Updated: May 20, 2020
I was once a purist. That's why I had a home birth, baby carried, co-slept, and nursed on demand until my first daughter was 2 and a half. The crunchy mom gods of the internet would have been proud. After almost seven years and two babies later, things have changed.
They say you are the average between your two most opposite friends. One of my closest friends is a mom of 6 who has had one unmedicated birth followed by 5 very welcome epidurals. She formula feeds and lets her kids eat sugar and watch t.v. pretty much to their hearts content.
On the other side of the spectrum is my sincere crunchy mom friend. She has 2 kids because she would never want to unfairly populate the planet and if she had any more kids she would either foster or adopt.
She has had two home births and would never step foot inside of a hospital to give birth. She is the one who I would come to when I was researching and trying my damndest to apply attachment parenting, RIE, and all types of gentle parenting approaches. She's the one who would give me her leftover fruit-derived $10 a box food coloring from her daughter's rainbow (gluten, dairy-free) cake. My other friend would have birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese.
At the end of the day though, both of my very different friends, are great moms who love their kids with all their hearts and are doing their best to parent according to the dictates of their consciences. After 3 kids I can see the value of both of their ways. I think it is important to have ideals and standards that you want to stick to, but I also see the value in cutting yourself some slack.
That is why I put together a list of things that in my mind, (mostly) let you stick to your ideals, while maintaining your sanity during those first few postpartum weeks/ months.
1. Placenta Encapsulations
Placenta Encapsulations are a relatively new phenomenon in postpartum healing and more studies have yet to be done. Most of the evidence for their benefits is anecdotal. Anecdotal means based on the experience of others, which is what I like to know anyway. The reason I became a Postpartum Placenta Specialist is because of my own amazing experience with Placenta Pills.
I had a very long and arduous labor with my first child. After she was born, the placenta took a long time to come out and I had pretty severe postpartum hemorrhaging. The depletion I felt to my energy sources both emotionally and physically was pretty extreme. I had a severe case of the Baby Blues. I was weepy and emotional about everything and anything, and I was too tired to even sleep. As soon as I took my first few placenta pills, the old me was back. It was like magic. They worked so well that, even after I was officially out of the "postpartum period," my husband would suggest that I take my placenta pills whenever I would get edgy or emotional. (P.S. I AM NOT A DOCTOR. This is my personal experience and I am in no way diagnosing or stating that these pills will cure or treat any disease.)
It's important to know the difference between the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression, so if you're not sure, consult with your medical provider.
An elevated mood, (the most noticeable effect for me,) increased milk production, and more energy are all benefits that women experience after taking placenta encapsulations. Having your placenta encapsulated doesn't guarantee that you won't struggle during your postpartum period, but it's a gift from the baby that many women are grateful to have after the baby has been born.
2. Nipple Shields and Nipple Cream
After the baby is born, comes the task of feeding the baby. Many moms are surprised that nursing isn't as instinctual and easy as one would think it should be.
There is a myth circling around, that says that nursing shouldn't hurt, and if it does, it means that something is wrong. That is simply not true.
Most of the time there will be some pain involved. Nipples have to build up a callous to the baby feeding, and that can hurt during the first few weeks. Also when the milk comes in, typically around days 2-5 after baby is born, engorgement happens, and that leaves your breasts feeling extra tender.
Exhausted mothers recovering from the birth experience may be so challenged by the ordeals of breastfeeding, that they may want to give up. Using a nipple shield can provide a barrier between the baby's mouth and sore nipples. That little bit of relief can be a lifesaver.
It shouldn't be something that is used long term, but during those first few days or weeks, it can give mom a break.
Also, and almost more importantly, make sure you have some Lanolin on hand to use in between feedings. It heals dry cracked nipples and provides a moister barrier between the nipple and baby's mouth. You can nurse with it on as it is completely safe for babies.
In my experience, Lanolin works better than any other balm, no matter how organic, natural, and full of herbal extracts it is. Get you some. You will thank me later.
PLEASE READ: It is important to know the difference between "normal" pain and "abnormal" pain. "Normal" pain should only last a few seconds while the baby latches and should subside once the baby has latched. If the pain continues after the baby has latched, it is important to get some help, be it from a free La Leche League meeting or an IBCLC.
3. A Pacifier
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends holding off on introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established. This is because nursing works based on a demand and supply principle. The more baby nurses, the more milk is produced. So, if you are having issues with your supply, it might be wise to delay the introduction. But since I know you are a smart person with the ability to make wise choices, I suggest having a pacifier on hand right from the beginning, and then deciding whether to use it based on your particular situation.
The reason pacifiers work is because babies are born with a sucking reflex. Some babies even suck their thumb in the womb, my second baby did and didn't stop until he was a year and a half. When babies suck their thumb, their mother's nipple, and/or a pacifier, it calms them down.
Because babies use sucking as a way to calm down, they may get too much milk and air in their tummy. Using a pacifier can give baby's digestive system a break and help with tummy discomfort which is common while their digestive systems regulate and get used to eating. That can translate into less fussiness.
And that's it. A calm baby can mean a few extra minutes of sleep for mom and baby. It can mean a trip to the bathroom without the sound of a wailing baby. As long as it's something that is done carefully and it doesn't become a replacement for nursing, those calm moments can make all the difference between sanity and insanity for new exhausted parents.
Tips for picking a pacifier: An IBCLC once told me, find a pacifier that looks like what you would like your nipple to look like. That means something like this and not something like this. Another benefit to using choice number one is that it is one piece so there is no choking hazard.
If you can get yourself a Postpartum Doula, I would say, sell your car and get one, they are worth their weight in gold. But if you can't for any reason, (such as a stay at home order for a global pandemic), there are great videos that can help teach you some basic newborn care skills. Here are some of my favorites:
Breastfeeding videos, which teach you what a proper latch looks like and how to achieve it.
How to burp your baby properly. This helps with gas and fussiness, a common issue for newborns.
The Happiest Baby on the Block Summary. It explains the concept of the fourth trimester, which states that babies aren't born fully ready for the environment outside of the womb and gives great tips on how to recreate a womb-like environment to help baby feel comfortable in their new home.
All parents want to do the absolute best for their baby. Sometimes that means not relying on any "unnatural" things, like a pacifier, and SOMETIMES it means doing something that affords you a few minutes of silence so you can regroup and breathe. Finding a balance between self-sacrifice and self-care is a skill that will be called upon and refined for years to come. The postpartum period is a great time to start practicing it.
Luna Tomy is a Labor Doula in Las Vegas NV. She is a mother to three young kids. Providing
Virtual birth support has recently become her passion as she is able to see clients from anywhere in the world, including her hometown of Bogota, Colombia, and her old stomping grounds of Queens NY.
She can be reached HERE for questions or comments.