At 36 weeks pregnant with my third baby, I’m no stranger to the ever-present, I-could-sleep-for-days exhaustion; strange cravings (more eggs please); mood swings and crazy dreams.
But as familiar as some of these pregnancy symptoms feel, I can’t help but reflect on how my priorities have shifted from my first pregnancy to my third. The third trimester of my first pregnancy was filled with visions of cute maternity clothes, perfectly coordinating the nursery, adorable baby showers, and scheduling pre-delivery pampering appointments for massage, pedicures, and haircut and color.
Years later, in the third trimester of my third pregnancy, I find myself getting quotes on cleaning ladies, soliciting referrals for postpartum doulas, locating nursing support groups, and preparing freezer meals so my family doesn’t have to eat pizza for the next three months.
Seven years and two-almost-three babies into this gig called motherhood, I’ve learned that the most important preparations an expectant mom can make aren’t accomplished in a prenatal shopping spree but, rather, in arranging for postnatal help.
See, I thought I had parenting in the bag before giving birth to my oldest child, Sloane. My husband I read every baby book, registered for all the “best” baby items, and completed delivery and childcare classes. Beyond that, I was pampered to the nines with baby showers and visitors in the hospital carrying the cutest baby girl outfits, stuffed animals and balloons. With nurses at our side, our hospital stay was delightful.
Fast forward 72 hours, and all the helpful nurses were still at the hospital, our cheerful visitors have come and gone, and the reality that my husband I were solely responsible for this tiny baby was sinking in fast. All the adorable Baby Gap dresses in the world weren’t going to save us.
The night before my husband returned back to work, I called my mother in tears begging her to come visit because, despite all the parenting books I had read, I wasn’t sure I could take care of my baby by myself. Inhibited by her own health problems, my mother’s ability to help was limited, but just having her sit next to me on the couch was enough. An extra set of arms to hold the baby and a calm voice reminding me that I was doing a good job provided more support than the fanciest swaddle wrap every parenting blog claimed I couldn’t live without.
Eventually, my mom went back home, and I adapted to flying solo. Although there were many, many difficult days, my daughter and I settled into a routine. I’m sure I had people convinced I was thriving but, months later, multiple daily phone calls to my mother and husband at work proved otherwise.
Friends and family called, emailed and texted, checking in and offering help. While I desperately wanted and need the help, I rarely accepted their offers for fear of putting anyone out. I figured people were just asking to be kind, and I certainly didn’t want to come off as a complainer if I had honestly answered the question, “How are you doing?”
I was wrong.
Here’s what I’ve learned: For whatever reason, we’ve come to believe that we have to do it all on our own and that’s just not true. If you’re a soon-to-be mom, whether it’s your first or fifth baby, people want to help. TAKE THE HELP.
If you’re unsure how to help a new mom, here’s a list of mostly free things you can do to help support her. And don’t wait for her to ask because, if she’s anything like me, she won’t ask. So skip the spendy gifts, and try one of these instead!
1. Visit Her
Weeks, even months, after the baby arrives, she may have you fooled into thinking she’s got it all together. The truth is, spending hours at home by yourself can get pretty boring and lonely. By now, most of the visitors that came to “ooh” and “ahh” over a new baby are long gone. Chances are, the baby is getting plenty of loving, but don’t forget about that mama. Statistics have shown that one out of seven mothers will experience postpartum depression (PPD). But PPD or not, having a friendly face to chit chat with is often a welcomed surprise. Bonus points: Offer to pick her up a drink of her choice before you swing by and don’t expect a clean home.
2. Bring Her a Meal
Home cooked or store bought, it typically doesn’t matter (just be sure to check if she or anyone in the family has any dietary restrictions). Not only does this give the parents the night off from cooking. but it also gives Mom a chance to enjoy a much-needed, nutritious meal. Bonus points: make a double-batch and freeze one for the family to enjoy later.
Instead of spending an hour (or more) of your time driving to the mall to pick out a gift, then wrapping said gift and delivering it, offer to entertain her older kiddos for a bit. Thanks to the new addition in the family, older children would probably welcome any undivided attention, and it relieves mom of having to keep everyone entertained. Bonus points: Try to find an activity like a trip to a park or a bike ride that helps burn off some energy so the older kids sleep well.
4. Let Her Sleep
I’m convinced that people who recommend that you “sleep when the baby sleeps” are either far removed from the baby years or aren’t parents at all, because this advice is practically impossible to follow. Babies make all sorts of noise when they sleep, and most moms wake to every single one of them. Not to mention that when the baby sleeps, many moms feel like it’s their only time to shower, pick up the house, cook, or have an uninterrupted meal. Offer to come over specifically so the new mom can take a nap and catch up on some much needed rest. Bonus points: She’ll probably turn you down the first time you ask, claiming she’s doing “ok,” but try offering a few more times, reminding her you’d really like to help.
5. Avoid Saying “This Too Shall Pass”
Every time I heard this — whether it was in regard to the baby not sleeping, teething, or trouble nursing — I’m certain the messenger had nothing but the best of intentions. However, in the moment, my frustrations were very real. I know that there are certain phases every baby/mom goes through, but instead of saying, “this too shall pass,” try “what can I do to help?” instead. She may just need to vent, but knowing that she has someone who’s willing to help her work through that phase is priceless. Bonus points: Help her connect with other moms who have experienced similar struggles. Helping her find a supportive community is a gift that will last for decades to come.
6. Help Mama Take Care of HER Health
We need to stop focusing on how women look and start asking them how they feel. While our society puts an emphasis on celebrating women who “get their bodies back” after having baby, we are ignoring a growing women’s health concern, which is core and pelvic floor health. Yes, a new Mom may “appear” fine on the outside, but women’s health research says internally she has a significant risk of not being fine.
Diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction are the invisible conditions often seen in postpartum women. The reality is a newly postpartum body needs rest and healing and this doesn’t happen overnight. While some women may heal well, many will need rehab and restorative exercises to help their bodies along. There are so many healthy options for women but unfortunately the post-baby body anxiety can lead to doing exercises that can worsen these issues.
Up to one-third of newly postpartum women will experience incontinence after childbirth. Within twelve years half of those who were continent will become incontinent. Approximately 40% of women will experience some degree of prolapse in their lifetime and 1 in 7 women will experience pelvic pain. There are enormous numbers of women suffering and we CAN do something about it!
How? Physical therapy.
All new Moms should see a pelvic floor therapist after childbirth. Even the Moms who deliver by caesarean. After all, you did carry a baby in your pelvis for 40+ weeks! Pelvic floor physical therapist deal with anything pelvic and core health related and will help women make a healthy and pain-free recovery from childbirth. Please consider supporting a new Mom by sharing this information, helping her make an appointment, and providing the support she needs to get to that appointment. Many women struggle prioritizing their own health after childbirth. This could be the greatest gift you give her!
Women can and should move their bodies after childbirth but they also need to work within what is healthy for their body during the postpartum period. Consider a postpartum-safe workout series to compliment physiotherapy. HHHM’s Postnatal Series was created to help you recover safely from childbirth, restoring your core and pelvic floor health so you can get back to doing the things you love without worrying about future health issues.