Thinking Beyond the Birth - why you need to be ready for what’s over the birth hill and how to do it
As soon as you get the digital go ahead from Clearblue, that’s it. Life becomes pregnant and baby-centric. Why wouldn’t it? It’s the most exciting, scary, anxious, happy, sickening, glowing time of a woman’s life. You are smacked with a booklet for maternity care and notes and copy of the nauseating Emma’s diary. You wait patiently for scan dates, appointments to hear the heartbeat, a day at Mamas and Papas baby event to learn about Isofix bases, download the Squeezy app to remind you to do pelvic floors, look at NCT groups, make a birth plan or 5, maybe do a Hypnobirthing course (they’re bloody incredible!), basically read and soak in every microscopic drop of pregnancy and birth. It’s a big deal. And we finally get to the big day we know we have our amazing midwives ready to care for us. We have had antenatal care there for us throughout, whether or not you have decided on doing any birth prep courses. Support is there.
And then Baby is out, and our birth has either gone great and /or not what we expected and/ or for some of us pretty traumatic. There is now the job of adjusting to being mum whilst trying to allow the body and mind to heal. But the postnatal appointments fade out; we have our notes signed off, we have a ten minute postnatal check at 6 weeks and see the health visitor a few times in baby’s first year. The structure and familiarity of checks we had in pregnancy are not there anymore, and it can be quite the bump to back to Earth we are not ready for. So what can you do to make sure you are ready for that change into parenthood and for that change to your post-baby body and mind when all the official care gradually fades away?
My first hand advice to you; get clued up now on what changes are ahead for your body mentally and physically in the first three months. Contrary to what my 27 year old self would have said when I had my first born, seeking this advice is so bloody easy if you know where to go. And I think this is the sticking point for some new mums, they just don’t know who is the right person to give the answers. But you can find advice somewhere and quickly, because overwhelm in those early days act as a catalyst for anxiety, upset and worryingly for some, becoming withdrawn. And yep, not the first three weeks, three months! Maybe three months plus if it’s what line of support you feel you need.
Each birth will have a different recovery period and display different needs, as your pregnancy did, and having grounding in these common conundrums could help you prepare for that new, raw and sometimes overwhelming time. Take bleeding after birth; women’s post natal bleeding tails off at different rates, what might it mean if it’s not tailing off after 6 weeks? What does mastitis feel like? What the fuck is mastitis? How do I respond to relatives beating the door down when I just need to sit and be alone for an hour or day? Why am I awake when I’m so exhausted? Am I down or just tired? How do I know I’m not going down a darker path? Bit heavy, hey?! But I can guarantee at least one of these questions will be in a new mum’s head, and the lack of knowledge will create worry and stress that could be helped if we knew what might be happening by talking!
So here is what I know could help you. NCT offer postnatal courses as do many Antenatal teachers trained up in postnatal care and advice. They hold great sources of information on the newborn days, especially for breastfeeding and those simple early day conundrums like changing a nappy or wearing a sling!
Talk to your health visitor and use the time she is there to your full advantage. If you need more appointments to discuss anything over, ask it of them. They’re hugely overstretched but there is time for you when you are stuck, but the key is ASK! Your GP can be a great ear; they deal with ladies all the time who physically or emotionally know something doesn't feel right. They will also provide a huge range of further contacts specific to your questions and situations that can support your needs.
For me it was all the above, plus the best form of support - my friends; talking and asking questions about the early days to people who will tell it like it is. Opening up to those in your remit can be the most inspiring, honest and cathartic conversations we have. If like me you're one of the first in your friendship group to have a baby and maybe friends don’t have all the answers about leaky boobs at this point, look physically for groups in your area where you can chat face-to-face to new mums, and on Social Media. Groups on Facebook like Keri Jarvis' Do It like a Mother's Motherhood Mumlife Community Group is incredibly inspiring. No question is too much, it’s honest and free in its conversation. And I swear first hand these groups are full of normal mums! They swear, they moan and cry, they support each other! You will filter the mums that you feel most comfortable around!
This roller coaster of new parenthood can be easier to ride if we know where some of the bumps might come. The ride can be so much smoother when you’re feeling supported, talking and being proactive in your aftercare. Never ever be afraid to ask questions and seek advice where and when you need it. If I’d listened to myself 6 years ago my first three months of motherhood might have been a very different ride.