I hear it so many times. ‘Look after yourself.’ I know this always comes from a good place, but what does it actually mean? How are you supposed to look after yourself when you feel exhausted, overwhelmed and are juggling two million things? It’s not very easy.
I’d like to offer some ideas on what you can do to make life a bit easier. Much is about preparing for your baby’s arrival and, hopefully, preventing some of the issues before they begin. This section will give some great insights into things that will help you look after yourself. I’m not talking Spa Days here (there is plenty of time for that later), I’m talking about practical advice that will help you feel mentally in control, organized and knowledgeable. (Get Daddy to read this too…. Our boys need to step up here – it will be good for their mental health as well.)
Communication is fundamental. Let other people know what you are feeling. Discuss your worries with your partner. Have a talk about what you are expecting and find out what your partner is expecting – work out if your expectations are the same. Communicate your wants, needs and desires to the whole family so that there are no surprises, thereby avoiding stress down the line. Leave nothing unsaid, even the little things.
Here are some pointers:
Make sure your partner knows when things are serious. It’s very easy to brush negative feelings under the carpet and for others to dismiss your ‘baby blues’. Discuss these feelings with your partner and make sure he understands when you are being serious. He needs to know when to take note and when you need help.
Communicate your thoughts on visitors (how many, when, for how long) before the baby arrives. If Granny knows that she isn’t going to meet the baby until week 2, then her expectations are kept in check and she won’t turn up and get upset.
Everyone will want to help so make a plan before the baby arrives on who can do what. Tell your mother-in-law that it would be great if she took over the job of cleaning the house or sorting the washing. (If you wait until after the baby is born, you might feel judged if she took it upon herself to do it. So make a plan beforehand.) Feel free to delegate those chats to Daddy to have with his family – he can organize his lot!
If you are planning to breast feed, have a conversation with family members and let them know that this is what you want. If they are squeamish and can’t sit in the room while you have your boobs out, then politely suggest that they go home.
THINGS THAT ARE NOT HELPFUL
I can’t stand birth plans! There… I’ve said it!! Now, I know this might be controversial, particularly at the moment when they seem to be an integral part of your preparation for the birth. But stop for a moment, have a think about it and consider the impact on your mental health.
In my experience, no one writes, ‘I want an emergency C-section, with third degree tears, and stretch marks from one end to the next’. Everybody’s birth plan is what I call a ‘unicorn’ birth plan – all fluffy and perfect. Maybe a water birth with beautiful relaxing music; daddy catches the baby as it effortlessly pops out; no pain relief required; afterbirth made in capsule form etc. The problem here is that what you want and what you get are rarely the same.
Remember, it’s your baby’s birth. They are in charge. And you are just along for the ride.
It is very important to be educated about everything that could happen (for example, even if you don’t want a C-section, it is important that you understand what that could entail) because an educated mind is a calm mind. Being open to whatever direction the experience takes you will help you relax into it and view it in a more positive light. The women who have come into the studio and said ‘what will be will be’ are the ones that generally go into birth a lot calmer and have better experiences.
Not achieving your birth plan is, for a lot of women, the first step to failure in their eyes. A birth that didn’t go according to the birth plan can really affect your mental health negatively and I’ve met too many mums who focus on not getting the birth they wanted and feeling so bad about it. In my opinion, why plan for something you can’t control? How the baby gets here is how the baby gets here.
A better mental approach is to get yourself educated for every eventuality so that nothing is a complete surprise and you are able to make decisions and understand the process when it occurs. Then, stay relaxed and go with the flow. Childbirth is an amazing experience – try to view it in that way.
“There’s a whole birthing plan, but what is the plan other than to
get it out? I mean, there isn’t an option to kind of keep it in, is
there? So I’m assuming my plan is to get it out. But apparently,
there’s more to the plan than that. I don’t know what that is,” -Keira Knightley
I have noticed that when a lot of women announce that they are pregnant, their friends often say, ‘Congratulations. Now let me tell you my horror story’!
It will feel like everyone has a gruesome birth story, which is often exaggerated and is usually told with great gusto; none of which is designed to help you and will probably bear no relation to what you are about to experience. You need to learn how to shut those conversations down quickly and respectfully as there is no place for negativity when you are pregnant.
Something along these lines should do the trick:
"I’m really sorry to interrupt you but I can’t hear any horror stories at the moment because of my mental health. I’m enjoying being pregnant and don’t want to spoil it".
"While I appreciate you had a terrifying birth, I’m not emotionally equipped to deal with it at the moment. Your negativity is freaking me out!! So wait until I’ve had the baby and we can bond over the horror of it all".
Endless cups of tea
In New Zealand (where I’m from) it is the norm that you don’t go to visit a newborn baby until at least two weeks after the birth. In the UK it seems to be the complete opposite with everyone popping over for a cup of tea and a slice of cake two minutes after you get the baby home – and expecting you to entertain them.
My advice would be to make an announcement that the baby has arrived, and say that visitors will be welcome after two or three weeks. Here’s an example of what to say:
We are having family bonding time and while we would really like to share our bundle of joy with you all, we ask that you give us some space and we would love to welcome you over after (two/three/four weeks). Bring cake!
You should also put a note on the door, ‘We are not seeing people at the moment as we get to know our new baby. We would love to see you in a few weeks time.’
Controlling the amount of visitors is even more relevant now in light of the most recent events. It is fully acceptable to set boundaries with family and friends and to ask people to give you some space. Now isn’t the time to have too many people coming too close to your baby and potentially compromising your health. You most likely will still be recovering from the birth and might find walking around getting cups of tea for people very taxing on your body... all of which will not help you feel any better. Remember this is the time for others to look after you, not the other way round.
THINGS THAT ARE HELPFUL
Preparation is the key here. Your mental health will be so much better and the experience will be more enjoyable if you are not overwhelmed with too many unknowns.
Plan who is going to do what. Plan when they are going to do it. Discuss every eventuality and be prepared to ask for help. Here are some specifics to get you going in the right direction:
Employ a cleaner:
Cleanliness will matter to a new mum with a new baby. You won’t want your precious, beautiful little person to be wearing dirty clothes, surrounded by unwashed dishes etc. Housework will contribute to that overwhelming feeling if it isn’t done so my best advice would be to employ a cleaner. You shouldn’t do the housework yourself because you’ve just had a baby! So get someone to do it for you – at least for the first few months. It will be the best money you’ve ever spent! If you can’t afford a cleaner, ask your mother, father, friend or neighbour to do it. You might also think about starting this before the baby arrives. Let’s face it, if you can’t reach your toes, how on earth are you supposed to clean?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate as much as you can. Look at the things that need doing – shopping, walking the dog, ironing – and get your family and friends to do it for you. They will probably like to help, but just won’t know what to actually do, so start asking. Your mother-in-law will be walking on egg shells around you so give the woman a job and she will thank you for it.
Stock the freezer with a good two weeks worth of food.
The temptation, when you are exhausted and have no time, is to live on take always. However, you’ll need decent nutrition, especially if you are breast feeding and being nourished with some great comfort food will help you both physically and mentally. My advice is to get prepared. Stock the freezer and do it while you are pregnant. Freeze individual meals into portions and write cooking instructions on top (so that Daddy can work out how to cook it when you are with the baby). Your diet will change while breastfeeding to read up on what you should and shouldn’t have (Click HERE).
Pre-plan a time limit for visitors
This is easier to do BEFORE the baby arrives. Have a discussion with your friends and family and explain that every visit will have to have a time limit. Say, an hour and no more. Make sure no one is going to ‘pop in’ and that they will have to book a time slot – this should be in the morning (not just before bedtime). Make it clear that you won’t be waking the baby up for any visitors as you need to stick to the routine (Click here to find out what a day with a newborn really looks like).
And most importantly, don’t let anyone in unless they bring cake!
Pre-plan the practical things with your partner
Talk through how you see things working BEFORE the baby is born. Worries and stresses may occur because your expectations will be different and something as simple as a conversation before you get too tired may be just what you need.
Let me give you an example:
When I had my daughter, my husband was doing a very demanding job that required him to have high levels of concentration. It wouldn’t have been possible with no sleep. Considering this job was our only source of income, we talked it through and agreed that I would do the full night shift (after all I was the one with the boobs what could he really do!) and he should sleep in the guest bedroom. We agreed this in advance and I was happy with it and it made things so much easier. It also was agreed that on the weekends that
Had my expectations been different, it would have caused a lot of unnecessary conflict.