Preparing for life after birth: A postpartum doula shares her tips
By Hali Shields
Doulas support parents in a multitude of ways through the childbirth journey, providing education and resources to help you feel empowered and confident. Postpartum doulas can help parents navigate the challenges that come up after the baby arrives.
What does a postpartum doula do, exactly? As a postpartum doula myself, I wear many different hats: I’m a newborn care specialist, maternal health guide, lactation educator, health coach, baby sleep trainer, friend, and mentor.
Postpartum doulas can help support new parents with baby care, meal prep, or just being an extra source of comfort and stability, either virtually or in person. While postpartum doulas are not a replacement for your health care provider, they’re there to provide a listening ear and reassurance, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Here are some of the most common questions I’m asked as a postpartum doula, and my tips and tricks for postpartum recovery.
How can parents prepare for life after birth?
I always recommend making a postpartum plan. While many parents might be familiar with a birth plan, a postpartum plan can be just as effective! It might seem a bit type-A to put everything down on paper, but the act of prioritizing your own needs can be helpful.
Your postpartum plan is a chance to think through your support network, what supplies you will need, how you’ll handle feedings and sleep, and how to take care of your own postpartum physical and mental health while caring for your newborn.
What are some of the most surprising things to be prepared for postpartum?
To help you feel more prepared when you bring baby home, here are some secrets of the postpartum period that tend to surprise my clients:
- Your newborn really will eat around the clock: In the early weeks, it feels almost like your baby is eating constantly — they’re eating every couple of hours, sometimes every hour.
- Going to the bathroom after having a baby is difficult: For the birth parent, peeing will be uncomfortable, especially in the first week or so, and incontinence is something that many parents struggle with. Stool softeners are a must.
- Pelvic floor therapy is a game-changer: Not super familiar with pelvic floor therapy? Support and treatment from a certified pelvic floor physical therapist can be helpful for both men and women. It’s not just for parents who have given birth!
If you can, start researching this type of therapy in pregnancy: ask your OBGYN, your midwife, your pediatrician, or your network. Even if you don’t have a pelvic floor therapist near you, you might be able to find one virtually — and I will say personally, it is just as effective as going in person.
- Babies don’t sleep quietly! Something I hear a lot is, “My baby’s so noisy when they’re sleeping. Is everything okay?” Newborns tend to be very noisy sleepers, thanks to their developing digestive and respiratory systems. So expect lots of cute squeaks, grunts, snorts…even burps.
- Parenting can feel lonely. Especially as a first-time parent, no one really talks about how lonely you might be. You’re in the house all alone with a newborn, there’s very little time for anything else. Even with friends and family coming over, it can be a lonely time. Consider virtual groups you can join to build your support network.
- Getting out of the house is a whole production. When you have a baby, it takes two or three times as long to leave the house. Give yourself extra time!
One big reason the newborn phase can feel a bit lonely for new parents: Only 55% of American parents live within an hour’s drive of extended family! Keep grandparents and loved ones closer with the Cradelwise caregiver function, which lets them see the baby from anywhere in the world through the livestream feature in the Cradlewise app.
What should parents have in their postpartum survival kit?
A few essential postpartum supplies to stock up on:
- Pads for postpartum: Have a good supply of maxi pads that vary in size and thickness. Whether the baby is born vaginally or via cesarean, you will likely experience bleeding afterward that tapers off after a few weeks.
- Padsicles for postpartum soreness: Vaginal soreness is common after both vaginal and cesarean delivery. Padsicles are essentially frozen pads or adult diapers that you can apply to your vaginal area for cooling and comfort.
If you’ve given birth in a hospital, they will often send you home with ice packs; use them! Some people use them for just a couple of days, while some people need to use them for a week or more. But the coolness can help reduce inflammation.
- Peri bottle for postpartum bathroom cleansing: You cannot wipe after giving birth, so you’ll want to use a peri bottle. (Some peri bottles have a straight tube—look for the curved version.)
- Postpartum hemorrhoid pain relief: Tucks pads and numbing sprays can help alleviate discomfort. Sitz baths are great for improving hygiene and blood flow. And whether you’ve given birth vaginally or via belly, donut pillows are great for alleviating any pelvic pressure you might be experiencing.
- Snacks! You’re probably going to be very hungry. So things like protein bars, nuts, trail mix, or things that are quick to grab are great tools to have in your postpartum kit.
How can parents prepare for breastfeeding and pumping postpartum?
It can be helpful to set up a nursing or feeding station with breastfeeding and pumping supplies. Here’s what you may need:
- Comfortable chair: Ideally, a glider or a rocking chair with a footstool. Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, feedings take 20 to 30 minutes per session, and you’re going to be feeding around the clock, especially in the first few weeks. You’re going to want to get comfy.
- Wipes or burp cloths: Burp cloths can be used for a multitude of purposes, whether that’s catching spit up, or wiping up milk.
- Nursing pillow: Positioning is super important for breastfeeding and making sure that you have a nice deep latch, and nursing pillows can be helpful.
- Nipple care: Especially in the early weeks of breastfeeding, some nipple soreness is normal, but nipple creams can help. I’m a huge fan of coconut oil. Coconut oil is anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, and as long as there’s no sensitivities, coconut oil can be a great nipple cream.
If your nipples are very sore, definitely reach out to an IBCLC or a lactation professional. Trust your gut and your intuition: If it feels like something’s off, definitely get some support.
- Nightlight: You’ll probably be feeding quite a bit in the middle of the night, and ideally, you don’t want to turn on all of the lights. Having a nightlight in your breastfeeding area can be helpful.
- Snacks and water: Again — you’re going to be hungry! If you have a little breastfeeding or feeding supply basket, you definitely want to include snacks and water. Ideally, you want to drink about half your body weight in ounces of water per day while breastfeeding.
Postpartum recovery care after cesarean
You want to rest as much as possible after any birth — but especially after a cesarean, which is major abdominal surgery. Once you’re home, it’s important not to lift anything heavier than the baby. More postpartum recovery tips for cesarean births:
- Stand up slowly: Here’s a trick I’ve found to be helpful: When you’re standing up from lying down, place a pillow over your abdomen, and gently swing your legs over the edge of the bed, then stand up slowly — much slower than you normally would. Like I mentioned, you’ve just had major abdominal surgery. Take it easy.
- Prepare for some itchiness: If you’ve just had a cesarean, your incision site might itch. This is normal! Covering the incision with a lidocaine patch can help relieve discomfort. Remember that the incision site needs to be kept clean: Follow your OBGYN’s instructions, and don’t add any creams or ointments to the incision site.
- Try belly binding: Belly binding is a technique I recommend after both vaginal and cesarean birth that’s used in cultures worldwide. If there are doulas or practitioners in your area that offer a technique called Bengkung belly binding, I definitely recommend exploring that option.
Bengkung belly binding pulls everything in and tightens it up. It can reduce bleeding and help with pain, and I have seen it be effective for a lot of parents. You can even find fabrics and videos online to do it yourself.
Your body needs rest after delivery! Easily control the motion and sound settings on your Cradlewise crib from bed while you’re recovering from birth — so you can take care of yourself and your baby at the same time.
Taking care of your emotional health postpartum
We put so much time and energy into pregnancy and planning for the baby, the parents’ mental health often falls by the wayside. Here’s how to prioritize your own mental and emotional health postpartum:
- Aim low. So, this might seem a little bit harsh, but try to lower your expectations for what life as a new parent might be like. That is okay! You will slowly move into your new normal, it might just take some time.
- Don’t try to do it all. Many people feel like they have to do everything all at once, or that others expect them to do it all. It’s okay to say, “You know what, I need to dedicate this time just for me.” Know that there are other people that can help, and you don’t have to do everything yourself.
- Trust your intuition. You know your baby better than anyone else. Better than your pediatrician, better than the lactation consultant that has 30 years of experience, better than your doula.
You are the expert on your baby. So if you feel like something is wrong, or there may be a better way to do something that might be different than what those parenting books are suggesting — trust your gut, and go with what your intuition tells you.