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No matter how many nieces you've babysat or all-nighters you pulled in college, nothing quite prepares you for the challenging first few weeks at home with your newborn. But taking care of yourself makes it much easier to nurture your baby. This timeline, which starts well before your due date, can help you accomplish both.
Think ahead Many women spend most of their pregnancy worrying about how they'll get the baby out and very little time contemplating what they'll do once he arrives. Big mistake, says Philadelphia doula Jacqueline Kelleher, author of Nurturing the Family: The Guide for Postpartum Doulas (Xlibris Corp., 2002). Consider your and your family's basic needs--food, household tasks, newborn care, sleep, sanity--and who or what can help you meet them. Resolve to forget everything that isn't essential, such as a spotless house.
Divide up duties Your next step is to make a plan--subject to change, of course--with your partner, relatives and willing friends. For example, suggest that your mate tackle nighttime diaper changes while you handle the feedings. When people ask how they can help, be specific: Ask for a casserole or an hour of babysitting.
Consider a postpartum doula Uncertain how you'll trim your baby's nails or squeeze in a nap? Get doula referrals at your childbirth classes, hospital or pediatrician's office or at dona.org. "Whatever you need, from advice on infant care to making the transition to parenthood to getting some sleep, a doula can provide it," Kelleher says. If the price tag seems steep ($12-$35 an hour, depending on location), hire a postpartum doula for just a few hours a day or a few days a week until you get the hang of things.