How will you decide what visitors are right for you in the early postpartum weeks? (Part 3.)

 In Motherhood, Postpartum

Mama, you’re the one carrying and birthing this baby and you’re the one who has to heal and establish breastfeeding. So you how will you decide what visitors are right for you in the early postpartum weeks, and how will you advocate for you and your baby?

Traditional cultures around the world consider the early postpartum weeks to be a sacred period of time in a mother’s life. The first forty days after birth are observed as a time to rest, recover and recuperate. A time for every new mother to be nurtured and cared for by others.

Which seems pretty smart considering that the early postpartum window will influence bonding, breastfeeding, physical recovery, mental health, relationships with a partner, baby and other children, and a mothers health for the rest of her life.

Unfortunately in the West, there’s not much awareness around the importance of early postpartum care for new mothers. Very often everyone wants to come and hold the baby, whilst mama makes the dinner. 

The warm, loving, nurturing support that many women ache for in early motherhood is almost entirely absent in our culture, and is often considered a luxurious indulgence. As if growing and birthing a baby were just an ordinary, every day occurrence. Don’t you find it strange that so many people view this sacred time in a woman’s life like ‘oh yes, you’re only having a baby’. 

So who will care for you mama, whilst you’re caring for your baby? 

In a culture that expects you to bounce right back as if you didn’t just grow and birth an entire tiny human, how can you gather support from your friends, family and community in a way that supports postpartum healing?

When so many people expect that you’ll cope alone, without complaining, just as they did, or their partners did, or their mothers did, how can you gather support around you.

How can you engage willing help and loving nurture from people who, most likely never received the support they needed either?

Here’s a list of 15 ideas to help you figure out how you can gather support around you in early postpartum

  1. Read ‘Newborn Mothers’ by Julia Jones and ask your partner and support people to read it too!
  2. Talk to other mothers about their postpartum experience. Find out what challenges they faced as a new mother and what sort of care they wish they’d had. You can read more about this here, in this blog!
  3. Book a postpartum doula to attend you in your home after your baby is born to provide you with non judgemental, up to date, mother centred support, kindness, love, nurture, food, and bodywork. Learn more about how I support new mothers here.
  4. Get really clear on what you want your first six weeks of motherhood to feel like. Do you want to feel unsupported, chaotic, stressed, judged, anxious, uncertain, lonely? Or would you prefer to feel supported, loved, nurtured, mothered, cared for, calm, peaceful and filled with joy?
  5. Plan for how you want to feel knowing that recovering from birth, caring for and feeding a newborn baby takes more hours than a full time job. So who will take over your usual household responsibilities? You can’t do it all!
  6. During pregnancy start a conversation with the grandparents, extended family, and friends, around your hopes for the first six weeks after giving birth. Introduce them to the idea of ‘the first forty days, or ‘the golden month’ or a ‘recovery month’ similar to the way traditional cultures around the world support newborn mothers. 
  7. Tell your support network about the 2018 postpartum guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ‘The weeks following birth are a critical period for a woman and her infant, setting the stage for long-term health and well-being… Following birth, many cultures prescribe a 30–40-day period of rest and recovery, with the woman and her newborn surrounded and supported by family and community members. Many agrarian cultures enshrine postpartum rituals, including traditional foods and support for day-to-day household tasks.’ ACOG (1)
  8. The first few hours after your baby is born can be a deeply magical time and is when bonding, breastfeeding and baby’s hormonal imprint are established. You can protect this ‘golden hour,’ simply by waiting to notify excited people of the birth until you’re happy to have visitors.
  9. Prepare a list of things support people could do that would be helpful (hang laundry, wash nappies, make the bed, bring a specific meal, clear instructions really help. Often people do want to be helpful, they just don’t know how to help. Read this blog for more ideas.
  10. Take into consideration who is supportive and what they’re good at, or not so great at, so you can work out what to expect from people. So someone who enjoys cooking could make some meals, or a kind friend who likes to listen could be someone to invite to keep you company when you’re feeling down.
  11. You might need to create and maintain healthy boundaries with people who just don’t seem to understand that this is a profoundly important time of healing for you. You can’t change other people, but you do have control over what you feel comfortable with, and when you need to prioritise your immediate needs.
  12. Create a kind of ‘boundary plan’ with your partner and designate them as the gatekeeper. Will your partner be able to notice when you need help to protect your space? How comfortable is your partner with being firm and direct if people try to push the boundaries you’ve created together? 
  13. Consider really specific scenarios that might arise and ask yourself questions like, ‘how long do you think you’ll be able to cope with having a particular person in your space, before you start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated?’ Then, can you identify any strategies you could easily use to protect that limit? For example, you could say your doctor told you not to overdo it, explain your baby needs feeding in privacy in another room, have a list of jobs that someone could easily do so they can feel useful, have an appointment scheduled for 2 hours after the person arrives, ask a friend to call so you can go into the other room.  Of course, depending on the person and the relationship dynamic, the strategies might be different.
  14. Make sure you have reasonable expectations of the people around you. Consider how open they’ve been to engaging with the philosophy and intention behind your wishes to prioritise healing and recovery after giving birth.
  15. Investigate where else you can source support and help from – like a postpartum doula, or mothers groups that meet regularly, or hire a cleaner, book a meal delivery service, arrange a nanny etc. And recognise that you will most likely derive support from many different places.

Don’t be concerned if you have to ‘buy your postpartum village’! 

Because not everyone has family who live in the same city, or partners who can take extended paternity leave, or friends who are close enough or who have the time or ability to provide a significant amount of help. For mothers who don’t have access to obvious sources of help this can be really tricky. But support people don’t need to be constantly available. It might only be once that you need to call on them and it might only be for an hour. It can be hard to ask for help. But many people feel very happy to help out, especially when there’s a newborn baby involved!

Unfortunately our culture just doesn’t prioritise care around the mother. In fact in the West, we neglect mothers, and ignore them as if they weren’t the foundation of health and resilience for the whole family and in fact community.

So mama, you need to gather your village, your community and your tribe around you BEFORE your baby is born. You need to be able to ask for help and to receive help. You also need to be willing to have conversations that may be uncomfortable, and that put you in the centre of the circle of care. 

While you care for your baby, your partner will be caring for you, and your postpartum doula will care for you. Your extended family or friends can care for you all, by bringing food, helping with household chores, keeping you company with love, compassion and warmth. 

Requesting and accepting support during the early weeks of motherhood and beyond is not indulgent, it’s smart, healthy and very, very brave.

(1) American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Task Force on Redefining the Postpartum Visit, May 2018

Thank you so much to the wonderful women in the Newborn Mothers Collective who shared with me their thoughts on managing visitors in the early weeks of motherhood. You can find out more about the collective here.

To help you plan for more rest and better healing after giving birth, I’ve created a ‘postpartum body recovery guide’ for you. You can get it here.

To enquire about booking in home postpartum doula support click here.

This is Part Three of a three part blog series unpacking why new mama’s need support. You can read Part One here and part two here!

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