Childbirth is, in many ways, out of our control. Here are some things you can prepare for ahead of birth that can reduce the post-birth overwhelm.
One of the scariest things about birth is that, unlike many other major events in life, much of it is beyond our control. We can physically prepare by exercising or stretching, mentally prepare by creating a birth plan, and emotionally prepare by having conversations with our partners about child rearing and responsibilities.
Although you may not be able to control every aspect of birth, you can impact some of the overwhelm associated with going home. Coming home with our son was an experience I will never forget- one of extreme self doubt, exhaustion, and euphoria. That combination of intense emotions, in and of itself, felt very overwhelming and obviously, new.
What I learned in the first few days post-partum felt extremely hard to remember and at times, hard to even understand. Between sleep deprivation, hormone imbalance, and immense sense of responsibility and love- processing information, at all, felt like a challenge.
On top of my own childbirth experience, I’ve worked with hundreds of parents, each one with their own unique experience of childbirth. Here are some of the most frequently cited pre-birth preparations that made a huge difference postpartum.
- 1. Bottles– unless you exclusively breastfeed, your baby’s bottle will become your most utilized post natal object. Understanding how bottle parts are sanitized and stored is both extremely important and confusing. Knowing that you’ve successfully washed & sanitized your bottles a few times before you head in to birth can help you feel like you can check one major obstacle off your list.
- 2. Lactation Consultant- if you intend to breastfeed or pump, studies show that speaking with a recommended lactation consultant ahead of time will increase the chances of a successful breastfeeding/pumping journey. We underestimate the importance of factors such as correct feeding positions, flange sizes for pumping, and mastitis prevention. The right lactation consultant should make you feel empowered, supported and never judged.
- 3. Formula Preferences– though I intended to give breast feeding my best effort, I also wanted to research baby formula’s in the even that I needed it. I spent many days reading about different types of formula- American vs. international, organic vs. not – and when I finally came to a conclusion I felt good about, I decided to order several boxes of it online. Once it arrived, I failed to notice that the directions were in German. In the end, I needed to use formula, but I had no idea which formula/water ratio to use when preparing the bottle. In my exhaustion, I decided to throw in the towel and used the easiest thing I could find. I never used the formula I was so confident about. In retrospect, I wish I taught myself the feeding instructions, and how to prepare bottles in advance.
- 4. Feeding Station– however you choose to feed, I highly recommend setting up a “station” next to the chair that you will be spending most of your time in during the infancy stage. It’s helpful to identify a sanitized storage space where you’ll keep a spare phone charger, bottle of water, snacks, books, burp clothes, spare pump parts, spare bras, nipple covers, nipple cream, etc. For example, I used an open bar cart as my station and kept all my pumping accessories on one level, and my personal items on another. These are all things you will want to have on hand, and you’ll have a lot less time to organize once your baby arrives.
- 5. Mental Health– Last, but certainly not least, take some time to explore your postpartum mental health support options. It’s not that birth isn’t a wonderful experience- it often is and always should be. But with birth often comes a complex emotional period. Some people respond well to changes in hormones and sleep, others do not. Knowing who you can call by exploring your insurance coverage or speaking to other people in your community is key. Whether you just need someone to talk to, like a life coach, post-partum doula, or you need a higher level of support- such as a perinatal psychiatrictrist- knowing who you feel comfortable talking to ahead of time is of utmost importance.
No two childbirth experiences are the same, and these suggestions are not intended to assume what you will and won’t need. But for a large portion of new parents, the feeling of newness can feel intimidating. My hope is that you can find some relief in the opportunities where you do have control, and a feeling of trust and faith in the incredible moments where you don’t.