Preparing for birth and postpartum in a pandemic
Whether it’s because you live on the other side of the world or due to a pandemic, giving birth and celebrating your newborn without your family around you can be really tough.
You’ve probably planned out how you want your birth to go - where it will be, who will be there… And you’ve probably imagined showing off your lovely new baby to your family and friends, with them bringing you gifts, cooing over baby and generally having a lovely time. And then - plans change. So how can you adapt to your new situation?
Let me tell you about my own birth story. At the time I was living in Malaysia with Giresh, surrounded by his family - who are lovely - and my family were all still living in the UK. We had decided to get married around the same time as the birth so that my family could join in with both celebrations (not a plan I would advise, way too stressful!), and knowing that first babies are often ‘late’, and ideally preferring to not be heavily pregnant and/or missing my own wedding due to being in labour, we booked the wedding for three weeks after my due date. Best case scenario - baby comes early, I am a beautiful bride with a 3-5 week old baby. Worst case - baby is waaay overdue and I am a bride just days out from giving birth.
I knew my parents were upset at the thought of not being there to meet our baby (their first grandchild) straight away, but I felt it would be nice to get settled before they came, and then have our double celebrations together.
Well. Best laid plans and all that. Max came just 5 days before his due date, by emergency Caesarean. And I wanted my mum (not that I would admit it!), and I knew she wanted to be with me. I was scared, in a foreign country with nurses who preferred to speak to my husband in Bahasa Malaysia rather than speak to me in English about my own care, and I just wanted the normality of having my family around me.
My parents asked if I wanted them to fly out early, but I told them to wait til the wedding, as we had Giresh’s family to support us in the meantime. During those three weeks I think I video called my parents more than I had in the previous three years of living abroad! Whilst it was tough adjusting to life with a newborn, recovering from a Caesarean and still finalising the wedding plans, when my family finally arrived it was just the best feeling, and definitely worth the wait!
Clearly in our situation we knew in advance that my family wouldn’t be able to immediately visit and meet their new grandchild, so we were able to prepare for it. What none of us could possibly have prepared for was being plunged into a global pandemic, with advice and risks changing by the hour. As we adjust to our new normal of self isolation and lockdowns (not words I ever thought I’d hear in the UK), millions of people around the world find themselves pregnant, near to giving birth, or with a newborn baby, with no option to be with family, or in a lot of cases to even have their partner with them as they give birth.
This is a scary situation and something I can guarantee was not in your birth plan.
If you’re due in the next couple of months you will probably find that you are only allowed one birth partner, and probably no other visitors whilst you are in the hospital. All hospitals will be checking if either of you have any symptoms of COVID-19, and if your partner has any they won’t be allowed in with you for the birth. Some hospitals are saying partners cannot visit you after you give birth, meaning you may be on the postnatal ward with your baby for potentially a couple of days before you can see your partner again. Again, not how you imagined birth and the first few days with a newborn to be. So how can you prepare for this new reality?
Think about your birth support team. If you had planned to have your partner plus a friend or family member, or a doula, decide who you want by your side. If you wanted a doula, consider finding someone who can give virtual support instead of in person support.
Pack your hospital bag with essentials. It is highly likely that hospitals will not be allowing birth partners to come and go, so you’re going to need to take everything with you that you and your partner might want or need during labour and the next few days. Think about favourite snacks, bottles of drink, comfy pyjamas, perhaps your own pillow, definitely a phone charger, headphones…. The list could be endless but try to think about essentials here as you’ll probably want to wash everything really thoroughly once you get home to avoid contamination.
Create the calm you need. Hospital rooms tend to have bright lights, beeping machines, and people coming in and out. So - turn the lights off, hang up some fairy lights, ask the nurse/midwife to turn the machine volume down, and hang up a sign on the door asking people not to come in unless necessary (and then to knock first!). Put your phone on silent and put it away. This will help you to relax, boosting your oxytocin, and helping labour along.
Prepare your home for your return. As you approach your due date, stock up on essentials you may need when you return home, as your medical team will probably advise you to self isolate for two weeks if you have been in a hospital. Make sure you have enough food for you (check out my post on postpartum food here), pet food if needed, nappies, wipes, and any medications you regularly take along with some painkillers in case you need them after the birth.
Arrange a time for visitors. Because people can still visit - you’ll just have to rethink how! Do you have a ground floor window where you can sit with baby and your visitors can see in from outside? Or is it going to be easier to arrange a video chat? Could you record a video introducing your little one and then send to your family?
Registering your baby’s birth. Most councils aren’t registering babies at the moment but you can still apply for child benefit and universal credit if needed. Here’s the Plymouth Council website with more info: https://www.plymouth.gov.uk/birthsmarriagesanddeaths/births/registerbirth
Find your village. We are not meant to raise babies alone, and support is essential for any new parent. When your in-person support is taken away your next move is to find virtual support. Whether this is texting and calling friends and family, joining a facebook group, hiring a postpartum doula, following some mummy bloggers or starting a new insta for your growing family, if it works for you then it’s worth having. We all need company, someone to bounce ideas off, someone to rant to or cry to. Isolation is hard, and can easily lead to postpartum depression and other mood disorders, so don’t struggle alone.
Spend time with nature. Whether it’s simply opening a window, going for a walk, or sitting on your front door step snuggling your baby, spend time outside, or looking at nature. Studies show that spending time with nature can speed up healing, has a positive effect on your mental wellbeing, and of course it’s always good to breathe in lovely fresh air.
Line up feeding support. Whether you plan to breastfeed or use formula, gather any equipment you may need, find phone numbers or links to online support BEFORE you need it, so that you are ready if you have any issues. The World Health Organisation is still recommending breastfeeding for all babies, even if the breastfeeding parent has Covid-19. In this case they recommend practising good hygiene, and wearing a mask when feeding your baby (this also applies if you are bottle feeding).
I hope that you’ve found some of these tips useful. Please remember that you are STRONG, and you are everything your baby needs. Nothing will change that. One day you will be able to tell your child's birth story and feel proud to say that you gave birth during a pandemic and you made it through.
If you’d like help planning your birth and first few weeks with your little one please contact me via the form below or through my Facebook page. I’m always happy to chat about birth and babies!