The first day of the rest of your life

Moms-to-be, I know this is nearly impossible, but still I must put forward the advice: In all the excitement about your upcoming birth, do not neglect to prepare for your postpartum time!

So many first-time pregnant mothers–and I was certainly in this category when I was pregnant the first time–think constantly about giving birth. What will it be like? We know that we are going to have an experience unlike anything that’s come before in our lives, we know it will be intense, and we don’t know exactly when it will happen. That’s pretty fascinating, and nervewracking, stuff. Throw in all the stories (good and bad) that come your way from friends and strangers about their births, plus the media factor, plus the many serious decisions about your obstetric care that you need to research and make, and THE BIRTH becomes the all-consuming topic.

As a first-timer, I spent months reading about birth. I watched videos. I sought sage advice. I practiced yoga and visualizations and positions and all the rest of it. I sure don’t regret any of that–it all helped me immensely when the big day (or, more accurately, the big night) arrived, but–oops!–I had overlooked one little thing. Three hours or so after my daughter was born, my midwife said a cheery goodbye and the rest of my life got under way. And I had very little idea how to handle it. The next few months were really tough for me.

This is so common, and so unnecessary. Postpartum adjustment CAN be optimized, just like birth. What would I do differently if I could do it over again?

First of all, I’d line up a lot more help for myself–neighbors to bring meals, friends to come keep me company, and someone to give me daily time to myself. Second, I’d be wiser about creating a true cocoon around myself during the first week while I was learning to breastfeed–no house guests. Third, I’d read up on postpartum health just as I did about birth.

Since then, I’ve found a few books that I like that specifically deal with postpartum recovery, and I recommend them to my clients. One, “Mothering the New Mother,” is mostly about the emotional experience of becoming a mom–it’ll give you a sense of the landscape ahead. Then I also like “After the Baby’s Birth: A Woman’s Way to Wellness,” which is a lovely discussion of many health issues for postpartum moms, and an encouraging, wisdom-filled read. For breastfeeding, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” or “The Nursing Mother’s Companion” are both good to have on your shelf.

If I had to sum up a good postpartum strategy in one sentence, it would be this: Get all the support you need so that you can focus on nothing but yourself and your baby for about six weeks.

And that definitely takes some planning.

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