As I write this, I’m waiting for a baby to be born. It has to be the most exciting part of a doula’s job – but what I’m especially excited about this time is that my client has asked for support in the postnatal period, to help her adjust and settle into her new life as a mother.
It’s hard to see beyond the birth, sometimes – so much of the preparation for a baby is around drawing up a birth plan and practising breathing, positions and skills for labour, all of which are hugely important, of course - but seeing beyond the arrival of the baby into those early days, weeks and months is also essential to a smooth transition. It’s a good idea to have a postnatal plan!
By a ‘postnatal plan’, I’m not talking about decorating the nursery - the World Health Organisation recommends that your newborn baby sleeps in the same room as you for the first six months of life at least, so you might be relieved to hear there’s plenty of time for that. So what IS a postnatal plan?
Sophie Messager, author of ‘Why Postnatal Recovery Matters’, points out that the importance of the postnatal period is often overlooked, but postnatal recovery (or lack of it) can have consequences for the long-term health and wellbeing of both mother and baby.
Messager suggests that expectant couples think about four pillars of recovery:
· social support (without which the first two are impossible) and
· physical healing.
Historically many cultures would expect a new mother to rest for 40 days, during which time she would be fed nourishing foods and have soothing massages or comforting belly wrapping. Here in the West we’ve largely lost these traditions, although in the UK the GP’s postnatal check is, interestingly, set at six weeks postnatal. By then, however, many women will have felt under pressure to ‘bounce back to normal’, encouraged to lose any weight gained and act as if the baby has hardly affected their life at all. In the US a large number of women are back at work full-time after three short months’ maternity leave.
So I find it reassuring when someone is thinking beyond the birth, stocking their freezer and asking for gifts of homemade food; talking to their partner about how they will cope with broken sleep; exploring postnatal massage specialists and booking a doula for the early weeks! A postnatal doula will offer practical and emotional support – listening to you unpicking your birth story whilst unloading the dishwasher or making a warming soup; as well as massaging swollen feet or hands, supporting breast or formula feeding, suggesting ways of soothing a sore perineum, helping you work out how to tie a sling, folding a load of laundry or simply holding your baby so you can nap… just about anything you might need in those magical, exhausting early days.
As one client put it, ‘In some ways, the things you did were so simple, but the care, love, and knowledge you brought had a profoundly positive impact on my experience of early motherhood.’ As I wait for the phone to ring, I hope to be able to bring that same positivity to another new mum in the coming days.
- Doula Sophie Messager’s website where you can purchase her book, ‘Why Postnatal Recovery Matters' published by Pinter & Martin
- For more on sharing your bedroom, and even your bed, with your baby.