When you arrive home from the hospital after a C-section, you will still be recovering from major surgery, but with a baby in tow. You might be dealing with the tricky newness of breastfeeding, the post-pregnancy hormone drop, and all of the emotional overwhelm that comes with a whole new person to love. Odds are you will be moving slowly as you heal and feeling groggy from painkillers and sleep deprivation.
It’s a lot at once, at a time when you really need to rest. Planning ahead and getting support systems in place before your birth is so much easier than fumbling through it in the moment, when you’ve already hit your breaking point. Now is the time to practice asking for help, especially for those of us who find it hard to do so.
Ask for help.
Here are some good logistical challenges to think about as you make a postpartum plan:
- Who is going to feed you?
- Who will take care of your pets while you’re in the hospital, and feed and walk them when you’re healing at home?
- Who is going to help with older kids? It may make sense to break this down further: Who will watch them while you’re in the hospital? Drive them to school? Play with them? Do bedtime?
- Who is going to do the dishes, the laundry, and keep the house (sort of) clean?
- Who’s going to drive you to the two-week postpartum appointment?
- How are you going to take breaks? What is something you want to make sure you still do, or someone you want to be sure to still see after? Little 20-minute pockets of time can pull you back from the brink.
If you have a partner or a friend or family member staying with you those first few wobbly weeks, they will be doing most of these things. But if anyone reaches out offering help and they mean it, nominate them for one of these jobs. If you have a big kid, a perfect favor to ask for is to have a friend take your kid on an outing or playdate — anything to help them feel special and beloved during a time of big adjustment.
Have your support system at the ready.
Consider writing these names and numbers down and hanging them on the fridge or saving them on your phone and sharing them with your partner or a close friend or family member.
Make a plan for if you’re in pain or if you feel something is not right physically. You’ll probably be sent home from the hospital with a packet of seemingly useless information, but in there will be reasons to call the doctor before your follow-up appointment. Keep it handy. If you have a partner, go over this info ahead of time and make sure they have your doctor’s number, as well as the number, location, and hours of your pharmacy.
Who are you going to call if the baby is sick or is doing something that worries you? Make sure someone close to you knows the process for getting in touch with your pediatrician so you don’t have to spend an already stressful moment figuring it out. (NB: Stuff like this tends to crop up in the middle of the night, and the person working the nurse line at 3 a.m. will be very reassuring and not make fun of you for calling for a ridiculous reason. There is also no such thing as a ridiculous reason.)
Therapist or psychiatrist
Who are you going to call if you feel anxious, depressed, or have a hard time coping emotionally? If you don’t have a therapist, your OB-GYN is the person to call. We promise they will know what to do. Not everyone is comfortable talking about depression or anxiety, and if that’s you, it’s good to have a sheepish conversation with your partner or loved one ahead of time so it’s less scary in the moment.
If mental health stuff is something you’ve dealt with before (Hi, you’re not alone!), consider reaching out to a therapist and setting up a check-in appointment for four to eight weeks postpartum. You will be glad you did.
Who’s going to help you with any body-feeding issues you might have? Whether it’s via Facetime with a friend who has had four kids already or a private lactation consultant, it’s good to have backup. Learning how to feed a baby from your body comes with a major learning curve, but the people who work in this field tend to be really soothing, no-nonsense people who would be very comfortable seeing your nipple.
Prep your home.
Create baby care stations around the house.
When you’re recovering from a surgery, it’s extra important to avoid too much strenuous activity. You’ll also find yourself pinned under a sleeping or feeding baby and desperate for a drink of water or a phone charger more than you can imagine now.
One thing lots of new parents recommend is setting up a couple of baby (and mom!) care stations in a few places in your house. Chargers, water bottles (breastfeeding makes you crazy thirsty), one-handed snacks, nipple cream, diapers — basically anything that means you won’t have to get up more than necessary.
Consider adding other sleeping options.
No one knows just how often we use our abdominal muscles like a post-C-section parent, and getting up out of bed is one of the trickiest maneuvers. If you have a really high or really low bed frame, consider setting up a sleeping area elsewhere in the house where you can doze sitting up. Recliners are perfect for this if you happen to have one, but plenty of people sleep on the couch for the first week while they heal. Just try to remember it’s temporary.
Freeze meals ahead of time.
If you find yourself with extra time and nervous energy during late pregnancy, preparing and freezing some of your favorite meals ahead of your delivery would be a major gift to your future self. Familiar, pre-made meals at a time when you’re still healing and your hands are full are great to have in the weeks and months following the birth. It’s one less thing to do when you’re already short on sleep and sick of takeout.
If someone offers to set up a meal train for you, let them.
For the love of God, let people bring you food. Trading a hot meal for access to a fresh baby is one of civilization’s most beautiful traditions. If anyone nudges you to start one, build it yourself. There are plenty of websites that do this for free. Some ask for food preferences, ideal drop-off days and times, and whether or not you’ll be up for a hangout.
Some of our best memories are meals we had brought to us postpartum, and the way we got to sit on the couch and hold the baby, sharing little details of our birth story, as friends met this new person we brought into the world.
Letting other people take care of you might not be something you excel at, but the vulnerability of new parenthood is a crash course in learning to accept help. Anything you do ahead of time will help make the tender, challenging time of postpartum feel that much more doable.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at 1-888-724-7240 or Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.