Let’s set the scene:
You’re packing your hospital bag. You’re 37 weeks pregnant and feeling like anything could happen at any moment, but you’re also worried that maybe you’ll just be pregnant forever. You’ve washed all those cute little onesies and made a labor playlist. It’s all just so sweet and cute and exciting. You’ve packed your essential oil diffuser to help you feel peaceful in labor and your doula has recommended throwing in a tennis ball to roll around on your lower back during contractions. As you tuck in your neatly folded yoga ball and it’s handheld pump you pause- wait! What about postpartum??
Most of us spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the birth and our time on labor and delivery, but what often slips our minds is that the bulk of time spent at the hospital will likely be on a postpartum or “mother baby” unit.
On this unit, you and your new baby will usually receive care from the same nurse throughout the shift (this is referred to as couplet care), your baby will be monitored by the pediatric team (made up of an attending physician and some combo of residents, nurse practitioners and physician assistants), and your own doctor or midwife will swing by to check on you. Postpartum nurses are focused on making sure that you’re healing well from your birth, that your pain is well controlled (whether we give birth vaginally or by cesarean surgery, some soreness and cramping is part of the whole thing), and that you feel good and ready to take care of your baby.
It’s great to spend some time thinking about how to prepare for these 2-4 days, both mentally and logistically. They’re the first few days you’ll spend getting to know your new little person! Here are some tips for getting the most out of your postpartum stay:
Pack like you’re going to stay at a bare bones hotel but you want to feel luxurious
Sure, you’ll be wearing those mesh diapers Chrissy Teigen raves about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw on a gorgeous robe or comfy loungewear and cozy slippers. You are by no means obligated to wear a hospital gown and, in fact, wearing your own clothes reminds you, the nurses and hospital staff that you are an individual who is by no means ill. You may want an extra pillow from home or a soft blanket to keep you comfy, and some delicious smelling bath products can make that first post-birth shower even more epic.
Use the staff, but have some extra support lined up
While postpartum nurses are usually skilled at supporting new parents with breastfeeding and newborn care, the training and education that the nurses and pediatricians receive can be super patchy, inconsistent and varied, and while the hospital will have lactation consultants on staff, they may be trying to see upwards of 20 new families that day and the timing may not line up with your baby’s needs. It’s not an ideal situation, and having a postpartum doula or community lactation consultant that you can reach out to can make all the difference in getting the tailored support you need when you need it.
Expect a shared room
Most postpartum units have a mix of private rooms and shared rooms, and while many are expanding so that they can offer more private rooms, New York City is a crowded place to have a baby! Private rooms are given out on a first come, first serve basis granted by time of delivery, so it’s completely out of the nurse’s control and there’s not a whole lot that can be done in anticipation of this. In a shared room, your partner will likely not be able to stay overnight, and you’ll be pretty close to another new parent/baby duo. It can be a nice opportunity to say hi and connect with someone going through a super similar experience, and a great chance for your partner to get a solid night of rest so that they can provide you with really energetic care.
Having a shared room is no excuse for anyone to pressure you into either sending the baby to the nursery, or keeping the baby with you. You do what feels good to you and your family. If you’re worried about getting sleep, an eye mask and ear plugs can be a real nap saver!
Baby’s home base is with you
All New York area hospitals have nurseries. While some restrict their use to certain times of day or for diagnostic procedures, most are open to your baby around the clock. Some parents seem to be under the impression that the nursery is where the baby belongs and are relieved to hear that, in fact, baby’s home base is at their bedside in their room. It can also be tempting to send the baby to the nursery often to “get some sleep,” but most nurseries are staffed by one nurse overseeing many babies, and it may be some time before they can soothe your crying baby. Most importantly, studies show that keeping your baby in your room with you is beneficial for many reasons, both emotionally and health related. All routine newborn tests are quick, and many can be done right in your room. If your baby goes off to the nursery for a procedure and it takes more than 20-30 minutes, ask your nurse about it!
If you feel good and baby is doing great, get out of there at 24 hours!
While there is some state mandated newborn testing that can’t be done until 24 hours, there’s no required reason to stay longer than that if you and baby are medically cleared. If you feel like you’d get better rest, care and support in the comfort of your own cozy home, trust your gut and get on out of there!
Yael Borensztein is one the founders of Root & Spark, a partnership of two doulas dedicated to providing intuitive pregnancy, birth, lactation & parenting support to expecting families and communities in New York City. Yael is an experienced nurse, doula, birth assistant, and lactation consultant. She first spent 5 years practicing as a Postpartum RN and IBLCLC and loves using her clinical experience to inform and shape her doula practice to best provide continuous, uninterrupted support to birthing people and families in pregnancy, labor and beyond.