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Five ways to prepare for life postpartum

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of having your baby, devising your birth plan and stocking up on everything your baby will need when they come home. But sometimes new moms don’t consider what they’ll need to thrive after the birth of their child, commonly known as postpartum.

“While it’s important to take great care of your new baby, you must also take care of yourself,” says Dr Khungelwa Mrwebi, Regional Clinical Manager - Border Kei, Life Healthcare. “We know the importance of having moms prepare for the journey waiting for them at home after giving birth to their little one. Relevant education around postpartum care for new moms may not always be easily accessible. We’ve partnered with a leading pregnancy and baby publication to address this through the Little Life Newborn Guide that we include in our hospital maternity packs. New mom’s can also find the right information for postpartum care by speaking to their birthing medical teams and local antenatal and postnatal groups and other credible maternity services and platforms.”

“Falling pregnant and having your baby are just the first steps towards a whole new reality,” adds registered nurse (RN) Susan Bolke, Unit Manager and Midwife at Life St George's Hospital. “The real change happens when you bring your baby home. That’s when you’ll need to learn how to look after your newborn and yourself in a whole new way.”

To help new moms prepare for life postpartum, Dr Mrwebi and  RN Susan suggest...

1. Prioritising your rest

Giving birth is a major, life-changing experience. You need time to recover both mentally and physically. Rest is one of the best ways to do just that – and getting enough sleep can be challenging.

“But remember, rest doesn’t just mean sleep, it’s also taking the time to relax and connect with your new baby,” says Dr Mrwebi. “That comes by reducing the number of stressors in your daily life and accepting help.”

Make sure to really take that time off work, have someone you trust take care of your other children or fur-babies, and most importantly, don’t feel guilty for giving yourself the time and the space to recover. Although you may feel that it is your responsibility to take on most of the responsibilities at home and with your new baby, you should prioritise rest to prevent burnout and overwhelm that may negatively impact on your bonding experience with your baby. Here are a few ways to ensure rest after baby arrives:

  • Precooked meals or meal prepping can save you time, especially when you are adjusting to your new routine.
  • Make an appointment with a friend or family member for a visit or get out of the house at least once a week. A change of scenery can benefit both you and your baby.
  • Get fresh air. Drinking a cup of tea outside or taking a walk can help you unwind.

2. Being honest about your mental health

Bringing a new baby home can be an emotionally taxing process. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. But if you don’t feel like yourself, or how you hoped you’d feel after having a baby, don’t push those emotions aside. There are many factors that influence your mental capacity during this time which could include your changing hormones, lack of sleep or more serious conditions such as baby blues.

“It’s crucial to be honest with yourself when it comes to your mental health,” says RN Susan. “Post-partum depression and anxiety are very common after birth and may happen with subsequent births. . So, look out for signs of insomnia, loss of appetite, increased irritability or difficulty bonding with your baby.”

Your doctor or midwife are equipped to help you heal mentally as much as they’re assisting physically, and they won’t judge you if you are having low days and struggling to adapt after the birth. They might recommend therapy or prescribe a short course of medication to help you with the transition. 

3. Giving yourself time to heal physically

Aside from your new baby, one of the biggest reminders that you’ve given birth is the physical recovery. Moms that opt for natural birth might suffer from a perineal wound, although the extent of this tear or cut can vary. While moms that go the c-section route will have an abdominal wound, requiring wound care and avoiding strenuous activity to heal. Although you may be tempted to exercise soon after birth you should follow your clinicians advise as you may be at a greater risk for injuries. Use this time to give your body time to recover from not only the birthing experience but pregnancy too.

Wound care after birth
It’s crucial that you make looking after this wound part of your postpartum care. Follow your clinicians’ wound care instructions and try to keep the wound area clean and dry.

When you bath, shower, or use the toilet (in the case of a natural birth), make sure to rinse the wound with a warm saltwater solution. You can simply squirt the water onto the affected area and then pat dry. Make sure there’s no additional moisture on the area when you dress it.

Signs of possible complications and infection
As with most surgical wounds there is a risk of infection  – even if you’re doing everything to protect the area. Don’t ignore the signs of an infection, it could have serious, even fatal consequences.

If you suddenly develop a fever, shivers, discharge, redness, unusual swelling and unilateral pain down one leg, these are all signs that something could be wrong, and you should contact your doctor or midwife immediately.

“Remember, pain and fever are important signals from your body that you should be on the lookout for,” reveals Dr Mrwebi. “Pain is a normal part of the recovery process, your doctor should prescribe some medication to make it manageable. On the other hand, fever is not normal and needs to be addressed immediately.”

Maternity pads
The comfiest and most convenient way to protect a perineal wound is with a maternity pad. They have been specifically designed to offer the most protection as well as the least chance of infection. Tampons and menstrual cups are not an ideal solution for bleeding postpartum.

“While resting is key to your recovery, it’s also good to get your blood flowing as you progress through your recovery process,” says RN Susan. “To do that, try going for a short, slow walk around your house or garden once a day. This is enough to promote good circulation and reduce your risk of blood clots."

Do not lift heavy objects, walk up flights of stairs or do physically strenuous tasks that could put unnecessary pressure on your wound or cause ligament injuries related to hormonal changes during the pregnancy and the postpartum period.

4. Caring for your breasts

As your body recovers from childbirth and enters the postpartum phase, your breasts will begin producing milk so that you can breast feed. The World Health Organization recommends that babies are breast fed exclusively for the first six months, however some moms may not be able to breast feed for various reasons. Some moms may choose to breast feed.

For moms to be able to breastfeed, it’s important that you have a safe and comfortable space in your home where you can do this. Ideally, use a comfortable chair or couch that offers support – a feeding pillow can help a great deal too.  

When it comes to infant feeding, the more your baby drinks from you the more your milk production will be stimulated. It’s best to feed your baby on demand and to alternate between breasts to prevent engorgement.

Some helpful tips:

  • A warm compress can help the let-down of milk and help to soothe sore breast.
  • Wash your breasts with soap and water and only apply breastfeeding-friendly nipple cream.
  • Most mothers have sore, cracked nipples which could also bleed after continuous feeding. For most mothers this will soon pass but nipple shields can help you to continue feeding when your nipples are inflamed.

Do not hesitate to speak to your midwife or lactation consultant about persistent pain – sometimes small challenges such as latching or positioning can make all the difference to your breastfeeding journey.

5. Asking for help

As you adjust to this new life with your baby, you’ll be able to better gauge where you need help. You don’t have to go through this on your own. A support system, whether it be your partner, your family, your friends, or even your healthcare providers, is so important.

"Having a baby is one of the most incredible experiences, so enjoy it,” says Dr Mrwebi. “Never forget that we as clinicians have your back. We want to see you thrive and we’re here to help you with whatever you need along the way.”

Your support system will be there to guide you, comfort you and even provide for you, if you communicate your desire for help. It takes a village to raise a child, and postpartum is the best time to really nail down your relationships with that village.

“We’ve seen so many new moms go through this. There’s no right or wrong way to care for your baby, if you’re also making the time to care for yourself,” adds RN Susan. “Trust yourself, and trust your gut. You’ve got this, Mom!”