5 ways to prep for the biggest role of your life: being a mom.
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
3. Make time for you
All the things you take for granted now—time to shower, to grab coffee, to visit your favorite websites—will be challenged. But don't let everything go completely. Self-care makes you more resilient and ultimately a better parent, notes Wroth. "You are the cornerstone in a unique way at this time for your family," she says. "As the cornerstone, you need the resources to be strong for yourself and your family." Kim Richardson, M.A., L.C.P.C., says new moms are often unprepared for how isolated they feel. The best remedy, she says, is brief and daily excursions to "connect with the world again." Use your time now to suss out places that are stroller friendly, such as the park, mall or a local coffee house.
4. Find fellow moms
Taking a class—childbirth education, infant CPR, prenatal yoga—is a great way to hook up with expectant peers. When the baby comes, these women will be a great social outlet (who else is available to chat at 7 a.m. on Sunday?), as well as a source of great tips and support.
You can also find new-mom groups through local hospitals, churches and community centers or via websites like Meetup. Beyond your mommy group buddies, Richardson advises identifying one or two seasoned "mentor moms" whose children are older and whose parenting style you admire. "One of the most important things you'll need to hear is 'You're doing a good job,' " says Barnes. "Find someone you trust who will say that regularly to you."
5. Stay connected to your partner
Caring for a new baby can feel like a relay race. Sure, you and your partner are tagging in and out, but you're barely touching, and that can fray a relationship. Before baby comes, develop a regular habit of plunking down next to your significant other on the couch each evening. Try a 10-minute hangout with your cellphones and the TV off, advises Cheri Augustine Flake, L.C.S.W., an Atlanta-based stress reduction therapist who runs new-mom workshops. "It doesn't matter what the conversation is about, as long as it's not a honey-do list or about the baby." After birth, sex may be the last thing on your mind, so this daily 10-minute hangout can be an important connection for both of you until you feel amorous again.
Katherine Bowers is a Boston-based health writer and mom of two.