It doesn’t matter how self-sufficient you are in the rest of your life—when it comes to having a baby, there is nothing like teamwork. The all-star crew that helped me through pregnancy and beyond included my husband; the women I met in childbirth class who sympathized about backaches and swollen breasts; the doula who taught me how to nurse my baby; and my sister-in-law, who filled my freezer with delicious homemade dumplings and soups.
“You want to go into motherhood feeling powerful and capable, and getting your support system in place early is key,” says Penny Simkin, a doula and author of The Birth Partner. “Going through pregnancy alone can be discouraging and can affect your judgment when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices.”
Later, women who receive extra support during labor give birth more quickly with fewer complications, have fewer Cesarean sections, require fewer painkilling drugs and report an overall happier experience. “Continuous emotional support throughout labor is more important than who provides it,” says Barbara Hotelling, president of Lamaze International. “It can be your partner, mother, friend or doula.”
The need doesn’t go away once you’ve given birth, either: One study found that 81 percent of mothers in peer-support groups were breastfeeding three months after giving birth, compared with 67 percent of breastfeeding mothers who didn’t belong to such a group. So tell friends and family that one of the best gifts they can give you is an hour or two of help to wash dishes, cook or watch the baby while you take a nap. Or hire a postpartum doula to take care of you while you take care of the baby.
Before you have the baby, gather your tribe: Find other women who are having babies. Get the phone number of childbirth-prep classmates, strike up conversations in your OB’s waiting room. If you miss that window, go to a mommy-and-me class. Babies don’t really need to play with each other, but mommies do.
—Vicki Iovine, author of The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy