Most people who are pregnant are familiar with the idea of writing a birth plan (or more commonly “birth preferences” since truly, it’s hard to plan how labor and birth will unfold!), but too few parents-to-be think about sitting down to write a postpartum plan. It’s worth remembering, though, that the postpartum period lasts a lot longer than labor and birth!
A postpartum plan is important
As expectant parents, there are so many unknowns and elements that are out of our control. So I am not suggesting that you can plan how your postpartum period will go any more than one can plan labor and birth. But you can think ahead about creating a team and having structures and resources in place no matter how things go. After all, even if you have the easiest birth in the world, the happiest baby on the block and breastfeeding is a snap, you still need and deserve support and nurturing as new parents! And when you hit the inevitable bump in the postpartum road, it reduces stress and anxiety to have a postpartum plan in place.
If you’re setting out on this adventure with a partner, coming up with a postpartum plan is also a great time for both of you to explore your expectations and concerns about this period. In the heat of the moment is a crummy time to find out that you’re not on the same page! And, if you’re doing this as a single parent, it’s an absolute must to think ahead.
Postpartum plan guiding principles
Here are some guiding principles and questions to ask yourself as you put together your postpartum plan:
Enlist helpers not visitorsThere is a huge difference between a helper who will come into your home as compared to a visitor. Helpers will happily do a load of laundry, get the dirty dishes out of the sink, make (or bring) you a meal, and hold the baby so you can take a nap or a shower. Visitors tend to sit on your couch, coo over the baby, and chat and drink coffee (when you might rather be napping!). Obviously I’m a fan of postpartum doulas, but if that’s not in your budget, you can enlist trusted family members and friends who can care for you so you get the rest and support you need. Remember, they will likely need guidance about how best to help you. So plan to have a suggested to do list for your team of helpers. The more clear you are about your needs, the easier it is for your team to support you!
Who’s staying home and for how long? Can you and/or your partner cobble together a little extra vacation time to extend whatever parental leaves your employers offer? When you and/or your partner return to work, is it possible to ease in with a few days a week at the beginning to make the transition a little easier? Some couples also stagger their parental leaves giving a longer amount of coverage before needing to find a daycare or nanny.
In addition to stocking up on snacks and doing some big batch cooking of your favorite meals to freeze in advance, think about enlisting your most organized friend to set up a meal delivery calendar for you. Prepping or purchasing meals for a postpartum family is a great task for friends and family who want to help, but don’t have a lot of time to spare. People are assigned a time to come, drop off the food and say hello to the parents and new baby and then get out of your hair. This is way more helpful than yet another onesie or bouquet of flowers! (Sign Up Genius or Lotsa Helping Hands are free websites that can make it easy to schedule helpers to deliver meals or assist in other ways.)
If this new baby is not your first, have a plan in place for who will stay with the older sibling (s) when you go into labor. There will be so much excitement about the new baby! However, it is equally important to make sure you have familiar folks around after the birth who can heap some love and attention on your older child(ren). Also, remember to plan some time for you to connect with your older child(ren) for a special cuddle, a book or the familiar bedtime routine.
Mental health care resources
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) affect up to 20% of pregnant people and new parents, so it’s important to have some resources like this one in place as well as a list of local mental health care professionals who have expertise in PMADs. If this turns out not to be an issue for you, just learning about it will prepare you to be a better support for a friend or family member who is affected.
This goes more for dogs than for cats, but think ahead about introducing your baby and pet. Line up some help with taking your pooch for a walk in the early weeks when you don’t have the time or energy.
Ideally you can lean on your helpers to assist with cleaning your home, washing dishes and doing laundry in the early postpartum period. If your budget allows, it’s worth considering hiring someone to come into your home once a week to help with this. You might also need to accept that for a while your home might not be as clean and organized as it usually is– a price worth paying for a little bit of extra sleep!
If you’re planning on breastfeeding, you’ll want to make sure that you have a resource list that includes local lactation pros, breastfeeding support groups, and your local La Leche League leader’s contact info. Also, if you have any medical issues that may interfere with breastfeeding (like breast surgery, PCOS, inverted nipples, or insulin-dependent diabetes), it’s wise to discuss this with your care provider in advance. It’s also worth researching a breastfeeding-supportive/knowledgeable pediatrician and getting a breast pump via your insurance company.
Where is baby sleeping? Parents should be on the same page about sleep philosophy. Research co-sleeping safety so you’re not making unsafe decisions in the middle of the night! Again, lean on your team of helpers to make sure you get rest during the day.
Getting a baby carrier that’s comfortable to wear and that you know how to use safely makes parenting so much easier! Don’t assume that what worked for a friend or a family member will work for you. If possible, try before you buy and take the time to learn how to use your baby wearing gear.
Think about connecting with other new parents. These new parents could be neighbors and friends you already know. They could also be people you find via your local listserv or at a neighborhood gathering or class for parents and babies. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get out and make friends right away. But when the time is right, connecting with other new parents provides comfort, support and camaraderie.
Lastly, this is less concrete than the other points, but it’s worth thinking about the following: What calms you? Fills you with joy? Makes you laugh? Make a list and then think about how can you make those things happen for both parents!
Bottom line: beyond setting up a baby registry and stocking your nursery, expectant parents benefit from taking the time to write a postpartum plan. And if it feels helpful in getting the conversation started, check out DONA’s postpartum plan template, one of a number you can fill out or adapt to your family’s needs.
© Meema Spadola 2018 All Rights Reserved. Featured photo credit: David Herman. About Meema photo credit: Lucky Gordan
Meema Spadola is a DONA (Doulas of North America) trained and certified postpartum doula (since 2006), a Certified Lactation Counselor (since 2010) and is also certified in infant CPR. The New York Times described her as “a modern Mary Poppins: a combination friend, teacher and spirit guide…” A former documentary filmmaker, Meema enjoys working with a diverse range of families, including single, adoptive, and LGBTQ+ parents. She is the proud mother of a son born in July 2007 and lives with her family in Kensington/Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. Read more at www.meemadoula.com
You can find Meema’s profile on AfterThird.
AfterThird – find your village
A postpartum doula, support group facilitator, and lactation consultant are all great sources of support!
Sign up on AfterThird to get access to wonderful services and support in your neighborhood. Welcoming a baby is wonderful and a lot of work.
Want more information on taking care of yourself in the transition to parenthood and in supporting your goals? Self-care is so important! Remember when preparing for a baby that preparing for the baby is also about preparing yourself for the transition. Find helpful resources here.