by Stephanie Ondrack
(originally posted 2015/05/31)
Q: What can I do to prepare for the first couple weeks after baby is born?
A: Even though we spend the majority of a year growing baby, and even though we spend lots of time planning, anticipating, or merely imagining, somehow baby’s arrival still often comes as an abrupt shock.
In one sense, there is nothing you can do to truly prepare for life with a newborn. This life change is so huge, and so consuming, that no amount of planning will really cover it. Becoming a parent is a massive transition, as very suddenly and irreversibly, all of your priorities must shift to realign themselves around your extremely new, and extremely dependent, baby. Our very sense of self can become temporarily unhinged as we struggle to tether ourselves in this new role. The constant, and often inscrutable needs of a newborn can deeply challenge our sense of competence. And almost every parent can recall moments of despairing that life will never be the same.
But nonetheless, there are some things you can do to better equip yourself for this chaotic stage of uphill learning and rapid change. Although none of these tips will guarantee a stress-free postpartum experience, they can all help ease the transition by removing some of the compounding challenges from this already fraught time. So here they are:
Eight Simple Steps to Surviving the Postpartum
Get Food Off The Table
If possible, take meal preparation out of the picture entirely. You can order in, you can buy pre-made meals that only require heating, you can make meals ahead of time and freeze them, you can buy ready-to-eat food at most grocery stores (like roast chicken from the deli), or you can ask your wonderful friends to bring you meals. Consider a meal train as a shower gift.
Eating is something you will have to do despite having a new baby, but cooking does not have to be on the menu.
Say NO to Housework
Similarly, there is no need to waste time cleaning your home after you have a baby. Let there be dust-bunnies. Let there be dishes. Let laundry go unfolded. You can hire a cleaning service if you feel the need, you can enlist the help of friends or family, or you can simply turn a blind eye. It won’t last forever, and while you might look back on the postpartum period wishing you had held your baby more, I guarantee you will not wish you had vacuumed more.
You Are Not Entertaining
The postpartum is a period of imprinting: of parents and babies settling in together, getting to know each other, bonding, and forming the beginning of strong family attachments. Baby is learning who to trust, who to follow, who to love. While you might benefit from having occasional friends pop over to say hello, walk your dog, wash your towels, and bring you a lasagna, you probably want to avoid long visits where you end up making tea while other people hold your baby. No one should expect you to do any hosting during this special time. Besides, your baby’s social preferences start and end with only you.
Lower Your Standards
Whether you normally have exacting or slack standards for things like punctuality, routine, tidiness, order, and hygiene, this is a good time to lower them. Your expectations are already low? Drop the bar down further! There is always a lower rung you can achieve. Remember, its just temporary.
Cuddle, Sleep, Cuddle, Repeat
This is also a good time to narrow your to-do list down to the bare essentials. And what is truly essential? Other than eating and sleeping, it’s really just about settling in with your baby. Feel free to don pajamas all day. Feel free to forego bathing or brushing. And who really needs to check e-mails anyway? Relax and enjoy some laid-back cuddle time with baby. The rest can wait until later.
Your postpartum world narrows down to the vary basics. Think of it as zooming in, and focusing on only the most important things, while letting everything else fade into the blurry background. If you thought you would paint your fence, write your novel, or learn the clarinet, you might want to defer these aspirations until you have all acclimatized to your new roles. Re-adjust your focus so that your basic needs and your new baby are at the centre, and allow everything else to be temporarily excluded from the frame.
Sleep Like a Baby
Babies do not sleep for long stretches at a time. They can’t, because their little bodies and brains are wired to wake up every time they have a need that requires attention. Since we must meet all of our babies’ needs—day and night—some parents find it most restful to sleep close to their babies, able to attend to their night time needs with minimal fuss. Be open to whatever sleeping arrangements permit you to cuddle, feed, and warm baby throughout the night with the least arousal on your part.
The postpartum period is chaotic. It is a massive life change, of proportions too monumental for most of us to accurately anticipate. But while the magnitude of the adjustment can be stressful and challenging, it can also be magical, serene, and even blissful. Many new parents find that one of the keys to having a joyous postpartum is to surrender to it completely. New babies require all of our hands, all of our attention, and all of our time. If we are also trying to get other stuff done, this can be exhausting and frustrating. But if we make room for this transition, tuning in to baby at the exclusion of everything else, this can be a cherished time in our lives that we remember with great fondness: a holiday from daily reality in which we come together as a new family. A babymoon.