3 keys to a meaningful post-birth plan

What I learned after interviewing hundreds of young moms about their maternity leave experience (part 1)

After nearly a year of waiting, I thought I was ready to deliver. This meant not waddling around or having trouble taking a deep breath. And, of course, meeting my little one. 

But I was clueless about what I was getting into after we left the hospital. 

In my interviews with hundreds of new moms, I’ve found my experience is common. New moms, including first-time moms, generally said they felt well-prepared when asked they felt before their babies arrived.

For many moms, being ready meant freezing meals, stocking up on baby supplies, taking a baby class, and arranging for family to visit. And while these things helped, they don’t fully prepare you for the new reality. 

So, what is it like post-birth?

Roughly 2/3 of new moms, and about half of experienced moms, described the first few months after birth as harder than expected or just difficult. 

Here are some excerpts of how new moms described the experience: 

  • “I had no idea how relentless taking care of a newborn would be. I knew it would be a ton of work, but I had no concept of how all-consuming it would be.”
  • “Taking care of a newborn was ten times harder emotionally and physically than I expected. I took breastfeeding classes, but nothing prepared me for the actual experience.”
  • “The sleep deprivation was much more extreme and damaging than I thought it would be.”
  • “It was my second so I was much better prepared. For my first, I was completely shell shocked at how much work it is and how little sleep and how much crying there is.”
  • “Shock. I wasn’t prepared for the extreme emotions. The lows were insane. I didn’t know how to cope with the lack of sleep.”
  • “Between the sleep deprivation, healing from the surgery, and the general stress of having a new baby, it was a tough three months. Definitely harder than I imagined!”
  • “I was definitely really tired, and it wasn’t easy, but overall I loved it.”
  • “Most pre-natal courses focus on bathing, feeding, changing baby, and not at all on the sleep deprivation and the toll it takes on a person. Not having enough energy to cook or feed yourself… nothing prepares you for the realities of motherhood.”

The 3 critical post-birth planning elements:

1. Breastfeeding & pumping.

If you’re going this route, recognize it’s a new skill for you and your baby to learn. Even mothers that took classes commented it wasn’t enough prep. Expect that you’ll probably have some complications, and your nipples will hurt after the first few days.

Preparing means:

Use the lactation consultant or nurse at the hospital. Ask how to tell if you have a good latch, and how to know when the baby is done drinking and using you as a soother (so you don’t wreak your nipples).

Have a pump handy. When your nipples get sore or cracked, this is a lifesaver alongside your lanolin. It also lets your partner do some feedings.

Formula is your friend. In addition to a pump, having a bit of formula handy is helpful too. When I had my first kid, I believed formula was terrible, compounding my sleep deprivation. Now I realize most of Gen X grew up on formula, and they seem more-or-less okay. Balance the trade-offs.

Drink lots of water. It’s really easy to get dehydrated, which can make you feel dizzy and even more tired. I drank water like a marathon runner.

Be ready for this to take up more time and mental bandwidth than it should. The unpredictability and time needed for breastfeeding are a big reason why it can be hard to leave the house or get other tasks done.

2. Sleep deprivation management.

Most new moms experience an adrenaline rush after their baby is born, and then crash with exhaustion. I found the sleep deprivation to be something I didn’t notice happening – until it became overwhelming.

Brace for a marathon. When I had my second child, I knew that it could be months – or a year – before I would sleep through the night again. With this lens, I did everything I could to maximize my sleep.

For me, this included only changing the baby at night if it was necessary, going to bed at 7 pm, trading off with my husband for some feedings to nap, and avoiding my phone at night so I don’t wake up more than necessary. Do what works.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3. Brace for emotional rollercoasters.

Hormone swings are a b*tch. Especially when compounded by lack of sleep and the stress of caring for a crying little one.

Schedule daily breaks, if you can. This could mean asking your partner or a family member to watch the baby for an hour each day. Getting some time alone – especially if your baby develops a witching hour – can help you recover a bit.

Lower expectations to avoid frustration. No shower, mess everywhere, no time to cook – no problem. Trying to do too much adds stress or disappointment. In the interviews, I repeatedly heard the first few months called ‘survival mode’ – this is a useful mentality to take.

Find social support. Many moms described the experience as both exhausting and isolating. Friends or family often don’t know how best to support them. Ask those close to you to check in (virtually or literally) ahead of time. Or connect in online chat groups, like through Peanut, Reddit, or Facebook mom groups. Find what works.

Have something to add to this list? Please tell me!

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