Preparing for Life after Birth: Tips from The Postnatal Doula
If you’re pregnant right now, you are probably focusing on your forthcoming labour and birth. And quite right too! You want to feel informed, empowered and confident in what is going to happen to your body and your baby in the process of labour and birth. You may have prepared a birth plan, signed up to hypnobirthing classes or sought antenatal education.
But have you heard about the fourth trimester? It’s the first twelve weeks of life after birth, when you and your baby are adjusting to the many changes that come with labour and birth. With these first twelve weeks come a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.
The Postpartum Stage
Just as you prepare for birth, it is important to prepare for life after birth too. We call this stage of life postpartum. As a society, we often overlook and under-prepare for this vulnerable time. Being prepared for postpartum life can mean that you’re better equipped, informed and resilient to face many changes that life with a newborn can bring.
The tips below will help you to focus on postpartum life and begin to help you prepare for life after birth.
When anyone asks me for my #1 tip for postpartum life, the answer is always “rest, rest and rest some more”. Unfortunately, many people feel under pressure to be up and active as soon as possible after birth. We have somehow made rest and slowing down a pace of life seem wrong, when it isn’t at all! You’ve just gone through labour! You might have had an abdominal birth, an episiotomy, stitches and on top of that your body will have used energy to sustain you through labour and worked to birth your baby. In order to heal and recover, you truly need to rest.
DockATot nursing pillow in Busy Bees from the Regal Romance collection
In cultures from around the world there is often a strong emphasis given on rest. For example in Chinese postpartum culture, they have 40 days of ‘sitting in’ where you would have complete rest for that time and be cared for and supported by others, allowing you to focus on your recovery and bonding with your baby.
I’m not saying you need the full 40 days, but you definitely need to factor in rest for at least the first week, if not two or three weeks. The more you help your body to recover the better your postpartum experience will be. Rest can be lying in bed, sitting up in bed or sitting on the couch with your feet elevated.
2. Easing Soreness
Taking a regular sitz bath can be a great way to feel refreshed and more comfortable after birth. This is a shallow bath, drawn to around mid-thigh level. You can add healing herbs to them too (camomile, for example) but avoid using epsom salts if you’ve got stitches that are still healing.
Having a peri wash whilst going to the toilet can also be really comforting. This is where you pour or spray your perineum with water whilst urinating, to relieve any tenderness or stinging. You can use a cup to pour, or you can buy a peri bottle.
If you’ve had an abdominal birth, you will need to be even more focused on your recovery. Any other kind of major surgery, and we’d know how to take care of ourselves. But when it comes to birth, we often tend to neglect self-care as we’re focussing on getting to grips with parenting a newborn, feeding, night-waking and so on.
3. Nourishing your Postpartum Body
When you’re pregnant, your body puts a lot of its energy into growing your baby and preparing your body for birth and postpartum. Once you’ve had your baby, your body then pivots to begin processing hormonal changes, physical recovery and tiredness. You need to make sure it has the right fuel to work through these changes in the best way it can!
If you’re able to, batch cook some of your favourite meals before your due date. If you’re not able to, consider creating a ‘meal train’ – a list of friends and family who provide nourishing meals every day for a set amount of time. Ask a friend or relative to manage that process, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Eating regular nourishing meals and snacks is going to give your body a great chance of healing and recovering. Protein and antioxidants with Vitamin C are great for helping the body to heal. Fibre aids digestion and avoids constipation, so consider meals with whole-grain carbohydrates like bread and pasta. If you’re looking to stock up your pantry in advance, tinned or frozen fruit and vegetables work just as well as fresh.
1. Protecting Your Bubble
You may want to think of this postpartum stage as a ‘bubble’, a safe, cosy, nurturing space where you are able to bond with your baby and have quiet, undisturbed time to get to grips with feeding and rest.
However, well-meaning family and friends will be eager to get a glimpse of your new baby and give you their congratulations. This is understandable! There is nothing quite like newborn cuddles. However, their desire to cuddle your baby doesn’t outweigh your need to establish feeding, rest and recover. You and your baby are getting to know one another, and you don’t need to be stressed by the thought of having anyone bursting your bubble.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask
When you’re ready to welcome visitors, what ways could their visit be of benefit to you? Could they pick up some groceries for you before they get to you? Could they bring a meal with them? Would they be happy doing the washing up or entertaining older siblings whilst they’re there?
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask them to work to earn those cuddles! Also, most people are genuinely happy to go the extra mile for you if asked.
3. Postpartum Support
Do you have family and friends nearby who would be willing to support you? If you live away from family or you are needing support that is unbiased, non-judgemental and knowledgeable when it comes to life after birth, consider hiring a postnatal doula (like me!).
Hiring A Postnatal Doula
Postnatal doulas are people who provide practical and emotional support either in-home or virtually via messaging and video calls.
If they’re local to you, they’ll be part of a network with other postpartum practitioners. For example, if you want a postpartum massage, they might offer that service themselves, or they’ll know where to go to get the best one in the area.
Doulas are invaluable not just for you but for your whole family. They support partners, answering any questions or comforting them if they are worried. If there are older siblings, doulas can often keep them entertained if you need 1:1 time with the baby.
Look after yourself
Most of all, when thinking about life after birth, remember this; you matter. You are just as important as your newborn baby and need to prioritise your needs and care alongside that of your baby.
Grace Williams is Mama to three girls and lives in Devon, UK. She's been a Postnatal Doula for almost 4 years and is passionate about supporting people to find their new rhythm of life after birth. Grace is also a doula trainer, growing the number of postnatal doulas in the UK and beyond. You can find her at www.thepostnataldoula.co.uk