I would love to replace the typical birth registry of items that all new parents “need”. Instead, I want new parents to receive a different kind of checklist. A checklist that would include ways to prepare for parenthood and postpartum that could actually help prevent postpartum depression, isolation, and suffering. And yes, hand-me-downs would still be incredibly helpful!
I have no doubt that baby swings and swaddle blankets have saved sanity and have probably saved lives. But if we are really concerned about healthy families and getting off to a good start, why don’t we talk more about what families really need and want to be successful? First and foremost we have to be honest about a few things. Shopping for cute baby things, asking our friends and family to do the same, and happily preparing for the arrival of our little ones is more fun than acknowledging that postpartum and parenting can be hard work. Setting up a registry on Amazon and inviting people to buy stuff is way easier than truly asking for help. Almost no one likes talking about postpartum or new parent trials and tribulations. No one wants to hear “It’s Hard”. Duh.
I not proposing a “The 11 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Had My Son” news feed item. I am proposing a punch list of actual work that I would like to see done on this project that you are managing: Brand New Human Life. Here are the things I would like to see more families do and be supported in doing:
- Find a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist that you can work with: This is especially important if you (either parent) have ever experienced anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or even issues with managing mood/behavior in periods of sleep deprivation or stress (read: all of us). Check out this piece on little-known aspects of postpartum depression: http://www.mothering.com/articles/understanding-postpartum-depression-anxiety-wish-id-known-new-mom/
Do some ‘Meet and Greets’ or re-establish care with someone you have seen. Seeing someone with a specialty in postpartum, parenting, and/or marriage counseling are big perks, but the most important features are that you trust and like this person. Think of a stressful time in your life- would you call this person?
- Women’s bodies go through a lot in pregnancy and birth. It is reasonable to think that things will not land where they once were before, no matter which way the baby comes out. It is also reasonable to think that there may not be a lot of time or energy to get on a ‘Body Back’ program. Honestly, even if there is, having help in this arena is crucial to avoiding sciatica, back pain, neck pain, plantar fasciitis, or other physical pain that make it difficult to care for your baby, exercise without injury, and feel human again. This is where acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy come in. These are not just indulgences; they are important facets to your long-term recovery, and most private insurance plans cover these services. There are also low-cost community resources or sliding scales available if you do not have insurance coverage. Locate these people, see them once or more in pregnancy, and start building your recovery team.
- If you are planning to breastfeed, know who and where your lactation resources are and how you can access these services. The first 2-3 weeks can be the toughest and is the most common time to stop breastfeeding. Having information at your fingertips beforehand is so crucial. Most area hospitals have lactation consultants on site who are wonderful and generally available every day. The challenge is what to do about those urgent, after-hours, or weekend breastfeeding issues. In case you are now wondering how often that really happens, I am here to tell you that everything involving children happens after-hours, weekends, and urgently. There are many lactation consultants who do home visits and have after-hours phone lines. Find out who they are, get some business cards, and keep them handy.
La Leche League International (http://www.llli.org/) has podcasts, forums, and links to almost every resource breastfeeding related. Get familiar with the website and look up a group in your area. I would suggest that you attend this group at least once in pregnancy so that you are familiar with a name, a face, and location before you make the trip postpartum.
- Your pediatric provider is actually a pretty critical person for you as parents in this postpartum time. Once you are discharged from hospital or midwifery care, you are handed over to your child’s care provider. Moms are typically seen at 6 weeks for one postpartum follow up in hospital-based care, and are seen at least 3-4 times in the 6-8 weeks following birth with out-of-hospital care. These types of care clearly provide different ‘safety nets’ for families as they transition into postpartum and parenthood, which is why your pediatric provider may be your closest ally. Set up some Meet and Greets and choose someone who you like and trust (sound familar?). You are going to be seeing each other quite often in the first year.
Sometimes people come in with a list of interview questions from online sites, and there are great ones out there (http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/child-rearing-and-development/choosing-pediatrician). Knowing a pediatric provider’s background is important, but most of that is online in his or her bio.
Use the time you have face-to-face with a prospective provider to find out a few things: Do you like and trust this person? Does this person seem agenda-oriented or patient-oriented? Does this person have resources if breastfeeding is challenging or your baby is not gaining weight? Will this person have a whole-family approach or a only-the-baby-is-my-patient approach? How have they handled situations regarding breastfeeding, sleep, or maternal postpartum depression or anxiety? Truly, even when the baby is the patient, the parents’ well being is critical to that baby’s health (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/17/who-will-screen-for-postpartum-depression/?_r=0).
Does that sound like a lot of work? That’s why we get 9 months to start gathering tools and resources that will serve our entire family for months and years to come. Your baby is not a finished product when he or she arrives, nor is this process. And it’s actually a lot of fun sometimes too.
Enjoy! Dr. S
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