As a mum-to-be, you know that life with your little one is going to have its challenges.
That’s one of the many reasons why it can be helpful to create a postpartum plan before baby comes, so you don’t have to navigate some of those hurdles during those overwhelming first few days and weeks after birth. (However, if you are already postpartum, it’s not too late to put a plan in place!)
One important part of this plan is building your support network. You may have people in your life who can’t wait to lend a hand. But knowing this information isn’t the same as acting on it. Read on to learn how to build your support network and prepare for your postpartum experience.
A big transition
Motherhood will change who you are as a person. Most obvious are the physical and hormonal changes to your body. But you’ll experience changes to your self-esteem, your relationship with your partner, your friendships, and your professional life as well. Really, becoming a mum shifts the way you see the world around you—that’s some heavy stuff!
There’s a little-known word for this period, coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael: “matrescence.” Think of matrescence as the mama version of adolescence. And like adolescence, this transition can take some getting used to.
“We typically consider the postpartum period to be the first year, but we truly are forever postpartum,” says Ashurina Ream, PsyD, PMH-C, a licensed clinical psychologist and perinatal mental health specialist. “What researchers are finding is that some women still report struggling far beyond that first year.”
Matrescence is a normal transition and, in and of itself, doesn’t signify any mental health concerns. But all these changes can definitely impact your mental health. According to Dr. Ream, this is partly due to the fact that so few people talk about it.
“The lack of discussion around transition difficulties often leaves mums feeling alone, isolated, and inadequate,” she explains. “This is why I highly encourage parents to prepare and be proactive. It’s imperative to think about who can support you in your journey.”
An important part of planning for this vulnerable time is putting together your postpartum support team. Dr. Ream recommends breaking down your postpartum support plan into three steps. Here’s what to do before baby comes.
Step 1: Identify the tasks
Think about the tasks you are responsible for right now. What chores and activities are part of your daily and weekly routine? What responsibilities will there be soon after baby is due to arrive (for example dog walking, grocery shopping or taking older children to school)?
In Dr. Ream’s experience, some of the most common stressors for new parents include cooking meals, taking care of pets, cleaning and maintaining their home, watching their older children (while also caring for a newborn), navigating appointments, and finding ways to get restful sleep.
Write down all these tasks, even the ones that seem insignificant.
Step 2: Name your people
Now that you have all the tasks written out, think about people in your life who can help out. This can be your partner, a friend, a relative, a neighbour, or a colleague. You can depend on these people to provide either physical or emotional support (or both!).
Physical supporters are those who can help with:
- caring for your child or children
- grocery shopping or other errands
- taking you for a walk or to an appointment
Emotional supporters are those who can:
- sit with and listen to you
- offer affection
- give encouraging words
- pray or meditate with you
“I was lucky enough that my mum could take 2 weeks off with my first pregnancy and my second,” explains mum Amanda. “I knew that it was going to be difficult, and I was going to be exhausted. I wanted to make sure I was prepared.”
It’s important to also consider people outside of your inner circle who can offer physical and emotional support, or perhaps educational support. Potential supporters could be hiding in plain sight. They can include:
- religious or faith communities
- a postpartum doula
- an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), if you plan to breastfeed
- nannies or mother’s helpers
- a housekeeper
- a pelvic floor specialist to help with the physical recovery postpartum
- your doctor
- support groups at the local hospital or in your community
For first-time mum Kelsey, who gave birth in June 2020, her initial plans included a night doula, a friend who could help with her animals, and several people who were going to take turns staying for a week or two to help out. “We had so many great plans before Covid,” she says. “I knew I needed [support]…. My mum quarantined for 2 weeks before [my daughter] was born so she could stay and help… She stayed longer, and it was the 4 of us.”
Step 3: Match people with postpartum jobs
Now it’s time for a matching game. Reflect on the two lists you’ve created of tasks and support people. Who is able to do what? Next to each task, write down a person you have in mind.
Final list in hand, talk with your support people. Ask if they can show up for you in the way you hope. Chances are, they’ll be happy to say yes! “Most people want to help, but they don’t know how to or what is most helpful,” says Dr. Ream. “Your role is to delegate the tasks and put all the players where they need to be.”
If you feel uncomfortable seeking help, think about how you might respond to a sister or friend who needed a hand—you’d jump right in, right? “It’s easier to understand this experience when you put yourself into the shoes of those you love,” Dr. Ream says.
She adds that while asking for help may not come naturally, the risk of awkwardness is small compared to the risk of finding yourself overwhelmed and burned out as a new mum. You may feel better knowing that you can always barter services or otherwise repay the favour—for example, if that helpful neighbour needs a couple hours of childcare herself later on.
Also think about the tasks you can tackle right now, while you’re still pregnant. Is your pet due for its annual visit? Get that on the calendar. Do you love to cook up a storm? Start preparing those freezer meals. If this task sounds far too difficult, put together a meal train so your friends can sign up to drop off meals once baby arrives.
Your postpartum plan
Remember, mama: You’re headed toward a phase of life that is equal parts exciting and exhausting. Parenthood is hard, and we were not meant to do it alone. That’s why we often hear “it takes a village.”
“At first [my husband and I] were both so excited, we were both doing everything,” explains new mum, Laura. “After the first 2 weeks, we needed split-shifts... I go to bed fairly early, he takes care of the baby after I go to sleep, so I can get 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And then he goes to sleep, and I take care of baby.”
Your postpartum support plan may not be perfect, but it’s a good way to start thinking about how you can be better supported as you enter matrescence. “It will be incredibly helpful to get your resources in place ahead of time,” assures Dr. Ream. “This will alleviate some of the pressure and chaos postpartum.”
Now go and activate your village—so the support will be there when you need it most. Don’t forget to check out our Lifestyle blog for advice on balancing a happy family and life after the birth of your newborn.