As the months, weeks and days tick by and you begin to anticipate the arrival of your new baby, you may be asked “Have you packed your hospital bag yet?” It is important to be ready at a moment’s notice to rush out the door, prepared with everything you need for a few days’ stay at the hospital. But have you considered how equally important it is to have your “Emotional bags packed”? That’s right, there are things you can be doing now to help prepare you mentally for when your baby arrives, and you are suddenly “postpartum”.
1. Identify your community resources now. There are many resources out there for postpartum women, but it can be overwhelming to research them when your baby is just a few weeks old. So start now, and locate your local postpartum support group, mommy and me fitness/yoga/music group or start a walking/stroller group at a nearby park. If you plan to breastfeed, seek out recommendations to a lactation consultant or find a local breastfeeding support group just in case. You can also schedule family or friends to come stay and help but line up your potential resources now. New moms often are surprised at how overwhelming it can feel to complete simple tasks like researching resources when you are trying to care for a newborn and are not getting the solid hours of uninterrupted sleep you need and love. Set aside a few hours each week before your baby arrives and make a list of different resources you think you may want to check out. You will increase your chances of swinging by for a postpartum visit if you prepare in advance. Even better, put prepaid gift certificates to a local mother’s center on your baby shower list. Your postpartum mental health will thank you later!
2. Remember to be kind to yourself. This is so important! You have just brought a new living breathing human being into this world and now are responsible for round the clock care. That is a big deal! You may not be able to keep with the everyday tasks you used to be able to do in quite the same way. And many moms find it overwhelming because the number of tasks to complete increases with a new baby. Perhaps being kind to yourself is letting go of doing that pile of laundry tonight and doing it tomorrow. Or better yet, see tip three!
Also along the lines of being kind with yourself is being patient with yourself. You will not be alone if breastfeeding doesn’t “come natural” in the beginning or you don’t immediately feel like a mom. Some face challenges so be patient and be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to take time to get the hang of it. And if breastfeeding is just not in the cards for you, fed is ultimately best!
3. Identify your family/friends supports now and have a conversation about what they could help you accomplish.
For those of you who have family or friends stopping by for short or extended periods of time when your new baby is here, it is useful to have a brief conversation ahead of time about what will be truly helpful for you. Negotiate responsibilities and be firm but flexible with expectations. If your mother or mother in law is coming, have a conversation about your expected bonding period as well as their expected bonding period with your new baby. Having this conversation before the baby gets here and emotions are ramped up can be beneficial. Also, it is important to have a conversation with your spouse ahead of time about who will be helpful and potentially not helpful to visit for periods of time postpartum. If you identify someone that may not be helpful, honor your gut and negotiate the visit. Because you need to be surrounded by people who are helping to alleviate your stress, not adding to it.
4. Negotiate expectations with your partner. You should also have a conversation about expectations with your partner. Will he help with diaper changes, night feedings, or daily household chores that you usually take care of? If there is something you usually do that would be helpful for him to take care of temporarily, having that conversation ahead of time helps prepare him mentally for taking it on instead of being surprised when the time comes. It also helps set up healthy expectations for roles moving forward and can help avoid conflict between you and your partner when emotions are ramped up in the postpartum period.
5. This too shall pass. Acceptance is a major therapeutic principle I use often with my clients. And it is very useful with new moms. The days and weeks postpartum can quickly become a monotonous blur and you may feel trapped in a recurring loop. But please hear this: this too shall pass! The sleepless nights will (eventually) get better. And comparing your baby to the baby next door that is the same age and sleeping soundly through the night is not helpful. But I can assure you that eventually, your teenage son will sleep until noon and you will pull the covers off him and tell him to stop wasting the day away. Oh, and while we are here, your child with also eventually be potty trained and you will have changed your last diaper. So that too shall also pass!
6. Avoid other major life changes. Having a baby is a major life event. I will say that again…having a baby is a major life event! Just like graduating from college, starting a new job, or moving to a new house or new city. While I realize that life does not always go according to our nice, laid out plan, if you have control of the choice, it is advisable to not voluntarily layer on additional life events like changing jobs or moving. If you do have to involuntarily layer on these life events, find your supports and don’t be shy to ask for help!
Now you are more prepared emotionally to greet your new little person to your family. Congratulations and I wish you all the best as your family grows.
Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is also Certified as a Perinatal Mental Health Professional by Postpartum Support International. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.