Jada Shapiro is an expert birth and postpartum doula and founder of boober, where parents find vetted birth and postpartum doulas.
If you are expecting your first child, you may have heard horror stories from well-meaning friends, coworkers, and even strangers about their postpartum experiences. While the postpartum period can be super intense for some, for others, it can be amazing, exciting, and beautiful, especially if you make a postpartum plan and build a care team to support you!
As an expert doula, with over 20 years of experience supporting new parents during the fourth trimester (the first months after giving birth), I want to share with you the secrets, tips, and tricks I have learned to help you recover from birth as smoothly as possible. So many things can impact your postpartum experience — from the actual birth, to the support you have lined up, to your baby’s temperament, and even whether expectations meet your reality. While some of the factors are beyond your control, others can be planned for! Read on to learn about the most important items to have on hand, the people to contact, and the supports to have in place for your postpartum recovery.
Make a Plan
During pregnancy, many new families are learning and preparing to care for their newborns. After your baby arrives, managing your old and new lives can be challenging! Creating a postpartum plan is important because it can feel overwhelming to be thrown into parenting and to wing it with little to no direction. For some, it is very reassuring to have a plan on how to manage life as someone healing from childbirth but also someone with the new full-time job of being the parent to a newborn.
Assemble Your Care Team
- Identify your Community
- As the old proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child. As you plan for postpartum, make sure you know who you will call on in your ‘village’ for in-person and virtual support. This may be family, friends, or both!
- Coordinate Additional Care
- With the added responsibility of taking care of a newborn, it is important to consider who will be taking care of other important parts of your life, including things like food shopping and cooking, household chores, taking care of pets, caring for older children (if you have them), etc. It’s vital to also prioritize “you-care” including nutrition, hydration, self-care, mental health and your emotional well-being (more on this below). These can easily be placed at the bottom of your do list, but making sure you are running at your best is key for everyone, including your baby.
- Consider Hiring Professionals
- Whether you have friends and family close by, or perhaps you live far from your support system, a postpartum doula is a great person to help you adjust during this time! Not only will they listen to you (and your partner, if you have one) and provide emotional and physical recovery support, they are also there to build your newborn parenting confidence through newborn care education and providing babycare like diapering, soothing support, bathing, grooming and more.. They can check in on breastfeeding/bodyfeeding and/or help you bottle feed. They might help with light housework, laundry, baby-wearing, or even help you get out of the house for the first time. Postpartum doulas are there to support you with whatever you need as you transition to parenthood, really!
- Other professionals, such as lactation consultants, perinatal mental health therapists, and pelvic floor therapists, have specialized skill sets which may be vital during the postpartum period.
- Note: Hiring a birth doula, as well, sets you up to have the very first moments of postpartum supported. Having a birth doula reduces the risk of cesarean birth and other interventions and decreases the risk of postpartum depression. While you are building your postpartum care team, consider how a supported birth can positively impact postpartum.
Take some Postpartum Prep Classes
- Try a class on preparing for postpartum, understanding lactation, newborn care and infant sleep. The more you learn and understand ahead of time, the more prepared and less surprised you will be when the baby arrives. You’ll also have a good sense of whether things are going well or whether you need to reach out for help.
Plan for Your Physical Recovery from Birth
- Have these Items on Hand
- Maxi pads or adult diapers: For the first several days or weeks after having your baby, you may experience some heavy period-like bleeding, called lochial flow or lochia. You’ll be happy to have something extra-absorbent on hand! You can also use postpartum absorbent underwear.
- Padsicles: Padsicles are sanitary napkins soaked in witch hazel and placed in the freezer for a few hours. Use these to relieve and soothe any genital soreness, itchiness, or discomfort. Also helpful for hemmorhoids.
- Peri-bottle or squirt bottle: These bottles because they are extremely helpful in cleaning your private area when it’s still sore and tender to the touch. They can also be used while peeing to reduce stinging and discomfort. Try both warm and cold water to find out which feels best to you!
- Nursing bras and pads: Some postpartum bras make nursing and pumping easier with removable straps or fabric which can be moved out of the way. Nursing pads will collect your leaking milk so that they don’t stain your clothing.
- Nipple Balm: Lanolin or any good nipple balm works well to soothe chapped and sore nipples, which can be expected in the beginning of your lactation journey, as you and your baby establish a solid latch.
- Pumps: While pumping is not required or even recommended in the first few weeks if lactation is going well, having a pump nearby in case you do need help with milk supply is helpful. There are many useful pumps to choose from! Pro Tip: if the one you have doesn’t seem to be working well is to make sure you are using the correct size flange. Many new parents are often pleasantly surprised at how helpful silicone “pumps” are. They use light suction and gravity to collect any letdown that would otherwise be tossed away in a nursing pad. They are a gentle way to begin a small collection of milk.
- High-fiber foods or stool softeners: After delivering your baby, you may find the first few bowel movements you attempt are difficult or you may hesitate to apply any pressure in that general area. Eating warm, soft easily digestible foods and high fiber foods can help. Some people choose stool softeners if you find yourself in this predicament, and many do.
- Have Warm & Nourishing Foods at the Ready
- Warmth- During pregnancy, the birth parent’s blood volume increases by 50%, which serves to preserve and build warmth in the body. After birth, however, the loss of this warm, circulating blood, combined with the open state of your womb, means that heat must be recaptured and circulation boosted to optimize healing. Many cultures believe in eating warm foods during the postpartum period, such as bone broths, soups, and stews. These warm, soft, easily digestible foods, help stoke your digestive system and absorb as much nutrition as possible. They also support your early bowel movements, as mentioned above.
- Stock Up- Stock your postpartum pantry with raspberry, nettle, and red clover teas, nuts and sesame, hemp, and flax seeds, and nut butters. Start ordering in bulk now so you do not have to worry once the baby arrives! Look for sources of good fat (think: grass and pasture-raised meat and butter, quality eggs, oily fish like salmon and anchovies, and raw plant fats and oils like coconut, olive, walnut, sesame, and avocado).
- Act Now- As much as you can, make and freeze soups and meals now. Know the restaurants you can order from now, and ask for food donations or gift cards to groceries or restaurants on your baby registry. Some postpartum doulas have meal preparation as one of their services, too, which is another great baby registry gift to ask for.
- Hydration- Stay hydrated with soups, teas, fruits, lemon water, or coconut water! New parents need to replenish the fluids they lost in birth, and be fueled for the next liquid expenditure– breastfeeding/bodyfeeding.
Plan for Your Emotional Recovery from Birth
- Make Sure to Prioritize Yourself
- Rest: While it can be difficult, it is incredibly important to prioritize your own sleep and rest. Taking care of a baby is an around-the-clock, 24-hour job and at some point, you will need an opportunity to rest. Discuss with your partner or support team how you plan to arrange overnight care for your baby so that everyone involved is getting the rest they need and deserve.
- Boundaries with Visitors- Who is allowed at your birth location or in your home? How long after having a baby or how long of a visit feels right to you? All aspects of having guests should be discussed as you create your postpartum plan, including considerations like masking. If any of your expectations differ from your potential visitors, it is important that these boundaries be made clear, so that they can be respected.
- Making Time for Bodywork- Healing your changed/changing body, can also help you heal your mind and spirit. In many cultures there are special massages the birth parent receives during the postpartum period. Family can provide foot rubs, scalp rubs, and other general body massage or professional massage, acupuncture, osteopathic or chiropractic care, and pelvic floor physical therapy are all excellent ways to elicit mind/body healing.
Plan for Your Baby’s Care
- Make Sure To Discuss these Vital Questions
- Who’s watching the baby? Who will be staying home with your baby and for how long? Contrary to some other countries around the world, partners in the US are not always able to stay home as long as they would like to. Two weeks can go by really quick and your baby will still be a newborn with round-the-clock needs. The birthing parent will need to rest & recover. Getting extra support can be critical to navigate these intense first few weeks. Some of us are lucky to have family nearby to give a hand, but if it is not your case or you don’t have a good relationship with them, consider hiring help. Postpartum doulas are there to care for your baby, and support your recovery post birth. They can support the family as a whole with errands, sibling care, food preparation and partner support among other amazing things. They can support you with basic infant feeding support, teaching baby care and soothing techniques, changing diapers, supporing your physical and emotional recovery, making sure you are eating, holding the baby while you sleep and much more.
- How and what will your baby eat? There are many ways to safely feed your baby to ensure their development and growth. What you feed your baby might be breastmilk (your own or from a donor milk bank) or formula. If you plan to nurse your baby, prepare by taking a lactation class and know that if you are struggling a lactation consultant can have a profound effect on how feeding feels and how long you continue to nurse. Each family, baby, parent, and circumstance is different. If you are partnered, think about how you would like to involve your partner to feed your baby, as it might dictate your approach as well. Your own pumped milk, donor milk or formula can be used. Methods of eating for a newborn baby could be directly from your chest, bottle, cup, spoon or tube.
- Where will your little one rest? There is a wide variety of places that can be safe for your baby to sleep as long as they are placed on their backs on a firm, flat surface. The sleep environment should be free from pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. Some use a crib, bassinet, Moses basket, or choose to safely co-sleep. This reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. But again, what you decide is ultimately what is best for your family.
Consider this list as you plan for the arrival of your baby! With the wonderful addition of your little one, you and your growing family will require special care. A postpartum plan is a great way to organize postpartum life so that you don’t feel quite as overwhelmed with so many first and so much new learning in the early days after birth.