When you were pregnant, odds are you spent all your time prepping for labor, birth, and baby care. You likely didn’t do any preparation to make sure YOU were cared for in the postpartum period. We read pregnancy books, learn labor techniques, take parenting classes...but we don’t usually stop to educate ourselves and really think about what will happen to US after.
How do we care for ourselves post-birth? We can’t know for sure how we will respond to this period. In a million years, I never would have guessed I’d be dealing with postpartum depression. Would it have changed anything if I had taken time to learn about what postpartum was really like? If I had more knowledge on what to expect and how to cope? I’ll never know, but what I do know is that this time I’m doing it differently. As I enter this last month of pregnancy, I’m putting focus on setting myself up for a better postpartum transition and a more knowledgeable understanding of the fourth trimester.
Here are some things I’m doing in order to have a (hopefully) better experience this time around:
Reading + educating myself
I purchased two highly rated books to read in these last few weeks of pregnancy: The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson and The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou (with Marisa Belger + Amely Greeven). Despite having 15 (yes,really, I counted!) labor/birth/pregnancy/pregnancy health/child care books on my shelf, it never occurred to me during my first pregnancy that I should also be preparing for the postpartum. Since I just had a baby 15 months ago, I skipped all reading about those other topics and these two books are my only focus.
Preparing healthy food in advance
With my first pregnancy, we spent so much time getting everything else ready for the arrival of our son that we completely neglected to prepare any food ahead of time. Prepping food to freeze is one of the main things that literally EVERYONE and every resource recommends doing but we completely dropped the ball. I’m not saying that having prepared healthy food would have cured my postpartum issues, but I can guarantee that living off the Costco frozen and prepared food section made me feel much worse physically than nourishing myself properly would have done. Would that physical difference have changed anything? Again, I’ll never know, but I do know that setting myself up for health and healing this time around is high on my priority list.
Not jumping right back into work
With my first pregnancy, I worked while I was literally in labor. For those that don’t know, I’m a pet sitter. I stopped taking appointments for people going out of town at 38 weeks but continued my regular visits for people who just worked long hours and let them know that after that 38 week mark, I couldn’t guarantee not having to cancel at the last minute. I started having contractions on a Thursday morning, at 39 weeks and 2 days. I went out and did my regular two visits, dog walking through contractions, went grocery shopping for some last minute essentials, and Wyatt was born the next morning at 5:33 a.m. I went back to work 12 days later for a stand alone vacation job and went back full time at 3 ½ weeks postpartum, with my newborn in a Moby wrap. I went back to work so soon because I was terrified of taking too much time off and losing clients. I put so much additional stress on myself jumping back in so quickly. This time, I’ve hired a wonderful helper who is going to take over during my maternity leave which will give me the chance to ease back in when I’m ready and not overload myself by doing too much.
I would like to point out that work doesn’t have to be a stressor postpartum. I let pet sitting become a stress by going back too soon and taking on work when I should have been resting and healing. However, later on in my postpartum journey, the ability to get out of the house and not feel cooped up helped tremendously. When I started Doing Business + Raising Babies around 8 months postpartum, the act of working on something I was so passionate about REALLY helped. Work is not bad, you just have to know when to take breaks, when to slow down, and be able to recognize that you can’t immediately go back to doing what you were before at the same level. This is why DB+RB preaches an organic balance of motherhood + business. What we are able to do is dependent on our season of life and we need to honor that to keep ourselves balanced and less stressed.
I am a notorious people pleaser. Or at least I was. I would routinely do things I didn’t want to do just to avoid conflict and making people upset. Since my son was born, however, I have been working on breaking this habit. When Wyatt was born, we had a home birth that ended in an unnecessary NICU stay (our midwife was amazing and the trip to the hospital was only a precaution because he had trouble breathing at first. Long story short, the hospital did not react well to us having a home birth and treated us very poorly. There was fear mongering, a false diagnosis, and tons of unnecessary medications and tests run on our son). The week we spent in the NICU is the number one contributing factor to my postpartum issues, as far as I’m concerned. But back to the saying ‘no’ part. I was too polite to say no to visitors while we were in the hospital. I was living in a crappy NICU room, not sleeping, being terrified by all these false things the doctors were telling me, not up for dealing with people at all. BUT I COULDN’T BE RUDE AND SAY NO. We had visitors Every. Single. Day. And the hospital only allowed two people in the room at each time so when my husbands family was there, I had to haul my just-gave-birth and healing body out to a waiting room until they left. It was awful and stressful. This time around, I plan to say no to visitors unless I’m really up for it. Will it make people angry and upset? Probably. But it will also allow us to jump into having people in our new baby space on our own terms and our own time. It’s important to realize that when you’ve gone through something as hard and complex as birth, no one's feelings matter but your own. You need time to process everything, heal, and bond. If people can’t respect that, that’s on them.
Making a postpartum care kit
With my first pregnancy, my postpartum care kit consisted of necessities only. Mesh underwear (lifesaver), the biggest pads in existence, ibuprofen, and peri bottle. I think that was it. This time, I’m going big. I’ve stocked the necessities, but also extras just to make myself feel better and have something special to look forward to. I’ve purchased the Push Thru subscription box for mothers (I even started my subscription a month early so I have a box ready to go!), I have an herbal bath soak and perineal spray from the lovely Emily of The Mindful Folk, and I’ve downloaded some new books on my tablet for reading during those late night breastfeeding sessions. Treat yo’ self.
With my first birth, I had my placenta encapsulated, but with everything going on with the NICU and my hard adjustment to motherhood, I never got in the habit of taking them. While I don’t think there are any actual scientific studies about the usefulness of ingesting the placenta, there is enough anecdotal and personal accounts of the wonderful effects it has to make me believe it could have helped. There’s no denying that such a large and immediate drop in hormone levels post birth is hard for the body to handle, how could ingesting those hormones found in the placenta possible hurt? This time, while I am encapsulating again (and will make sure to actually take them!), I’m also going one step further. Since it takes a day or two to get the pills back, I’ve made arrangements with my doula for her to remove and freeze a few very small pieces of the placenta for immediate consumption. One small piece a day will be blended into a smoothie with frozen fruit. Does this gross me out? Yep, kind of, can’t lie. But I am willing to try anything to not feel the way I did during my first postpartum period.
While none of these are sure fire reasons to avoid postpartum issues, the goal here is to prepare as best you can. Give yourself the knowledge and education to enter the postpartum prepared. Don’t just assume everything will be fine and you won’t suffer from postpartum depression or other issues. Get educated. Get ready. Ask for help when you need it.
Postpartum thoughts + advice from mothers in the DB+RB community
“Accept help! I refused to let anyone do anyone help me, if they didn't do it "my way" with my first. Part of it was PPA, as well. With my second, I was intentional about surrounding myself with those who lifted me up and I let them carry the load so I could heal.”
“I suffered from PPD after my second baby and was never planning to have another one because of it. But when I got pregnant with baby #3, despite being told it might not be possible, I was determined not to go through that again. I researched everything I could about ppd and was much more open about it. I think the act of being more prepared was what saved me, instead of assuming it wouldn’t happen to me like I did the first time. I also wrote a blog post about how to prepare for another baby after postpartum depression with more of my tips.”
“Doing something special with baby #2 such as a play group or class once a week. Baby #1 got all of you and baby #2 has to share you so making time for each child is so important and baby classes are a great way to meet other moms going through the same as you are so BONUS you get to spend quality time with baby and you get to catch up with other mommys.”
“My second time around was much easier than my first, despite having a 2.5 year old running around like a mad man. It’s so important to tell people exactly what you need and want. There is no reason to keep it a secret or think that you might be asking too much. Everyone who offers to help genuinely wants to. Most of the time, I sent them off with my older son so that he got out of the house and so baby and I got couch/tv/nursing/bonding time. Lots of Netflix!!!”
“Love this book [The Fourth Trimester]!! I had a rough Postpartum and I learned the art of surrender and to receive. To not be afraid to ask for help and allow yourself to process without judgement. My experience is the reason why I work with women during Postpartum time because it is truly our rebirth into reclaiming ourselves from maiden to mother.” #empoweredmother
“I read this [The Fourth Trimester] too and was really intentional about learning from my first and preparing better for my second, so lots of love to you for having the courage to do that. I was really honest and open with people about the changes I wanted to make this time round. I wrote lists of my intentions and how I was going to create my sanctuary, and put them on the fridge so everyone who came to the house could see them. I gave people specific jobs rather than accept general offers of help - one friend moved in for 10 weeks to help with my first born and she did three early mornings per week so I got the extra rest before birth and could devote myself to the new baby once he arrived. I think my main change the second time round was just throwing out all of the societal norms that I’d been brought up with and writing my own rules. Being true to your own needs will help you be a better parent, help you keep watch for if you need more support and give you strength for the hard times. Sending lots of love and strength!”
Brittany runs The Positive Pregnancy Journey group on Facebook which is a great support tool for anyone needing help or looking for solidarity and sisterhood. From preparing for pregnancy, postpartum, motherhood, and beyond.