When you hear postpartum, what do you think of first? For most, it is the word ‘depression’ right after it.
For this exercise I would like to reframe the word postpartum to be the dictionary definition “…the time following childbirth.” The most critical time of postpartum is after birth until the child’s first birthday, although I feel it is a solid argument to say you are always postpartum once you have a baby.
There have been some wonderful improvements with prenatal care in the US including addressing the whole individual with yoga, mindfulness, therapy, and massage. But we still have a long way to go supporting the postpartum parent. The most common message we see focuses on our ‘bounce back from baby body’. There is a stigma around postpartum depression and less conversation around postpartum anxiety or psychosis. We have books about baby, but most are simple checklists that do not account for the whole experience, especially the recovering mother and adjusting partner.
I would like to change that, using a few tools to help prenatal individuals and couples reflect on their postpartum journey BEFORE they get there. Defining what support looks like for them, creating a solid plan to help set the support systems in place, and giving space for reflection and adjustment in the moment.
Now for a Bit of Honesty – I did a terrible job planning for our first postpartum experience. As a yoga and meditation teacher specializing in prenatal and postnatal support, I was almost cocky thinking I had all the tools I needed for a wonderful postpartum experience. I ignored the advice of my midwives to make a solid plan and because of that, the people around me didn’t know how to correctly support our needs. Postpartum planning will not only help you feel more grounded in what support truly means to you, but it will help prepare everyone around you for how they can best serve you and your growing family. Now that we are expecting our second child, my husband and I are taking postpartum planning seriously. I feel more prepared communicating needs ahead of time, my husband Wes no longer has to be a mind reader, and a conversation with my mother confirmed she would rather know what we need for help vs guessing in the moment, seeing I am struggling without a hint of how to support.
If you are feeling a bit like postpartum planning isn’t necessary for you I invite you to do three things:
PLANNING FOR POSTPARTUM
You can make this as formal or as informal as you like. My husband and I love excel spreadsheets and organization, so this ‘type A’ format is right up our ally. If you prefer a more conversational and casual approach you can definitely take the outline and make it your own! The most important part of this activity is defining what support looks like for you and how you can ask for the support beforehand, adjusting as needed in the moment.
Step 1: Reflect or Imagine
Sit in a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed, pen and paper nearby. (Or stand in a completely chaotic room with a toddler running around and two dogs begging for a walk...no judgement.) Take a few slow and deep breaths, relax your body, and begin the reflection below. If you have a partner, encourage them to do the same exercise and make a date to compare notes.
List 2-3 Top Desires (new parents) OR Best Experiences (experienced parents) for each time period listed below:
List 2-3 Potential Barriers (new parents) OR Previous Barriers (experienced parents) for each time period listed below:
Step 2: Outline Your Ideal Experience
If you are with a partner, share your reflections under each time period or simply review what you wrote down for each section. Create an outline of needs and support for each time period addressing top desires and barriers.
Step 3: List Support Needs
Looking at your described ‘Ideal Experience’ for each time period think about what actions and support is needed to make this happen. Who could provide that support? Is it family or potentially a paid resource if that is an option? Make the list of needs very clear to ensure complete understanding before moving on to step 4.
Step 4: Communicate to All Parties
Words of Encouragement - This can be a challenging step, but from my experience most loved ones appreciate knowing how they can serve before the big day. Communicating ahead of time can help process any potential discomfort, and it is easier to do it before baby arrives vs in the moment.
Communication Plan - From a loving center, communicate your desire to prepare for postpartum. Inform all involved family members and friends about your reflection and list of support needs. If they want to be involved, most feel relieved to know how they can truly help vs trying to guess in the moment. Accept that some may not feel comfortable with fulfilling or fitting in with your list of support needs. Respect their need to decline while staying grounded in your decisions.
Step 5: Experience, Remind & Adjust
Congrats on your new little one!! Now that the moment is here, give yourself some grace and a big pat on the back. You did all of this prep work and you can simply let everything fall as it may. Adjust your plans if they don’t serve, if they do but individuals are struggling to follow, remind them of the plans you have set (Or better yet, have a partner/support person remind so you don’t have to!).
Postpartum can be a beautiful but messy time. Do not think preplanning is a foolproof way to avoid pitfalls. It is simply a way you can have a better foundation as you move forward.
Use Your Resources
Lastly, as you continue on your postnatal journey communicate with your partner and other individuals supporting you along your parenthood journey. Your needs will change. You can use the exercise above to witness ‘Best Experiences’ and ‘Current Barriers’ for you right now to determine adjustments needed.
Live in the Wauwatosa, Wisconsin Area? Join me for Prenatal AND Postnatal Yoga to help develop your mindfulness practice, learn movements to support your body, and meet local parents:
May you have a postpartum year full of support, not only nurturing the new soul you brought into this world, but also the new part of your soul you are getting to know.