Postpartum Self-Care Pledge and Check-List
The past few weeks have been busy at the Verduzco house. Both kids were sick with ear infections, both cars had to go into the shop around the same time, and we’re in the throes of holiday month. We celebrate Hanukkah at our house, Christmas with my mom’s family and Festivus (yes, it’s real and it’s spectacular) with my dad’s, so December really is a month of gift making/buying/giving, parties, errands, food prep and, as always, stresssss. At the same time, this month has seen an exciting increase in Hello Sunshine mamas, which makes for a very happy doula, but becomes tricky when it comes to work-family balance.
None of this is unique to me. It seems most of us are juggling more than we can handle some days…or months. Sometimes we just need to stop for a few hours and catch our breath. This is especially true for new moms and their partners.
As busy and overwhelmed as I can feel these days, it’s really nothing compared to how I felt when I was staying at home with my newborn baby. Between breastfeeding every hour or two at the beginning, diaper changes, soothing/rocking/bouncing baby, multiple wardrobe changes, letting the dog out, and shoving something down for lunch before baby wakes, there really wasn’t much room for anything else. Some evenings I’d look back and wonder: what was I doing all day and why was it all so hard? We become so focused on our little tiny person and completely forget about ourselves.
Mostly it’s a gradual process. We neglect to take a shower for a few days in a row, we don’t brush our hair or put on clean clothes. Oftentimes we forget (or don’t feel able) to make ourselves a proper meal, opting instead for the soft, leftover almonds on the nightstand from last night’s 3am feeding. We stay home for a few days (or weeks) in a row because baby tends to unnervingly scream her heart out when in the car seat or when standing still in the check-out line. Our friends and family are mostly at work during the day so we plunge ourselves into this harrowing new experience alone. In the first few weeks, many of us are recovering from a long labor, from perineal tearing or cesarean surgery, as well as functioning on 2-hour chunks of sleep at a time. We feel guilty for not doing enough and then we feel guilty for doing too much. And each of these things tend to pile up and at some point we crash.
This is why new moms need a plan. We plan and plan for the birth we want–we hire a doula, take childbirth classes, get massages and chiropractic care, eat well and get lots of sleep, take prenatal yoga classes, make a birth plan, talk with our care-provider monthly and then weekly. We prepare ourselves mentally as well as physically to give ourselves and our baby the best care we can.
Then we become mothers and it all goes to sh**. We might be taking great care of our babies, nurturing, loving and satisfying their every need. Giving, giving, and giving some more. It’s easy to forget, however, that we can’t care for our babies 100% if we’re not taking care of ourselves as well.
If we are lucky enough to share parenthood with somebody else, this focus on self-care can be a shared responsibility. Partners are amazing at protecting a mother’s space during labor and equally amazing at protecting their space postpartum. Let your partner know how much you appreciate their support and that you’d like for them to help you carve out time to take care of yourself. While you’re nursing, your partner might pop in a load of laundry, fold your underwear, favorite t-shirts, and baby’s most-used items or throw together a quick salad to have with one of your freezer meals. In between feedings, partners might want to have yummy skin-to-skin time or bundle baby up in an appropriate newborn carrier and take her for a walk around the block.
The following is a basic postpartum self-care pledge and check-list. (Please print this and put it on your bathroom mirror or tape it to the fridge.)
Many of these things you can do while in bed or on the couch, especially in the first couple of weeks while you’re still healing from birth. In the first 2 weeks, really try to stay down as much as possible. If you’re able to, hire a postpartum doula and someone to come clean your house once or twice. (These are very different things and they are NOT mutually exclusive!)
As time goes along, things like a baby-carrying walk around the block or a short meet-up with a mom friend become increasingly important. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your community and ask for help where you need it. People love to help, so love yourself enough to ask for it and accept it.
And although sex might be the farthest thing from your mind, make sure you and your partner are having some kind of intimate time regularly. Whether this is cuddling, your own form of skin-to-skin time, kissing, dancing, or mutual “play-time” this is hugely important for your relationship. You and your partner need to feel supported by each other and nurtured by each other during this new and intensive postpartum time. Continue to love each other and life with a newborn will feel much more manageable.
Remember: you are a great mom and you deserve to be cared for as well!