Pregnancy is a busy time. Aside from the medical appointments and buying the essential (and not so essential!) items for life with a newborn, you are suddenly faced with an overwhelming amount of information on pregnancy, labour and birth. There are countless books, articles, podcasts, websites, antenatal classes and a world of opinion (from loved ones and of course strangers on the internet) that you have access to in preparation for the big day. Your medical appointments will naturally focus on the pregnancy itself, and what labour might look like. All this information can be digested and used to inform and communicate your ideal birth plan.
However, for most of us, the planning stops there. But have you thought about what life with a newborn baby is actually going to be like? People who have kids are likely to tell you that its wonderful, challenging and bone-achingly tiring; but what do they really mean? Or if you are already parents to other children, how is this new addition to the family going to change the dynamic? How might sleep deprivation affect you? How can it be managed (other than by drinking a lot of coffee)? What are our expectations of each other in our new roles as parents and how do we envisage the roles of our friends and family? Are we on the same page with all of this? And who is going to remember to walk the dog?!
Taking time to plan your ideal postpartum is just as important as your birth plan, if not more so. The birth will happen within a limited timeframe, but the postnatal period can present us with a number of challenges for a sustained amount of time, and often when we are at our most vulnerable. Making a plan around how you will handle some of the most likely challenges is an excellent way to ensure the smoothest transition to your new life as a family. It is also a great way to relieve stress in the run up to the birth, knowing that you are prepared (as much as you can be) for what is to come.
My top tips for writing a postnatal plan are:
Make it a team effort
Make a list of key topics that are important to you then break them down
Ask around - what has worked/not worked for others
Discuss your plan with family and friends
Revisit your plan regularly
1. Make it a team effort
When it comes to writing birth plans, although many partners and birth companions are involved in an active way, the focus is understandably on the birthing person and their needs and wishes during labour and birth.
If you are co-parenting a newborn however, the postnatal period will very much have an impact on both of you, your relationship, and your relationship with others. So it's key to have discussions in advance of the birth to determine what your expectations are, and to voice any concerns/fears and how you might overcome these.
2. Make a list of key topics
Thinking about what life with a newborn is going to look like can feel overwhelming. Your mind may be full of questions and 'what if's'. There can also be a lot of anxiety in anticipation of this time, and getting these thoughts and feelings down on paper will provide some much needed space between you and the thoughts, and allow you to observe them objectively. Make a list of the key topics and break them down into sub-topics for discussion.
For example 'sleeping' could be broken down into the following discussion prompts:
- 'What does newborn sleep really look like?'
- 'How do we maximise rest if the baby only sleeps for short periods of time?'
- 'Where will the baby sleep?'
- 'What is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and what are the risk factors?'
- 'Do we want to use a baby monitor?'
- 'Do we want to use a dummy/pacifier and what are the pros and cons'?
- 'Do we want to try swaddling and what are the benefits and risks'?
- 'What are the evidence-based resources (books, websites etc.) on baby sleep?'
- 'Who can support us when things are challenging?'
3. Ask around - what has worked/not worked for others
Ask like-minded companions who are parents (and not opinionated people on the internet who you have nothing in common with) what they found worked for them during the postnatal period, and what they found more challenging. It's true that everyone's experience is different, but these conversations with people you really trust may stimulate some useful thought and discussion about what you might be likely to experience during the first weeks and months.
4. Discuss your plan with family and friends
Having conversations with those close to you about the content of your plan is always a good idea as it helps them to understand how best they can support you postnatally, and it helps to manage their expectations. For example, if as part of your plan you have discussed receiving visitors and any boundaries regarding when you wish to receive them, or for how long e.g. visits limited to one hour in the first 4 weeks, then it's a good idea to give the people who will be eager to come and see you a heads up about the boundaries you have decided to put in place.
5. Revisit your plan regularly
Life with a newborn is anything but predictable, so revisit your plan on a regular basis together, and talk through what's working (celebrate those wins!), what's not working, and what could be changed to make improvements. Sticking to the example topic of sleep, perhaps you decided initially that you wanted your baby to sleep in a separate crib, but frequent night waking means that's not working for you, so now you want to explore co-sleeping as an option. What do you need to do to make sure you are doing this safely and to ensure that it works for your family as a whole?
Want to get started?
To make postnatal planning a straight-forward and enjoyable experience, I have developed a 'Planning for a Positive Postpartum' workbook. This has been designed for partners to work through together during pregnancy. On each double page a 'mind map' is presented on the following seven topics:
- Physical Recovery from Birth
- Mental Health
- Friends and Family
- Our Relationship
Each double page maps out question points to facilitate an in-depth discussion on each of the topics. There is space on each map to make annotations, and there is a separate notes section to record additional thoughts. There is also a contacts page to populate as you go, to create a go-to reference of people in your support team.
I am currently offering all subscribers to my mailing list a free copy of the 'Planning for a Positive Postpartum' workbook. To sign up and download the workbook please click on the following link:
Work through the book at your own pace, and have fun with it! By taking time to visualise your future with your baby, and plan how to manage the transition from pregnant to parents, you will already be fulfilling your roles in the most wonderfully proactive way.