Expecting moms hear A LOT about packing their hospital bag, especially if they’re nearing the third trimester -- what’s an absolute must-have, what will make your stay more comfortable, and of course, what baby will wear home. But in between all the chatter about swaddle blankets and pacis and nursing tanks, it can be all-too-easy to forget there’s another bag you need to pack, too -- albeit, an invisible one, but a trusty tote of tools nonetheless. We like to call it your “Fourth Trimester Bag:” a compilation of all the things you need to safeguard your emotional well-being in those first minutes, hours, and days after birth. So yes, pack your ear buds and water bottle and baby beanies -- but also carve out time to prep this less visible, but oh-so-important, bag of tricks.
Add-To-Bag Item 1: A Postpartum Mental Health Plan
Okay, we know -- this sounds a bit daunting, and not nearly as fun as picking out fleece booties. But it truly can make all the difference to work through some of these tougher questions before baby so you’re not navigating decision-making sleep-deprived and with a newborn in tow. Postpartum depression (more commonly referred to now as Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders or PMADs), is more likely to occur if you’ve ever had any of the following:
- Previous postpartum depression
- General depression (not related to pregnancy)
- Intense/severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- A stressful/difficult marriage or relationship
- Lack of a strong support system - few friends/family members to rely on
- A stressful pregnancy or birth (i.e., becoming severely ill during pregnancy, premature birth, or a difficult delivery)
With this in mind, it’s important to create a postpartum depression action plan. Even if you haven’t experienced depression or anxiety in the past, this action plan is helpful for ALL new mamas. It’s important for every mom to safeguard her mental health, not just ones who have experienced struggles in the past. Once you’ve been home with baby for a couple days, try to:
- Move your body. Even if it’s just dancing with your babe to a fave 90s hip-hop song or walking around the block with the stroller and feeling the sun on your face.
- Carve out time for a treat/something fun. This may sound obvious, but the pull to make every minute about baby is very real for many new moms. Try to spend 20 minutes each day watching a show, listening to a podcast, or doing a hobby you were into pre-baby.
- Spend time with your support system. It can be easy to not reach out when you’re feeling overwhelmed, but try to rely on friends and family who are local. Let them bring you a coffee, or watch the baby in her bouncer while you shower.
- Set simple goals. Even if you just throw on some leggings and a hoodie, read an email, or put some onesies away -- give yourself credit for accomplishing these small tasks.
Lastly, have numbers saved in your phone (and your partners’) of all professionals you’re under the care of -- your OBGYN, primary care doctor, counselor, or psychiatrist. Ideally, make a plan with them ahead of time about what your course of action will be should you start having symptoms beyond the few weeks of baby blues and feel sad, blue, anxious, or irritable -- maybe it’s a virtual check-in a couple times a week, an in-person counseling session, a home visit, or adjusting medications. Call your doctor right away if you experience feelings of hopelessness, despair, hear/see things that others don’t, or feel as if you might hurt yourself or your baby.
Add-To-Bag Item 2: A List of Breastfeeding Resources/Lactation Consultants
If you plan to breastfeed, it can be helpful to have the contact info of a few local lactation consultants saved in your Notes app or bookmarked on your computer, especially because things like clogged ducts or mastitis don’t tend to pop up until after you’re home with baby. Though the nurses in the hospital can be amazing resources when it comes to breastfeeding, there often just isn’t enough time to get into a good groove with feedings and troubleshoot, if necessary.
A good lactation consultant will usually start by observing a feeding, make suggestions for improved latch and positioning to ensure baby is getting as much milk as possible, and also weigh baby pre- and post- feeding to see how much milk she’s taking in. A lactation consultant can also go over the ins and outs of pumping, too, if that’s something you want to incorporate into your feeding routine, and go over things like proper fitting of phalanges to your breasts and nipples, best practices for cleaning the pump and its parts, getting into a pumping schedule that works for you, and how to safely handle and store breast milk.
Your OBGYN, pediatrician, or moms in your network may have recommendations of lactation consultants they know and trust. You can also search for one on the United States Lactation Consultant Association’s website (uslca.org) by using their International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) Directory Search Form.
Add-To-Bag Item 3: Boundaries
Personal boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves in our relationships. Depending on our upbringing, experiences, and personality, the way we set boundaries will vary. The birth of a baby is the perfect time to start thinking about boundaries and the way you want others to be a part of that experience -- the day of, the days in the hospital, and those first weeks at home. It’s definitely worth having a conversation with your partner and making a plan for what you’re both comfortable with.
Add-To-Bag Item 4: Task Delegation
This one’s a biggie. And for a lot of mamas, can feel really unnatural since so many women play the role as caretaker/caregiver in our own lives. But during the postpartum period, it’s essential that we step out of that role and begin to embrace relying on others, so we can tend to ourselves, and in turn, tend to baby.
This could look like having a conversation with your partner ahead of time about them, say, taking over the laundry and meal prep in the first few months, so you can focus on feedings (or, hey, maybe your partner already handles this! Which in that case we say, Woohoooo!!!) When your parents or in-laws drop by to visit and say, “How can we help?” -- give them a job! Maybe they can walk the dog, make sandwiches, or throw in a load of onesies. Or, when a friend asks what they can bring, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. “You know, a hot coffee would be amazing. Thank you!”
Most people genuinely want to help and feel needed. And getting support from your “village” -- whatever that might look like in these modern times -- will help you to feel your best. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone! (Of course, this is assuming you have people to help within your Covid bubble. If you’re not seeing family right now, consider getting creative. Ask someone to pick up diapers or items from the grocery store and leave them outside.)
Add-To-Bag Item 5: Prepped Meals/Take-Out Lists