I asked both new and experienced moms, "If you could advise your "before baby" self one thing to help prepare for the postpartum experience, what would it be?" I received more than 140 responses. They were spot on, raw and oh, so real.
The answers fell in roughly five different categories with one big (bonus) exception!
Here they are:
Relationships new moms had with their partners, family members, older children, friends and even with themselves became extremely important. They had to learn or relearn how to communicate their needs, concerns and priorities. Sometimes it was needing to be more firm in telling impatient or enthusiastic friends to delay visiting until a later time when they felt ready for visitors or that they were welcome to come only if they could help out with the laundry or dirty dishes.
Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Roles shift; life as you've both known it, changes. It's important to understand each others' needs, expectations and schedules. Communication needs to be ongoing as things are in flux.
Savor and enjoy the intimate experience with your partner or family. Know that the early days are fleeting and precious. Be in the moment without distractions.
2. MAINTAIN HEALTHY LIVING HABITS OR CREATE NEW ONES
Predictably, the one thing new moms wished they had known but couldn't possibly prepare for was the lack of sleep they'd get in the first weeks and months of parenthood.
These moms recommended that you sleep when baby sleeps. Don't fold the laundry, write thank you notes or clean the sink. When your baby is asleep at night, go to sleep too. As tempting as it is, don't stay up to catch up on your "to do" list. Sleep and rest as much as possible.
One mom joked, "you're not eating for two anymore." But it's important to stay hydrated and eat healthy food. Avoid heavily processed foods and opt instead for healthy proteins, fresh fruit and vegetables. They hadn't realized how hungry they'd be or known how important one-handed snacks are while juggling a newborn.
Prepare and freeze as many meals as possible, ahead of your due date.
3. GET HELP
So many new moms are hesitant to ask for help. They reported feeling like they "should" be able to handle it. Thanks to social media, tv and magazines, it would appear that peers and mothers everywhere are happily rocking motherhood all on their own. But reality tells a different story. New mothers are in a sleep deprived fog, often struggling with breastfeeding and have a host of questions about the care of their little one and their postpartum bodies.
But now they know better and next time, these new moms will ask for or get help much sooner. For some it'll be in the form of a daytime or nighttime postpartum doula, a meal delivery service, or lactation counselor. For others it'll be regularly scheduled visits from helpful friends or family. For others still, it'll be a spouse's parental leave, made longer or more spaced out.
Point is: get the help you need as early and as often as you need it. Or, better yet, line it up ahead of time. This way, you've already done the research and can relax knowing that help is on the way.
4. BREASTFEEDING IS HARD
New moms wished they had known that breastfeeding was time-consuming and would be challenging in the beginning. Then, maybe they wouldn't have been so hard on themselves when they struggled. While babies have an instinctive sucking reflex, mothers don't have instinctual knowledge of feeding their newborn. Successful breastfeeding relies heavily on having a model or being taught best practices including latch, position and infant mouth shape; having technical information on hand; having support from a spouse, family, doctors and nurses; and being emotionally and physically healthy.
Breastfeeding moms said they wished they had gotten a lactation counselor sooner or joined a breastfeeding support group. They wanted to have a happier and more successful breastfeeding experience for themselves and their babies. Others said, "Fed is best."
Breastfeeding moms reported needing hands-free pumping bras (who knew?) and extra bottles and flanges at the ready.
5. POSTPARTUM CARE
First time moms were especially surprised by the physical toll childbirth and postpartum life has on a body. These mothers wished they had known how much they would bleed; that they would need monster-size pads, spray bottles and a sitz bath. One learned that a frozen maxi pad works great for pain relief. They were surprised to know that they would have to deal with constipation, a sagging stomach (a support belt helps!) and bodily fluids. Some needed to avoid stairs. Setting up a place on the first floor to rest and also to change diapers was key. These moms wished they had gotten into the habit of doing their Kegels before giving birth.
Others wished they had recognized the signs of postpartum depression and had set up a plan to get the help they needed. They would tell their pre-mom self that there is no shame in feeling depressed and certainly no stigma in taking medication and getting help. They were on a "hormone rollercoaster" that they couldn't get off of on their own. There was no upside to pretending all was ok if it wasn't.
An overwhelming response from these moms to their past selves was simply to "be kind to yourself." This advice came in different forms.
- Relax expectations
- The hard days will pass
- You know your baby best (don't accept all advice as gospel)
- Give yourself time to heal
- Respect your body
- You are strong
But, as humans, we know that sometimes we just can't take advice. Even if it's well intentioned. And sometimes we don't easily learn from our own mistakes either, as this mom knows all too well. When asked what advice she'd give herself, she declared, "Nothing... that b-tch never listened."