At Pregnancy After Loss Support, we have done our very best to help you navigate what was sure to be a challenging pregnancy after loss. But we would be remiss if, in all this preparation, we didn’t help you navigate what to expect – and what you might need – once your baby is in your arms and you are home recovering together.
Why we need to talk about postpartum recovery.
In truth, postpartum recovery is not talked about enough. As expecting moms, we prepare endlessly to reach each milestone in pregnancy. And (if we are feeling brave enough), research all the must-have baby gear and plan out the nursery. Then we do our best to figure out our hospital birth plans, schedule maternity leave and decide on key things like breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. All while desperately hoping we’ll get to keep our baby in the end.
But once your little one is here, the very crux of your wellbeing is a body that has been ravaged by fluctuating hormones, a delivery that pushed your endurance to the max, and chronic sleep deprivation. Add to that a complex emotional triad of joy, grief, and fear . . . perhaps colored by a healthy dose of trauma . . . and it’s clear that all may not be well just because this baby arrived safely to your arms.
In short, we need to talk about this because this fourth trimester is just as important and challenging as all the trimesters that came before.
What you may need to help you thrive as a postpartum mom.
The following are suggestions from our community about what they wanted or needed during their postpartum recovery:
It is probably no surprise to find that rest tops our list of must-haves in the postpartum period. After all, newborns are notorious for being poor night-sleepers. Of course, we do want you to get enough shut-eye at night. Decent sleep is physiologically necessary for healing.
But we also want you to experience the kind of rest when your whole body feels safe enough to completely let its guard down. When your mind stops racing. When you can let go of the need to be hypervigilant. This is also the kind of rest that can help you heal. (Note: If you feel you cannot rest or relax at all around your baby, we recommend talking to your doctor or therapist. You may be dealing with postpartum anxiety and could use some extra support. Be sure to read up about postpartum anxiety here.)
There are some steps you can take to help you achieve better rest. Consider investing in a sleep monitor for baby, such as an Owlet, so that you can rest and know your baby is safe. Find a trusted helper, such as a partner, family member or friend, you are comfortable entrusting with your baby while you rest. Practice the best sleep hygiene you can at night. (We totally get that sometimes, getting through nighttime is pure survival.) Follow the old adage: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Ask yourself, What do I need today from others to help me rest? Then take people up on their offers around the house, with errands, or bring meals. Almost everything else can be done by someone else but resting is one of the things that only you can do.
Many moms reported that they needed space after their baby was born. This means you might have to hold in balance each day what you need more: company, help with managing your other responsibilities, or simply a sacred space to be.
You may find that you need the quiet without the presence of others to give your emotions room to breathe. You may find that you resent anything that interrupts your time to bond with your baby. You may get frustrated “sharing” baby (which is completely legitimate). Perhaps you might need to just know that no one is placing any demands on you, and you can simply, sweetly be.
There can be such a thing as too much solidarity. Transitioning from frequently being around other people to staying home all day with a baby who can’t talk can get monotonous. Dare we say, at times it can seem even stifling? One of our writers sent out a post that promised baby snuggles and coffee for anyone willing to stop by once the first onslaught of visitors stopped. Sharing a cup of coffee or going out for a bit with someone you enjoy can be a breath of fresh air.
But community offers more than just amusement or distraction. Finding people who can relate to your experience of losing a baby, and then parenting another baby, can be a lifeline of hope. Whether you continue chatting with your loss friends, find online support such as our parenting after loss support groups, or even begin therapy, it’s important to find people you can share this roller-coaster of a journey with through postpartum recovery and parenting after loss.
Bonding time with your baby.
“I don’t want anyone else to hold my baby,” is a common sentiment among parents after loss. And for good reason. When you have experienced the loss of a child, then fought through every fear and every risk to get to the point of having them in your arms, you may feel like you never want to let go.
Your need for bonding goes deeper when you’ve previously lost. You may find that when you look at your sleeping child you see the visage of your baby gone-too-soon. You might be triggered by every milestone you are reaching with this child that you didn’t with your other child. It can be incredibly hard at some points to differentiate between your joy for this baby and your grief for your other baby. But both you and baby deserve the space to figure out this sacred dance of learning and loving each other.
Respect for your grief.
No child can replace another. Like in pregnancy, being a mom to this baby continues to be a balance of being grateful for the child in your arms while mourning those who are not. You have the right to feel more than one thing at a time. And you deserve the respect to safely express to others your joy and pain. Yes, you are celebrating. But you will always be a loss mom. Those around you need to support you in both. And you need to allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to feel without judgment.
We mentioned this before, but you deserve to have some help. No mother should have to do it all. And it can be incredibly hard to rest or to bond when you know other responsibilities are suffering. Now is the time to embrace as much support as you can.
One of the best ways to coordinate support so you get exactly the kind of help you need is through a service that helps you organize the meals and support you’ll receive. Our personal favorite is Give InKind, founded by Laura Malcolm, a mom who suffered the stillbirth of her first baby, Layla. She created Give InKind so that all support – from childcare to fundraising to meal planning – can be coordinated in one place. Create a page for yourself or ask a friend to create the page for you and be the point person for organizing the support you need.
When people say, “Let me know how I can help” – now you can. Just send them to your Give InKind page, where they can pick the kind of help that works for you both.
Low – ahem – no expectations.
Take your everyday expectations. Then lower them. Then lower them again.
Now is not the time to be Pinterest-worthy, clean to the max to host out-of-town guests, or set some big, professional goals. Now is the time to rest. Recuperate. Heal. Bond. And otherwise, do what needs to be done – and no more. Remember, this is a season. You can get back to your normal standard one day. But for now, let yourself off the hook.
Professional support for postpartum mental health.
Being a postpartum mom with a history of loss can put you at increased risk of postpartum depression, anxiety, or trauma. It can be hard to figure out what is just baby blues, what is grief, and what is depression. To help you sort through if you need additional mental health support, be sure to tell your provider what you are feeling. No one is there to judge you, only to offer you the support you need.
You have the right to have full disclosure about what support is right for you. From medicine (be sure to tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding), to support groups, to therapy, there are a lot of options for help. Also, you do not need to have a disorder to benefit from processing your experience with a licensed mental health counselor. (Preferably one who specializes in either trauma or perinatal support.)
Mental health struggles are not failures or faults – they are simply illnesses, like any other sickness in your body. You deserve all the help you need to be well.
Your 6-week checkup is not the only time you deserve some medical support to physically heal. When you leave the hospital, be sure to have a list of how to help heal any wounds you have, from episiotomies or tears to surgical incisions. Also, talk with the licensed lactation consultant and discuss your plans to breastfeed. If you struggle to breastfeed once you go home, contact a La Leche League International lactation consultant. If not breastfeeding, request tips for drying up your milk supply while relieving breast pain. Speaking of pain, be sure to stay on top of any pain using the pain management techniques and medications prescribed by your doctor.
Your nurse line is your best friend. Be sure to phone in if you have any postpartum recovery questions or concerns before your 6-week-checkup. For even more personal and tangible support, consider hiring a postpartum doula.
Acknowledgment from medical professionals that you are a loss mom.
From your nurses during birth to lactations consultants afterward, it can be incredibly validating when your providers acknowledge your status as a loss mom. You may find that letting them know your history allows them to be more sensitive to your needs. It may also help them include the memory of your child where they can, which can bring you much comfort knowing others are remembering your child with you.
There are some choices that are yours alone to make. And when it comes to your body, we fully support you making those choices. This is not the time to give in to social pressure to feed your baby a certain way or to stay covered up (or exposed) to make others happy. This is a time for you to do you. And for everyone else to support your choices.
Just as we asked you to bring along some hope to your first pregnancy appointment, now we’re asking you to offer yourself a lot of grace during this new season of parenting. You and baby are doing so much work – from learning to read each other’s cues to developing a life-long bond – and this is not always easy or natural. There will be lots of tears (and not just baby’s) and missteps and regrets. But this is about learning and developing – not performing or perfecting. With a little bit of humor and a lot of grace, this postpartum period can be one you’ll look back on with fondness.
Postpartum: A challenging and sacred season.
While this season can be particularly challenging, it can also be amazingly beautiful. You fought so very hard to get to this place, to nurture, love, and dote on this precious babe. We hope that the suggestions above will help you circumvent unnecessary challenges during your postpartum recovery. Promote your health and baby’s health. Give space to your love and grief. And help you get the kind of support you need to thrive.
Sending all our love and support to you and your beautiful baby.
- Ways to Bond with Your Baby Born After Loss
- What you need to know about perinatal and postpartum mental health disorders
- Breastfeeding 101: Learn the Basics of Nursing Your Baby Born After Loss
- Parenting After Loss: Making Space for Both Babies
- Postpartum Anxiety and Depression: What You Need to Know
- How to Cope with a Traumatic Birth After a Previous Loss and Where to Get Help