Having a baby brings a lot of change and new learning. Change and learning something new can be very stressful. Most parents experience a brand new range of emotions in the days and weeks after welcoming a baby. Here are some simple steps you can take before your baby is born to help reduce the stress load in the postpartum period.
1. Make the best use of support in the postpartum period.
When you ask for help the more specific the better—simple tasks like walking the dog or making dinner can feel overwhelming with a newborn in the house. Think ahead of time about how you will deal with these tasks. Organize family or friends to come help in shifts. Make a list of general household tasks that can almost always be done (walking the dog, unloading the dishwasher, getting laundry started) so that when friends and family come over and want to help, you don’t even need to think about what has to be done. Giving anxious, wanting-to-help family members and friends specific tasks ahead of time often has the added benefit of decreasing their stress levels, which in turn will likely decrease yours.
If you have family and friends who are out of town but want to help, you can ask that they help fund a postpartum doula or other household support for the weeks after your baby is born.
2. Organize your meal train and/or make food that can freeze before your baby is born.
This will make life so much easier—you won’t even have to wonder about what to cook when you’re exhausted and starving after taking care of your baby all day. Make a chart that your family and friends can sign up on, or, better yet, designate a friend to organize the train themselves. Establish that when food is dropped off, you will not be hosting guests; rather, your friends and family are doing a kind service for you. You might even request that they bring along disposable eating utensils so you don’t have to deal with dishes. Additionally, before your baby is born, cook and freeze some yummy meals that can easily be reheated.
3. Develop ways to simplify your routine.
Often parents go through a grieving process as they recognize the things they are giving up from their previously childfree life. Thinking about how to handle this transition before your baby arrives can help not only prepare you for this feeling of loss, but potentially reframe it as gaining some new aspects of your routine. Maybe you typically cook elaborate dinners every night, or spend an hour at the gym every day. With a newborn to care for, these parts of your regular routine are inevitably going to change for at least a little while. Perhaps instead of a daily trip to the gym, you can go on a daily walk with your baby. Instead of cooking food with lots of meal prep, now might be the time to discover a new favorite delivery spot or break out the Instapot you got for Christmas.
4. Rethink priorities to ease stress in the postpartum period.
Naming your priorities can be one of the biggest helpers in surviving the postpartum period. Before your baby is born, sit down with your partner and a big piece of paper or a whiteboard. Each of you gets a column, and you can each name 2-5 daily priorities or objectives for after the baby is born and you’re settling back in at home. Note that these should be realistic and often seemingly small priorities, such as spending 10 minutes outside, brushing your hair, or saying, “I love you” to one another. Post this list in a place where you will see it every day.
As time goes on, your lists might grow and become more ambitious, and you can start making one for your baby as well. These priorities are just that: goals for each day, not meant to incur shame should they not be accomplished, but meant to clarify the things that feel important to each of you.
5. Reduce postpartum stress by making your space work for you.
Making your space functional for you and your baby is a great way to reduce postpartum stress. This doesn’t mean rearranging your house right before the baby comes, but it might mean planning to reduce climbing stairs in the first few weeks postpartum as your body is healing, setting up breastfeeding stations with a comfy chair, snacks and some reading material, or adding an extra laundry basket in the hallway.
Especially if your home is multi-story, having multiple diaper changing areas is extremely helpful. You don’t need two full changing tables, but having a portable pad, diapers, wipes, a waste receptacle or dirty cloth diaper bin, and any other critical items that you plan to use for diapering should be available to you on each floor. Think about it like this: when your baby needs to be changed at night, do you want to walk down stairs? When your baby needs to be changed during the day, do you want to climb stairs?
6. Find moments of sweetness with yourself, your partner, and your baby before the birth.
This can look a lot of ways. Some families do pregnancy photoshoots. Others write letters to their babies or make art. Some couples have a babymoon vacation or pre-birth date night, and some pregnant folks are celebrated in special ceremonies. Figuring out a way to honor this time can be meaningful, and you can discover what feels right to you. Often pregnant people become so focused on the birth and their baby, only to later realize that they’re going to miss being pregnant.
Savor this time. Finding moments of connection with your partner now can help the two of you remember that you’re in this together, you’re on the same team, and you’re going to be okay—today, and tomorrow.