As a midwife, a big part of my job during prenatal appointments with my clients is helping them prepare for the postpartum period. During a pandemic, when the recommendations on how to keep ourselves and our families safe keep changing and the world as we know it is shifting under our feet, it's extra important to think about what you need after your baby comes into the world.
The postpartum period is a time of enormous beauty and connection, intense sleep deprivation, shifting hormones and changing identity. Even under normal circumstances, the weeks after giving birth can be overwhelming. Adding a global pandemic to the mix can make things even more challenging, but knowing how to prepare for that challenge will help.
Here are some tips for setting yourself up well for your postpartum period during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Get creative about building community.
Humans are a community-oriented species—we thrive in groups, especially when it comes to parenting. Newborns have a near-constant need for closeness, and their ping-pong-sized stomachs cause them to get hungry every few hours (especially at night). And the process of giving birth can often leave people feeling very open and vulnerable. It's important to have extra folks available to support you—physically, mentally and emotionally.
Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Many people are creating informal online support groups, and having this regular connection, especially with other new mothers, can make a profound difference to your mental and emotional well-being. Regular check-ins with family and friends over the phone or through video conferencing can also be a source of welcome support. Consider setting up a phone tree or text group in advance for those moments when you just need to hear someone tell you, "You're doing great. You've got this." (We've all had them.)
2. Think about your food plan now.
You will have your hands full taking care of your new tiny human, even if you have an amazing, supportive partner to help. And since postpartum nutrition is a key component of keeping yourself healthy while supporting your milk supply and helping to regulate mood, it's important to make it as easy as possible to consume healthy, nutritious foods postpartum.
Now is a good time to make a big beef or lentil stew and freeze it so that you can reheat it easily. You can also set up a meal train, with very clear guidelines on how people can safely prepare food for your family. If you have friends and family living farther away, they could donate some money to help you get groceries or healthy food delivered. Always make sure to follow safety guidelines when receiving groceries or cooked food into your home.
3. Set boundaries around the news you consume.
We are living through one of the most impactful events of human history. But you don't need to read the news until your eyes are bleary and your heart hurts. As much as possible, shield yourself and your new baby from the scary stories in the world. In this moment in time, creating a loving, calm and peaceful environment for your newborn to grow in is an act of revolution.
Let yourself create your own little world with your newborn as much as possible. Consciously cultivating joy and positivity have actually been proven to improve our abilities to think critically, use good judgement, and survive—all useful skills to practice while parenting during a pandemic.
If you feel overwhelmed with worry and anxiety about the state of the world, here are some ways to help calm your nervous system:
- Listen to meditations
- Keep a journal
- Try some gentle postnatal yoga classes online
- Remember to rest—sleep is more important than ever as your body heals
4. Build some feeding skills now.
You may want to try some online breastfeeding classes and bottle-feeding classes now, so that you feel prepared with troubleshooting techniques when you need them. Especially if you plan to breastfeed, it can be helpful to practice some breastfeeding skills in advance to make the process easier when your baby arrives. As a midwife I find that early intervention with breastfeeding issues is key in preventing problems down the road.
It's normal for breastfeeding to feel challenging in the first two weeks postpartum. But if you are experiencing severe pain while nursing, I recommend contacting a lactation consultant online to help you work through any issues—many LCs are offering virtual consultations during the pandemic so that they can help moms who need it without making an in-person visit.
5. Gather necessary supplies in advance.
It can be challenging to procure helpful items these days while the postal system is overloaded and many local stores have shut down. I remind my clients that their babies only need two things to thrive: food and cuddles. It's helpful to have diapers as well. Other than that, some useful things to have for postpartum include:
- Lanolin for sore nipples
- Maxi pads
- At least a 2-week supply of diapers, since there are shortages in some areas. Better yet, consider using cloth diapers and reusable wipes so that you don't need to rely on unpredictable availability. Plus, it's better for the environment.
- Consider making a DIY postpartum care kit, like this one. Or purchasing one, like this.
6. Embrace being at home.
To be honest, I encourage my clients to embrace a "shelter-in-place lifestyle" in their first 40 days of postpartum under normal circumstances. Staying home will help you heal from giving birth, support your bond with your baby and help them adjust to this new world.
The hormones and conditions of the postpartum period are actually retraining your brain to help you care for your newborn. Let this happen. Although it can be hard, it's also a precious time that will pass sooner than you can imagine.
7. Consider connecting with a therapist now.
Especially if you have a history of depression and/or anxiety, consider connecting with a therapist now. People who have a history of depression and/or anxiety are at some risk of developing postpartum depression. The changing hormones of the postpartum period can sometimes feel destabilizing, and it doesn't help to be dealing with the uncertainty of a global pandemic as well.
It can be helpful to do some preliminary research to find a therapist who specializes in supporting people in the postpartum period. Many therapists are doing online meetings with their clients and some insurance plans will cover these appointments. Always err on the side of getting too much support rather than too little.
8. Make a postpartum care plan with your provider now.
Postpartum care visits for yourself and your newborn definitely fall under the category of doctor's appointments that should not be canceled or postponed right now. Be in touch with your pediatrician about how their office is handling newborn follow-up appointments—they may have special office hours for parents with newborns to keep exposure to an absolute minimum.
Your own postpartum care is a top priority, too. COVID-19 guidelines for prenatal and postpartum care visits from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that women be in touch with their providers about scheduling important follow-up care after birth. Your care team can let you know about your options, which may include both in-person visits and virtual care, focused on maintaining your health and safety.
Remember, humans have been taking care of our newborns for the entirety of human history. It can be deeply challenging work. But you are supported by an immense web of people who have done it before you. You got this.
Even in this time of intense global crisis, there is a new baby to celebrate. All your newborn wants is to hang out at home with you anyway, so you might as well be sheltering in place. And you deserve a positive postpartum experience even—or maybe especially—in the time of coronavirus.
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