The new parents’ not-to-do list

I see that more than the usual number of days have passed since the last blog post. Several times over the last week I have thought about sitting down to write something, but other activities have always taken precedence.

For me, the excuse is not “I was sitting on the couch feeding the baby.” Many new parents, however (especially new moms), have exactly that excuse for explaining with they did not [return the boss’s phone call] [send out the baby announcements] [fill in the blank with another task].

Sadly, many new mothers (especially in our get-it-done culture) feel guilty for not immediately getting “back to their lives.” I believe they do themselves and their nascent families a great injustice. There is a reason why so many cultures create a sacrosanct space around the first 40 days or so (about 6 weeks) of a mother’s time with her new baby. While the traditions can seem quaint or even backward (as described in a recent article), I think modern moms would do well to follow the intention behind these customs. Here’s why:

1) REST. So many of us are unable to do what we need to do to take care of our health unless forced to do so. When you have a newborn–and especially when you’re breastfeeding–it’s not just your own health that’s at stake. My own postpartum doula told me something that has stuck with me for 13 years: “Sleep makes milk.” I liked the simplicity of it, and physiologically, it’s true. Your body produces greater quantities of prolactin, the milk-making hormone, when you’re sleeping.

2) HELP. As with self-care, too many moms are unable to ask for–or even accept–help with the tasks around caring for a newborn. I often encounter couples who want the first few weeks to be a romantic bubble around mom, dad, and baby. What they don’t realize is how grueling it can be to care for a newborn (sorry to those of you who have not yet given birth) and how this hope too often leads to dad morphing from a loving partner into the errand-runner. Take all the help you can get: from letting people make meals for you to tossing in a load of laundry and swabbing down the bathroom. If your relatives will be more of a hindrance than a help, have discussions with them beforehand about your expectations, and be prepared to set limits. If you can afford it, hire a professional postpartum doula.

3) NO SEX (!?) This prohibition is as likely to come from the medical community as from tradition. Your obstetrician or midwife usually recommends abstaining from sexual activity until after your 6-week postpartum checkup. Of course, even after you’ve been cleared for action, most moms don’t magically start feeling like their old frisky selves on day 43 postpartum. As with all the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, this is a process. Assuming you and your partner are in it for the long haul, there’s nothing wrong with waiting until you feel healed in more than the physical sense. And of course there is no prohibition against snuggling, cuddling, and smooching!

These “not doing” prescriptions can be hard to follow, especially if you have been accustomed to crossing things off your to-do list. If you absolutely must have a to-do list in the early weeks postpartum, please make sure it contains only these three items:

  1. EAT
  2. SLEEP

I guarantee that sticking to this for the first couple of months will get you back to feeling like your old self sooner than if you try to act like your old self right away.

— Audrey

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