Having a baby is like moving to a foreign country. Basic functions, such as eating, sleeping and leaving the house, become challenges that require a new level of planning and effort. The joys of discovery and new life are intermixed with feelings of exhaustion and the stress of managing countless unfamiliar details. Setting up a good support system is crucial to ease the transition of your journey to new parenthood. Don’t underestimate your need for time to rest, recover and bond with your newborn while you adjust to living your new normal.
Family members and close friends often form the basis of support for parents and their newborns. It is as good idea to have a discussion with key support people before the baby comes, to hear from them how and when they would like to help out and to communicate what would be most helpful for you. Ask for help with cooking, cleaning, laundry and errands to give yourself plenty of opportunities to care for and be with your baby. If you feel overwhelmed by offers of assistance, ask one person to coordinate and refer the others to them.
To make the most of this precious and challenging time, your well-being takes priority over being the perfect host for any and all guests. It may be necessary to set boundaries in order to ensure that your “helpers” are truly helping. If your family is lacking uninterrupted time together, record a voice mail greeting with the details (time of birth, baby’s name, weight, etc.) and mention when you will be ready for visitors. You can also try scheduling several guests at the same time, setting a time limit for visits or asking each visitor to help with a household task. Consider receiving guests in your bathrobe or while resting in bed. Put a cooler with ice on your porch for friends to drop off meals without disturbing your feeding session or long-overdue nap. And try not to worry about your house not being up to your regular standard of cleanliness – all eyes will be on your baby! If you have friends or family members who make you feel bad about your mothering or household management, smile politely but do not engage with them. Do your best to surround yourself with caring, supportive people.
For other families, the challenge is not too much help, but a lack of support when and where they need it most. If offers to help are not forthcoming, you may have to seek it out more actively. You may know people who are willing to help but hesitant to offer. You could try saying something like, “I want to make sure I have enough support in place when the baby comes. Is there anything you would feel comfortable with doing?” Religious and community groups, as well as groups designed specifically for new parents, are all good places to look for help. If you are having trouble locating such groups, try asking your prenatal care provider for recommendations.
There are also various types of professional help available. This is the perfect time to take advantage of local shopping, cooking, housecleaning or pet care services. For supportive, personalized care, such as you would receive from an experienced female friend or family member, consider hiring a postpartum doula. She can help with a wide variety of tasks, from household organization and food preparation to baby care and feeding. She can also care for the baby for short periods, allowing you time to nap, shower or otherwise nurture yourself. However, a good doula does not take over baby care completely – her goal is to “work herself out of a job” by helping you become confident and balanced in your new life as a parent.
The weeks and months of new parenthood are an intense, wonderful time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can or should be able to handle it on your own. It is worth the effort of setting up a support network to be able to relax and focus on making the most of your journey into new parenthood.
Written by Heather Magill, a mom and postpartum caregiver on the North Shore who wants every new mother to feel supported and nurtured on her journey into motherhood.