Tips for your first outing with your newborn

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One of the best ways to fight isolation as a new parent is to get out of the house. However, for some new parents going on that first outing by themselves can feel like a daunting task. You are convinced your new baby will have a huge wet diaper or scream the whole time, or starve. Here are some tips to make that first outing slightly less stressful.

What to bring

Don’t bring the entire house! Bring the things that will keep you and the baby most comfortable. Chances are you  don’t need as much as you think. Extra diapers, change of clothes, feeding supplies (boobs or bottle) and maybe a burp cloth. A brand new baby doesn’t need a toy 🙂

Where to go

Keep it easy and keep it simple. Skip the car if you can. Take a walk around the block (in which case don’t bring anything), or go to a nearby coffee shop. taying close to the comforts of home can make the whole trip go much more smoothly. Think, too, about where you would feel comfortable nursing, changing a diaper, or how you will feel if your baby is screaming.

Keep your expectations low

This is the most important point. I don’t recommend grocery shopping, long drives, or any sort of errand or task driven trip as your first outing. The purpose should be to get out of the house, not to cross things off your to-do list. And don’t feel like you have to go out all morning. Getting out of the house for even 30 minutes can make a huge difference in how everyone feels. And it is a huge accomplishment. Which leads us too…

Pat yourself on the back

Even if there is poop on everything. Even if baby cried the entire time. You did it! You left the house by yourself with a brand new human being. Well done! Sometimes it is hard to see anything as a success when you are a new parent, so it’s important that we remember this, and congratulate ourselves for the little things. Taking care of a newborn is hard.

How a postpartum doula can help

As a postpartum doula I have often helped my clients  get out the door for their first outing. Whether it is simply providing company for a walk or helping  pack the diaper bag, a postpartum doula can help you feel empowered to go out into the world with your brand new baby.

What is a postpartum doula?

You have probably heard of a birth doula, a supportive trained professional, who can advocate for the birthing parent and help guide them through the labor process. But maybe you haven’t heard of a postpartum doula. What is this other doula, you may ask?

A postpartum doula’s job is to facilitate your new role as a parent in the early weeks and months, helping with the transition involved in making space for your new family member. Those early days, when everything you figure out changes day to day; when you are so sleep deprived you can’t remember your name; when it feels like the baby will never eat, sleep, or just be with any sort of regularity. A postpartum doula is there to help with all of that.

Many people spend great time and energy managing pregnancy and preparing for the birth, and they forget to plan for the actual baby!

The postpartum doula is there is help you have a smooth(er) adjustment to new parenthood.  Studies have shown that new parents who have social support during the postpartum period tend to have less postpartum depression, breastfeed for a longer duration, and make a better adjustment to parenthood.

Here are some important ways a postpartum doula can help you adjust:

  • assistance with breastfeeding, bottlefeeding and/or pumping
  • information about breast care/issues
  • guidance with sleep and soothing techniques
  • vegetarian meal planning/preparation
  • light housekeeping
  • instructions on baby wearing
  • creating plans for the birth parent’s health and wellness
  • support around the birth experience/recovery
  • partner inclusion around bonding and caring for the new baby
  • 24/7 support via phone or email

Feel free to contact me with any further questions about what a postpartum doula can do for your family, or to have a free in home consult before your baby is born.

Supporting Queer Parents: Tips for Providers

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I have been reflecting recently on what it looks like to support queer parents and how it is different than supporting heterosexual families. Certainly many aspects of new parenthood are the same: the sleep deprivation, the feeling that your whole world has been turned upside down, the unconditional love you feel for your newest family member, and the need for support. However, queer families often face additional challenges. They also may have different strengths. I thought I would spell some of them out here to share with others in their work with families postpartum.

1. Be mindful of parent titles and pronouns.

When working with queer parents I make sure that I am explicit about asking what parent names they have chosen as well as what gender pronouns they use. For example, when I first meet with a family I will ask each parent, “What pronouns do you use? Have you thought of what parent term you would like to use?” I never want to assume anyone’s gender in any circumstance, but certainly not in one where I am supposed to be supporting them and helping them feel safe. Mirroring their language can be a key way of making them feel safe and supported. This also has a way of validating the non-gestational parent’s role and making sure you don’t assume that someone is the “real mom.” Also, in a situation where families have adopted or used a surrogate, finding out how they have chosen to identify different family members can be incredibly validating.

2. Don’t assume extended family support. But also don’t assume that extended family is not involved.

This one works both ways. Many queer families struggle with not having their family of origin there to support them.  There are a variety of reasons that any family might not have their family of origin to support them, but for many queer families that reason is often homophobia. This separation is often very present when babies are born and can be especially painful. There is also the practical matter that life is harder when you don’t have lots of extra hands and extra support. However, just because you are working with a queer family, don’t assume that their family of origin does not support them. Many families are fully behind their queer children and are there to help. Some people also experience something in between, where maybe their family of origin is excited about the baby, but doesn’t fully recognize their partner as a parent. Obviously, there is a huge range of experiences around this issue.

3. Queer means many things.

People identify in all sorts of ways! For some folks, saying they are queer means they are attracted to same-gendered people. For some, queer means they are polyamorous. For others, it means they are gender fluid. Be open to people sharing their identities and experiences and don’t make assumptions. Especially when doing postpartum support, it is important that we make sure people are able to bring their whole selves and that includes their sexual and gender identities.  One thing you can say to all of your clients is that you are there to support them as new parents, which means you are committed to them being able to express who they are in your time together. So, if the clients have language they would prefer you use with them, such as parent names, pronouns, relationship terms (i.e. partner vs. spouse vs. co-parent) encourage them to let you know.  Some people identify as queer, gender queer, lesbian, gay, etc. Don’t label them—reflect language and validate.

4. Recognize and celebrate community and chosen family.

Many queer families have a great support network. This is a strength built out of a history of oppression. Ask, validate, and encourage the support that many queer families will get from their community. Help folks think of what kinds of support people can provide, whether its food or emotional. Recognize that for many queer parents this community is a central part of who they are and how they plan on raising their children.

5. Respect and be open to people’s conception and birth stories.

Never, ever, ever ask a lesbian couple, “Who’s the dad?” or a gay couple “Who’s the mom?” or anyone else anything in between.  For many queer families, a lot of thought went into how to bring their child into the world or into their family, so it’s important to make space for that when folks are ready.  Be prepared and open to hear as many different conception stories as there are different kinds of families. Don’t assume anonymous donor at the doctor’s office. Don’t assume adoption. There are so many different ways that queer parents make their families.  Ask questions in an open and non-assuming way, such as “How did you guys decide to have a baby?” or even “What is your conception story?”  One of the best ways to be an ally to queer families is to recognize and see all of who they are and how they became parents. You don’t want to ignore the fact that their experience and birth experiences might be different than the norm. Be open to a range of experiences and find respectful ways to ask about their experiences. For many queer families, their conception and birth stories are actually very empowering. For some, it is the opposite and they have had to deal with homophobia and ignorance throughout the process from having a medicalized conception to trying to convince hospital staff that their partner is a parent who belongs in the delivery room.

6. A word about language

In reflecting back on this post it occurs to me that most of my thoughts are about language and how language has the power to categorize, assume, and oppress people. This is why being thoughtful about your language and reflecting the language a client uses is so important. Think, too, about all the ways in which our language is gendered and heteronormative. Don’t have working with your first lesbian couple be the first time you use “partner” instead of “husband/dad.” It will sound forced and awkward, and your job is to make your clients feel safe and comfortable. Think about saying “nursing” instead of “breastfeeding” knowing that some of your clients might not connect with their breasts or bodies in that way. It is key that we don’t make our clients feel exotic or other, so the more comfortable you are using inclusive language the better everyone will feel. Start practicing now!