5 Reasons Why You Need a Postpartum Support Network
An ob-gyn shares how and why to build a dedicated support team.
The postpartum period – that is, the months after baby arrives – is a time of tremendous change, responsibility, and healing. The care you receive after giving birth is just as important as your prenatal care. After all, many pregnancy-related complications arise after delivery.
One of the keys to success during this time is a strong postpartum support network. Think of your network as a web of family, friends, and health care professionals you can depend on, and who you should ask for help. Some can be there for you in person when you need it, and others are just a phone or video call away. Any kind of support – virtual or physical – is crucial.
Here’s why it’s so important to prepare a support team for those first few months at home.
1. New motherhood is a taxing time
Women are stretched thin after delivery, physically and emotionally. It can be a challenge to think about self-care, let alone make time for it. Whether it’s your first child or your fifth, a “village” of support can offer the resources you need.
Note that while we typically define the postpartum period as the first 12 weeks after birth, the whole first year is a high-risk time for new mothers. This is especially true if you had complications during pregnancy or delivery.
2. Postpartum support can take many forms
Your postpartum support network starts with your obstetric care team: ob-gyn, midwife, nurses, or doula. Before long, your child’s pediatrician enters the picture. You also may eventually need to see a specialist, depending on your needs or medical conditions. A few examples of specialists include lactation consultants, cardiologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and physical therapists.
And remember the role your primary care provider can play here. He or she may get involved in your postpartum care if you had a complication affecting your long-term health, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
At home, your support system can be your partner, family, friends, and neighbors. Really, it’s anyone you feel comfortable with and trust, especially when you’re not feeling your best.
3. Staying home doesn’t have to mean being alone
Of course, postpartum support may be harder to find while the country is dealing with the coronavirus. But this just makes planning ahead even more important.
If you prepare a support team, you can talk with them about how they can find ways to be there for you – even from a distance. Maybe a neighbor could leave food at your doorstep or take your dog for a walk. A doctor could chat on the phone or set up a video call – and discuss when you may need to get in-person support.
One website to bookmark for virtual mental health support is Postpartum Support International. They offer online support group meetings, where you can connect with other postpartum women. And each week they host a Chat With an Expert phone call, where you can dial in to ask questions.
4. Your network can be an extra set of eyes and ears
Friends, family, and physicians are often the first to recognize warning signs when a new mom is struggling. Let us in and don’t ignore suggestions for help.
For example, a new mom could be out of breath or not acting like herself. Someone who knows her well can notice this – even on a phone or video call – and say, “I’m worried about you. You should get checked out.”
Sometimes postpartum patients will tell me they are doing well, but their blood pressure, level of bleeding, or other signs will tell a different story. Other times a patient will come right out with a tearful admission: “I’m struggling with breastfeeding.” And I’m always on the lookout for mental health issues, because that’s one of the most common complications that crop up in the weeks and months after birth.
5. It’s doubly important for high-risk moms and babies
All new mothers need a baseline of support – sleep, healthy food, time to herself – and then there might be reasons for extra care and attention. Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, heavy bleeding, and cesarean birth are just some of the factors that put women at higher risk for postpartum complications.
You and your ob-gyn can talk about whether you are at higher risk for complications, and what extra care you may need.
In it together
Every woman’s postpartum needs will be different. Some moms may require a large village, while others may only need a few people to lean on. Either way, it’s OK to ask for help.
By the way: The time to talk about postpartum support is before your baby is born. With my patients, I bring up the subject in a series of conversations during the third trimester. What are your plans for feeding the baby? Who will be with you at home? Who’s available if you need a break? This way we map out the postpartum support network in advance.
We all want happy, healthy moms and babies, and there are so many resources available. Speak up, say what you’re feeling, and tell someone if something is bothering you. That helps us – your village – help you.
Published: October 2020
Last reviewed: October 2020
Copyright 2021 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.