Many of us have heard about birth plans and the importance of writing one. But how often, if ever, have you heard of writing a postpartum plan? In my opinion, taking the time to create a postpartum plan is just as important as putting your wishes for your birth into words. Stephanie already provided a comprehensive introduction to what to expect and plan for in normal postpartum recovery. But what if things don’t go as expected?
Although my husband and I had made some arrangements for the postpartum period, such as preparing and freezing meals ahead of time and hiring a postpartum doula, many of these things were based on assumptions we didn’t even know we held – first and foremost among them, that I wouldn’t develop postpartum depression. After this experience, I realized that while a postpartum plan is essential for those of us who have survived a perinatal mood/anxiety disorder (PMAD), it really should be de rigueur for all moms. A thorough postpartum plan should have two “levels,” so to speak: an outline of what you would like to happen if you don’t face any unforeseen complications, and a contingency plan in case you develop a PMAD. This is similar to including a section in your birth plan on your wishes in the event you need a Cesarean or your baby needs to go to the NICU. Hopefully, you won’t need to access this portion of the plan, but it’s a good idea to be forearmed.
So, what are some things all mothers-to-be can do to help ensure that if they do develop PPD, they won’t be swept completely off their feet?
First and foremost, you and your partner should become familiar with PPD and other PMADs. Educate yourself about the risk factors – do any of them apply to you? If so, is there anything you can do to mitigate the risk? (Understand that even if you do take mitigating steps, you may still develop PPD, and if you do, it’s not your fault.) Learn about the symptoms of PPD and other PMADs, and review common myths about PPD. Because an ill mother may not always be able to identify her experience as PPD, your partner should be well-versed in early warning signs so that he or she can spot any symptoms and help you seek treatment as early as possible.
Discuss with your partner what you may need him or her to do if you become ill; ensure that the two of you are on the same page. If there are other loved ones you feel you can turn to for support if you develop PPD, enlist them as well and provide them with information about the illness and how you would like them to help if necessary.
Find a peer support group in your area and attend one of the meetings. This way, you will be able to meet the group facilitators and will already have a relationship with the group should you need to attend after your baby is born. If your area doesn’t have a peer support group (or even if it does), visit blogs, message boards, and other social media sites focusing on PPD, and introduce yourself; you will find a supportive online community willing to rally around you if you become ill.
Research local therapists who specialize in PPD; call a few and ask if they are accepting new clients, if they take your insurance, and any other questions you may have. If you are financially able to do so, begin putting aside money that can be used to pay for treatment should you need it.
If you had PPD or another PMAD with a previous baby, your plan can be more specific, to account for things that were your worst triggers or biggest challenges last time. For example, if you had difficulty breastfeeding and want to breastfeed your new baby, you might meet with a lactation consultant ahead of time to discuss the issues you faced and let her know you will be calling her as soon as possible after the birth. If the medication you needed last time necessitated a full 8 hours sleep to work properly, you might contact night nanny agencies and find a nanny you are comfortable with. Talk with your partner about specific ways you would like him or her to help and things he or she can say that you will find encouraging.
Although there is no way to know for sure whether you will or won’t develop PPD, having a plan in place can help those first few days and weeks be less chaotic if you do become ill. Hopefully, you won’t need to put your contingency plan into action, but if you do, you and your family can be confident that all the pieces are in place to facilitate a speedy recovery.
- Beyond Postpartum: Preparing for a positive postpartum experience after surviving a PMAD
- New mom and PPD support resources in Atlanta
- Atlanta Resources for Support and Care
- Postpartum Support International – Resources in Georgia
- Mental Health America of Georgia – Project Healthy Moms / Toll-free Project Healthy Moms Warmline: 1-800-933-9896 (x234)