Instagram will tell you that you need cute clothes, a “how many months” mat for monthly pictures, 600 contraptions that take up space in your house, baby toys. None of those really matter. I gave birth 3 times in under 5 years, and this is what actually mattered to me.
1. Food. If someone wants to bring you something, tell them you want a meal, or coffee and a pastry, or doordash, or a bag of groceries. Bags of easy to eat snacks to have all around the house to grab when you notice you haven’t eaten in 8 hours. Maybe you’re that Super Parent who made 1000 freezer meals during your third trimester, but I’m definitely not that Super Parent
2. Laundry help. If someone asks, “how can I help?” tell them, “you can come over and do, dry, and fold a few loads of laundry.” Or – they can take it to their house and return it! You will have SO MUCH LAUNDRY. And you need to be RESTING. Your body has BEEN THROUGH IT. You can have tearing, lots of bleeding, sore muscles, swelling, and if you’ve had a c-section, you’ve had major surgery. Your body needs to heal. The heavy lifting, bending, and movement of laundry – or any other chore, for that matter – is not only not helpful for healing, but can actually significantly slow your healing process.
3. Lots and lots and lots of rest. It is soooo tempting to feel like you should be doing “more.” But let’s reflect on the fact that YOU GREW A HUMAN IN YOUR BODY, IT EXITED YOUR BODY, and, not to be graphic, but you now have a large open wound inside your uterus, from where the placenta was attached to your uterine wall. Would you be walking around trying to “get back to normal” in a couple of days if you had a massive open wound on the outside of your body? And, of course, if you’ve had a c-section, you MUST rest. We are talking major abdominal surgery. Have a few comfy spots to relax, lie down, sit. Lots of pillows to support your back, maybe under your butt to support and soothe swollen areas. A phone charger. Access to a TV or tablet or computer, so you can watch all of those shows you’ve wanted to watch. A Kindle or e-reader, or magazines, etc. Anything light, fluffy, fun to help you pass the time and relax. Oh yeah – witch hazel and those magic frozen pads are a must as well.
4. If someone wants to “come over to hold the baby and give you a break,” say yes ONLY if you feel like you trust this person to hold the baby while you rest – NOT while you chat with them and entertain them, unless you want to do so. Even better – someone you trust to come over and hold the baby while they are awake 5000 times in the middle of the night so you can sleep. If you feel okay with this, maybe they can even give the baby a bottle. I know this can feel hard to do, but if it seems possible, it can make a world of difference for a good night’s sleep. This of course can be your partner. Your partner REALLY needs to step up, in ways they probably have not had to do for you before.
5. Earplugs, an eye mask, and melatonin or unisom. All of these will help you sleep if and when there is someone caring for your baby while you need to rest. Melatonin and unisom do not have any impact on breastfeeding and will not make you super groggy. At least they are not supposed to. Definitely avoid any narcotic sleep medication of any kind – Ambien, TylenolPM, etc.
6. A partner who can run interference for you re: visitors. It should not be your responsibility to tell people they need to leave. It is not your responsibility to host. Your only responsibilities are resting and attending to your baby as you are able. This partner also needs to take on the bulk of any household tasks.
7. If people want to give you a useful, generous gift, ask them to buy a night nurse for a night. This is very expensive, so I highly recommend asking those generous family and friends to do this. A full night’s sleep while your baby is being cared for by an expert can make the difference between feeling okay and feeling like you are at the edge of sanity.
8. A session or two with a postpartum psychotherapist. Honestly, everyone should do this. Postpartum is one of the most massive times of change and transformation in life. It is also a time of life that is one of the riskiest for developing depression and/or anxiety. Why not check in with someone about where you are at? Nothing to lose, and potentially lots to gain. Our therapy practice has therapists who are skilled at working with birthing people and their partners.
9. A postpartum community of other birthing people whose kiddo is somewhere in the same stage as yours – like, within a couple of months. Reddit has great groups for this. I was part of a July2021 Bumpers group – people who were pregnant and due in July 2021. We were a group throughout the pregnancy and then continued as a group postpartum. An invaluable place to ask for advice, find community, get support, vent, ask “is this normal?”, feel seen. There are many online communities like this on a variety of platforms. I also recommend group therapy geared to birthing people. This is a space that is facilitated by a therapist with expertise in postpartum. You’ll find community, with the added benefit of expert support. They can be virtual or in person. And these people will be relatively local, so you may find a parent friend you click with – another invaluable gain.
10. If you have other child(ren), a trusted adult (trusted by your children AND you) to care for your big kids for much of the day so you do not feel like you need to care for them as well. Especially vital if your partner is going to be out of the house soon after you bring the baby home. If you have the resources (again, you can ask for this as a baby gift!), hiring a postpartum doula can help in this area.
11. OK, so not just 10. If I had to recommend one item, it would be a baby carrier. There are lots of good ones out there. A baby carrier will give you a break from carrying and holding, and will allow you to go for a walk (once you’ve had enough rest!), interact with other people as you feel comfortable – I went out to a beer garden with my 4 week postpartum 1st baby in a baby carrier. She slept the whole time, I had a beer. It was great. Newborns want to feel close to you and want to be cuddled very tightly. It calms their nervous systems, helps them sleep, and often calms crying.
12. Ok, one more. Pacifiers and a white noise machine. Basically, the 5 S’s are your friend during those first few months – suck (pacifier or nipple – bottle or breast), sway (movement – rocking, or walking in carrier – babies like it when you’re standing up, unfortunately), swaddle (carrier is nice and tight, as is any swaddle – swaddle those hands and legs tightly to the body until the baby can roll over), shush (white noise – I would stick the white noise machine right next to my baby’s head and play it LOUDLY), and the last one is side – baby likes to be on their side. This one I didn’t use as much but I think it’s helpful for some.
If there are themes to all of these items, they are REST and SUPPORT. You need to rest, and you need to feel that you are seen, you are not alone, you have people who love you and whom you trust who will show up for you. Everything else can wait. Taking these steps will maximize your recovery and lead to a healthier, more restful postpartum experience. You deserve this. Your baby deserves this. If you’re not ok, baby will struggle to be ok.