When you are pregnant, people overwhelm you with advice. This happens when you have a baby too, I have learned, but Matt and I are so new to parenting and there is SO MUCH to learn that right now I welcome the advice from friends and family, especially when I share a concern or struggle. I found the unsolicited advice a little more irksome when I was pregnant because I had the time to do lots of reading and resource-seeking on my own, and I only wanted help from others when I asked for it explicitly.
With that disclaimer, let me share the three best things I did for myself when I was pregnant to plan for postpartum life. I offer these up in the spirit of relating what worked very well for me in the hopes that if you or friends you have are looking for this type of advice, my experience might be helpful.
First: Stay fit.
Your doctor or midwife will tell you this, your pregnancy reading will tell you this, and I am telling you: stay fit. Take your body seriously and keep your adorable pregnant butt in shape.
I’ve only given birth once, but I know lots of other people who have also given birth, and what I’ve learned is that labor beats your body up. Not in like a “I ran a long race and fatigued all of my muscles” kind of way; more in like a “I’ve been thrown from a moving vehicle” kind of way. Delivering a human, however that little human comes out, is extremely hard work and you will pay for it with weeks of recovery, which will be unpredictable in its intensity and longevity.
Do what you can to strengthen your muscles and build your stamina beforehand; you will only thank yourself for it later. At the recommendation of friends, I joined Blooma Yoga when I was 15 weeks pregnant, and I wish I had joined when I was 15 minutes pregnant.
Blooma is amazing. Before I got pregnant, I exercised five to six times per week, and I wanted to stay active and in good shape throughout my pregnancy. Blooma made this possible. I took prenatal yoga for restorative poses and for poses specifically designed to help in labor, and I took barre to tone and strengthen my muscles. On the days I didn’t take a class, I ran or walked as much as I had time for to keep my endurance up.
I didn’t plan on pushing for four hours and then having a C-section, but that’s what happened, so my recovery looked and felt different than what I’d imagined. The pain and many layers of stitches and staples I had in my core rendered my whole midsection dormant, so every time I needed to stand up, sit up, lie down, walk, bend down, or shift positions, I had to rely solely on my legs and arms. Because I’d worked out so much while pregnant, my limbs were ready and able to take on these new burdens. For the first six weeks, the heaviest thing I could lift was Oscar, but being able to hold him while squatting down to pick up a dropped burp cloth made me feel strong.
So, aside from just being good life advice, really really really stay fit while pregnant. It makes a world of difference in your postpartum life because the thing is, once you’ve given birth, you have a baby who explodes your heart and who needs you for everything from Minute One. Taking care of myself made me feel a lot more capable of taking care of Oscar when he arrived.
Second: Work with a doula.
Labor support comes in many forms, and even if you don’t work with a doula, please have someone with you who can support you, calm you, focus you, and love you during your labor- and beyond.
Inviting a doula to our birth was the best decision for Matt and me in terms of labor support. Neither one of us had experienced a birth before, and we knew there was a very small chance of having the OB or midwife we’d worked with most attend our birth. We wanted someone who could support us both, someone we knew, and someone who wouldn’t have to leave us because her shift was up.
I was familiar with the role of a doula, having many friends with doula-attended births, but Matt wasn’t. To further educate ourselves and to meet some doulas, we attended the Childbirth Collective’s All About Doulas night. (Sidebar: I learned about the Childbirth Collective through friends and through Blooma. It’s an awesome organization and I’d recommend their website and their classes to any TC mom-to-be.) It was a beautiful event; afterwards, Matt remarked that though he’d already told me he was on board with hiring a doula, he thought they’d be a bunch of bossy old ladies. Instead, he found a room full of warm, energetic, knowledgable women who were passionate about birth in any form.
We set up interviews with three of the doulas we’d met that night that we felt best matched our personalities. We couldn’t have made a bad choice among that group, but the moment our interview with Justine Temke ended, we knew she was The One. You can check her out on DoulaMatch, and you can read my testimonial of our birth experience with her there as well.
So why does working with a doula make this list for postpartum planning? Well, during our prenatal visits, we talked extensively about birth plans and the many different scenarios we might (and did) encounter. Justine’s priority was that Matt and I would confidently make the many decisions we were presented with during labor. She wanted us to have no regrets about our labor, and when we were in the hospital, she made sure we had time as a couple to talk through options and move forward with what we were comfortable with. She was a constant and calming presence; though she is currently expecting her own sweet little one, she stayed with us all night until Oscar was born.
And with her help, we truly have no regrets about Oscar’s birth, which is one (huge) reason that working with a doula really eased my transition from pregnant woman to newly postpartum mother. Another huge reason is that as a doula, she has access to a wonderful network of birth-related professionals. I was committed to breastfeeding, but within a few days of Oscar’s birth, I had very damaged nipples (I will devote another post to this), and I needed help. When we brought Oscar home, we were so excited but so unbelievably exhausted that we often forgot to feed ourselves (we both dropped weight like crazy that first week). Confronted with painful, bleeding nipples, from which I was supposed to feed my baby 8-12 times a day, and a baby who needed all of our attention, my fatigued brain could not problem solve. Justine was a great resource to reach out to, and she found a recommended lactation consultant and made an appointment for the consultant, Jen, to come to our house. It was such a relief to know that help was on the way, and I didn’t have to scour the internet looking for someone good.
For the guidance before, the support during, and the…there-for-you-ness after birth, I so strongly recommend working with a doula. Moving from a couple to a family is so wonderful, but it is hard work, and Justine has really helped us with the transition.
Third: Encapsulate your placenta. (Yes, really.)
My dad sent me an article about placenta encapsulation really early on in our pregnancy. I read it, briefly considered it, and shelved it- until I talked with two friends who had encapsulated their placentas and were really happy with the results.
Why encapsulate? There is basically no empirical evidence to support it, but there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence. After giving birth, a woman’s hormone levels drop from all-time highs to near-menopausal lows, and ingesting one’s placenta can help to even out that transition. It can also help with milk production, energy and iron levels, and postpartum depression. As a person who grapples with anxiety, I was eager to try something that could mitigate the anxiety I might feel as a new mom. Plus, I reasoned, the hospital was just going to toss out this precious organ; why not make use of it?
Justine helped us here, too. Her own doula, Staci, encapsulated our placenta for us. Staci was wonderful. She was very available to answer questions, and she made the pick-up/drop-off situation super convenient: she came to the hospital to get my placenta, and she dropped off our products at the hospital and at our house. The whole process was $150, and I received 160 placenta pills, two jars of placenta salve (which is said to be excellent for diaper rash and which I have also found to be excellent for healing damaged nipples), two prints of my placenta, and a placenta tincture. I take a pill every day, and I can truly say that the emotional crash I was expecting has not happened. I have not plummeted into the depths of familiar anxieties, and this has made dealing with the other hard things about having a newborn much more manageable. My energy levels also rebounded very quickly after birth, which meant I was better equipped to take care of Oscar, especially important when Matt went back to work.
I know ingesting your own organ might sound weird, but it is worth- at the very least- considering. Humans are among the only mammals who don’t, and we should maybe rethink that.
So! That’s all. I appreciate you reading to the end of what really amounts to: Take care of yourself, dear pregnant mama. Treat yourself well and surround yourself with support and love. You’ll need it- but you also deserve it.