Few events in life are as unforgettable as having a baby. But there are plenty of other days after the Big Day that aren’t rosebuds and rainbows. Suddenly, you’re adjusting to less sleep, a changing body, and to being cooped up with a little bundle of … demands?
Related: The New Mom Survival Guide
“There’s a psychological gestation to becoming a mother, just like there’s a physical gestation for the baby,” says family therapist Diana Lynn Barnes, Pys.D., co-author of The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters (Radcliffe). “You spend nine months focusing on the right stroller or crib, but what deserves attention is the strategies you can set up for coping with this major life transition.”
Nothing can prepare you fully—in fact, it’s part of the process to learn as you go. Still, it’s wise to consider in advance (aka before you’re sleep deprived) how your life will change—and what you can check off your new-mom to-do list now to make the transition that much easier.
1. Watch for signs of depression
Start by having your health care provider assess your risk for postpartum depression (PPD) now, so that you can make a prevention plan if necessary. You’re more prone to PPD if you or immediate family members have suffered past depression, anxiety or mental illness, if you’ve smoked during your pregnancy or if you’ve suffered a recent trauma or family stress. But anyone can be susceptible: after your baby is born, your hormones are roiling, your body is healing and you are very low on sleep. It’s a recipe for feeling blue. Healthy habits that you start prebirth may help you stay on an even keel: Studies showed omega-3 supplements, exercise and bright light are all beneficial, says Shelley Wroth, M.D., an OB-GYN at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. Wroth recommends all moms-to-be eat fish twice a week and women who are at a higher risk for PPD should aim for 3,000 milligrams of omega-3s daily.
2. Ask for help
Family and friends like to feel needed. Let them know the shower gift you’d appreciate most is food you can freeze or someone to coordinate a meal-bringing service; try Take Them a Meal. (Psst! It’s great to have the deliveries kick in a couple of weeks after your baby is born and immediate family has cleared out.) Also consider hiring a pro. “Women are not meant to go through motherhood alone,” says Nicole Tengwall, a birth and postpartum doula in Annapolis, Md. Laundry, meal preparation and light errands are all fairly standard postpartum doula services. To find a postpartum doula, visit DONA International or Childbirth International’s Find a Doula. Help like this is especially handy if you’re recovering from a Cesarean section because you’ll be unable to lift anything heavier than your baby for six weeks. Research other lifesavers in advance—dogwalker, babysitter, lactation consultant—and tack up the list someplace visible.
Related: 4 Ways to Find The Perfect Doula