Eight weeks ago today, I gave birth to our second daughter. She is beautiful and healthy and I could not be more grateful. My experience this time around has been so different from my first, reminding me how difficult it can be as a new mom. Your body is healing from trauma, your hormones are going nuts, you haven’t slept well since the second trimester, and now you have a tiny, helpless baby to care for- and you have no idea what you’re doing! You are not alone, mama. Here are some of my unsolicited tips to get you through the first few months of postpartum.
Ask for Help
Do not be afraid to ask for help. I know, so much easier said than done, particularly when you’re going on the seventh night of zero sleep and you’re thigh deep in the “baby blues.” When in doubt, have your partner do it. My husband happens to be amazing at asking for help.
If you are reading this before giving birth, have a plan and ask for help before you need it. You can always turn it away if you find you don’t want it after all. A large part of this is understanding and communicating your options. Here are a few for you:
- Request help with groceries or laundry.
- Have family and friends bring you food. People can sign up on a site like mealbaby.com during your baby shower.
- Hire a postpartum doula or a night nurse if you have the financial means.
- Know and communicate when you need alone time to rest.
It’s All Just a Phase
My cousin told me after I had my first baby that everything is just a phase. This could not be more true and it is currently getting me through my toddler’s sleep regression with all of my hair intact. Most of my hair, anyway. Someday this struggle will end and it will be a memory, giving you the lessons you need to be a better parent. I repeat: you WILL NOT be up every single hour all night long forever.
Communicate with Your Partner
Here are some ground rules to establish:
- Don’t expect him/her to know what to do to support you. Ask for what you need.
- Have regular check-ins to verbalize expectations, realities, feelings, etc.
- Fights at 2am do not count. Things look a lot different after another few hours of sleep.
- Listen to each other.
- Remember that you each have your own perspective in this parenting experience and sometimes it will be impossible to understand the other person.
Have a Postpartum Survival Plan
Before you have your baby, list all the activities that keep you sane and happy right now and are conducive to rest and relaxation. Create a music playlist, a Netflix bucket list, and/or a reading list. Make healthy, nourishing freezer meals when all you can do that day is survive. Stock up at Costco. Make a list of friends to text when you’re lonely. Create a bucket of pads and other care items to keep by the toilet. Make a portable diaper caddy complete with nursing pads and other items to keep with you. Be ready with your comfiest clothes and nursing tanks.
Do your future self a favor and pamper her- she deserves all of it!
This includes both you AND your baby. Babies need tons of sleep, up to 16-18 hours a day, and you need it to help ward off postpartum depression and anxiety. Recognize those early signs of tiredness (red eyebrows!) and get baby down before they have a meltdown. Don’t be afraid to seek outside help if you have struggles. I know couples who have had incredible results with sleep coaches. It may take some time, but you’ll find what works best for you and it may be completely different from how your friend did it. That’s okay!
My favorite resources are:
Finally, my top two pieces of unsolicited advice regarding sleep: heed the pause and put your baby down sleepy, but awake.
Be Aware of Your Mental Health
The unfortunate side effect of the gigantic hormone crash following labor is that you’ll probably feel like both your body and emotions were hit by a truck. I spent a week or two crying and mourning my previous life when my first daughter was born. This is normal and not talked about nearly enough. However, if the “blues” last longer than this, please reach out to your physician and get some help. You do NOT have to feel like this. Taking care of yourself first will make you a better mother.
If you have the privilege of taking time off from work, take advantage of it. Smother yourself in all the self care. Look out for signs of loneliness and make an effort to socialize, particularly if you are introverted. Coming to terms with your birth story can be particularly difficult for some, particularly those who’s births didn’t go as planned or were traumatic. Get in touch with yourself and get used to your new identity. Soon you’ll find that this reality is your new normal and you probably are a very similar person on the other side.
Furthermore, never sacrifice your sanity in the name of motherhood. Mom Guilt is a horrible affliction rampant in today’s modern mothers. It is also not a requirement of motherhood. You know your child the best and you know yourself the best. Write down your definition of a good mother. I bet it doesn’t include an unattainable version of perfect. Do not hold yourself to that standard. In fact, know that being a person who is aware of their imperfections can be a strong positive influence on their child. So, get off the comments on Facebook, stop Googling in the middle of the night, and trust in your gut that you and everything you’re doing right now is the best for your child.
Sending you so much love, Mama. You can do this!