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How to Prepare for Postpartum: The Ultimate Guide

Are you worried about what to expect after your baby is born? Do you wonder what postpartum will really be like and if you’re ready? Then this blog post is for you. This is your ultimate guide on how to prepare for postpartum.

mom smiling at newborn baby lying in bed

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Pregnancy is a time full of new experiences and learning. Amid the heartburn and baby kicks and googling questions, a lot of moms have one thing always in the back of their mind: birth. 

Most women spend late pregnancy thinking about and, hopefully, preparing for labor and birth. That’s how it was for me!

But what if there’s something else we should be thinking about in addition to birth? What if there’s something just as important that we should be preparing for?

Well, there is: postpartum.

We Need to Talk About Postpartum More

Maybe you’re one of the roughly 50% of women who took (or are taking) a childbirth class during pregnancy. If so, you’d probably agree that most of the time in class is spent covering exactly what you’d expect: childbirth.

For example, a Bradley Childbirth class covers topics such as nutrition for pregnancy, how the father can be a good support person during labor, and the risks of common labor medications and interventions. But during the 12-week course, only a small amount of time is spent discussing breastfeeding and newborn care.

So it’s no wonder that so many women are a bit blindsided by the realities of postpartum, including learning to breastfeed and healing from birth, even if it went well.

I’m all for pregnancy and birth education (obviously). But we need to talk more about how to prepare for postpartum. We need to educate ourselves and the women around us about what postpartum is really like AND how to make it as smooth and happy a transition as possible.

That’s no easy task. But it’s an important one. And it’s why I wrote this blog post.

This is your ultimate guide on how to prepare for postpartum.

The 5 Areas of Preparing for Postpartum

The question of how to prepare for postpartum and how to educate women on what to expect could be answered in lots of different ways. The things I want to focus on fit into 5 areas of things you can do to prepare:

  1. What to expect
  2. What to prep
  3. What to learn
  4. What to buy
  5. What you can do now

Each one is important in its own way and each will play in role in making those first few weeks postpartum the best that they can be.

In this blog post, we’re going to talk about the five areas generally and I’ll link to more in-depth blog posts throughout. 

This is gonna be good.

Let’s begin.

How to Prepare for Postpartum: What to Expect

Expectations play a HUGE role in a woman’s experience postpartum in a lot of ways. But before we even talk about the kinds of things you’ll want to expect, let’s talk about expectations in general.

To do that, let’s start by talking about the Amish.

My midwife, Amy, spent a year with the Amish community in Pennsylvania as part of her training. In that culture, Amy told me, when a mom has a baby, she doesn’t do anything except take care of herself and the baby for six full weeks.

She does nothing – no cooking, no cleaning, no caring for the other kids. Someone else does it all.

The interesting thing? The women in that Amish community rarely experience postpartum depression. And Amy believes it is precisely because of those six weeks of doing nothing extra that they avoid it.

The American “Bounce Back” Culture

In typical American culture, on the other hand, moms feel a lot of pressure to “bounce back” – to get back to normal, back to work, back in shape – to be able to do what they were doing before they had a baby.

But life is radically different once you have a child. It’s supposed to be!

You aren’t just taking on a new role you’ve never had before…You’re healing from a physically strenuous event and learning to feed and care for a helpless child. Your sleep is thrown off. Your relationship with your spouse changes and requires some adjusting. You can’t just leave the house whenever you want as easily as you used to be able to.

And that’s not even everything I could list!

My point is that we need to give ourselves and all women the space to struggle, to learn, and to figure this newborn—and new mom—thing out. 

If we did, maybe postpartum depression wouldn’t haunt so many homes.

What Postpartum Looks and Feels Like

Postpartum is kind of like pregnancy – it’s full of new experiences, some good and some less enjoyable. We could fill books with all the things you might experience or need to know postpartum, so I’ll try to cover just a few of the big things.

First, postpartum is a time of healing.

Giving birth takes a toll on your body and your body needs time to heal. Your perineum (the area between your vagina and your anus) is going to be sensitive for a while.

Some women’s perineum tears a little while giving birth. If that’s the case for you (as it was for me) you’ll likely have a stitched-up area that is extra sensitive.

Second, going to the bathroom is a little harder for a few days.

Because your body is tired and sore and sensitive, pooping is harder for a little while. Dehydration, which can be common after giving birth, can also contribute to the problem. 

To make things easier for yourself, stay hydrated and get a stool softener. You can get Colace, a common over-the-counter laxative, or you can try aloe vera or other natural stool softeners.

Third, you can get pregnant again relatively soon.

Some women’s periods come back as soon as 1 or 2 months after giving birth. You can have sex again as soon as you feel ready, just make sure to have a plan if you don’t want to get pregnant again right away. 

Next, the emotional roller coaster is totally normal.

Shifting hormones, lack of sleep, and the aftermath of an event you’d been looking forward to and planning for months can leave you feeling ecstatic one moment and crying the next. And that’s normal!

Give yourself the space to feel all the things and don’t stress too much about feeling crazy and out of control; it doesn’t last forever.

Finally, you might not love your baby right away.

That might sound a little off. I don’t mean you aren’t going to like your baby. But your connection to your baby is a relationship like any other. Just like it takes time to feel close to a new friend, it may take time for you to really feel connected to your baby.

How to Prepare for Postpartum: What to Prep

Once you’ve taken a good look at what your expectations are for postpartum, it’s time to start your prep work. There are three main categories of things you can prepare in advance for postpartum: food, coordinating visitors, and baby care stations.

Prepare Food for Postpartum

It is 100% a good idea to fill your freezer with food in the weeks leading up to your baby’s birth day. You can fill it with store-bought food or homemade food or a mix. 

You’re going to want breakfast foods, lunch items, meals for dinner, and snacks. The less you and your spouse or partner have to do to keep yourselves going those first few weeks, the better.

My husband and I spent one Saturday a few weeks before our first daughter was born making a whole bunch of freezer meals. That way after the baby came we’d be able to just pop something in the Instant Pot or oven, wait an hour, and eat.

I’m so glad we did. Between those meals, other frozen foods we’d gotten at the grocery store, and fresh meals from family and friends, my husband and I didn’t have to prep meals for six weeks after our daughter was born.

Plan How You’ll Coordinate Postpartum Visitors

You probably aren’t thinking much about what it will be like to have people over after your baby comes. But it’s a good idea to think about it now instead of letting things just play out as they will.

After your baby has arrived, people are going to want to visit. People are also going to offer to come help out around the house, and you’re going to want to take advantage of all the help you can get.

That’s why I recommend having a postpartum sign-up sheet.

A sign-up sheet provides an easy way to coordinate visitors without you having to do any individual communication. It also ensures that you only have one visitor per day. That’ll be good for your baby’s health and for your sanity.

After I had my first baby and was using a sign-up sheet to coordinate visitors, several people said they thought it was a fantastic idea.

Here’s the best part: I already made your sign-up sheet for you. You can download it now for free!

Instructions are included in the free download. It’s as simple as putting in the dates you want people to come and any specific tasks you need done and then sending the link to people when they ask if they can visit.

Prepare Your Baby Care Stations

The third thing you can prepare now are your care stations: a diaper changing station and a nursing corner.

You’ll soon find that you want everything you might need within reach, both when changing diapers and when breastfeeding. 

A diaper station is fairly simple. You’ll want a changing table or dresser that’s about hip height. 

On top of that, you’ll want a nice changing pad and some diapers and wipes. If you don’t have room on top of the changing table for anything but the changing pad, use the top drawer or get a simple diaper caddy to hang nearby.

(You can find my recommendations for the best of each of those things in the “what to buy” section below.)

TIP: In addition to your nursery changing station, get yourself a portable diaper caddy for the main floor of your house. You’ll save time and energy if you don’t have to go back up to the nursery for every diaper change. You can learn more in What to Put in a Diaper Caddy (Just the Essentials).

Then, if you plan to breastfeed, a nursing corner is a must. (Trust me. I ignored this piece of advice initially… and then I started breastfeeding and realized how useful it was to have everything I wanted within reach.)

how to prepare your nursing station for postpartum (birds eye view)

One of the most important parts of your nursing station will be a nice comfy chair.

I also recommend getting a Boppy Pillow to keep yourself and your baby comfortable.

Then make sure you have a table (or a bin, as I did) nearby that is big enough to fit all your other essentials. (Think burp cloths, nipple salve, your water bottle, etc.) Check out the “what to buy” section below for my top recommendations on what to include in your nursing station.

READ MORE >> 29 Diaper Changing Hacks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner

How to Prepare for Postpartum: What to Learn

Postpartum is such a unique time in a woman’s life, in more ways than one. One of the reasons it is such a wild experience is that, in addition to recovering from birth and trying to forge a new relationship, you are learning SO MANY new things!

Before having their first baby, many women have never changed a diaper, never bathed a baby, never been the primary source of nutrition for another person, never had the power to soothe a child when no one else does, and so much more!

So the more you can learn before the baby comes, the better. Of course, nothing will teach you quicker than being in the thick of it but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some of your learning now.

Generally, there are two things you’ll want to get a headstart on: breastfeeding (if that’s what you choose to do) and newborn care. 

Learning to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding is natural. But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally to women. Breastfeeding is a learned skill and it takes time to get the hang of it.

One way you can start to learn about breastfeeding before your baby arrives is to read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. It’s less of a read-straight-through-it book and more of a reference book, so you might want to buy it to have on hand for later. Don’t let that stop you from reading some now though.

Another great resource to prepare for and learn about breastfeeding is the La Leche League. La Leche League International (LLLI) is a worldwide non-profit organization focused on supporting, educating, and training women who are breastfeeding. 

They provide free meetings all over the world for women who need support or have questions related to their breastfeeding journey. You can start attending before your baby is born and as long as you want to after.

Learning to Care for a Baby

When it comes to taking care of kids, we never stop learning. But if we’re talking basics, these are the 7 things (other than feeding) you can learn about now to be ahead of the game:

  • Handling a newborn
  • Diaper changing
  • Swaddling and safe sleep
  • Hygiene
  • Dressing
  • Bonding and soothing
  • Rashes and sickness

I’ll be sharing a blog post all about these 7 things soon, so stay tuned. You can also find a lot of this information in books, like The Baby Book. Friends and family who are parents can be good resources, too. You could also sign up for a free newborn care class at a local hospital or birth center.

How to Prepare for Postpartum: What to Buy

As you well know, having a baby requires some new household items and other purchases. There are probably millions of baby products out there that companies want you to buy. 

Let me tell you a secret: you need very little of what they have to sell.

Case in point: I spent less than $7,000 on everything I bought for me and my baby during pregnancy and for those first 6 months after my daughter was born, including paying my midwife.

If you’re interested in what I did and didn’t buy, I have a complete baby registry list here. But in this post I want to highlight a few essentials for postpartum that I recommend every woman gets. 

The Essentials

First up, you’re going to need diapers and wipes…lots of them. You won’t be sure how big your baby is until he or she is born, so I recommend having both Newborn Size and Size 1 diapers on hand.

I tried nearly every brand of (reasonably priced) diaper out there and there was a clear winner: Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand. They were the only ones that contained the blowouts consistently. 

As far as diaper storage, I crocheted my own hanging diaper caddy. If that’s not your thing, you can find lots of cute options online or in stores.

For wipes, I recommend getting the Costco brand while you’re getting your diapers. My second choice is Walmart’s Parent’s Choice brand, specifically the ultra-sensitive ones. They have the best ingredients.

The next item is one of the few things I recommend that’s a little more pricey. But it’s SO worth it. Instead of a basic fabric changing pad with fabric covers, get the Bumbo changing pad. It’s life-changing.

Having to clean up your baby and their clothes after a blowout is hard enough. Why not get a nice foam pad that you can just wipe off and disinfect instead of worrying about all that fabric getting gross? 

If You Are Breastfeeding

The last two products I highly recommend you buy as you prepare for postpartum (if you’re breastfeeding) are breast shells and reusable nursing pads

While your baby eats at one breast, the other one will be leaking milk. You can save so much milk by using a breast shell instead of an absorbent nursing pad. I rarely pumped and I still had milk in the freezer because I used breast shells!

(Get oval ones with a wider base, like the ones I linked to, not the circular kind. The circles can’t hold nearly as much milk before leaking.)

When it comes to nursing pads, you have two options: disposable or reusable.

The disposable ones are similar to the kind of pad you use on your period but for your bra. It’s a papery-plastic thing that you unwrap, use, and throw away.

Those are super nice to have for vacations and on-the-go. But you’ll save so much money (and fill the dump a little slower) if you get reusable ones. I like the Bamboobies brand. (You can get them on Amazon, but if you want to buy a lot, they’re often cheaper on the Bamboobies website.)

Disposable pads are cheaper up front, but in the long run, washable pads are going to save you more money. It’s also good to note that the plastic ones can irritate your nipples more than fabric ones, so keep that in mind.

READ MORE >> 18 Must-Have Breastfeeding Supplies

How to Prepare for Postpartum: What You Can Do Now

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about a few things you can do right now, during pregnancy, to prepare for postpartum. The cool thing is these things don’t just make postpartum better. They’re great for you during pregnancy and they’ll likely make labor a little easier too.

Eat Well

If I could give you one piece of advice for your pregnancy, it would be to figure out nutrition.

What you choose to eat during pregnancy has HUGE implications. Good nutrition doesn’t just make pregnancy easier; it decreases your chances of giving birth prematurely. It also reduces the likelihood of labor complications and c-sections, all of which would make postpartum more difficult.

The simplest way to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need is to follow The Brewer Pregnancy Diet.

The Brewer Diet outlines what nutrients you need and how much. In my blog post about it, I dig in deeper. I explain why each nutrient is important and how to get it in your diet. 

In addition to avoiding negative birth outcomes, eating well also sets you up for an easier postpartum journey.

That’s because we humans are creatures of habit.

The sooner you start eating well, the sooner it will become a habit to buy real, whole foods and cook healthier meals. The sooner that becomes a habit, the sooner it will become your new norm. And if healthy eating because your norm during pregnancy, eating well postpartum will be that much easier.

And it kind of goes without saying that the better you eat postpartum, the easier it will be to lose the extra pregnancy weight.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is pretty much always a good idea, pregnant, postpartum, or not. During pregnancy, exercise can help you avoid some aches and pains. It can also set you up for an easier labor and promote the healthy development of your baby. 

Like eating well, if you develop the habit of exercising during pregnancy (or, even better, before you get pregnant), it will be much easier to get back into it after having a baby. And that’s when the benefits become more obvious.

Exercising can be beneficial during postpartum in a lot of ways. (Just make sure to get the all-clear from your care provider first.)

To Lose Weight

The most obvious benefit of exercising postpartum is that it can help you lose the extra pregnancy weight.

While that’s true, remember that that extra weight was an important part of pregnancy. That extra weight meant you had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. It’s a sign that your body did what it needed to do. It’s not something to be ashamed of. So keep yourself healthy, but don’t be extreme or critical of yourself.

Besides, I think there’s an even bigger benefit to getting back into exercising after having a baby: mental health.

To Feel Happier

Exercise helps your body produce endorphins, and endorphins are one of your body’s “happy hormones.”

Giving birth and the weeks following is one of the biggest times of hormonal changes a woman will ever experience. Among other things, a woman’s serotonin levels (another one of your “happy hormones”) can be especially low after giving birth, and that is one factor that may lead to postpartum depression.

While you’re healing, you won’t be able to do a full workout. But after a week or two, you can go on walks. Even if all you’re doing is walking and a bit of stretching, try to move your body.

If you do, you’ll give yourself a happy hormone boost. And everything else will probably seem just a little easier after you do.

To Heal Diastasis Recti

Exercise, if done carefully, can also help you heal diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is a separation of your ab muscles. It often leads to a little belly pooch that you just can’t seem to get rid of.

During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles and tissues have to stretch and move out of the way to accommodate your growing baby. After you give birth, those tissues will usually return to their pre-pregnant state. But for some women those tissues get damaged and the muscles stay separated.

The good news is that diastasis recti can almost always be resolved through simple exercises you can do at home. I have a blog post all about how to heal diastasis recti coming soon!

In the meantime, I highly recommend the YouTube channels of of Jessica Pumple and Lindsey Bomgren, for diastasis recti and other pregnancy and postpartum exercise.

Talk About Your Emotions

The third thing you can do right now to prepare for postpartum is to start talking about your emotions. Learn to be open and honest—with yourself and those close to you—about how you’re feeling.

Put one way, what I’m talking about is vulnerability.

Brené Brown, probably the most well-known speaker and author on the topic, says this about vulnerability:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”

Those all sound like things a woman who just gave birth might need.

In addition to being able to access those positive things, communicating what we are feeling to someone else is often the quickest way to feel better. I find that to be especially true in the case of hard emotions like discouragement or fear. It’s not an easy thing to do and it’s not usually very fun. But it’s important.

The #1 thing that got me through postpartum—other than having a selfless husband who did so much for me—was talking about what I was feeling.

Finding Truth to Feel Better

For example, I am a doer. I like getting things done. And I like knowing I’m going to be able to get the things done that I want to.

And that’s not something you can do in those first few weeks postpartum.

More than once, I found myself in tears because I felt like all I was doing was sleeping and breastfeeding my baby. I didn’t have time to do the laundry. I didn’t have time to make myself food. I hardly even had time to shower, let alone do anything recreational or relaxing.

I certainly didn’t have time to work on my blog.

That was really discouraging.

I struggled with that discouragement over and over, but this is what I wrote in my journal one of those days:

“This evening was rough. I was feeling like there’s just no time for anything except for taking care of Haven and sleeping and that was really discouraging because there’s so much that could be done and I’m used to being able to do it. After a long while of trying to figure it out, Nate helped me feel better by reminding me of truth.

  • It’s only been three weeks.
  • Right now there is, to some degree, only time to make sure Haven survives and grows.

I have to lower my expectations of what I can get done and be okay with that. It’s hard for me. But now the idea of the Amish 6 weeks of letting mom take care of the newborn is very much something I see the need for.

Nate reminded me that ‘this too shall pass’ and I’m going to wish it hadn’t gone so fast. It’s hard to believe that in the moment, yet I know it’s true. I only get to be a baby mom for relatively few years and I’m going to miss it when it’s passed, so I can try to enjoy it more now, even though it’s hard.”

Talking about my struggles with my husband helped me to see two things.

First, I was holding on to the unspoken belief that I should be able to do more.

Second, I was devaluing the work I was doing in taking care of my newborn child. 

Once those things were out in the open and not just bouncing around in my head subconsciously, I could let them go and find a better paradigm.

Postpartum is full of new emotions, good and bad. So if you start learning now to be vulnerable and have the kind of hard conversations required to work through those emotions, you’ll be far better off when that emotional roller coaster begins.

Conclusion

In a world full of advice for new parents, it’s surprising how little of it really helps a couple prepare for postpartum. I hope this blog post was the real talk you needed to give you a better picture of what life will be like in those first few weeks with your new baby.

Those first days and weeks with a newborn are incredible. They are also challenging. So start now to prepare. Take time to prepare your home, learn all you can learn, and do the things you can now to make the transition to caring for a new baby just a little easier.

As you do, don’t forget to be excited. Being a mom is the best. I’m so excited for you.

Until next time,

Allison

READ MORE >> The 5-5-5 Rule Postpartum (and Why It’s Not Enough)

READ MORE >> What to Pack In a Diaper Bag (+ free checklist)

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