With all the emotions and excitement after your baby's birth, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. That's why we put together the following postpartum checklist to help you organize the postpartum period before your due date and help you stay organized after your delivery.
- Schedule a postpartum visit. It's important after the birth of your baby to schedule a postpartum visit with your doctor or midwife. The ideal time for the exam is within four to six weeks after the birth of your baby (or as otherwise directed by your provider). This visit will generally include a routine pelvic exam and Pap smear . It's important to have this Pap smear screening now, especially because your last pap smear was likely obtained more than a year ago. This will become your "annual exam" time each year and will be easier to remember when planning future exams.
- Choose your baby's doctor. Now is a good time to start planning for your baby's future health care needs by choosing a doctor (pediatrician or family practitioner) for well-baby care. The ideal time to choose your baby's doctor is one to two months before your due date. This will allow you a chance to meet your baby's doctor, tour the office and meet the office support staff. The pediatrician or family practitioner will discuss with you and coordinate the baby's immunizations, which are an important part of your baby's preventive health care. Some immunizations begin shortly after the birth, so it is helpful to discuss this before the baby arrives, but especially important shortly after the baby arrives.
- Know your baby's immunization schedule. Your baby's ongoing good health is a priority, which is why it's important to keep well-baby checks and immunizations up-to-date.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Maintaining a well-balanced diet for yourself after the baby arrives is particularly important if you're breast-feeding. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water each day as this will help with milk production and keep your body well hydrated and minimize constipation. You'll also need to continue practicing a healthy lifestyle and avoid caffeine, cigarette smoking, alcohol and drugs. Discuss any dietary issues with your doctor or midwife, including the need for dietary supplements such as prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins are continued after your delivery, especially when you are breast-feeding. They will supplement your iron and vitamin stores and enhance the quality of your breast milk.
- Ease back into exercise. If you exercised regularly before and during your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife about the best way to ease back into your exercise program. Take it slow and follow their recommendations. You may want to return to your pre-pregnancy shape quickly, but keep in mind that your body needs time to recover.
- Get enough rest. Being well rested is best for you and your baby. Use your baby's nap time as an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation, not only to catch up with housework.
- Enlist support from family and friends. You are not superwoman. Don't be afraid to ask for help with cleaning, cooking or other children. Many times people want to help but don't know how. It is "OK" to tell them how best they can help you.
- Take care when putting your baby to sleep. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is a concern for many new parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy babies be placed on their backs to sleep, which helps reduce the risk of SIDS happening to your baby. Recent studies have shown a relationship between prone sleeping (sleeping on the stomach) and increase risk of SIDS. Be sure to talk to your baby's doctor about the best sleeping position for your baby.
- Educate yourself about breast-feeding. Breast milk is the ideal and most nourishing food for a newborn baby and infant. Many new mothers have questions about breast-feeding, including how to return to work and continue to breast-feed. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor or midwife any questions you may have. The nurses in the hospital where you deliver often have information or provide special support for breast-feeding postpartum. Lactation consultants are specially trained to help with difficult or unusual breast-feeding problems, troubles with the infant latching onto the nipple, or troubles with cracked and sore nipples. A list of lactation consultants in your area may be obtained from your doctor or midwife or from your birth center.
- Consider your baby's safety. Crib and car seat safety are crucial to new parents. Make sure your baby's crib meets current Consumer Product Safety Commission standards by visiting the CPSC's Web site. The ideal time to have your infant car seat is before you deliver, even before or by 36 weeks. This will allow you and your partner time to practice proper placement of the infant car seat in your car. Local police stations may provide a "check the infant car seat placement" service free of charge. This is very helpful if you are not sure if you have mastered the proper technique.
While traveling, be sure to place your baby in a rear-facing car seat (one that meets current federal safety standards) in the back seat of the car — away from all airbags. For more information about car seat safety guidelines, visit the Web site of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Get health insurance for your baby. Check with your employer (or your partner's employer) for details on eligibility and what you need to do before and after the baby arrives to add the baby to your health insurance policy. Generally, new parents must enroll their baby within a very short time after delivery.
- Notify your primary care clinician if you developed any complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Some complications put you at risk for health problems in the future.
- Learn the symptoms of postpartum depression. More than half of all new moms suffer from the postpartum blues (or "baby blues"). This period is usually brief, and many mothers may feel mild sadness, irritability or worry, or even feelings of being inadequate as a mother of a newborn. Postpartum depression, however, is much more serious than the baby blues. Postpartum depression often does not go away on its own and can progress if it's not treated.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include (1) feelings of hopelessness or sadness most of the time; (2) a constant lack of energy, or difficulty enjoying things that used to be fun; (3) sleeping or eating too much or too little; (4) poor concentration or memory; (5) thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby; and (6) aches or pains that won't go away, but don't seem to have a cause. Talk to your doctor right away if you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression. Special counseling services can be arranged with the help of your doctor or midwife. Sometimes medication and counseling are necessary to help overcome severe postpartum depression.