So I was thinking this week would be devoted to the idea of how you take care of yourself after the baby is born. A big part of this has to deal with how you get enough sleep, which we can touch on again, but there are other issues, like how you maintain adult interactions, get some time out of the house, etc.
First the basics—you have to have a plan for getting enough sleep. If you are comfortable co-sleeping, advocates say that sleep deprivation really isn’t an issue, because you and the baby are only half awake as you’re feeding through the night. Another tactic would be to make sure you go to bed as early as possible (after the 8 or 9 feeding) so that you start your cycle of 3 hour chunks early. If you have a baby that will go back to sleep after the 6 am (or so) feeding, enjoy it and sleep until 8 or 9 when your baby wakes up. You’ll learn your baby’s rhythms. Just learn to work with them. For instance if sleeping in is crucial, you’ll want to do everything to avoid scheduling things in the morning that you have to get up and about for. If you have a baby that naps in decent chunks during the day, definitely try to rest or sleep while you’re baby is sleeping.
If you’re the least bit type A, you’ll have to give yourself permission to set aside the thank-you notes, phone and email messages to return, laundry, etc, and know that by taking care of yourself and getting enough sleep you’re doing something just as important on your “to-do” list.
If you’re someone that thrives on adult interaction or a scheduled day, you might give some thought to either the types of outings you could do once the baby is born or the broad outlines of a schedule. Just like a birth plan, what you put together might go right out the window, but I don’t think it hurts to give some thought to how you like to spend your days now and how you’d be most happy spending your days with a new baby. For instance, if you would like nothing more than to hang out at home lazing around watching tv and reading the paper, you might be perfectly happy stocking up on some movies and magazines and just hunkering down with your new little one. However, if you typically like to be “busy” with lots of scheduled outings, I would make a list of all the indoor projects, small-scale outings (i.e. a walk around the block or to your local coffee shop) and large-scale outings (the museums a baseball game) that you think might be the least bit workable with a newborn. Then once you have the baby and you start settling into a routine, you can see if you feel up to tackling one of each a week, a day, or never. If you’re using to outings and interactions, it’s easy to slip into a funk if you’re suddenly home alone all day taking care of your baby’s endless needs.
I don’t want to make it sound like you should be planning every second of your day and the most important thing to realize is that your baby is really going to dictate how much can take on. But even if you have a baby that cries all the time you need to feel like you have some ideas for getting some relief and getting out—even if it’s just a change of scenery.
If you have friends that want to watch the baby—take them up on it. They can easily pop your baby in a sling or stroller and take him for a walk while you unwind or take a bath or take a nap. You can also hire a postpartum doula for day or night to offer relief on a predictable schedule. A lot of this stuff you won’t have to decide on until your baby has arrived and you learn your baby’s personality and how you’re coping with the sudden change. Just know options for relief and help are out there and they don’t make you a bad parent for seeking them out.
I think I covered a lot of what I set out to in this weeks topic, but I did want to say a few words about post-partum depression. I had it pretty bad with Henry and it was really pretty terrible. It’s a bit difficult to figure out though because I think most moms go through what is annoyingly called the “baby blues.” The main thing to know is that most likely you’re going to be emotional in those first few weeks/months after having a baby. Your whole life just changed and even if you have the easiest baby on the block, you’re going to have some rough patches and some emotional feelings about relating to the whole thing. There’s not really a whole lot you can do to prepare because a) you don’t really know how you’ll react and b) really, what are you going to do about it now anyways?
I do think you can be educated about things that can/will help if you find yourself bogged down after the baby is born. First of all if you just have some fleeting “overwhelmed” moments or you feel like you have to get a break from the baby or you’re going to go crazy, that’s really completely and totally normal. Normal of course doesn’t make it easier, but with some strategies in place to get yourself some help of or a break, you’ll most likely be adjusting to your new life in no time.
If you find yourself increasingly unhappy, feeling like you just can’t cope or can’t take on the day’s tasks, or really anxious, panicked or overwhelmed all the time—definitely call your Doctor. If you have a good relationship with your regular Dr. you could call him/her, otherwise your OB or midwife is a good place to start because they’re familiar with post-partum depression, know what the signs are and how to get you help right away.
I started seeing a therapist twice a week, got a post-partum doula to come over 2 afternoons a week for a few hours, and even still wound up going on anti-depressants. Once they really took effect I started to feel like myself again. I’ve said before, Henry was a hard infant so it’s not like the medicine suddenly stopped him from crying 6 hours a day, but it did make me feel like with some real support I could do this, instead of feeling like taking care of him was absolutely and completely out of my realm of possibility.
The most important thing is to get help soon rather than letting it drag on forever. So even if you’re feeling kinda down but not sure that you really have, PPD, call your Dr. and mention it. You certainly want to take care of yourself and your little one by keeping you in good health.