your mind refreshed and energized throughout the day (or night….). Buy a novel you’ve been longing to read, find music that you’re excited about sharing with your baby, check out a book from the library on an artist you love… basically, remember that you are a whole person and that your love of the world is something to be shared with your children, not suppressed.
Plan for Good Physical Self-Care ~ You can make beautiful frozen meals. Or, if you’re 39 weeks pregnant and your ankles are swollen and the thought of meal cooking makes you want to cry, you can do simple things like browning a big batch of ground beef and dividing it into smaller portions for the freezer. Voila! Easy tacos or spaghetti after the baby is born. You can do the same with chicken: cooking and cutting it up, storing it in freezer bags.
You can also experiment with various grocery curbside pick up and delivery services in your area and see if there’s one you like best so it’s easier to use right after the baby comes. If you're interested in reading more about curbside pick up in the greater Lafayette, IN area, you'll find my recent blog post (Grocery Delivery & Pick Up Services in Lafayette, Indiana) about the topic helpful!
Protip: do not feel shy about putting any of these services or items on your baby shower registry! Trust me, you will be happier about having a postpartum doula there to wash your lunch dishes after the birth than you will be about Yet Another Cute Outfit To Be Spit Up On.
Self-Care With A Newborn
All of your normal routines change when you bring a brand new, tiny human home with you…every single one of them. And in those schedule adjustments, it is easy to lose track of the things that nourish your own body and mind. Here are some crucial ways to help the early days go more smoothly.
Stay Hydrated ~ Your body needs water. It may want all things caffeinated, but it really needs water. Try to fill up a water bottle at the beginning of the day and carry it practically everywhere with you. Throw lemon slices in it. Set a timer on your phone and label it “DRINK WATER.” Ask a friend to be your water accountability buddy, texting you occasionally to ask how you’re doing. Write it in permanent marker on your hand. Brew a big batch of herbal tea (making sure it’s an herb not contraindicated for breastfeeding) and drink it iced. Basically, do whatever it takes to give your body good water intake.
Embrace Gentle Exercise ~ That baby wearing group you found in pregnancy? Ask for help learning how to use a carrier and take walks around your neighborhood or at a park. If it’s the middle of winter, look up indoor walking tracks in your town and use them. If you have the time and resources, find a yoga class… maybe even look into taking one with a friend. Don’t think about this exercise routine as “losing the baby weight,” recognize that your mind and body need the endorphins exercise produces, no matter what the numbers on the scales say. Check with your care provider on any restrictions you may need to keep in mind before jumping into this realm, though!
Accept Help ~ Accept aaaallll sorts of help, even from inanimate objects! Let yourself use paper plates for a couple of weeks, for instance. And accept offers from your community, too. Let someone else do the dishes, let people bring you meals. It may feel awkward; after all, you know how strong you are ~ you just birthed a human being! But even superwomen need rest, and support systems are important for helping you feel connected with the outside world when your life is centered inward for a bit. Do not be afraid to ask for help with things like breastfeeding, either; the La Leche League is an amazing resource, and most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff. Yes, this is self care, because poor breastfeeding can be extremely difficult on mothers, too.
And Even As You Accept Help, Allow Yourself to Say No, Too. Don’t feel obligated to accept every offer of help if there are ones that will seriously stress you or if you know there will be strings attached. DO feel free to tell people (even relatives!) when it’s not a good time to visit. Having a newborn at home is a special, narrow window of time when your family can work on bonding, snuggling, recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. Cherish that time and give yourself permission to be excused from some of your typical commitments. There will be time for them later; this time to tend to yourself as a new mother is irreplaceable.