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Postnatal Recovery - how best to plan ahead for this special time

Updated: Feb 19



RECOVER is a great way to think about all the different angles that need to be considered in order to plan for the postnatal period, so that all members of the new family are well supported, and to protect this special period of time.




Rest


Sleep is key for recovery and restoration. If you have a partner/friend/family member who can look after your baby (or babies!) while you nap in the day, or enable you to get an early night if the baby sleeps for the first part of the night, even a few hours of solid sleep can help you feel more able to manage the broken nights and frequent feeds better.



Share night time parenting where possible. Someone else can help with night feeds if your baby is formula fed or given expressed milk in a bottle, but even if baby is breast/chestfed, they can change, wind, and settle them back to sleep and allow you to get some additional sleep. Not affordable for everyone, but a night nanny/maternity nurse/doula is a great way to get a night or two (or more!) a week of solid sleep to help you cope the rest of the time.



Understanding normal newborn sleep - being prepared that babies do wake through the night for frequent feeds as their tummies are tiny (and also for SIDS safety) for the first few months and some can continue to wake into the second year - this is normal - though tiring - so be kind to yourself!



Don’t set unrealistic expectations on yourself, especially when you are getting less sleep than usual - it is more important to avoid burnout, than make it to every social arrangement and fill your days too much. People will understand if you need to reschedule after a night of no sleep.




Is co-sleeping an option?

Sleeping in the same room as your baby is recommended for the first 6 months. Bedside cribs are great for safe co-sleeping, enabling your baby to have their own sleep space right next to you. It is safer to safely plan to co sleep than accidentally fall asleep holding your baby.


You should never co sleep in your bed with your baby if you have taken any medication or drugs that can make you drowsy, if you have consumed any alcohol, or if you smoke. However, done safely, it can be a great way (particularly for breast/chestfeeding parents) to get more sleep. Bedding and pillows should be well away from the baby and the mattress should be firm.

Some great advice to ensure safe co-sleeping can be found here: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/co-sleeping/




Eat


Nutrition plays a huge role in the postnatal period. It not only plays a role in supporting mental health, but also energy levels and recovery.



Batch cooking before baby arrives is a good way of ensuring you have a stock of easy to prepare healthy meals and snacks, if you have time before the birth. You could always ask friends and family to bring or prepare meals if they ask what you would like for the new arrival!



BBC Good Food has a whole host of easy to prepare, freezable recipes for parents to be and new parents https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/freeze-ahead-recipes-parents-be.



Home delivered fresh meal boxes such as Hello Fresh or Gousto, or shops such as Cook can also make meal prepping much easier, especially in the early weeks or months. Online food shopping is a huge help too.



It is important to have a healthy balance of protein, fruit, vegetables, fibre-rich carbs, dairy and fats such as avocados, nuts, and seeds. Eating well can help with constipation and anaemia which can be common postnatally.


  • DHA rich oily fish (salmon, sardines etc) helps with brain function and mood stabilising and if breastfeeding, also helps with developing baby’s nervous system.

  • Avocados, grapes and nuts all help to balance mood and reduce stress. Strawberries are also amazing for quality brain function and contain an array of vitamins and nutrients.

  • Shiitake mushrooms contain a lot of B6, which helps to boost mood and reduce stress - they have been proven to effectively treat mood disorders like depression.

  • Calcium (1250mg per day if breast/chestfeeding), iron, and vitamins C and D are particularly important to ensure an adequate intake of.

  • Be mindful that nicotine, caffeine and alcohol can all pass into breastmilk, so consumption should be limited (or ideally stopped, in the case of nicotine).

  • Remember your body is more than 60% water so ensure your water intake is (more than) adequate - having a large jug or flask of water nearby at all times helps remind you to keep sipping away! Every time you sit down to feed your baby, ensure you drink a full glass of water yourself.






Chores



The pressure of keeping the house tidy and clean on top of thinking about food, washing and other household chores, can quickly become overwhelming with a new baby in the mix.



Try to share or farm out chores as much as possible. Partners/friends/family and older siblings can all help in little ways, and if you’re in a position to pay for a cleaner or hire in some help such as a postnatal doula, this will relieve a lot of pressure and allow more time to focus on the baby and settling in to your new role(s).



Lower your expectations and adapt your priorities - the house doesn’t need to be spotless, or as it was before you had a little person taking up all your time, no one expects that! Focus your efforts on the areas most people will see when they visit, and remember that time with your newborn will be fleeting - the dust can wait!



Break it down - just tackle small areas at a time, and try to accept it will take longer! Just try to focus on one thing every day, perhaps while your little one has their longest nap, and spend the rest of the time on self care or resting.



Create a schedule to keep on top of things - ie Monday for cleaning the bathroom, Tuesday for washing bedding, Thursday for wiping the kitchen down - with rest days in between.


Keep a basket at the bottom of the stairs for all the things that need to be sorted back to their proper homes at the end of the day, or taken upstairs when you next go up. This can help at least keep everything that is out of place in one place, until you, or a partner or family member have time to sort through it.


Set a timer for 15 mins and only clean/fold washing/tidy for that amount of time - this can actually make the time you do spend doing these boring tasks, much more productive and less overwhelming!


Simple tips for managing household chores with a new baby in the house:


  • Use disposable plates and cutlery in the early weeks

  • Utilise a sling or baby carrier to keep your hands free

  • Invest in a robot vacuum - daily vacuuming with no effort!

  • Hire in household help if you can

  • Batch cook/freeze extras where possible, even after baby arrives

  • Use cleaning wipes for ease and speed

  • Keep a mini cleaning caddy handy in high traffic areas




Observe



Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. You may be feeling differently now baby is here and want to do things alternatively to how you thought the postnatal period would be for you.

You may find you want to just spend some time staying at home bonding with and getting to know your baby, with no interruptions or commitments, or you may want to get out and about and show them off to the world (and this doesn’t mean that you won’t be also making time to bond with your baby, even if you are out most days!).



You may also find you vary day to day or week to week with what you feel you can manage, and of course this will depend on how much sleep you have had, how feeding is going and how confident you feel getting out. Your hormones are likely to be all over the place for a while too, so some days you may find you have loads of energy, and get lots done, and others you just want to hibernate!Lean in to this and enjoy extra snuggle time with your baby on those days!



There is no right or wrong way, but you just need to follow your instincts and ensure that what you are doing is right for you and your baby, not just to meet everyone else’s expectations. You need to prioritise yourself and your baby right now. Reach out for help if you need it.






Visitors


Visitors are to be expected when there is a new baby around, but they can sometimes overstay their welcome or create extra pressure and stress unnecessarily.


Having a constant stream of visitors can affect both parents and babies emotions, rest, bonding and feeding, and put a lot of strain on them when they are also just getting to know each other and adapt to the huge changes that have happened.


There are many ways to manage visitors, without upsetting them, and allowing you to also have quality time with your new little one.


You could have set visiting times or sessions, allocated to specific people, (or groups of people if you’re feeling up to it and want to reduce the number of individual visits) at certain times. Ask people to stick to these and respect that you are trying to make it fair for everyone.


Factor in plenty of alone/bonding/skin to skin time, away from visitors. Your baby will probably appreciate some time off from constant visits too!


Ask visitors to stay away if they’re not well, and especially avoid visiting if they have cold sore, heavy cold, virus or suspect covid.


Have a phrase ready for politely telling visitors they have overstayed their welcome. Something such as ‘Its been tiring morning/afternoon/day, I think we both need a nap now” or ‘Its time for a feed now, it’s been so lovely to see you, thank you for dropping by’.


Have an advocate at all times to help communicate the birthing parents wishes - when a parent is tired/emotional/overwhelmed, it can be hard to say what you truly feel.


You could put a sign on the front door saying ‘baby and parent sleeping please don’t knock, ring etc. Please leave parcels at/under….’ Change your voicemail to “please confirm if its ok to come round by ringing or texting before you arrive - we love you but we may be asleep”


Have a “To do list” right next to the kettle or on a wipe clean board in the kitchen - you can get visitors to make a cup of tea or stick dinner in the microwave, in return for a cuddle.



Some families now plan a ‘babymoon’ where they just hunker down with their newborn for the first few weeks and get to know each other and adjust to their new normal, before allowing visitors to descend.





Emotions


After giving birth, emotions and hormones for both parents can be varied, or changeable, and this should be accounted for when considering how to plan for the postnatal period and ensuring adequate support is in place, and so that all the things above can be put into practice.


Plenty of time for both parents to bond with, have skin to skin with and get to know your new baby, will all boost oxytocin (the love hormone - not just useful for labour and birth!) and mood. Don’t worry if you don't feel an overwhelming surge of love for your new baby straight away - this is normal too! Give it time and it will come.



Being prepared for the ‘baby blues’ which is a normal consequence of a drop in hormones shortly after birth, can help make this a less scary and difficult period. Symptoms include feeling emotional, crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness, anxiety and low mood. It usually happens within the first week after birth and passes by around day 10. If it lasts longer than this or feel more overwhelming than feeling it a bit more tearful or deflated, talk to your GP, midwife or Health Visitor.


Watch out for signs of postnatal depression - and see your GP if there are any concern. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-natal-depression/symptoms/



Postnatal Depression is different to the baby blues and is when you can have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt or self-blame all the time, for weeks or months after you’ve had a baby. An inability to sleep even when your baby does can also be a symptom. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and PND can also affect the non birthing parent. Some parents may find it difficult to look after themselves and their baby if they have severe depression, and it is important to ensure that a Health Professional is involved if PND is suspected or diagnosed.





Helplines such as Cry-Sis https://www.cry-sis.org.uk, for support of parents of crying or sleepless babies, Family Lives https://www.familylives.org.uk and Home Start https://www.home-start.org.uk are all also excellent sources of support.



Most of all it is important to remember that no one is perfect, and ‘good enough’, is enough. You are doing your best and learning as you go!






Receive


This is your chance to allow yourself to receive help and support while you relish in and adjust to life as new parent(s). Let friends and family rally round and help with the housework, the baby, cooking - whatever is offered, and feels right for you!


In many cultures, away from the western world, there is a strong focus on enforcing rest and recuperation on the new parent (in particular the birthing parent!), most commonly for around the first 40 days. More information can be found in this great article https://www.laleche.org.uk/life-with-a-new-baby-across-the-world/.


In these more traditional cultures, family, friends and the community, come together to care for and meet all the needs of the new mother, so she in turn can focus on caring for her new baby.


In the UK, usually partners have a very short period of time off, before having to return to work (unless they work for a particularly family friendly company, or work for themselves and have the ability to work flexibly), and then the birthing parent is often left to care for the baby for the majority of the time.


Family and friends can be encouraged to support the new family by dropping off meals, offering to help out with chores or childcare of older children, walking the dog or just being there to encourage the new parents to rest and get to know their new baby.





If you need postnatal support or new baby advice, please get in touch to book a discovery call, postnatal course or for further information on how to manage the postnatal period and help you to enjoy your new baby, and life as a family! www.everythingbirthbabysleep.co.uk

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