Birth and Beyond: Wisdom from our 2021 New Parents

Huge thanks to our new parents who volunteered to headline a recent meet-up with expectant folks and share their experiences and advice for pre-, during, and post-birth. It’s so very helpful to listen to those people who have recently “been there, done that” with labor, delivery, birth, and home again. Find the key takeaways from our Summer 2021 Birth and Beyond event below—and if you’re not yet a member of Park Slope Parents, get connected to your new community today!

Also check out the PSP Birthing and Postpartum Toolkit, featuring more than 60 pages of information on all aspects of the expectancy, birthing, and postpartum journey!

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Things have a way of happening differently than you plan. Some of our new parents noted that pregnancy and delivery went completely differently than expected. Despite your planning and expectations, things can change—and that’s okay. We recommend you call it a “wish list” rather than a “birth plan.”


Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even if it’s just “Can you say that again? I’m confused.” Doctors and nurses are there to help and support you, and you might just need to ask them to slow down or back up a moment if you’re not clear about something that’s happening to you or the baby. Having a sidekick/partner at appointments (which seems to be allowed, at least right now) can help make sure you are comfortable with the information presented. 


Notes on epidurals. Several birthing parents found an epidural to be a big help. Even before the anesthetic kicks in, it can be helpful emotionally to know that relief is coming soon. One parent recommended that, if you want an epidural and your doctors plan on breaking your water, you have the epidural beforehand because things get more intense after the water breaks. Also let your doctor or nurse know ahead of time if you’re planning on an epidural, as there may be a list that you have to get on. One parent who experienced a long labor noted that an epidural was just the ticket so that she could get some sleep and then wake up renewed and ready to have the baby.


You can learn a lot from observing hospital staff. One couple whose baby was born at 29 weeks and spent seven weeks in the NICU found that they were able to learn a lot about baby care just from observing the doctors and nurses in the unit (and their daughter is doing great now). Feel free to ask the staff questions about swaddling, changing diapers, burping, breastfeeding, etc.  


Don’t get too hung up on the highs and the lows. This goes for pregnancy and postpartum alike: If you’re having a great day, that’s great, but if not, that’s okay too. You can feel extremely grateful and excited and extremely tired and stressed at the same time. Honor all of these feelings as they come and go. You can feel happy and disappointed at the same time. 


Get comfortable with ambiguity. One mom had two OBs, one of whom said the baby was too big and one of whom said the baby wasn’t big enough—there’s not always one right answer. With labor (and particularly with induction), the timeline can be unclear, and it can be challenging to manage expectations. The reality of pregnancy and birth is that a lot stays up in the air, so get comfortable with that reality and breathe through it. (This follows through to parenting a newborn.)


You know your body best. Just because someone tells you that labor will take X amount of time, you need to wait for X signal, etc., that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. Follow your intuition and your body.


Form a protective circle of support people for birth. One mom had a bit of an intense birth (long labor, transferring back and forth from hospital to birthing center) and related that, although the experience may have sounded crazy, it really was fine. The most important thing is being surrounded by people who can support you and inform you of whether there are any real problems. If you and the baby are both safe, having those people on hand makes it easier to remain calm and take things as they come. Have conversations with your support team ahead of time so you feel like you have your roster of trusted people ready to go. You can even have one person who is the “ambassador” of information for folks in your second circle. 


Prep physically. Our new moms noted that labor is a bit of an endurance event. Staying active during your pregnancy (if you’re not dealing with physical complications that prevent that) can help—one mom noted that she wished she’d gone on more walks to prep for what felt like the equivalent of two marathons. Another mom recommended prenatal pilates and perineal massage, which she felt may have contributed to minimal tearing and straightforward recovery post-birth.


Take advantage of this time before the baby comes to relax, get rest, and prep. Many of our new parents expressed that they would’ve liked to spend more time prepping for the postpartum period and less time prepping for the birth itself. That can include…

  • Researching sleep—one mom recommended learning about what a wake window is, plus the 5 Ss for soothing your baby (swaddle, side-stomach position, shush, swing, and suck).

  • Researching formula—one mom wished she’d spent more time researching formula (brands, etc.) so she was more prepared to make the switch when she couldn’t breastfeed.

  • Getting contact info for some lactation consultants, sleep consultants, and postpartum doulas/night nannies should you want some extra help

  • Making and freezing meals and stocking up on finger foods (cheese sticks, baby carrots, etc.) that you can eat with one hand while holding baby

  • Making sure you have things like witch hazel, pads, and ice packs to help with recovery

  • Learning about your car seat and how to use it (Safeintheseat on Instagram was recommended)

  • If you’re planning to breastfeed, making sure you have nursing clothes ready to go

  • The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother was recommend for recipes and postpartum tips.


As for packing a hospital bag, while it’s nice to be prepared in advance, new parents unanimously agree that less is more. Here are a few ideas for things you might actually use:

  • A yoga ball for labor (large but bring it if you think you’ll use it)

  • Extra pillows

  • Frida Mom Labor and Delivery + Postpartum Recovery Kit

  • Honey straws can be a great hit of energy during labor if you’re able to eat and drink a bit

  • A big water bottle with a straw or valve that is easy to sip and WON’T spill if you knock it over (the Zak Designs Genesis Flex was recommended for both birth and breastfeeding)

  • A small fan to clip onto the bed (you can use this later to attach to your stroller)


Recommendations for baby health tracking apps (which help you keep track of things and have data-driven conversations with your pediatrician about feeding, weight, and more):


If you’re partnered, sleep shifts can be a huge help with a newborn. One couple split their shifts into 8pm–1am and 1am–6am; one did 9pm–2am and then 2am–7am. Structure the shifts around pumping/breastfeeding as best you can if that’s your plan.


Notes on PPD and PMADs. One mom noted that, while you’ll likely be screened for PPD multiple times in the postpartum period, you won’t necessarily raise a red flag on those tests if you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety rather than depression. If things aren’t feeling right—even if they may look fine on paper—know that support is available for you. For more information and starting points, PSP has a page of Help, Resources, and Advice for Stressed Out Parents, Post Partum Depression (PPD), and PMADs.


Take help if it’s offered. Especially if that help comes in the form of food! Relatedly, it’s never too late to ask for help.One couple hired a postpartum doula to assist at eight weeks; another mom initially planned to postpone family visits but ended up recruiting her mom when things got intense. It’s never too late to reach out if you need a hand, whether from a friend, a family member, or a professional.


However, your home is not a petting zoo! If someone comes to visit, it’s great if they are doing something to help you, not just oohing and aahing at the baby. Set expectations before you have visitors to avoid an awkward conversation.


Further reading on Park Slope Parents: