4 Things I'd do Differently if I Have Another Baby
If you know me, then you know my postpartum experience was less than desirable.
For those of you that don’t know, here’s a little recap...
I had an awesome pregnancy. But then I delivered my son prematurely at 32 weeks and he was born with a spinal cord impairment. I suffered severe postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD which several health professionals failed to notice or treat appropriately. My baby needed spinal surgery and years of multiple therapies for physical, language, feeding, and emotional development. Needless to say, it was not all unicorns and rainbows. It was insanely hard.
My experience was traumatic enough for me that it leaves me questioning if I could ever have another baby. I’ve always imagined myself as a mother to several children, so it’s confusing and maybe a little disappointing that I might not.
I’ve been seeing a counselor to work through the trauma that I’ve been through, and she has reminded me that although my fears are valid, the next time would be different. And because of my past experiences, I could MAKE the next time different.
Here are 4 Things I’d do differently next time:
1. Get education about perinatal mental health
When I was pregnant, nobody talked to me about postpartum mental illness. Nobody told me the statistics - that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men experience a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). PMADs include things like postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and psychosis. I wasn’t aware of these disorders or their signs and symptoms.
Because I wasn’t familiar with PMADs, I completely missed recognizing them in myself. It’s been 5 and a half years since I had my son, and I’ve learned a lot since then. I now know that having a premature baby and having a baby in the NICU increased my risk of developing a PMAD. I also know that I did not respond well to oral medications, but responded quickly to progesterone injections, and was likely deficient in progesterone my whole pregnancy. After seeing a mental health therapist, I now have a ton of tools to use to prevent and manage my anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms. I also know that my diet and nutrition play a huge role in how my body and mind feels and functions.
Now that I know more about what postpartum mental health disorders are, how they can be treated, and how they can be managed over time through lifestyle changes, I feel so much less scared of being put back in that scary situation again.
To learn more about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders talk to your OB/GYN or other healthcare provider and ask them for more resources and information.
You can also visit Postpartum Support International for education and resources. They also offer weekly support groups for a variety of needs.
2. Make a Postpartum Plan
You know how many parents talk about making a "birth plan?” In addition to a "birth plan", I think we should all start making “postpartum plans.” Just as our birth plan can change depending upon how our birth story unfolds, our postpartum plan could too. But at least we could have thought through some scenarios and have a plan in place should we need extra support.
Had I done this, my partner, family, and friends would have also been more prepared and know how to help me when I couldn't help myself. My signs and symptoms of PMADs would have also been realized much earlier, and I could have gotten help right away.
What you could include in your plan:
A list of people you can ask to bring you food, or coordinate a meal-train.
Who can be at your home to either help you with the baby, household chores, your older children, or to allow you to rest.
Talk to your parenting partner before baby arrives about:
-How you can support each other.
-How you wish your baby will feed, and what you want that routine to look like.
-Where your baby will sleep, and what you want that routine to look like.
-How you will both set aside time for self-care, and what that will look like for each of you.
-Who will be performing the household duties and the childcare duties.
Designate one person to check on YOUR mental health status. Make sure this person is aware and educated of all the signs and symptoms of PMADs.
-You can use this discussion tool from Postpartum Support International*
-You can also use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale* to screen yourself to
see if you are at risk for perinatal depression. This does not include screening for other
PMADs so you will need to discuss your symptoms with a doctor.
*Disclaimer: These tools are not diagnostic and this information is not medical advice. Call your medical professional right away if you suspect you are suffering from any type of PMAD.
3. Be aware and find support systems ahead of time:
There’s a reason why everyone says “it takes a village.” As a species, humans are not meant to raise our babies in isolation. Now there are so many different professionals that are educated and specialized in the postpartum period and infant development (in addition to your pediatrician and OB/GYN), and can help you through whatever you are facing.
While I utilized many of these resources, I find that lots of parents don't even know they exist. One profession I didn't know much about was a postpartum doula - but If I had another baby I would absolutely look into hiring one! I have leaned so much about how doulas can be essential to the postpartum period for all members of the family.
Here is a list of professionals/groups that can help:
Mental health counselors/therapists
Pediatric therapists – speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists
Lactation consultants and counselors
Breastfeeding support groups
- These can be associated with a local hospital and be virtual or in person. You can also
search for support groups through La Leche League International.
Pelvic Health physical therapists
Helpline numbers and mental health support groups
-Postpartum support international Helpline: 1-800-944-4773
The PSI HelpLine does not handle emergencies. People in crisis should call their local
emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
-National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
-Local Emergency Number
Mommy support groups – through hospitals, social media, churches
And don’t forget about asking help from your family/friends and your partner!
4. Be Aware of your Expectations
Every parent has some sort of expectations of what parenthood will be like. The problem with expectations, is that they are typically not realistic. Whether you are really nervous about having a baby, or feeling super prepared and confident, there is always something unexpected that can change those expectations.
I was always a natural around kids, and I have so much education about infant development that I felt truly prepared to care for a new baby. But what I did not realize is the other struggles that I would have to face while trying to raise a newborn. My expectations about motherhood were not met and I actually had to grieve this change. I had to give up the image of the mother I thought I was going to be and learn to love the mother I had become. This is a process I still work on daily.
My advice here is not to CHANGE your expectations, but just simply be aware of them. Be aware that some things may go better or worse than anticipated, and accept that as normal. Because the truth is, we really can’t predict what your baby will be like or how you will feel about it. But if we accept that it is NORMAL not to know and for situations to change, then we may not feel so overwhelmed or disappointed when our image of parenthood has not gone our way.
Even though my experience was less than ideal, I truly believe that much of that could have been different or improved had I been more educated or been aware of more resources ahead of time. I hope you find some or all of these suggestions helpful, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help!
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Gina Mydlo, PT, DPT