By Yana Bachynsky, LMFT
It is strange that when people go to school, they learn advanced math skills, biology, chemistry, and history, and yet are taught next to nothing about family planning or what it would be like to welcome a baby into their life. When I was pregnant, I focused a lot of my attention on pregnancy facts and resources, but I now realize that all the facts in the world don’t prepare you for the actual experience of bringing a baby home.
If you are an expecting parent, recently had a baby, or even if you are only planning to have a baby in the near future, this blog is for you. Once you give birth, your body is depleted, and you need rest and time to bond with your baby. Everything else can wait. The key is to understand that in order to take care of your baby, you have to make sure you take care of yourself, too. An overwhelmed and exhausted mom cannot be as effective at caring for her little one. Below are some practical tips that have helped me this past year.
Set a routine from the start. Make your day as predictable as possible. Every baby is different so pay attention to your baby’s patterns and try to establish a structure that works for the both you—and stick to it. An example of this would be establishing your own bedtime ritual. Give him a 10-minute massage or a bath. Read him a story before he goes to bed. Remember, babies love structure.
Sleep when your baby sleeps. This is well-known advice. If you can fall asleep during the day, great! Try to sleep while your baby is sleeping for at least one of his naps. If can’t fall asleep during the day, then lie down and rest your eyes. If you are having severe insomnia, please reach out to a health care professional. In some cases, medication might be necessary. About 20% of women develop postpartum depression and 5% have thyroid problems. Both dramatically affect sleep.
Taking care of your body is very important. You have just been through a lot. Your body needs love and care. This can be accomplished by taking baths, getting a massage, and resting a lot. Looking good will make you feel good; get a babysitter so you can get your hair and nails done. Even finding time for a shower can be tough, but after you get one, you’ll feel fresh and energized.
Have someone organize a meal train for you. If finding the time for a shower is tough, imagine what preparing meals is like! A solution is to have friends or relatives bring you meals for the first month after the baby arrives. There are lots of avenues to organize this via social media. It gives the opportunity to connect with your friends for a bit when they pop in. But tell them not to stay long—you need to rest.
Join a postpartum support group. The beauty of joining is that the other attendees are going through similar challenges as you. You might even make some new friends, friends who understand you. Groups can be found on the Postpartum Health Alliance website at www.postpartumhealthalliance.org.
Consider joining a Breastfeeding Support Group or reach out to Lactation Consultant. Even though breastfeeding is meant to be a natural activity, lots of women still struggle figuring it out at the beginning. Issues related to proper latching, adequate milk supply, engorgement, or how often to feed the baby can all be addressed at a breastfeeding support group. Many hospitals offer low-cost or even free lactation consulting, such as Sharp Mary Birch, who can answer questions over the phone or help in person.
Identify who your safe people are. Do you have a friend or a relative who can understand and support you? Be proactive by finding out the number of your pediatrician’s on-call nurse and have it handy for tough situations. If you have a partner, explain to him that you are going through many changes and need additional care and support at this time. If you are having problems in your relationship, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We have couples therapists who are ready to support you in your postpartum adjustment period.
Spend time addressing unresolved birth trauma. If you are a woman who underwent any birth trauma, reach out to a therapist. By not addressing birth trauma, you are putting yourself at a risk of developing postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder. If you need help, we have qualified therapists at Family Guidance and Therapy Center—don’t hesitate to call us! Also, you can journal about things that did not go as planned during your childbirth experience or you can talk to your loved ones about it.
Get yourself some childcare support. If you have family, have them visit and play with the baby while you rest. Ask your friends or hire a part-time baby-sitter. Ask your partner to help you as much as possible. (It’s not babysitting—it’s parenting!) Communicate your boundaries: tell them that you will need to rest at the time of their visit. Childcare helpers need to understand that they are not there to be entertained, but to help. Remember, this is “you” time. Tell them you need support and let them love on you. If there is someone who wants to help but makes you anxious, postpone their visit altogether until you feel ready.
Consider hiring a doula for postpartum support. One thing I did not know about prior to having a baby is that doulas provide postpartum support. Doulas are not only there to help you during childbirth, they are also available to help out postpartum. They are very knowledgeable and offer qualified support. My own doula was able to support me with resources, figuring out breastfeeding positions for latching, and moral support—she gave me a hand massage once!
Use grounding techniques. According to Seeking Safety by Lisa Najavits (The Guilford Press, 2002), you can simply focus on the external world around you rather than ruminating on the problems that make you feel bombarded. Start by rating your mood from 0 to 10, with 0 being the worst you have ever experienced and 10 being the best. Then focus on the present by picking one of three grounding techniques: mental grounding, physical grounding or soothing grounding. Try out each technique and see which one works best for you. Below are some of Najavits’s (2002) grounding techniques:
Mental Grounding—describe the environment around you in detail. For example: “This room is white, and it has one orange accent wall. There are several bookshelves in the room. I can see palm trees outside the windows. I hear the cars passing by outside. I like this comfortable chair I am sitting in and the fabric that covers it.
Physical Grounding—get in touch with the physical world by running cool or warm water over your hands; grab tightly to a chair you are sitting in; touch various objects around you; carry a grounding object in your pocket such as a rock, walk slowly noticing each footstep; eat a snack and describe all of its flavors.
Soothing Grounding—saying kind statements; picturing people you care about; picturing your safe place; think about things that you are looking forward to in your week.
After practicing grounding, rate your mood and see if it’s improved. If it is still bad, you can try to do more grounding techniques and if it improved make a note of what helped you so you can use it again next time. No matter what, remember you are doing a great job.
The first year with the baby is so challenging and it’s a great adjustment. You can do this and there is support out there—just don’t hesitate to reach out to your MD, therapist, psychiatrist, friends, and family. You are never alone!