The Gift of Time and Help
The internet abounds with lists of things you’ll need when you have a new baby. Cribs, blankets, bibs, bottles, pumps, diapers, breastfeeding pillows, pacifiers, etc., etc. Most new moms feel overwhelmed in the last few months thinking of what they might need. Most of the stuff is unnecessary for a breastfeeding mom. Here’s a good list of what you will most likely actually need. My personal list goes something like this: diapers, clothes, a safe place to occasionally put the baby down (pack-n-play, swing, co-sleeper), a few slings or other carriers, and the number of a breastfeeding helper. Anything else can easily be purchased on a as-needed basis, and most of the stuff will be given to you as gifts.
It’s very hard to know exactly how your postpartum period will go, and how breastfeeding will progress in the first few weeks. There are so many variables and unknowns including how your birth goes, your baby’s physicality and temperament, and how you handle the giant transition of being a mom (that’s a big one, and one I hope to write about someday, because it’s quite a difficult transition for many new moms). But this much is certain: the first few weeks of new mommyhood are long, intense, and sleepless (and, of course, amazing and life-altering in every way). And the other thing that is certain is that if you are planning on breastfeeding, you will be doing so very often. In fact, it will seem like that is all you do for a while (that’s normal!).
If there was one gift I could give a new mom, it would be the gift of time and help. In many traditional cultures, a mother stays in bed with her baby for the first bunch of weeks. She is attended to by her family and by her community. Her home is taken care of, she is fed, love is showered down upon her. Her job is to care for her baby, that’s it. She doesn’t have to host anyone when they come over. She doesn’t have to keep house.
My transition to mommyhood was a little rough with my first son. Once I got over the hump of the first few days, breastfeeding went well, and I did nurse him often and on demand. But I still felt obligated to keep my house in order. I wanted to get back to exercising as quickly as possible. I hosted visitors. I wanted to do it all. It was exhausting and it took longer for me to recover from childbirth than it should have. It also caused me an undue amount of anxiety. I didn’t realize how much I needed that time to recover, to rest, to transition into motherhood.
We don’t live in a culture where new mothers are ceremoniously ushered into motherhood. Many of us don’t have family nearby, and even if we do, we don’t always have families who can commit to our well being as they once could.
When I was pregnant with my second son, I decided that I was going to have a great postpartum period, not matter what it took. Money was very scarce, but I had my husband take off the first two weeks after the baby was born (without pay), and pare down his schedule after that. I did almost nothing for two weeks. It was heaven. I healed quickly from the birth, my mood was good, breastfeeding was amazing, and the transition to being a mom of two went well. Once I started doing more, I had more energy than I’d had for months after my first son was born.
I wish we lived in a country where all women could be cared for the way they should after they have babies. I’m sure our breastfeeding rates would increase, and our postpartum depression and anxiety rates would decrease. Even in European countries, the services of a doula-like caregiver is free to new mothers. But in the US, we have to pay for such services. If you don’t have family or friends nearby who can help, and if there’s no way your husband or partner can take a leave from work, try to get a postpartum doula to help you a few days a week. Ask for this as a gift instead of the fancy stroller or bottle warmer. Look around — if your income is low, you can often find a postpartum doula for families in need. Do it for yourself, for your baby, for the months and years to come. Getting things off to a good start is worth its weight in gold.