Whatever you personally feel about them, most people have heard of a birth plan, which I like to describe as things about your birth which are important to you. Birth is such an important part of our journey into parenthood, it makes sense we will all have different feelings/priorities, and that we need to be able to communicate those.
So what is a postnatal plan? Well, the same sort of thing, but focused on that other REALLY important time, just after the birth of your baby. Those first hours, days and weeks are a crucial time for you, your immediate family and your baby, to adjust and all get to know each other.
It is a time of transition, physically for BOTH your body and your baby’s body too, as well as mentally & emotionally. This time of adjustment for you both, can benefit from being taken slowly. In many cultures, it is seen as a sacred time, where the new mum is looked after by the whole community, as she rests and focuses on herself and her newborn.
In the UK, our culture in general is more of a ‘get back to normal’ one, where we often take upon ourselves an expectation of just getting back to how life was. It is undoubtedly true that most of us do not have support networks who can come and take over everything while we rest in bed for several days, many of us have very little even basic support we can call upon. BUT even so, I believe by giving the postnatal period consideration in advance, there are things we can do to give ourselves the gift of having that time, even where circumstances make it more tricky.
Obviously, if you or your baby need to spend some time being looked after in hospital, not all these options will be immediately open to you. But many of them will still be relevant for supporting you during this time.
Postnatal plans are best devised before the birth, as there can be preparations which need to put into place. Personally, my postnatal plans are pretty informal, unlike my birth plans which I write up, but they are just as important to me, and I always make sure that everyone relevant knows my wishes.
What kinds of things can you include?
- Time for physical recovery. However you give birth, your body has grown and birthed a baby, and giving it a little time to adjust and heal is important. Even in the most straightforward birth, the uterus needs time to heal from where your placenta detached. If you are also dealing with Cesarean or perineal stitches, sleep deprivation, or anything else, rest where possible is certainly important too.Thinking about how you can maximise rest in those first days and weeks, who can support you with other children, household tasks, etc – is a great start for prioritising this.
- Visitors. How many, who when? People feel very differently about this, and that’s absolutely fine. Perhaps you want company, have a circle of important relatives and friends, and most importantly, you WANT to introduce your baby to everyone. If you do, go for it, just remembering that if it gets too much, have a backup plan so you can claim your space back! (We teach a handy little technique for this in our Natal Birth and DaddyNatal workshops called ‘codeword’) But if you just want to sit in your PJ’s and not worry about seeing people, or sharing the cuddles with you new baby, then that is perfectly fine too. Personally, I have a fairly broad no visitor rule following the arrival of a baby, so that we all get completely relaxed time together. Friends and family we may start to see a week or so after baby has arrived. This isn’t fixed in stone, and it can be adapted if we feel differently about it at the time. But for me, not knowing how I will feel in the first few days after birth, I prefer to set VERY low expectations about visitors!
- Midwife/health visitor appointments, tests and checks. There will be several visits and tests on offer over the couple of weeks after your baby is born. These visits and tests are all your choice. It can be really helpful to have the support of health professionals in the early days with your baby, for reassurance and to be able to ask any questions, but you can also guide the visits to get what you feel you want/need out of them too. As part of our BabyNatal Practical Baby Care Workshops, we look at some of the tests and checks on offer, as we know that different families make different choices about what they feel is right for their own baby.
- Introducing siblings. Thinking about how other siblings get to meet the new arrival is something the parents we work with often give consideration. Choices may vary depending on where/when the birth took place. At our last birth, for example, the siblings met their baby sister for the first time just after she was born while I was still in the birth pool! You may also want to think about where baby physically is when the siblings first meet them, which again may vary depending on when/where they were born. Some parents prefer to have placed baby in a moses basket (or similar), rather than in mums arms so that she is free to give the older siblings a cuddle first. But many will also choose to be holding their new addition as they do the first introductions. You know your children best, and can choose whatever option you feel is works for your family. Some families also choose to have sibling gifts – a little something from the new baby to show them how important a big sister/brother they are.
- Nutrition. Eating is pretty high on my list of priorities after giving birth! I like to have lots of snacks stashed so I can eat as and when I fancy it, as those first few days can be a bit of a blur, and mealtimes not always quite go to the clock! For meals, being able to have easy, decent food is important. There are several ways of achieving this. Precooking and freezing meals is an economical way, you can batch cook some of your favourites in advance, making them so easy to heat up and eat. It can tricky sometimes to make the time to do it before the baby arrives though, so another option is to use someone like www.cook.net – they basically do all the cooking for you, and your homecooked meals arrive frozen and ready to heat them you want them. This is a more pricey option, but if preparing your own in advance is difficult to schedule, this is a good way of making sure you are eating fairly nutritious food. Perhaps if you have friends and family nearby, they might also take it in turns to bring you something to eat. We have had this as our ‘new baby gift’ a couple of times, and it is AMAZING! At the end of the day, it is most important you do eat, so don’t worry too much if it is a supermarket ready meal or local takeaway to get you through a day!
- Hydration. Taking in fluids is really important to help with postnatal recovery, and if you are breastfeeding, it can be very thirsty work! One good tip is to have a jug you fill at the start of the day and keep in the fridge, so you know how much you are drinking, and it reminds you to keep replenishing your glass!
- Entertainment! You may spend quite a lot of time just staring at your new baby when they are born! BUT when you are spending many hours sat on the sofa, feeding them, cuddling them, etc. as much as you love them, that desire to stare at them all day long can wear off after a bit, and having some entertainment to hand, which also lets you relax can be helpful! Why not find a box-set which you would like to be able to watch, and plan to have that as something to enjoy?
- Day-to-day tasks. Having some support can really make a difference, as we never know how we might feel once baby has arrived or what we might be affected by. How will tasks like chores, laundry, school runs, etc be split out in the first few days to make them manageable? Do you have a partner who will be able to take up some paternity/family leave, and will be around and able to undertake these tasks? Could you look at getting in some additional support, such as a cleaner or a doula, even for a couple of hours, to support your family? Having a baby sling or wrap to be able to carry your baby in, keep them close and content but also give you your hands back, can be so helpful when you have other children that you also need/want to care for and spend time with.
- Plan for the low day. So many of us go through it, that baby blues day, where suddenly everything just feels overwhelming. Make sure you and your partner have discussed how you might like some support if it happens. Having someone proactively giving you an hour out so you can go get a bath, or to go out and bring you back a little treat, make you a cup of coffee, take the children out for a walk while you have ten minutes to yourself, or a nap, (whatever it is which floats your boat in short!) can make such a difference.
These are just some ideas, but every family is different, and you may have others too… so what would/does your postnatal plan look like?
Steph Beaumont is co-founder of The Natal Family, and co-author of The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.