When a couple becomes engaged, it is normal for them to spend months planning and preparing for their beautiful wedding day. A wedding is a very special occasion, but do you know what’s more important than a beautiful wedding? A beautiful marriage. The same can be said for parents. As a doula, I know that many parents think about and prepare for the labor and birth of their child. But when it comes to thinking about their postpartum time and parenthood, it doesn’t get as much thought or attention. Why is this, I wonder? The child’s birth is such a short period of time compared to parenthood. And the postpartum period is the first stepping stone into that new chapter of life. This is why I encourage and am passionate about parents creating a postpartum plan. Just like you create a birth plan, a postpartum plan is equally as important, if not more so, to the parents-to-be. But how do you make a postpartum plan? What should be included? Here is what you should think about and consider.
Writing a postpartum plan
A postpartum plan is a written document that you prepare with your partner to express your goals and preferences for life during the first weeks and months with your new baby. This document can contain information about visitors, meal preparation and chores, self-care, childcare responsibilities, and more. You can also consult with a postpartum doula when creating your postpartum plan. After making your first draft, ask her if there is anything else that you might want to include that you hadn’t thought of.
Don’t take the word “plan,” too literally.
Before you begin your postpartum plan, I’d like to mention that you must remain flexible. Just like you will need to be flexible with your birth plan, you will also need to be flexible with your postpartum plan. Even if things go exactly as planned and expected, it’s still a good idea to write one. The reason is, it’s a designated place for you to organize your wishes and makes you think about things that you might not have thought of before. However, more than likely, something will come up that you did not expect or prepare for. For example, if your baby cannot latch properly while breastfeeding, if you (the new mom) experiences postpartum anxiety or depression, or if the baby needs to go to the NICU. It’s good to know your options and know that there is help. The act of writing a postpartum plan educates you on your options, what’s available to you in your area, and ultimately makes you a more prepared and empowered parent. In my opinion, it’s always a good idea to have a team, structures, and resources in place if things don’t go “as planned.”
What to Include in Your Postpartum Plan
1. Parental Leave
The first thing that you must plan together as a family is who will be staying home with the baby and for how long. If you both work outside of your home, talk to your HR department to learn about your maternity leave or parental leave. Talk to your coworkers to ensure that everything is handled while you are away, so you are not bothered during this time. I cannot stress this enough: parental leave is not a vacation! This is a very sacred time that you need to heal and learn about your baby. It’s also the time for your baby to learn about you.
To all the dads: You will never get this time back with your family. Your partner and baby need you now more than ever. Don’t let your coworkers make you feel guilty or “weak” for taking time away to be with your newborn. This is when you need to bond and learn how to parent this new child together. Ask if you have parental leave and push for as much time off as possible. You will never regret it. I know many dads usually try to take two weeks off — using any parental leave they have plus vacation time if they must — to bond with mother and baby. If you have more time than that, take it!
Everyone is so excited to meet your new little one! But visitors can take a real toll on you both. First, talk about if you want any visitors in the hospital. (This is obviously before the pandemic. People must now wait until you are home to meet the baby.) Then, talk about when you feel comfortable having visitors and how many you want per day. Some families are comfortable with one or two, and other families only want one visitor every other day. It all depends on how you feel and what you are most comfortable with.
Another thing that you need to discuss is how long do you want your visitors to stay? 30 minutes? An hour? Several hours? There is no right or wrong answer. You may also change your mind on this length after your newborn arrives, which is okay! Just make sure that you both are on the same page and create a code word or phrase to remind your partner that it’s time for your visitor to go if they are lingering a little too long.
There is also no shame in asking for help from your visitors. Think of a list of things they can do that you would love their help with, and keep that list pinned to your fridge. Some ideas are emptying the dishwasher, holding the baby as mom goes to take a shower, running some errands for you on their way over, spending some solo time with your older children, etc. Real friends that matter don’t mind helping, and friends that mind shouldn’t matter.
3. Parenting Roles
I find that soon-to-be parents don’t talk enough about parenting roles. You may have certain expectations from your partner as a parent. Maybe you expect him to get up in the middle of the night with you to help with the baby. Maybe you expect him to prepare the meals for the family for the first two weeks. He might expect you to exclusively breastfeed or do all of the childrearing responsibilities. You must talk about your parenting roles and share what you both think your parenting roles should be.
It’s common for people to assume that what their parents did growing up is what every family should do. But every family is different, and all of our circumstances are unique. Discuss who will help with changing the diapers, feeding the baby, bathing the baby, burping the baby, getting groceries, housekeeping, taking care of the bills and finances, etc. You will both feel better knowing what you can do to help your family during this big family milestone.
4. Rest & Sleep
As soon as you welcome your baby into the world, your life will morph into your baby’s schedule. This consists of a lot of sleeping, feeding, and pooping. Newborns require constant love and attention, oftentimes at night, and it can become exhausting for any parent every morning, noon, and night. This is why you need to think of who can help you during the first few weeks with the baby.
- Who can help you in the morning time?
- Who can help you in the afternoons/evenings?
- And who can help you overnight?
- Is there anyone who can “move-in” for a week or two for extra support?
Write a list of people who can help, including what days and times they are available. They can be family members, friends, doulas, neighbors, members of your religious and/or community groups, etc. Try to line up this help ahead of time, so you don’t have to fuss with this after your baby arrives.
5. Food & Hydration
With baby requiring so much of your time and attention, even taking care of your basic needs, like showering, eating, and drinking, can become challenging. It may not seem like much, but holding, feeding, burping, changing, rocking, shushing, bathing, and swaddling leaves little time for anything else.
Before your baby arrives, think of meals that you can prepare beforehand and store in your freezer. This will allow you to have some delicious and nutritious meals ready within minutes. You can do this by preparing a menu or “double batching” when cooking your weekly meals. Also, think about restaurants that offer delivery and take-out and grocery stores that offer delivery or curbside pick-up. You can also create a Meal Train and ask your family members, friends, etc., to bring you meals after your baby’s arrival. Ensure that you list any diet restrictions, food allergies, or food preferences when setting up your Meal Train.
6. Breastfeeding/ Bottle-Feeding Support
The first few weeks of learning how to feed your baby can feel neverending. It’s a time when you and baby figure how what works best for you — breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, formula, pumping, or all of the above. None have to be exclusive. You can do a combination of them all. It’s all about doing what works best for you and your child. One day one method may work, and another day you may re-evaluate and choose something different. Every baby is different, and each situation is unique. It’s all about listening to your gut and heart.
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, wonderful! It’s important to surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable about breastfeeding and who are also supportive of your choice. Breastfeeding is a learned skill that doesn’t always come naturally. It’s something that you and baby both have to figure out. Along the way, you may experience engorgement, sore or cracked nipples, mastitis, a clogged milk duct, low milk supply, and more. Having a list of people or professionals that can help you can make the learning curve much easier.
If you choose to bottle-feed your baby, that’s also wonderful! Bottle-feeding is another learned skill that can also require a lot of trial and error. You have to choose which formula is best for your baby, the right bottle and nipple, the best holding positions, how much to feed your baby, how to collect, store, and prepare expressed breast milk, how often to pump, and more.
For your postpartum plan, think about people who:
- will support and encourage your infant feeding choices: friends or relatives
- are supportive, informed, and up-to-date about infant feeding choices: doctor, midwife, pediatrician, lactation consultants, and doulas
Also, make a list of local breastfeeding resources who can visit you, or you can go visit to help with infant feeding. Some great resources are:
7. Sibling Support
If this is not your first baby, make a plan for your older children as well. Who will stay with your older kids when you go into labor? I recommend having a few people on standby since they are essentially on-call day or night to come over and help. You don’t want someone to fall through, and that be the only person you were counting on.
Think about who can help you with your older children when you bring the baby home. Who will entertain them, make sure their meals are prepared, take them to school, etc.? Of course, you will want to do some of the activities yourself. However, you will need help since you will also be caring for a newborn. Write a list of people who are familiar with your older child or children or find a sibling doula who can come over while you are in labor. Whoever you choose, write out your child’s routine and any needs they may have. There will be so much change for the older siblings. Having them stay on their routine will provide some familiarity and consistency and a better transition for the whole family.
8. Pet Care
You don’t want to forget about your fur babies! Think ahead about who could come over and walk your dogs, feed your pets, let them out if they need to go outside to go potty, and give them their medications if they are on any, etc. This can be a friend, family member, neighbor, dog walker, or pet sitter. It is also a good idea to schedule some dog walking the first few weeks you are home, so your pups also get some fresh air and exert some energy.
If a friend or family member is going to help with your pets, it’s a great idea to give them a blanket that the new baby has slept on. They can then let your pets smell it and become familiar with the baby’s smell before you all come home. (Read here to learn how to introduce your pets to your new baby!)
9. Mommy and Daddy Time/ Me Time
While it is wonderful to connect as a family with the new baby, it’s also important to have some alone time. Whether you spend that time alone or alone together — just you and your partner — it will give you the mental break and connection you both need. Think about what calms you and what brings you joy. What makes you laugh? What do you enjoy doing that re-energizes and refuels you? Have your partner create a list as well. And think of a list of activities that you can do together. It can even be as simple as enjoying a sweet treat on the couch as you watch a movie together before bed. Make your lists, and then think about how you can make those things happen for both of you.
To make it possible, you’ll need to write out a list of people and their contact information who can provide some occasional childcare or help with the baby. This could be friends, family, and also professional childcare providers too.
10. Community Support
Now that you are bringing a baby into the world, you’ll want to make friendships with people who also have children. They will understand the crazy schedules and sleepless nights and normalize much of what you will experience. These could be neighbors, friends, or coworkers that you already know, or they could be people in a local mom’s group that you have never met before. Maybe you connected with one or two of the couples in your childbirth classes or parenting classes. Write a list of people who have young babies or of groups that you could join to build your mama tribe and support network. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re not alone going through the challenges and triumphs of parenthood. No one understands more than another new parent.
11. Mental Health Support
Something else that many expecting parents don’t think about — or don’t want to think about — when preparing their postpartum plan is mental health support. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) affect 20-25% of pregnant people and new parents. This is why it’s important to have some resources in place and a list of local mental health care professionals who have expertise in PMADs. Fortunately, perinatal and postpartum mood disorders can be treated. Depending on the severity, treatment can include self-care, social support, talk therapy, and medication when needed.
Many people don’t know that fathers can also experience postpartum depression. This is why your list should also contain resources, online and local, that can help you both during these times. Some great ones are:
12. Returning to Work
When you and/or your partner return to work, talk about what that transition will be like. Is it possible to ease in with a few days a week initially? It can be difficult for parents to leave their babies 5 days a week for work hours after spending weeks at home with their little one. Some couples also stagger their parental leaves, giving a longer amount of coverage before needing to find a daycare or nanny. Talk about your plan for when you or your partner goes back. Think about:
- Childcare options: daycare, babysitters, nannies
- Housekeeping and other chores
- What are your greatest concerns when returning to work?
- What are your partner’s concerns when returning to work?
Preparing for life with a newborn is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. By writing out your postpartum plan, you’ll feel more confident about what’s to come and how to handle the challenges new parenthood gives you. A prepared family is a confident family, and a confident family is a happy family.
To make it easier on all expecting families or newly postpartum families, we’ve made this extensive postpartum plan template just for you! Print it out, sit down with your partner, and go through it together. It lists everything that we’ve discussed here in this article so that you can easily write down your plans and preferences after you have your baby and keep everything organized. We hope this helps!