I (barely) recall those first weeks after my son was born. I do remember being in the hospital afterwards for five days due to a 2.5 cm laceration that my doctor knew wouldn’t heal if I went home right away. How right he was! It’s so hard to take care of yourself when you have a demanding little person to feed every two to three hours and are fumbling around in your new role as a parent. Staying at the hospital “forced” me to have daily sitz baths—which involve sitting in healing saline water for twenty minutes, three times a day. Try to do that at home with new infant responsibilities and parents and friends visiting! Taking care of yourself isn’t as important as getting some shut eye while your little cherub sleeps, right? Well, even so, it’s imperative to find time to take care of yourself in the five to six weeks after a baby is born. I’m not talking about losing the baby weight either—I’m talking about keeping your health and sanity in tact. Here are some tips that I’ve gleaned from friends and experts over the years:
The First Post-partum Checkup.
First and foremost, do not miss it! This checkup is essential, so make sure your partner, friend, or family member can help with the baby—and go. At this checkup, your obstetrician will check how your body is healing from labor and delivery or a Cesarean, as well as how your breasts are faring—as some women have painful infections when breastfeeding. Just as important, your physician will talk with you about your mental health—as baby blues and postpartum depression are different. Women need to talk about how they are feeling and get help if they are finding themselves depressed on a daily basis. (To read more on postpartum depression see: How Common is Postpartum Stress Disorder?) Finally, the postpartum checkup gives you the green light for sex and exercise and your doc will discuss contraception—as breastfeeding, even if exclusively, does not protect you from getting pregnant!
Meet Other Moms with Babies of the Same Age.
Even if you didn’t “click” with moms from your parenting or birthing classes, call them. Meeting up with moms of babies the same age helps. You can discuss sleeping problems, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding issues, in-law suggestions, etc. You’ll be surprised at how little else matters during this time when almost all topics of conversation turn to bowel movements, fever, and other fascinating parenting tidbits that you are now immersed in!
Four weeks after labor (six weeks after a Cesarean), most doctors say it is okay to exercise. Not only will it give you a lift and some fresh air, it will help with the sleep deprivation. During the first four weeks, take easy walks with the baby in the baby carrier. After you get the green light to exercise from your doctor, do so. Don’t worry about how you look—put on the sweats, strap on the baby, and go for a power walk. Enjoy the moment and drink in the scenery wherever you go. If you go to the gym, don’t leave the baby at the crèche just yet as she’s a bit too young to be around that many other children.
If neighbors offer to bring over dinner, let them. If family-members offer to clean or vacuum, say thank-you. This isn’t a time to try to keep the house perfect or to worry about what others think.
Sleep When the Baby Sleeps.
“I really find it amazing that no matter how much I read or prepared … When people joked about getting no sleep they were not joking! Prepare to be tired all the time and try to take naps when the baby sleeps (which I have a hard time doing). Also, time the last feeding with your bedtime. When I put her down, I try to go right to sleep to maximize the night stretches. Sometimes she’ll sleep four to five hours, which I can handle!” advised Jennifer Klawin, a Manhattan Beach mom of a now seven-week-old daughter.
Babies can sense tension and if you get overly upset, chances are, she will too. If the baby is crying for hours on end and doesn’t have a fever and isn’t hungry or tired, you may be dealing with colic. Get help from friends or family so you can take breaks and calmly deal with this time. For more information, see: Soothing a Colicky Baby.
Give your partner a list of things he/she can do to help. This can range from just rubbing your feet to taking on one feeding or diaper change at night to making dinner twice a week. Let’s face it, some of us need to be told what to do—even the most well-intentioned.
We often keep our minds on future goals instead of staying in the moment. Yes, this time is a challenging one, but it is also short and wonderful. Watch your baby as he changes. Over the coming weeks, he will become more and more alert. Enjoy how he gazes into your eyes or how his eyes light up as you show him a flower or toy. Try to stay in the moment and write down a few things you observe each day.