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February 17, 2010

Week 36 - Post-natal plan

If you've ever had a baby you've probably heard of a birth plan, even if you chose not to write one, however most people have never heard of a post-natal plan. In our culture we wouldn't even know why one is needed. With breastfeeding rates so low and post-natal depression rates so high it seems obvious that we need to provide new mothers with extra support during those early months.

I study Ayurvedic post-natal care for mothers with Ysha Oakes. She has 16 years experience in this highly specialised and valuable field, and has a wonderful website called Sacred Window which I highly suggest you visit. You may like to read through the free articles or even sign up for some distance study.

I'll write more about my post-natal experiences, care and learnings after my baby is born, but for now I want to emphasise the importance of considering your post-natal needs before your baby is born, because chances are you won't have a spare second to think about your needs afterwards if your support mechanisms aren't already in place.

Here are some things you may want to include in your post-natal plan:

Phone numbers

Make a list of phone numbers of people who can support you. I suggest you have ready:
  1. 24 hour breastfeeding helpline (1800 686 2 686 in Australia)
  2. Lactation consultant for one on one support if needed (you'll need someone local, and don't just depend on your hospital, they sometimes aren't that well qualified)
  3. 24 hour health advice helpline (1800 022 222 in Australia)
  4. Three like-minded friends who have had babies within the last year
  5. Professional supports (maybe your midwife, obstetrician, doula, pediatrician or childbirth educator)
  6. Depression helpline (1300 22 4636 in Australia)
  7. Phone numbers of friends who have offered to be part of your village
Village

We seem to have forgotten that it takes a village to raise a child and even mum's often think they should be able to do it on their own. If you look at childbirth anthropologically most traditional cultures offer new mothers a 'sacred window' for healing and bonding and becoming a mother. This time is usually about 4-6 weeks, but may be longer after a difficult birth or shorter if poverty requires.

During this 4-6 weeks the new mother should be excused from cooking, cleaning and shopping, so she can focus all her energy on her own rejuvenation and caring for her baby. A stressed, exhausted or unhappy mother can't be the best for her baby.

Before your baby is born is the time get to know your neighbours, and have a baby shower where friends give you meal vouchers, shopping vouchers or cleaning vouchers instead of more and more baby clothes. If you have older children try and arrange a village for them too. Someone to bring them a gift or take them to the park or help you out at difficult times of day like getting them to school or into the bath.

Visitors

It often helps to set some guidelines about visitors before they turn up on your door step expecting your hospitality. Choose a time of day when you would most like to see people and set up "visiting hours" like a hospital. Some mothers like company during the day so they don't get lonely when their partners are at work, others prefer visitors when their partner is home so there is less pressure on the mother to play good host.

It often helps if mums make it clear they are resting by wearing pyjama's even when visitors come. I have bought and been given a few lovely sets of pyjama's to wear during my first two weeks after the baby is born. That way I immediately set up my visitors with realistic expectations of my ability or willingness to look after them. Hopefully visitors will be more inclined to make the tea or bring a casserole without having to be directly asked. We've got to put an end to this super woman image and admit that our babies would be much better off if us mums accept a bit more support.

Stability

Post-natal is all about CHANGES. It's take nine months for your uterus to grow a baby, then just 6 weeks to return to it's original size. Mothers lose litres of blood and fluid and kilo's of baby giving birth. Not to mention the emotional, spiritual and mental changes that accompany becoming a family.

What most mums really enjoy now is a bit of routine. Try to have regular meal times, go to bed and get up at reasonable times (even if you nap during the day) and allocate a time so that you can shower/brush teeth/get dressed/put contact lenses in... at the same time every day. Some families really enjoy it when dad gets up early to have a long bath with the baby before work so that mum has time to attend to her own basic needs.

Dietary needs

See Ysha's website for full details on an Ayurvedic post-natal diet, but here are the basics. Food should be warm, soupy and easy to digest. Naturally sweet foods are most important for the first few days like rice pudding, jaggary, porridge and dates. As appetite dictates start having more soups building up to stews and when really hunry introduce more solids like unleavened breads, blanched almonds and dhal. Key spices include warm sweet spices like fennel, fennugreek, cardomom, cinnamon and cloves. Ghee and well cooked garlic are a very important part of your staple diet - eat them every day. Ayurveda considers warm, spiced, organic, unhomogonised milk to be an ideal food for new mothers.

Social needs

I will be staying at home with my baby for a minimum of two weeks after the birth. If I feel the baby or I need more time or the weather is bad I will extend that time. After six weeks most new mums are ready to get out and about a bit more, but often don't know where to start, as most of the social things that we do before we have babies are no longer relevant or possible in our culture. Don't wait until you feel lonely or isolated to set up social networks, do it before the baby is born:
  • Ring your local government, PCYC, library or community centre and ask them what services they offer for parents of young children
  • Find out about local playgroups and mums groups and attend them whilst you are pregnant to meet a few other mums
  • Consider post-natal exercise classes like yoga, physio or hydro-therapy, particularly ones that let you bring your baby
  • Cinema's often have cry baby sessions during the day to take baby's to and some cafe's seem to attract new mothers
This is such an important and neglected area of women's health that I feel I could write many pages more. I'll write more over time, but this is enough for a start. For more specific Ayurveda information I can't rave about Sacred Window enough, please visit this website if you or someone you love is expecting a baby!

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