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12 postpartum survival tips for easing into motherhood

No matter how repeatedly you read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the unexpected physical and emotional changes brought on by motherhood. Here are a dozen ways to make the transition to parenthood a little smoother:

  1. Seek help with breastfeeding. For a natural act, nursing can be quite frustrating at first. If your baby is having trouble latching on or isn’t urinating or defecating frequently, he or she may not be getting enough breast milk. A lactation consultant can help you and your baby master this skill together.
  2. Expect some soreness. Your whole body may ache after birth, especially if you labored and pushed for a long time and in different positions. Massage and gentle stretching may help. For genital pain, sitz baths and medicated pads can take the edge off. If your discomfort is interfering with your ability to care for your baby, try an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  3. Let others help. Don’t be a martyr and try to do it all. If you have family nearby, let them cook a few extra meals for you, run a vacuum over your floor or fold baby clothing. Friends can make drugstore trips, provide play dates for your older children and watch your baby while you sleep.
  4. Get enough rest. This isn’t easy when your baby is getting up three times a night to feed, but if you can get your rest in little dribs and drabs, you may be able to piece together enough sleep to function reasonably well. When your baby takes a nap, take one also. Or simply go to bed whenever he or she does—even if it’s at 7:30 p.m.
  5. Accept ambivalent feelings. Despite what you see on TV, life with a new baby is not fully euphoric. You will probably experience the “baby blues” for the first few days after birth (because of a drop in hormone levels). Becoming a mother is a huge step—and your feelings are normal. Know that you can love your baby and still feel conflicted about your new status as a parent. One caveat: If you’re having troubling thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, get psychological counseling immediately.
  6. Schedule time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty if every waking moment isn’t devoted to your precious bundle. It’s not only OK to take time for yourself, it’s necessary. Shower and put on a little makeup every day. Get out of the house once in awhile for a haircut, a manicure or just a stroll through the mall. Your mental health will benefit enormously.
  7. Avoid rushing back into intimacy. Besides the fact that your body needs to heal, your emotions may be in a tailspin right now. Take some time to just cuddle with your partner. If you do feel up to intercourse, use plenty of lubrication since nursing can cause vaginal dryness. But don’t forget—another pregnancy is possible in the first weeks and months after birth.
  8. Accept your husband’s parenting style. Try not to be territorial about the baby. Let Dad have a go at bathing, dressing and caring for your child while you shower or nap. If he gets the baby’s onesie on backwards or holds him or her in a position that seems awkward to you, resist the urge to correct him. He’s doing things his own way—neither right nor wrong.
  9. Let things go. It’s ironic that the birth of a baby makes your phone ring off the hook—just when you may least feel up to making conversation! Disconnect the phone if you’re busy taking care of your baby or let voice mail take calls. Don’t worry if your carpet is looking shabbier than usual. The laundry can wait, too. It’s more important to rest and spend time with your baby than to try to keep up with chores and other demands.
  10. Eat well. It’s tough to keep up with those sterling eating habits you acquired during pregnancy once you’ve got a baby who doesn’t want to be put down. Try to have a few weeks’ worth of healthful meals stocked in the freezer before you deliver, so all you have to do is defrost and add a salad. You can also ask your husband to help keep some finger foods nearby for you. Hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots, cheese cubes and grapes are a few examples of things you can munch if you have just one hand free. While you may be anxious to start dropping pregnancy weight, you need adequate nutrition right now—especially if you’re breastfeeding. Do choose foods low in fat (particularly saturated fat), but don’t skimp on calories.
  11. Exercise. As soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, do some form of physical activity every day. It will energize you and help banish depression. But you don’t have to jump right back into an intensive workout schedule to get health benefits. A walk around the neighborhood will clear your mind and accelerate weight loss until you’re ready for more. Check out your local gym for postpartum fitness classes—some even include babies in the exercises.
  12. Trust your instincts. All the baby books in the world can tell you how to be a mother, but only you know your baby and what he or she needs. If something works for you, do it (even if your mother or mother-in-law says she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing such a thing when her babies were born). A happy, healthy baby is all that matters.