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The 'fourth trimester' and the importance of a postpartum plan

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(Image: Getty Images)
(Image: Getty Images)

In recent years, the idea of a birth plan has become high currency in the discourse of perinatal health. Women and birthing people are encouraged to put their 'wishlist' on paper of how they would like the birth of their child to go. The more detail the better.

The importance of such a birth plan cannot be undermined. If anything, its function is one of empowerment and affirmation for the birthing parent, one that allows them to be seen and heard, to feel confident that every one of the professionals on their birth team is on the same page as them. This is all well and good, but what happens when the baby is here? What’s the plan then? Here's why a postpartum plan is also important.

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Gone are the days when women and birthing people had a village of support to look after them so they could look after their babies. Nowadays, many of us live in nuclear households and are faraway from our extended families who would typically be the ones we rely on for this kind of support. Parenthood is a life-long journey and those first few weeks and months postpartum, just like birth, is the most vulnerable period of a new parent’s life. How they navigate that time could have a profound impact on their parenting journey. Yet we are not giving the same energy to postpartum planning as we are to birth planning.

Start with setting up your support structure

One of the key contributing factors to the rise in perinatal mood disorders is a fundamental lack of support for new parents. The first step in your postpartum planning is setting up your support structure. Here are some tips to guide you.

1. Who are your people?

Think of a handful of people who you know you can trust and who would be willing to help you in those first few weeks. Have a chat with each of them to see what their capacity is to help you. A few hours a day, 1 day a week, a few days a week? Also what are they willing to do; can they help out with your older children, can they do a grocery shop for you, housekeeping, cook for you, or simply come and hang out over tea and maybe look after baby whilst you sleep or shower? Choose your people wisely. If you don’t have a great relationship with your mother or mother-in-law, maybe ask them to help with more practical tasks like grocery shopping or spending time with the older kids. 

2. Team effort

If you're raising your child with a partner, then don't leave them out. In fact this planning should be done as a team with your partner as your first line of support.

3. Get comfortable asking for help and boundary setting 

Don't be afraid to ask for more help or to cancel your great auntie's visit for whatever reason. As long as the people in your support structure know where and when they have to be, it's ok if you let them know you don't need their help that day. Get your visitors to help out too. When baby has arrived, set up a WhatsApp group for all your friends and family (not just those in your support structure) as they will inevitably want to come and meet your new bundle of joy. Let them know what days and times are most appropriate for them to visit and ask them to message you before to check in if it's still ok for them to come. If it is and they come, you can ask them to help out with anything you need - takeaway food, some groceries, medication etc.

4. Manage your expectations

Most importantly, try to manage your expectations of what your support team are capable of. Many will most likely have children and family of their own, or need to work. This is why having an initial chat to see how and in what ways they can help is so important. Let it be on their terms so that it works for everyone, you can fill in the gaps with other people who are willing to help.

We've never needed to be pro-active with galvanizing support in the post-partum time: the village concept used to be inherent. But nowadays, this isn't the case for most and so galvanizing your village is the first step to getting the support you need.

Genevieve Putter is a postpartum doula and coach, writer and founder of The New Normal.

This post was sponsored by Panado and produced by Adspace Studio.

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