When Joseph was born, my mother flew out the next day, and fell right into this "postpartum doula" role for me. She cooked and cleaned, made sure I always had a full glass of water or iced fennel tea at my side, ran interference with the endless stream of visitors, cooed over little Joseph, and generally just did whatever needed to be done while I recuperated from the birth and adjusted to my new role as mama. What I found most helpful was not that my mother "helped" with Joseph - it was that she took care of me, so that I could care for and bond with my baby. Words can't describe how much I appreciated her help during those days!
My Mom is coming down again to visit baby Helen, but unfortunately her visit is not scheduled for ten days yet, so she will not be my sister's postpartum doula in the very first week as she was for me (instead, she will be around to help during the traditionally fussy period that usually begins around two weeks, which I'm sure will also be very helpful!).
So basically, I better step up to the plate! When I get off work today, I plan to visit my sister and her brand new baby. Taking a page from my mother's book, I hope to provide a little gentle, quiet, background help with cooking, cleaning, and attending to my sister, rather than simply add another "visitor" to the steady stream of visitors that always accompanies the arrival of a new baby! This is the kind of support that a new mom needs most. Like my mother, I don't believe that new moms need help with their babies - rather, I believe that they need help with their day-to-day tasks, so that they can take care of the baby.
With this in mind, here are some items for a care package for the new nursing mother:
- Breastfeeding ergonomics. Before Helen was born, I gave my sister some basic breastfeeding supplies that I found helpful for comfortable nursing. Specifically, I gave her a My Brest Friend nursing pillow, that was handed down to me by my friend Janet, and the Medela Nursing Stool. I offered our glider, but my sister worried that she didn't have enough space. None of these items is strictly necessary - you can use a regular chair and bed pillow for nursing, and put your feet up on whatever is handy. However, considering that new mothers can expect to spend the first month of their baby's life nursing for 45 minute long stretches every two to three hours, day and night, I strongly believe that it's worth spending a little money for some items that will make that more comfortable and less of a strain on your neck and back! I have a feeling that my sister will "make room" for the glider, too.
- Nipple treatments. I also gave my sister a baggy with a selection of nipple treatments for her hospital bag (it's unlikely she will need any of these during her hospital stay, but they don't take up much room): Some Lansinoh pure lanolin ointment for general conditioning, some poly-sporin ointment for sore or cracked nipples, and clotraminazole in case of thrush (heaven forbid!). Finally, I gave her a package of Medela Hydrogel Pads. These are simply heaven for sore nipples, which are unfortunately, especially common in fair-skinned Irish lasses like ourselves! Of course, olive-skinned and darker-skinned mothers often have no problems in this regard, and don't need any treatments - lucky ladies!
- Mama's Milky Tea. I know that when I first started nursing, I was insanely thirsty, all the time. I would get especially parched right after Joe latched on and my milk let down, which is an exceedingly inconvenient time to get up and get yourself a glass of water (although I have gotten pretty good at walking around with a baby attached to my breast, this is an acquired skill). One of the most useful services you can do for a new nursing mother is to make sure that they have a full glass of water at their elbow at all times. My mother recommends drinking fennel seed tea when you are starting out breastfeeding, to ensure a good milk supply and reduce gassiness and colic in your baby. Fennel tea is made by boiling one heaping tablespoon of fennel seeds per quart of water, for 20 minutes or so on the stove. If milk supply is an issue, you can add a pinch of fenugreek seeds to the fennel. Drink by the quart. Fennel tea can be served warm or iced, with milk and honey as desired, and I'll be making up a GIANT batch of it for my sister tonight.
- Moby Wrap or Sling. Joseph loved snoozing in the Moby as a newborn. It was so snug, I almost felt like I was pregnant again! A wrap or sling can help a new mother get up and putter around the house a bit while satisfying her newborn baby's insatiable desire for close contact. Lifesaver.
- Foods for milk production. Breastfeeding mothers need lots of calories! Whole grains and starchy foods are especially good for establishing a strong milk supply. When my mother was staying with us after Joe was born, she made me: Whole wheat bread (from scratch, duh), sweet and creamy tapioca pudding, potato soup, lots of hot seven-grain cereal, oven-roasted chicken thighs, lentils, and mung beans and rice. And that is just what I remember - there was a steady stream of delicious food coming from my kitchen. I don't know if tapioca pudding really increases milk supply as my mother claims, but (a) I will never refuse tapioca pudding; and (b) I actually suffered from oversupply with Joseph, so it's possible it worked all too well!
- And last but not least, BEER! The occasional beer is good for your milk supply (and sanity)! I ask (quoting Hank from King of the Hill): Is there anything beer can't do? A hoppy beer or a pint of Guinness is traditional.