Planning for your baby’s arrival? With this postpartum planning guide and download, you can feel confident and prepared for a healthy life with your newborn, a peaceful birth recovery, and success in your early parenting goals!
Download the free postpartum plan template to get started
Whether your postpartum goal is to simply optimize you and your child’s health, create a cocoon of privacy in early parenting, or foster a sacred time for your family’s growth in body, mind and spirit, postpartum planning is a way to ensure those ideas come to fruition amidst the rapid changes and energy demands of life with a newborn.
Why Plan for Postpartum?
Keys to Postpartum Recovery
- Skin to Skin
- Nourishment & Rest
Team Postpartum Planning
- Partner Support
- Family & Friends
- Professional Support
Holistic Postpartum Health
- Listening to Your Body
- Processing Birth
- Additional Support
The postpartum period is a unique time of healing, infant development and early parenting, that lasts for about 6-8 weeks after a baby is born and in its broadest definition includes the first year of life. Just as physical support, social encouragement and safety oversight are important during pregnancy, planning for the postpartum period can help you or your family to make the most of this unique time with unique challenges. As we outline the benefits of planning for postpartum, follow along and take notes on your very own copy of our simple starter worksheet - download it now!
What are the benefits of making a postpartum plan now?
Healing Time & Optimal Recovery
What exactly makes a postpartum experience a positive one will vary from person to person, and in our society, some families have access to more options than others. No matter someone’s circumstance, it is realistic to expect that a person recovering from pregnancy and birth will not have the same energy or capacity to safely do all the same things they did before, without risking an interruption to their healing or possibly injury. Their ability to give their attention and physical presence to their highly dependent newborn is also of utmost importance to the baby’s thriving, and generally helps the parent to feel the sense of peace and satisfaction that comes from meeting instinctual nurturing urges.
The healing process is also slow, and changing hormones can impact mood as well as energy levels. Postpartum planning is a way to ensure an environment and setup that will support your health as well as boost confidence and ease as you navigate and emotional shifts that occur. Planning may also illuminate challenges, thereby giving you an opportunity to collaborate with your most supportive community members towards solutions. Planning can prevent more serious complications, and in turn allows for full, robust physical recovery, a healthy beginning to infant care and nourishment, and a physiological foundation for emotional wellness and parental satisfaction.
Whole Family Thriving
The “mother-baby dyad," or the close biological relationship between the birthing parent and their baby, is essential for a newborn’s survival, adjustment and thriving. A small baby relies on their parents’ contact and care for food, warmth, and the touch that helps them learn to self-regulate temperature, breathing and even heart rate - this same contact stimulates healing mechanisms within the body of the recovering parent.
This important bond also creates the hormones of social connection, lowering stress and building pathways in the brain and central nervous system for empathy, positive interaction, healthy attachment and self-esteem. Many of these benefits transfer to parents as well, and so postpartum time impacts adult and whole family wellness in subtle yet powerful ways.
How might common postpartum challenges impact me?
Parental Leave Limitations
Universal access to protected leave from work is not yet a part of standard employment culture or law in the United States, so most parents are expected to return to work soon after a baby’s birth. Even people who do have paid leave or an employer who helps them access the full range of accommodations available to pregnant and parenting employees may need to return to work after a short six weeks.
The pressure to return to normal activities and the economic burden of missed income can create pressures that encourage people to work before their bodies are fully recovered from pregnancy and childbirth, which in turn can contribute to complications or even injury in the postpartum period. Research also continues to explore the link between paid/unpaid work leave durations and postpartum mood disorders, successful breastfeeding, and overall parental satisfaction, as our understanding of the interplay between psychology and physiology continues to evolve.
Without planning, if a family is far away from community, a postpartum parent may be left alone with their newborn. Even parents with other children and friends nearby may find that social connection is hard to come by amidst busy day-to-day realities. Quiet time and solitude can be wonderful, and extra beneficial when a recovering parent and newborn have plenty of togetherness in a peaceful setting. But if that same adult is left to feed themselves, practice good hygiene, and get enough rest while potentially in pain, healing and subject to the whims and short sleep cycles of a young newborn, they may become sleep deprived or risk missing basic care essentials that are best supported - and designed by human nature - to include hands-on support from others.
Expectations v. Reality
Plain and simple, postpartum recovery can simply be a lot. Even when there is so much joy and excitement about a new baby, there can also be negative or confusing emotions, tough days, and physical discomforts. Even for a healthy, low-risk person with no complications, minimal pain, and no health concerns for their baby, their body needs time to regain strength and balance, just by nature of the pregnant process, and the emotional transitions of early parenting are real, complex and and sometimes challenging. That’s just what it is to be a human nurturing a new little human - after literally building them from scratch!
People tend to have a harder time psychologically when their expectations don’t meet their reality. In order to support your most important needs and desires, a little planning gives you a better chance of syncing up with your goals realistically.
Keys to Postpartum Recovery
There are a few factors that benefit anyone recovering from pregnancy and birth - including newborns! As you envision your postpartum sanctuary, consider these the foundations of your and your baby's time integrating, healing, and getting to know each other in the fourth trimester.
Skin to Skin
Exactly like it sounds, skin to skin refers to cuddling or holding your shirtless baby against your own skin, usually at the bare chest. Soothing touch during infant massage, kisses, nuzzling, etc. also carry some of the benefits of this skin-to-skin contact, but specifically for humans and for lactating parents, the areas of the upper torso and chest at the sternum, between and above the breast line, is full of nerves specifically sensitized to this kind of soothing social contact between kin. Some of the benefits of skin to skin include:
- Helping your baby to regulate their own temperature - maternal breasts can increase or decrease by as much as two degrees to help a baby warm up or cool down! (Typical male breast tissue can heat up but not cool down on demand.)
- Helping your baby to regulate their heart rate and breathing - these reflexes take a little practice and especially young babies need to feel other people breathing and pumping blood to “remember” how to do it themselves.
- For parents and baby, lowering stress hormone levels, which in turn can make feeding sessions, bath time, and sleep time more enjoyable for everyone.
- For parents and baby, increasing the release of oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that aids lactation (or and infant’s calm readiness to take a bottle) as well as feelings of belonging, attachment, trust, protection and love. This hormone also causes enough gentle cramping for the uterus to heal completely and stop bleeding.
- Signaling environmental cues through healthy skin bacteria, or the “microbiome”, sharing information that boosts immune processes and informs longer-term responses to the outside world for your baby.
- Helping pre-term or otherwise compromised newborns to recover and thrive more quickly, shorten NICU stay durations, and/or avoid admission to the NICU
Nourishment & Rest
Optimizing rest may require some planning around set-up, bedding and household accommodations or expectations. This one applies to all ages and participants. Every member of the family needs to be well-nourished and get enough sleep to maintain proper function, immune health and mental stamina. This can be difficult when one family member in particular is highly dependent on the others for frequent feedings and changes - and when newborn sleep cycles of approximately 50 minutes make up just a fourth of an adult 4-hour sleep cycle for optimal brain and body health.
The recovering and/or lactating parent in particular requires extra rest and calories in order to:
- Support soft tissue healing
- Boost blood and cellular health for ongoing immune response and energy recovery post-pregnancy
- Build and transfer nutrient-dense human milk to a breastfeeding baby
- Exert energy to feed, clean, soothe and otherwise meet the newborn’s needs on a schedule that shifts with developmental progress
Optimizing nourishment looks a little different for everyone and can be a sensitive topic, but it’s incredibly important that someone in their postpartum gets the essential nutrients they need for tissue repair, organ and joint health, a robust blood and immune system, and more. See below for procuring optimal postpartum foods, and no matter what, prioritize meal planning in your postpartum plan.
- Meal Trains - One of the best way well-wishers and would-be visitors can support your new family joy is to provide regular, hot, nourishing meals. Consider a sign up list or meal delivery gifts as a part of your planning and baby shower registry.
- Meal Planning - Our experts recommend pre-packing your fridge with home-made or store bought frozen meals, and having at least the first two weeks of meals prepared, spoken for among volunteers, or assigned for takeout. On a rolling basis, we recommend preparing large batches or continuing with community assistance for at least the first six weeks postpartum
- Postpartum Food Choices - After pregnancy, it may be tempting to eat whatever you want - and it’s certainly okay to indulge in those foods you were waiting to eat until after pregnancy for safety reasons. It is worth noting, however, that easy to digest foods, warm, liquid-base foods, and soft, fully cooked recipes full of nutrients and minerals are the most healing and easy for your body to utilize while digestive “real estate” is still settling into position. We love soups, stews, curries, and smoothies in the first days, gradually adding more solid food to comfort and desire.
The body needs heat to encourage robust blood flow and healing. This is best done by incorporating warming practices into your postpartum plan, either pulling from what you’ve learned in your family’s culture, consulting with a traditional healer, or using commonly available options that can be utilized in almost any setting through the first 40 days or so of postpartum life.
- Warming foods such as hot teas, ginger, broths, spices and culinary herbs.
- Keeping the home environment at a warm enough temperature to comfortably practice skin to skin in a relaxed posture.
- Soft, warm clothing that helps a postpartum person to move about easily but also rest at a comfortable temperature whatever the season.
- Warm sitz baths in the early days and, with medical consultation, full immersion baths later on after more healing has occurred; review preparation and use of herbs or consult a herbalist professional before starting a new regimen.
- Hot showers, hot foot baths or stones, heating packs, hot water bottles, massage that utilizes heat, other temperature treatments - check with your medical provider about duration and temperature for saunas or any type of prolonged heat exposure.
- Minimize any cold drafts and ensure easy access to opening/closing windows or otherwise controlling the home environment
How to plan in advance for postpartum support
As you can imagine, the nurturing and attentive environment that best serves parental and newborn postpartum health is one that is supported. Humans have always been social creatures and early parenthood is no exception. Read on for the ways our inner and outer circles of social support contribute to optimal postpartum success!
Mealtimes, diaper changes, setting up the breastfeeding station - these are not just “helping” - these are the very acts of being an incredible parent, partner and family member. If you or your partner are looking for ways to plan for the postpartum period, we recommend going through our worksheet and this article together. Some of the primary considerations might include:
- Feeding the person who is busy feeding the baby with their body
- Feeding the baby with expressed milk or formula
- Keeping up with shared chores while one person is recovering
- Facilitating safe and comfortable sleeping, playing and eating spaces for everyone
- Managing older child care and schedules
- Physically assisting the birthing/chest-feeding person while they are in recovery or while you both manage household tasks and a newborn
- Taking time to simply enjoy quality time together with your baby
One of the first ways to effectively plan for postpartum as a partner is to get or remain engaged in the prenatal and pregnancy process. Once planning for baby’s arrival, partner work schedules, sleep habits, unique skills and health considerations should go into planning expectations. Reproduction is a spectrum of experiences that started with your shared desires to start a family, and it by no means ends with delivery - everything that you do to support your family’s prenatal experience informs the first trimester and beyond, so thanks for reading now!
Family & Friends
Establishing your expectations for how family and friends will support your early and long-term postpartum is a major component of planning because it helps you to communicate your preferences to those who want to help. One the one hand, their skillful help and emotional support is a key component of recovery as well as mental health - not to mention celebrating all the sweet moments of life with your baby!
Nonetheless, unhelpful or unrealistic expectations could make otherwise lovely peers and relatives become inconveniencing or full on aggravating parties - use your postpartum planning time to get clear on boundaries and communicate them ahead of time. You might consider:
- Times and durations of visits
- Off-site tasks, errands or logistical support that others can realistically provide
- How home visitors can be a “helper” and not a “guest” requiring hosting
- Restrictions for health conditions, special considerations and COVID-19
- Primary support people on whom you may rely for transportation, physical assistance or other essential support
- Experienced parents or trusted mentors who can offer guidance and affirmation
Professional Postpartum Support
Depending on your personal needs, health circumstance, or career obligations, you may decide to enlist professional postpartum services in the form of medical and non-medical care. Whether or not you need them is neither a reflection of your capacity as a parent nor the primary determinant of your baby’s well-being - different dynamics work for different families and finding the arrangement that serves your deepest health and long-term happiness can be a work in progress. Professional services in the first year of postpartum might include:
- A postpartum doula who supports the early transition into parenthood with recovery support, infant care demonstrations, and client-centered nourishment and compassion.
- Lactation support from an IBCLC or trained counselor or educator may help you to fine tune processes that could otherwise feel complicated or overwhelming. It is easy to get discouraged because breastfeeding, although partially instinctual, is by nature difficult and designed to require social learning and support. Lactation consultations from a kind and compassionate expert can make all the difference in chestfeeding success and the health benefits for babies and lactating people.
- A night care professional who helps you to learn, manage or practice night-time family sleep routines and feeding practices that allow your family to function in the way that feels best for you. This may include feeding support, back-to-work transitional support, or more regimented childcare through the duration of the night.
- Bodywork and holistic therapies such as cranio-sacral, massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic are family favorites that many lean on to address posture and functionality while healing and learning new skills.
Essential Postpartum Supplies
The number one “item” for a baby’s thriving, assuming they are fed, warm, safe and clean, is a sober, engaged parent. For both parties, there are some essential items and setups that support physical birth recovery, make newborn care and feeding easier, and decrease stress for optimal whole-family functioning. Taking care of your family starts with taking care of yourself, and our downloadable postpartum supply checklist is a starting point for your postpartum success.
*For adults and children, if anyone shows serious symptoms, such as bleeding (beyond expected recovery bleeding as discussed with your care provider), signs of infection (fever, shaking, odor, swelling, discoloration), or other significant symptoms that come on suddenly, severely, persistently, or seem to threaten breathing, circulation, or consciousness, call 9-1-1 or local emergency services.
Your plan for your postpartum period should also include speaking to your own medical care provider and your child’s pediatrician so that you know what type of schedule and duration of appointments will be necessary in the first days or weeks after birth. While you may not know the exact dates ahead of time, this will be helpful in coordinating mealtimes, transportation and any other logistics to get your baby and you to the right places at the right times smoothly and safely.
Read on for pediatric care considerations, and click here for more on the 6 week postpartum visit, questions to ask your doctor, and tips for making the most of your appointments!
Pediatric Health Care
You may have appointments with your baby’s pediatric care provider as early as the first week of newborn life. This usually includes weight monitoring, basic health assessments, and ideally, time for questions. If you are working with a midwife or other at-home care provider, initial newborn care procedures and checkups can often be done at home. Commonly, pediatric schedules are determined by vaccine recommendations and the sequence that follows the first date of treatment.
As much as you can, find out the expectation ahead of time and what flexibility you have so that you can strategize your support for appointment transportation and infant feeding the day(s) of these visits. Also find out if there is anything you actually need to prepare or track for the first visit with your pediatrician. In the first days of newborn life, regular peeing, frequent pooping, and cycles of alert, hungry and sleepy time are the baseline signs of a well-adjusting baby - and yet every baby is a little different.
While it is common and, for some people, enjoyable, to track or count your baby’s activities, if you and your baby are generally healthy you needn’t feel pressured to track a lot of data unless you’ve been consulted to monitor a health condition. Of course, go about this as it feels most aligned for you, and if your intuition or a clear sign of a health problem, injury or other problem comes up, seek medical care and/or advice.
Holistic Postpartum Health
There are whole books and ongoing bodies of research dedicated to improving postpartum outcomes. While medical practitioners and researchers work on physiological and systemic solutions in health care, doulas, educators and other birth work professionals support the holistic health of their postpartum clients with some of the tips we share below.
Listening to Your Body
Modern mamas and papas can sometimes struggle with the shift from lifestyles accustomed to instant efficiency, gratification and control, into slower processes, delayed satisfaction, and plenty of mistakes amidst a constantly changing experience that can feel like chaos.
It is okay to slow down, or eat more, or just stop what you are doing and reset. It is also okay to walk an extra five minutes if you are feeling up to it, or venture to eat that sushi! Just know that everyone is different, and your postpartum experience may be unique in that it:
- Doesn’t look like your friends’, your parents’, your siblings’ or your doctor’s other clients’
- Is way easier and more joyful and special and amazing than you could have imagined
- Is unexpectedly difficult or hard in ways you never expected to challenge you
- Includes permanent changes in tastes, habits or desires
- Includes returning to old tastes, habits or desires
- Includes new or unexpected feelings, attitudes or beliefs towards your own life and goals
Whether any, all or none of these apply to you, what remains universally true is that the human body is responsive to its environment given its relative capacities, strengths and weaknesses in that moment. Take some time to breathe, feel how you’re feeling, meet your basic needs (especially rest, nourishment and hydration), and make a change if needed.
“Processing your birth” is simply a way of describing one step of integrating a reality - the fact that you carried your pregnancy and had your baby - into your new sense of self, awareness and identity as a parent. Whether or not you formally think about processing your birth, it may be helpful to understand this internal process is common and practiced in many different ways, and if it feels important, it is worthy of your attention.
In the past, most cultures had ceremonies and traditions that oriented people to parenthood or exposed them to the realities of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum life by way of community structure. Today, we may experience these major life events with only a few trusted relatives and/or companions, and global events have now interrupted birth support and postpartum cultures everywhere.
Whether or not someone documented your baby’s arrival with photographs and/or video, there is no pressure to share it all or think it through right away. It’s also totally wonderful if you want to share your story, photos or talk about what happened in labor. You may have dreams, changing memories, an urge to speak, write, or make art, or none of these, in your processing of birth - there is no one right way to do so.
The instinctive and highly emotional processes of meeting, feeding, nurturing and breathing in your baby are designed to take over your brain, releasing feel-good hormones of kinship that also impact the emotional memory of what the labor and birth experience was like, and everyone’s process is a little different. You may not remember much at all, or have very vivid memories, and some of these may spark profound joy while others are painful or difficult to face. Some master doulas make a point of waiting at least a month or so before sharing photos or stories about the birth so that someone has time to just be in their feelings and thoughts before receiving someone else’s perspective. At the same time, it may feel good or be helpful in some way to discuss what occurred during labor or details of your baby’s birth early on, and then come back to photos and memories at other times at a more relaxed pace.
Additional Postpartum Care & Support Options
If something comes up in your postpartum planning or birth processing that becomes emotionally turmoiled or physically challenging to resolve, it’s important to seek additional support.
Keep your medical provider’s contact information on hand and know that even with good planning, postpartum mood disorders are valid health diagnoses that benefit from professional treatment. If you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression, you can seek out a self assessment tool or ask your health care provider for next best steps.
One of the best solutions for postpartum satisfaction and healthy child and parent outcomes is prevention. Prevention comes most readily in the form of evidence based education, holistic guidance for healthy lifestyle and self-care changes, and social support - all of which is supported through the expert coaching and small group model provided at Seven Starling. Learn more today about how our convenient, accessible service is one part of a perfectly personalized postpartum plan!