You’ve taken a prenatal class, packed your hospital bag and installed the carseat. You’re all set and ready to meet your baby! But have you thought about what you’ll do when they actually get here?
Just like creating a birth plan can help set you up for a positive birth experience, creating a postpartum plan can help ease your transition into parenthood.
What is a postpartum plan?
A postpartum plan is a set of preferences for the early weeks and months after your little one arrives, which can include decisions like parental leave, feeding, sleep, household chores, self-care and mental health concerns.
Whether you write it down or simply discuss it with your partner or support system, considering your options early can help parents feel more prepared in the first days and weeks postpartum and ensure that they’re on the same page.
“As with birth plans, seeing it more as a guide versus something that’s completely set in stone is key,” says Alex Weinberger, a certified doula and co-owner of several Ontario doula agencies.
Why should I make a postpartum plan?
Once your baby arrives, you’ll be caring for a newborn while recovering from giving birth, all on very little sleep. Since life with a new baby can be unpredictable, it’s important to consider not only your preferences but also your options if things don’t go according to plan. This helps to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Weinberger explains that oftentimes, her clients also have very different ideas than their partners about how things will go or what’s important to them. It’s much easier to sort out these differences and find a middle ground before the baby arrives, when sleep can be scarce and the stakes feel much higher.
It can also help you clarify your vision for what kind of support you’ll want and help you communicate that to your friends and family, so everyone can get on the same page.
Before you start planning
Educate yourself about the postpartum period, normal newborn behaviour, sleep, parental leave options and your feeding method of choice, so you know all your options and have realistic expectations. It’s much easier to make a plan if you know what you’re planning for.
If you plan on breast- or chestfeeding, it’s a good idea to take a class before your baby arrives, according to Angela Grant Buechner, president of the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association.
“I wish more people would learn more about breastfeeding and actual baby care before the baby comes, because it’s really hard to learn that stuff on Google in the middle of the night when you’re crying and your nipples hurt,” she says.
In addition to a lactation consultant, make a list of all the support people you may need in the first few months and decide who you’ll use ahead of time, so it’s easier to get in touch if issues arise—these can include a sleep consultant, postpartum doula, carseat technician and therapist. Research whether your benefits plan reimburses for things like mental health therapy or lactation consultants, and sometimes even sleep consultants are covered. Put the important numbers on the fridge or send them to your partner so you can offload some of the research and emotional labour, and decide who will keep tracks of appointment dates like checkups for mom and baby.
What should I include in my postpartum plan?
Here are a few key things to learn about, discuss and plan for in order to set yourself up for a smoother postpartum period:
Newborns eat frequently and keeping them fed will be one of your main responsibilities in the first few months.
Some things to consider:
- What are your thoughts around feeding?
- How do you feel about giving a pacifier?
- Is the plan to chest- or breastfeed? To bottle feed? To combo feed?
- If you offer a bottle or need to supplement, will you use breast milk or formula?
- Are you planning to pump? Will you buy, borrow or rent a pump? When do you plan to start pumping?
You should also consider how committed you are to each of your preferences and what you’ll do if you run into issues.
If you’re hoping to breastfeed, Grant Beuchner recommends choosing and connecting with a lactation consultant before the baby arrives. This makes it easier to reach out as soon as issues arise, so you can resolve them more quickly.
It’s also a good idea to set up a bottle- or breastfeeding station on each floor of your house, with everything you’ll need, since you’ll spend a lot of time feeding your baby in the early weeks.
And don’t forget to feed yourself! Think about whether you might add a temporary meal delivery service to your budget (this is also a great thing to request from friends looking to help) or put away some money to splurge on Uber Eats on the tougher days.
Sleep is the other key piece of newborn care you’ll be focused on, so it’s important to consider how you envision your baby’s sleep and what you can do to achieve it.
Some things to consider:
- Where is the baby going to sleep?
- What if they have trouble sleeping in their crib or bassinet at first?
- Will baby be swaddled?
- Where are the adults going to sleep?
- Who will be responsible for caring for the baby overnight?
- How can you ensure that both parents get the sleep they need for their roles, whether that be working or caring for the baby during the day?
- Do you plan to follow your baby’s lead or will you sleep train them as soon as possible?
Accommodating the parents’ needs may require some creative thinking. “Consider how much sleep each parent needs to get in a 24 hour period and how you can ensure that that happens,” says Weinberger.
Some parents choose to split up during the newborn phase, putting the baby in the same room as the parent who is doing the primary overnight care and the working parent in a spare bedroom. “Sometimes it looks different during the week, when one parent might have to be working, versus on the weekend, when both parents are home,” she adds.
She also recommends thinking about your longer term sleep goals as a family. “It’s not just where’s the baby going to sleep on night two, but also, how do we feel about sleep at month four, at month six, at one year, at two years?”
Liz Woolf, a midwife in York Region, often advises her clients to look into safe bed-sharing practices, even if they don’t plan to bed-share. “It’s something I talk to everybody about,” she says, “because honestly, at some point, everybody does it and it’s safer when you’re prepared for it.”
Household chores, siblings and other responsiblities
Woolf emphasizes the importance of outsourcing as much as possible in the early days and weeks, so you can spend your time resting, feeding and bonding with your baby.
“For a lot of people, recovery can be a long process. It can take months to feel fully back to yourself,” she says. “Planning for this can help set you up for success.”
Think about what it takes for your house to run smoothly and make a plan for who will take care of those things until you’re feeling up to it. This could be a combination of your partner, friends, family or hired help, depending on what your support system and finances allow.
Some things to consider:
- Who will be responsible for getting groceries and preparing meals?
- Who will be responsible for keeping the house clean and keeping up with laundry?
- If you have older children, can you have help caring for them? Who will do school pick up and drop off?
- Who will care for older children when you give birth?
- If you have pets, what kind of care do they need and who can do it?
For some new moms, the solitude of a trip to the grocery store becomes important “me time,” during which grandparents, friends or partners can help by watching the baby.
Making these plans can keep your household running smoothly and minimize stress in the early weeks and months, and remember to check in regularly to make sure they’re still working for all parties.
Self-care, support and mental health
“I’m a big proponent of making sure that each parent can plan for being able to get a good half hour of self care almost every day,” says Weinberger.
Think about what activities you depend on to feel like yourself and how you can continue to do them once your baby arrives.
Some activities to prioritize can include:
- Going for a walk outside, which you can do with your baby
- Having quiet time to drink your coffee and read the news
- Showering in peace while someone else cares for the baby
- Calls or visits with a friend
It’s also important to think about your preferences for visitors:
- Are there certain guests who would be more or less welcome in the early days?
- Are you comfortable with out of town relatives staying with you?
- Do you want to enforce time limits?
- Will you have rules around holding the baby?
- Will you request that visitors avoid perfume, wear masks or wash their hands/sanitize when they arrive?
- Are there ways you’d like visitors to help out?
Woolf says it’s also important to keep an eye on your mental health, as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are common throughout the first year postpartum.
“It’s normal to be very weepy and overwhelmed in the first few weeks, due to hormonal fluctuations,” she says. “But if it’s persisting and affects your ability to really enjoy your baby or to function in your life, then it’s something worth checking out.”
Identifying who you’ll reach out to before your baby arrives can make getting support a lot easier. “Each parent should make a list of who they can call for support when you’re having a really terrible day,” she says. Letting them know ahead of time that they’re ‘your people’ can help make reaching out for support even easier.
This list can include your mother, your best friend or a mom you met at your prenatal classes. It can also include your care provider, doula or local Postpartum Support International Coordinator.
Remember, not everything will go according to plan, but taking time to consider your priorities can help you navigate whatever comes your way. And if this looks overwhelming, just remember that you can chip away at the questions that are most important to you over time (the silver lining of being pregnant for nine months!).