1. Ask for what you need. This is often difficult for new parents but if friends and family offer to help, ask them for specific favors. Do you need someone to vacuum, pick up your pictures or something at the grocery store, or fold laundry? Can a different person bring you dinner for a week or two? Consider registering for meal assistance at www.mealtrain.com. Tell visitors ahead of time that they will only be able to stay a short time since you are busy taking care of your new baby. You may also want to consider hiring a cleaning service or postpartum doula.
2. Practice the breathing and visualization you learned in childbirth class. Deep breathing can help you to relax now. Extra oxygen is a natural tranquilizer and can help you feel less stressed. When calming a crying baby, try taking a few deep breaths. You may have used visualization during labor, now try seeing your body relax, or imagine yourself in a restful spot, such as the beach. Picture breathing in a pleasant smell or color. Smiling releases endorphins so that may help as well.
3. Reach out to other new parents. Call or email other students from your childbirth class to see how they are doing. Attend a La Leche League meeting or a breastfeeding support group at your local hospital, a postpartum yoga class, or a mom and me play group.
4. Breastfeed. Nursing releases oxytocin, which makes you feel calmer and lowers your blood pressure. It also promotes mother and baby bonding. Breastfed babies have fewer colds, ear infections, colic, and allergies; healthier babies are less stressful to care for. Healthier babies mean less sickness for parents and other members of the household as well. Breastfeeding is a time for the mother to rest. It promotes uterine contractions. The faster the uterus contracts the less lochia flow there will be. This leads to higher iron levels and less fatigue. Breast milk never needs to be prepared or heated and there are no bottles to clean or trips to the store. Set up a nursing station where everything you need will be within arms reach: a snack, a drink, the phone, the remote control, someplace to put the baby down, a book, etc. If you live in a two-story house establish a changing station with diapers, wipes, and clean baby clothes downstairs so you can reduce the number of trips you make up and down stairs.
5. Plan ahead. If there are specific times of day that seem to be fussy times for your baby plan to call or meet a friend during that time. If dinner-time is difficult try making dinner earlier in the day, order out, or eat cereal for dinner. If you have a few minutes in the evening, gather together what you will need for the next day so your diaper bag, purse, and keys are ready. Or set up snacks such a water or juice in sippy cups, raisins, sliced cheese or pretzels in Ziploc bags that your older child can help him or herself to when you’re busy with the baby. While you’re at it, set up some easy-to-reach, healthy snacks for yourself.
6. Focus on what you’re eating. Good nutrition doesn’t have to be fancy. A scrambled egg is quick and easy. Cheese on whole-wheat crackers is a good snack, so are bananas, apples, nuts, yogurt, dried fruit, natural peanut butter, edamame or a glass of milk. Eating well will lower your stress level and help you heal faster.
7. Sleep as much as possible. Sleep deprivation is actually a form of torture! Prioritize sleeping during the day when your baby sleeps since you know your night-time sleep will be interrupted. The more you rest now the faster you will heal from birth. During the day, lie down even when you cannot sleep. Remember women in traditional cultures have a lying in period where all they do is rest in bed and feed their babies. Try to learn to nurse the baby lying down so you don’t have to sit up for every feed. To nurse lying down, put several pillows behind your back so you can comfortably lie on your side, place your baby on her side so you are belly to belly and her mouth is as high as your nipple. Move your bottom arm out of the way and cradle her head with your top arm. If it seems your baby needs to be higher place a folded receiving blanket under her head.
8. Try to exercise a bit. Once your body has healed from birth, walking with your baby will release endorphins that make you feel better. Even just standing for a few minutes on one foot will reduce your stress as your body focuses on keeping your balance.
9. Lower your standards. Your home will now look like you share it with a new baby. It’s ok if it’s not quite as neat as it was before. It may take a while for those thank you notes or birth announcements to get out. Taking care of a baby is a full time job.
10. Think about what is helpful for you. For some new mothers the whole day seems better if they can greet it dressed and showered; they prioritize showering before their partners leave the house or they have a visitor watch the baby so they can grab a shower. Others would rather sleep as much as possible and find that staying in their pajamas causes visitors to shorten their stay. Arrange for someone to watch the baby so that you can take a warm bath or a walk by yourself. Try to keep in mind that the intensity of caring for a newborn is temporary. Someday you may look back on this time with nostalgia. Even though your nights may seem long now, babies grow quickly so takes lot of pictures and record your baby’s milestones. Most importantly take moments to enjoy his or her babyhood and be fully in the moment.
Julie Brill, CCCE, CLD has been teaching childbirth classes for twenty years and training birth professionals throughout New England as a member of the CAPPA Faculty for ten. For more information about attending a childbirth educator or labor doula training please visit www.WellPregnancy.com. Phone Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster and Skype childbirth educator classes and consults also available. For perinatal updates and other info follow Wellpregnancy on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wellpregnancy.