Lots of people talk about “bouncing back” physically after childbirth, but a new baby affects every part of your life.
For tips that really work when it comes to better sleep, a balanced budget and more after your baby is born, we talked to experts (like postpartum doulas) and new moms to learn how they make it work.
“The number one thing that drives women into feeling they’ve lost control is the combo of breastfeeding and lack of sleep. The best thing to address is the lack of sleep, because no one will breastfeed for you,” says Jayne Freeman, a postpartum doula.
If you can afford it, hiring help can provide a much-needed break.
A postpartum doula might prepare meals or run the baby’s laundry, as well as, yes, care for the baby while you sleep. Expect to pay $30 to $70 per hour for a 3-to-4-hour session, Freeman says.
Night nurses, meanwhile, focus just on the baby. The nurse can bring the baby to you for breastfeeding (or offer a bottle, based on your preference). This person can also handle fussy stretches, burping and diapers. You’ll likely pay $22 to $30 per hour, or a flat fee of around $200 to 250 per night.
Can’t afford extra help? Don’t be shy about asking your partner to change and settle the baby, so you only have to do the actual feeding (if you’re breastfeeding—otherwise share that responsibility, too!).
And if you already have older children, this is a good opportunity to bring them in as allies so you can avoid bedtime battles—and get more rest, yourself.
No wonder so many mothers feel judged: We get so many mixed messages about feeding our babies, like “formula means failure,” even though public breastfeeding is controversial. So we have to say it: It’s your choice how you choose to feed your baby.
The reality is that lots of people do both. At 6 months, about 57 percent of babies are breastfed, and 24 percent are exclusively breastfed. That means more than half of breastfeeding moms find a blend of nursing and formula-feeding that works for them.
Freeman, with over a decade of experience working with new mothers, tells us: As long as your baby is getting the nutrition she needs, you’re doing a great job.
Having a baby qualifies you for a special enrollment period for health insurance. You can start coverage based on the date of the baby’s birth (or adoption), so hospital bills are covered.
As your favorite TV doctor might say, take care of this one, stat. Your insurance provider may offer a 60-day window, or you may get only 30 days to enroll. Don’t let this task slip off the to-do list or you could face a major hospital bill without insurance.
We know you’re tired (sorry) but this is a good time to update other important documents as well, such as your last will and testament and any trust documents. And if you don't already have life insurance, this is a good time to starting thinking about it. (Here's what you should know if you're applying for life insurance while pregnant or postpartum.)
Nesting at home with baby can be nice for a while, but eventually the walls can start to close in on you.
Emily Popek, a new mom in New York, says, “The biggest thing for me psychologically was getting short bursts of time away from the baby. Going shopping by myself, having lunch with a friend.” Her husband encouraged her, suggesting they dedicate some bonus cash specifically to her own relaxation and interests.
His enthusiastic support, at a time when lots of new moms feel flooded with guilt over leaving the baby, made it easier for Emily to take time to recharge. “Honestly, I would not have given myself permission to do something like that if he hadn’t just said, ‘Do it.’”
If shopping isn’t your form of relaxation, hospitals often offer free new-mom social groups. Your gym may also offer childcare for free or for a few dollars an hour. (Programs like gym childcare might set a minimum age limit, or your pediatrician may recommend certain shots first. Of course, you may prefer to leave a younger baby at home with someone you trust.) The key is giving yourself time to see other adults and do something for yourself, not just the baby.
If you’re planning to go back to work, now could be a good time to find a working parent mentor who can show you the ropes and help you reintegrate with the broader world.
Being able to change, feed and soothe your baby wherever you are can make both your lives easier. We spoke to one new dad who built a pull-down diaper changing station in the dining room closet; another mom stashes pacifiers in her bra for easy access! Keeping essentials like burp cloths and wipes in every room can save you trips.
Remember that brain fog can make it harder to locate adult essentials, too.
Create a mail command center if you haven’t already (an undisturbed place to store mail, with separate sections for to-do and completed items, so you don’t pay the same bills twice). And make folders to store pediatrician records, birth certificate and Social Security info or financial documents like college fund information.
(On that note, we came up with 5 essential things all new parents need—that don’t cost a thing.)
Postpartum depression affects 10 to 20 percent of new mothers, and stigma around mental illness means these rates may be underreported. You know that old saying about needing a village? Trying to handle everything alone is close to impossible.
Unfortunately, not everyone can realistically fit professional help (whether therapy or a doula or baby nurse) into the budget. Many new moms rely on loved ones.
Freeman says, “You need to be really honest with your family. If you’re struggling, I need you to tell your mother and mother-in-law that this is not a joke, you are on the brink of postpartum depression.”
That could mean your mom bringing dinner for you for the first three weeks postpartum. Or, if family or friends want to buy you a gift, paying for professional support can be much more memorable than wrapping up a hi-tech baby swing.
(Here's what you should know about how mental health can affect your life insurance application.)
Search Craigslist or local parenting groups to find top strollers and more for far less than retail.
“People use these things for a minute and are so happy to get rid of them,” Freeman says. “It would be better if that money were put aside for the mother’s mental health.”
To help protect against the unexpected, she recommends saving at least $3,000 that you can spend on support services after the baby arrives. Care for postpartum mood disorders or specialty care for babies (like correcting a tongue tie) that may not be covered by insurance can easily add up to thousands of dollars.
When you’re pregnant, try guesstimating your anticipated childcare expenses and adding those to your savings each month. That’ll help you start budgeting for your baby. And you’ll learn where to cut the budget before real daycare bills are due (and, while you’re at it, build a nest egg to use while you recover).
More than 70 percent of mothers with kids under 18 are in the workforce, so if you’re hoping to balance office and family demands, you’re in the majority. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get back in the swing of professional life, though.
Easing back in, if possible, can help. If you’re taking FMLA leave, you don’t need to take it all at once. It might be easier to readjust to two days in the office with the rest of the week off, then three days the next week, before returning to a full-time schedule.
Carrie Murphy, a 33-year-old mother and doula in New Orleans, says, “I reminded myself there was no ‘back to normal,’ just a new normal. I spent a lot of time while I was pregnant preparing for postpartum recovery and setting up support systems.”
If you ask around, the advice you’ll hear over and over is to take time and be kind to yourself. Holly Leber Simmons of Silver Spring, Maryland, says, “I’m learning to accept that I’m not going to be awesome at everything. I do not have Beyoncé’s body. I am not a perfect mom who never puts on the TV. The more I can accept that it’s a process, and a slow one, the better mom I can be.”
Getting the support you need can mean many things. It can also include taking the time to focus on your relationship, so your identities as parents don’t consume your marriage. Plus, a well-rested, healthy marriage or relationship is an important source of support.
A recent article about so-called “secret parenting” encourages mothers and fathers to normalize parenthood at work. The U.S. lags behind most developed countries in terms of work accommodations for parents.
Speaking out, especially when dads do it, can help prompt workplaces to consider family-friendly policies. That could mean claiming your right to pump or asking to leave early and work a few hours in the evening so you can be home for bath and bedtime.
You know your workplace best, but don’t assume that concealing parenthood is the only way to appear professional. You may feel less stressed and more productive if you’re not worrying about how to hide your new role as a mother.
Life with a newborn can be equal parts blissful and completely overwhelming. Taking time to care for yourself, check everything off your list and adjust to your “new normal” may help you enjoy the early weeks with your baby that much more.
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