How to be a positive birth partner. Part 3: after

Wow, well that was… just wow. One minute she was pregnant and the next there was another little person in the room. Everything in the universe shifted up a bit and settled itself down a bit to the left to make room for this tiny VIP. And then, after a moment of calm, this brave new world began in earnest.

Those first few minutes, hours, days and weeks are amazing and stretching. It can be hard to know what to do to help and tricky not to feel a little excluded at times. Here are a few suggestions; things that people I’ve worked with have found helpful while adjusting to life with the most wonderful and baffling person you’ve ever met.

1. In the first hour after birth protect mother and baby’s time to bond with little disturbance, not too many bright lights or questions and maintaining skin to skin contact. Think of your role as guardian – there will be lots of time for cuddles very soon, but that first hour of mother/baby time is important, especially when a she plans to breastfeed.

2. If that isn’t possible (and you’ve checked that it really isn’t possible, not just protocol) then take lots of pictures of anything the new mother is missing out on. Ask if you can have skin to skin contact with the baby until she’s feeling up to it.

3. If breastfeeding, remind everyone that it’s normal for a newborn to do lots of licking, rooting and exploring before latching on. Latching on naturally, rather than breast applied vigorously to face can help babies have a better latch and a better relationship with feeding. I find “he’ll do it in his own time” is a handy phrase to have up your sleeve.

4. Hopefully you’ll have had some good information about breastfeeding beforehand and will have resources like Kellymom, La Leche League and maybe a copy of The Food of Love to remind you both about what is important (and what isn’t) when establishing breastfeeding. Do have a look at Biological Nurturing‘s vision of laid-back breastfeeding too.

5. If she’s having pain whilst feeding, feels unconfident or you feel unconfident then get thee to a breastfeeding drop-in group forthwith. It can feel like a massive effort on day 3 post-birth, but 30 minutes with a breastfeeding counsellor often resolves things that seemed unsurmountable the night before. Seek help at the first sign of things not being 100% plain sailing.

6. Take time for yourself to develop things that are special between you and your baby. Bathing (why not bath with your baby rather than faffing with a baby bath?), changing nappies, rocking to sleep can be great ways of developing your own relationship. The Social Baby book is worth a read so that you can become an expert in what your baby is try to communicate to you.

7. Protect yourselves from too many visitors too soon. It’s ok to ask people to leave when you’ve had enough, or to postpone visits if you’re having a tricky day.

8. Expect some mood swings, tears and general nuttyness. It’ll be even more pronounced in the new mother, but you’ll probably find you experience a good deal of this yourself. It’s a big transition. Cut yourselves some slack, don’t worry about anything that isn’t 100% essential and pounce on offers of help with cooking, cleaning etc at all times.

9. Get prepared for the fact that if a woman is breastfeeding she will need a large glass of water placed within reach at all times. Extra points are dished out for those who remember chocolate, remote control and magazines.

10. Practice listening without trying to fix things. Sometimes women just need to have a bit of a vent and they’ll feel better. They’ll soon let you know if what they require is solutions rather than gentle support.

11. Sleep when you can and encourage her to do the same. Accept there may have to be adjustments to the planned sleep strategy (such as starting  co-sleeping or sleeping in shifts).

12. Practice the phrase “that’s an interesting perspective, we’ll certainly look in to it” for when screeds of well-meaning, conflicting and occasionally upsetting advice is dealt out by family, friends and occasional random strangers with boundary issues. You know yourselves and your baby best. If you are happy with something and it works for you, go with it. If it becomes an issue you can change it then.

13. If your partner in birth is also your partner in love, give her time to adjust to motherhood and what her body has been through. Sex will be part of your lives again and much affection in the meantime keeps you close until she’s ready.

14. Think about investing in a babywearing device – they are sanity-saving for many. More about babywearing here.

15. Find someone who’s interested in listening to how you are doing with all this new baby stuff. You might find your doula is perfect for this.

As ever, feel free to ignore any or all of this if it doesn’t feel right for you and your new family. If you haven’t seen them already have a look at Part 1 and Part 2 for tips on before and during the birth. Enjoy!

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