While the body undergoes plenty of physical, psychological, and lifestyle transformations during pregnancy, the prenatal window is equally filled with anticipation for all that comes with birth and postpartum life. It's common to focus visions and plans on your baby’s experience, unintentionally overlooking the shifts in identity, lifestyle, and hormones that you’re about to face yourself.
Regardless of your postpartum preparations, it can feel jolting to balance care for your newborn with care for yourself, especially when your expectations for postpartum care don’t match up to the actual support you see and feel in actuality. In this guide, we’re breaking down how to define what your “village” of postpartum support looks like, how to navigate the reality of your support system, and how to ask for help when you need it.
Fundamentally, your self-care is a non-negotiable foundation that underscores your care for everyone else.
Postpartum & mental health
Approximately 70-80% of new mothers encounter some form of what society refers to as the baby blues. A 2014 study clarifies that the baby blues are distinct from PPD as “normative mild dysphoria occurring in the first week after delivery.” 15% of new mothers are believed to go on to develop Postpartum Depression (PPD) with some practitioners suggesting numbers are even higher.
It’s likely that you’re not writing PPD or baby blues into your postpartum visions, and it’s also likely that your newborn is at the center of all postpartum plans. However, as you build these visions, it’s important to build yourself into the picture.
How can you plan for the possibility of feeling low mentally? Learning about the warning signs of PPD can equip you to make sense of lowness and know when to seek help. The Mayo Clinic synthesizes the following:
Baby blues symptoms
Symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:
Mood swings / Anxiety / Sadness / Irritability / Feeling overwhelmed / Crying / Reduced concentration / Appetite problems / Trouble sleeping
The symptoms of PPD are more intense and last longer than baby blues, potentially interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but “they may begin earlier — during pregnancy — or later — up to a year after birth.” Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
Depressed mood or severe mood swings / Crying too much / Difficulty bonding with your baby / Withdrawing from family and friends / Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual / Inability to sleep, called insomnia, or sleeping too much / Overwhelming tiredness or loss of energy / Less interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy / Intense irritability and anger / Fear that you're not a good mother / Hopelessness / Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy / Reduced ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions / Restlessness / Severe anxiety and panic attacks / Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby / Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
The commonality of PPD and baby blues further justifies the importance of thinking realistically about your postpartum “village” of support — it might feel much harder to reach out for help when you’re amid a mental low, so it serves to have mental health resources on deck, no matter if those resources look like loved ones, a therapist, a postpartum doula, a support group, or mindfulness practices you can turn to. Additionally, while it’s entirely normal to face PPD and postpartum mental health challenges in general, it’s important to affirm to yourself that there’s always hope and community out there, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Defining the “village”
In short, your postpartum “village” is the network of people, things, and spaces that are within reach to offer guidance or step in when you need help or rest. While defining your village warrants consideration of the people, finances, and overall resources available to you, there aren’t conceptual bounds you need to adhere to. There simply aren’t rules for figuring out what your version of support looks like, which can be both gratifying — and perhaps overwhelming.
A helpful starting point for thinking critically and exploratorily about your personal needs and your “village” ahead of postpartum shift questions from What will my baby need? How do I prepare for their needs? What will their support system look like? to What will I need? How do I prepare for my needs? What will my support system look like?
SABI co-founder Anna Cave-Bigley articulated her own intimate reflection on her PPD experience here with the birth of her son. Her story is packed with personal findings and experiences. Here are a few additional ideas to mull over whilst you start building your postpartum vision - with YOU at the centre:
Additionally, you can plan for support that you might not ultimately need to establish a sense of safety nets beneath you. This can look like having the contact of a therapist if you find yourself struggling mentally, or it can look like having several babysitters on call so that you can try multiple options if one is unavailable. A concrete exercise: Identify three people in your network — friends, family, or help for hire, if that’s within your means — who you can call for short-notice childcare requests.
Possible domains include physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, religious health, cultural health, environmental health, social health, financial health, career health, and so much more. It’s entirely customizable. Redirecting your hopes for a robust postpartum “village” to a smooth postpartum “ecosystem” helps inform which domains might need more attention in the postnatal period, and this shift also reinforces that your “village” and elements of support span beyond humans who show up to help.
There’s no denying that having a child entails profound change. Your “village” — or your ecosystem — is meant to ease the many transitions that unfold after giving birth, and more foundationally, it’s meant to remind you that you’re not alone.
We hope this guide does the same and provides some level of comfort. Amid the challenges of postpartum, there’s comfort in remembering that whatever you’re feeling or going through is completely valid. You are your own individual person, and support will look different and unique to you.