My world shrinks after having a baby.
Adding another human to the earth does increase the population, but for me it means that life will have to go on out there, fast, busy – and without us for a while. I feel like a mama chicken gathering her chicks under her wings and settling in for a cozy nap. Piano lessons, playdates, outings, extemporaneous sports and shopping largely take rain checks for a few months while we get used to the paradigm shift that happened in our family overnight. The youngest is no longer the youngest. Motherhood is new all over again. And Grandma has achieved a new level of sainthood. The basics become paramount for a while.
But that was then. Baby girl is six months old now.
I’m starting to stir from hibernation. I tried too soon, initially. We ventured out, my seven children and I, on a Walmart trip when baby was 13 days old – and came home with mastitis (that was not on the list). There’s an old adage “first week in bed, second week around the bed, third and forth week around the house.” I should have listened.
Nasty infection notwithstanding, this recovery from childbirth and the six months postpartum have been the easiest I’ve ever experienced. India is a dream baby. She sleeps 10-12 hours straight at night (and has since she was a month old!). She is fat and happy, and growing talkative when we get down on the floor to hang out. (She already talks twice as much as her brothers do!) I feel healthy and only a bit more discombobulated than usual (going from 6 to 7 kids isn’t really a major jump when you think about it.)
So here we are.
The house has taken on a beleaguered look from months of neglect and clutter.
The three year old has learned he can get away with much when mom is preoccupied with feeding the baby (Usually involving yogurt or sand, though he discovered the can of spray oil the other day, and now the calendar will bear his marks the rest of the year).
The older children have shirked their creative writing lessons under mom’s distracted eye.
The garden looks better on paper than in real life.
The chickens have tried to cross the road. (the question is, why?)
We now own a kitten.
Life is more disheveled than I would like. And loud. And expensive.
But we are getting used to our new normal.
Many people have asked what I really find necessary in the first days and weeks with a new baby. Creating a baby registry can be useful, but overwhelming. Some things my friends found indispensable just took up space in my house (wipes warmer, anyone?). Here’s a list of things that I’ve appreciated.
Food. If someone offers to bring you a meal, take them up on it. I like baking and cooking, but when I’m sore from the marathon of childbirth and running on negative hours of sleep, making decent food sounds like climbing Everest. I try to build up a stash of freezer meals before the big day, but we run through them fast. Also collecting some easy and healthy snacks (for myself and the older kids), even if I don’t normally buy as much prepackaged stuff, might keep us all from digging a half gallon of ice cream out of the freezer and handing out spoons (not that I would do that…)
A good water bottle. Normally, I have a glass sitting on the counter that I refill throughout the day. When a new baby comes, I need to drink a lot. (Water, people, I mean water.) But I don’t always think of it until I sit down to nurse. So keeping a nice water bottle handy makes that so much easier.
Arnica. Seriously. Why did no one tell me about this five babies ago?!? After pains are no joke. They can be worse with each baby. While I’m all about natural birth when possible, my medicine cabinet was going to be stocked to deal with the shock waves that come in those first few days after birth as the womb shrinks back to size. By baby number seven, I wasn’t planning on playing superhero, and had fresh bottles of Ibuprofen and Tylenol standing by . But this time I took Arnica over the first several days post-partum and didn’t even feel a need for any other pain killer.
Magnesium Citrate. In those first few days after childbirth, my midsection was reeling. It takes time for all the parts to get back to functioning normally. So you want to keep things moving as comfortably and smoothly as possible. I keep magnesium citrate in the cupboard for times like this, not only for after childbirth for me, but for my kids too. Its gentle, safe, relaxing, and a mineral our bodies tend to need more of anyway.
Lavender essential oil. Speaking of relaxing, lavender pretty much wears the crown. Diffuse it, dab a bit on your temples (or your kids) when life needs to come down a notch, put a drop on a washcloth and throw it in the dryer to sweeten the laundry. It is generally considered safe during pregnancy and around new babies (though it isn’t recommended to ever put essential oils directly on young children without diluting with a carrier oil). Several times it saved me from blocked milk ducts. I massaged a drop onto the lump, and it helped break up the blockage. It didn’t prevent the round of mastitis I had after India was born, but it helped several other times to keep lumps from developing into infections. Definitely worth having a bottle handy.
A good night light. When you have a baby, you will stop sleeping. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that extreme, but you are going to get less sleep. If you’re like me, when you do sleep, you like your room dark. The conundrum then is how to find the baby in the middle of the night without tripping on the cat, or the laundry pile, or a Lego creation (hypothetically of course). This light is perfect. It lives next to my bed. If I need it, I just have to feel around and tap the top of it. If I want to take it with me, it can come off the charging stand and have hours of power. It’s adjustable. All at a touch. It would work great for a child’s night light, but I haven’t wanted to give it up yet.
Witch hazel and sitz bath herbs. So you’ve just been through war. Or at least your lady parts have. So treat them right. Soak some cotton with witch hazel and dab gently every time you visit the bathroom. It soothes and helps heal. So do sitz bath herbs. My midwife gave me these, and though I found it challenging to take time for it, they really did help the two times I went to the effort. Make a shallow bath or use one of those toilet inserts and sit in it. It helps.
A belly wrap. For some reason this isn’t talked about more, but those muscles that have been stretched for 9 months could use some help getting rehabilitated. If you don’t want to leak every time you laugh or cough for the rest of your life, you’ll have to fix Diastasis Recti. I don’t recommend intense exercise (in fact, you should never do crunches if your tummy muscles are separated since it will actually make the separation worse!), but a snug wrap post-partum will start you on the right track. It’s not just for appearances. I noticed much less back pain after the births when I started wearing something like this. (When you feel up to exercising, doing some squats, if you engage your tummy muscles, will help too).
A manual pump. I have used a big double electric pump after each baby. If I had to pump exclusively, I would definitely continue with one. But after this birth, I got a simple manual silicone pump. It is cheap and simple. I’ve used it to catch the let down or pump to relieve engorgement. It is so much easier to grab as I’m sitting down to nurse the baby anyway; way easier than pulling out and assembling the whole electric rig. I have been so surprised how much I get. My freezer has a comfortable supply of surplus breast milk, almost completely because of this little invention.
A good novel. Reading novels is regrettably not something I manage to fit into my current life. But after a new baby, I have to slow down. I have to sit a lot. Often in the early weeks there are other people helping somewhat with the household, and I know it is my job to rest, heal, and feed the baby. It is not time to worry about the state of the house. So I gather a small stash of books and keep them in the places I will be sitting with the baby. Just stay away from any sad stories involving children. Your hormones can’t handle it.
Grandma. Or some saint like her. The saying “It takes a village” applies after a childbirth. Husbands are wonderful, but he may be reeling from the life change in diapers that you’ve just handed him too, so extra hands are welcome. If you want a healthy, thriving baby and a healed, strong body, you will get them fastest by taking it easy in the first days and weeks. This isn’t easy for me. So I learn the hard way (burned out thyroid function, mastitis, tweaked nerves from doing too much too soon). If there is anyone willing to help with housework, other kids, meals, errands… Let them. It isn’t time to throw big parties that require entertaining. I loved showing off my new treasure, but I also loved taking a nap when she did in those earliest days, even though the house sort of looked like a tornado blew through. So if you have a good friend or relative whom you don’t have to entertain but who is willing to take on some of your normal duties – that’s gold.
That’s not an exhaustive list by any stretch, and you’ll still need some vital things like diapers and sleep. But they were super helpful to me over the seven births I’ve had. Enjoy that tiny new world you’re about to discover. The depth of love, of beauty, of mystery in a new little life is an immeasurable gift – whether you have extra casseroles and a baby wrap or not. God bless you on your new adventure!
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