The baby’s due date is just a round the corner. We have the perfect stroller picked out, the right burp cloths and have you heard of the Haakaa yet? Our registries are filled with gadgets of every price, and the nursery decorations are all coming together. Our sister gave us her bassinet which she swears will give us hours of uninterrupted sleep. But is that everything?
What do we need for babies that we can’t buy at the store?
How can we prepare ourselves logistically, emotionally, and practically for the huge life-change that is new parenthood?
1. FOOD :
We often don’t anticipate it, but feeding yourself is a huge challenge as a new parent. Whether you love to cook or not, shopping, prepping, ordering, cooking, eating, and cleaning up food become huge chores when you are healing from childbirth and have a baby in your arms. On one hand, you have just completed the most physically demanding feat of your life after carrying another human in your body for almost a year. You need to rest, not be at the grocery store or standing over a stove. Being horizontal is the best way to give your uterus and pelvic floor, not to mention the rest of your body, the opportunity to heal after all they have done.
But on the other hand, babies are designed to be held. By analyzing the milk composition of different types of mammals and their babies’ eating patterns, we have learned that human milk most closely resembles the milk of “carry” animals like marsupials and apes. Their young are carried for most of the day and fed frequently and at times, continuously. The mother’s body is literally the baby’s habitat. This means - especially early on - it can be hard to find any period of time when baby is happy to be laid down, awake or asleep; they are hardwired to be in someone’s arms. This fact combined with our need for rest and healing, makes doing anything that requires us to be up and about or to use two hands (grocery shopping, chopping vegetables, washing dishes, standing at a stove) extremely challenging.
Dinnertime often coincides with the time of day when the sun goes down. In baby land, the end of the day is referred to as the ‘witching hour’ for young babies because they reach max fussiness as they assimilate all of the stimuli and growth they are experiencing. Let’s be honest, it can be a hard time of day for all of us (happy hour anyone?), making it tough to get motivated about cooking a healthy meal.
So how can we prepare for this? There are several ways to set ourselves up for nourishment success! First things first, you or a friend must sign you up for meal train or take them a meal. You can enter in your food preferences, favorite take-out options and also give visitors specified hours to bring food so you don’t have an endless flow of guests while trying to rest and bond with your new baby. ANYONE THAT COMES TO VISIT MUST BRING FOOD. If you don’t need it that day, freeze it. The time will come for it, I promise. Having lots of one-handed snacks is critical. Granola bars, fruits, bags of chips or veggie snacks are good options. Stash them in your nursing nest(s) right beside your huge water bottle.
How do we get that grocery shopping done? There are so many great grocery delivery and pick-up options out there today that are life-savers for new parents:
Prime Now will deliver to you door for free on orders over $35 and for a small fee on orders less than that.
Click-list groceries from Kroger will let you order online and then pick them up (great errand for family and friends).
Take-out is a time saver, as is eating on paper plates.
Seasonal Roots allows you to choose selections of local vegetables, meats, bakery items and more that are delivered to your door weekly.
Daily Jars is a meal delivery service in Richmond catering to various dietary restrictions.
Companies like Blue Apron streamline the cooking process by sending you everything you need for a specific recipe.
Freezer meals or slow cooker meals that you can start and forget are also great options to utilize in your early days postpartum.
You don’t have to do any of these things forever, but in those first few months they are so helpful to mamas who should be resting and partners who maybe haven’t been in charge of the whole food thing before. Nourishment is critical to our healing, as well as mental and emotional health as we make the journey into new parenthood. What is your plan?
2. RITUALS :
We’ve all heard it, having a baby changes everything. But what does that even mean? Besides the big stuff: our values, priorities and relationships, the everyday things that we take for granted undergo a total transformation too. You will soon appreciate the sheer glory of a hot shower in a whole new way.
When our babies arrive, they need our care around the clock. All this giving and responding changes our rhythm. We are used to lives where we call the shots, we know what we want and we go for it. “If I do A and B, then C will be the result.” But all of that changes when we have a baby. Our identity is redefined and we are no longer in control of our lives in the way that feels comfortable. In these early days of chaos, the first routines to go are the things we do for ourselves. Expect this change.
A good exercise to do before baby arrives is to identify a couple of things that make you feel like you. This could be keeping a journal, watching movies with your partner, getting a massage, taking a walk, doing your hair, a few yoga poses, a creative outlet, etc. Pick 1 or 2 simple (can be done at home) things that you can continue to do once baby arrives. You won’t have a lot of time for these, and they may not happen everyday, but hold on to these rituals as you navigate this new frontier. These will be your anchor as your world transforms. I started writing letters to my daughter in a notebook starting before she was born. It connected me to myself and how I was changing. I wrote my birth story and about the little milestones we both met along the way. Ask yourself, “What makes me feel like me?” and find ways to honor that.
3. A STRONG VOICE :
Soon you will know just what is meant by the terms “mama bear” and “papa bear”. We have our hormones to thank for this fiercely protective attitude that guides us and builds our intuition as we learn to care for our precious babies. But the early postpartum days are also a time when we will feel the most vulnerable and exhausted. All of the emotions, even the joyful ones, are felt with such intensity and depth it can be overwhelming. Our mothers love to jump in and be our mothers again, regaling us with advice about how they made-do and how we should to things too. New trails are being blazed with our partners whom we need in new ways. Boundaries must be set with our friends who all want to come over at the same time and with the random lady at the store who wants to hold our baby. All of this requires some inner fortitude, a strong voice to advocate for ourselves. This starts in pregnancy and birth.
We must be our own champion by making our needs and desires known! I recommend sending out a proactive email to anyone you know will be visiting or otherwise involved in the life of your growing family. You can express your gratitude for them and how excited you are for them to meet the newest addition, but also the things you want them to honor about your choices. Maybe you want a day or two at home alone with just your partner and baby before the visitors begin. Maybe you don’t want them to post pictures of your baby until you have done so first, or at all. This is a great time to let them know exactly how they can best help you. Give them specific tasks you know you will need help with: errand running, walking the dog, sibling care, etc. It is nice to set the tone now, instead of when you are freshly postpartum, vulnerable and raw.
For some of us, it is really hard to ask for help. Start practicing now. For some, we have delicate relationships with our family members. Start the healing process. Your feelings and desires are valid. Feel them and express them. You deserve to rest and heal. You will need help achieving this. Practice compassionately communicating with those around you in order to make this a reality. Use your strong voice to achieve the peaceful supportive environment to deserve to bond with your baby.
4. HANDS-ON SUPPORT :
If there is one thing I know about parenting, it’s that we aren’t meant to do it alone. Raising the next generation is a familial and community effort. Too many of us are at home alone with our babies most of everyday while partner works. Family lives far away. We are not close with our neighbors. It is also not realistic to expect partner to jump in and take care of all the roles that you will be taking a break from while you are healing; they will be caring for baby in addition to caring for you, losing sleep, and processing new emotions.
It is hard to learn the skills we need from a book, much less a Baby-Center forum. What we need is real people observing us, looking us in the eyes, listening to us, and showing us these new skills. We need to be supported emotionally as well as relieved from our physical responsibilities like doing laundry, walking the dog, and going grocery shopping. We need validation. We need someone to show us what breastfeeding looks like. The list goes on. It is hard for most of us to ask for help. We feel vulnerable, embarrassed, overwhelmed and insufficient. But these relationships and exchanges are what make us human. We need each other, just like your baby needs you. Elicit as much hands-on support you can from family, friends, doulas, lactation professionals, healthcare professionals, and support groups.
Unfortunately in our culture today, the responsibility of knitting this system together falls in your hands. No matter your birth or postpartum journey, you will need help from others. Start exploring your options now. Talk to your friends about who and what was helpful to them. Set up an appointment with a lactation consultant as soon as your baby is born. They will be able to intercept any potential problems and also encourage you that everything is on the right track. Find mommy meet-up groups in your area (like the La Leche League group in the picture above!). Hire a postpartum doula. Do child care exchanges with friends. Schedule a day-date with partner. Ask for gift certificates or a prime now membership. The possibilities are endless. If there is one other thing I know about parenting, it’s that you deserve all the support that you need and everything that you can get.
5. TRUST :
As parents, it is easy to think every aspect of our baby’s life is our job to fix or correct or train. Doesn’t it seem there is a program, book and blog about every little detail of their existence from sleeping to pottying and everything in between? And while we are definitely a massive influence in our child’s life, we are not in control of it. You may already be feeling this as you move through your pregnancy. We don’t get to choose our children. We don’t get to design them in the womb, or pick their personalities. And no matter how strictly we stick to the book, we won’t be able to predict exactly when they will sleep, or wake up, or hit milestones. We can’t foresee all of the challenges we may face. We are made to believe it’s all our fault, that if we tried harder, we would get more desirable behaviors out of our children, but this is simply false.
Parenthood’s greatest lesson is learning how to do our best, and let go of the rest. We learn to surrender, release our expectations and accept what our children give us. No matter how you define it, you will connect with a higher power. We must give ourselves the grace to trust: trust our bodies, our care providers, our partners, our intuition, and the life force that allows us all to grow and develop despite not knowing exactly how it all works.
As new parents, feeling like your baby’s behavior and development is all your responsibility is far too great a burden to bear. Trust allows us to soften our grip on the way we think things need to be. Babies wake up for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with how you put them to sleep. Babies have different temperaments that will determine just what lights them up and what sets them off. The people that wrote those baby books have never met you, or your baby, so take what works and leave the rest.
In Whole Parent/Whole Child, Polly Berrien Berends explains how a mother duck does not teach her ducklings to swim, and yet when the time comes, they all float beautifully across the pond because the water bolsters them up! Much in the same way, our babies will grow and learn and be bolstered up by their sheer humanness. You are the absolute best parent for your child! Find grace for yourself and trust that with your help and love, whatever got them into this world, will also guide them through it.