There’s so much to think about in the days and weeks after you give birth. The last thing you want to add to the list is figuring out how to tell your aunt Gladys that you just aren’t up for a visit (or her dissertation-long monologue on sleep training!).
That’s why setting boundaries early on is key for your mental health and overall wellness as a new mother. But how do you establish where the lines are drawn while still maintaining a postpartum support system of loved ones you can turn to for, well, support? We talked to doulas Cosima Wright and Anathea Abele of Bay City Doulas, a doula agency in the San Francisco Bay Area, to get their advice on striking a balance that works for you. Let them be your guide on how to set healthy boundaries now, so you can reap the benefits for years to come.
What issues with boundaries do new moms tend to come up against?
Typically, first-time parents feel like those around them who’ve already had kids might know better. Because of this, they don’t listen to their own instincts or don’t dare to speak up. They can forget that they are the ones who ultimately know what’s best for their family. In addition, there are so many different ways to parent, so new parents will often hear unsolicited, conflicting opinions and words of advice. This leads to them feeling even more insecure and unsure of what to do. In fact, many new moms will go against their instincts and wishes and take advice that may not work for their families. That’s why setting healthy boundaries is so important.
When is the best time to set those boundaries?
Before birth! This can greatly help ease how overwhelmed you feel postpartum. You may not know exactly what you’ll need or what you want your postpartum period to look like, and that’s OK. Start by asking yourself these questions: What would you like your support system to look like? How often would you like visitors? Who do you feel would be best to turn to for advice? Do some reflecting, too. Ask yourself, “What’s most important to me when I bring home my baby?” Is it having family around? Enlisting the help of a postpartum doula? Having time for just your new family unit? It’s always OK to change what you would like in the moment, but having a predetermined plan gives you structure and reassurance that your own needs will be met postpartum.
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How do you actually establish clear boundaries?
After you think through your plan, talk with your friends and family about how you envision your postpartum period. Open communication is everything. It is crucial to be clear about your expectations and not be afraid to step up for your own family as this time is about you. (Fellow people-pleasers, take note!) Again, doing so early will ensure that you aren’t having difficult conversations while you are in the postpartum haze and dealing with the constant juggle of life with a newborn.
How can you ask for support while keeping your own boundaries?
You can write out a list of helpful tasks and stick them somewhere visible in your home before you go into labor, so visitors and support people (i.e. family and caregivers) have a few ideas of ways to help you postpartum. That list can include everything from laundry to food prep. A meal train can also be set up beforehand by a family member or friend. Meal trains are fantastic and can really help to lighten the load once baby arrives. And, of course, we recommend hiring a postpartum doula to make sure that your family’s direct needs are met on a day-to-day basis.
What are some good responses to have in your back pocket should you get unsolicited advice on topics like feeding, routines or sleep?
Have a phrase handy, like one of the following:
“Thank you for your advice, but we are choosing to do things in our own way and are in the process of finding our own rhythm. I will let you know if I would like advice or suggestions in the future.”
“At this time we are following the advice of our pediatricians and lactation consultants.”
“Thank you for wanting to help! Right now, I would love your support by listening and being an extra set of hands.”
How can you respond to relatives, like your mom, who want to stay with you postpartum to help out with the baby?
This can be a tough one! Again, clear communication is key. You can try your version of something like, “Thank you so much for offering to stay with us to help. We have decided that we would like to limit extended visits in the first three months to have time to bond as a family. How about you come for x amount of days instead?”
Any advice for dealing with unexpected visits?
One option is to email or text your circle ahead of time explaining what your visiting guidelines are. You can even put a note on your front door. For example: “Thank you for coming to visit us. Please call ahead of time as mom and baby are resting. At this time we are asking that scheduled visits are limited to an hour. If you wish to help out while you are here, please look at the list on the fridge for tasks that will help!”
Is it ever too late to set boundaries?
Not at all. Setting boundaries later down the line is something that we see happening often as parents may hit a wall and need some change. While this can be a little bit more difficult, it is not impossible. Once again, it’s about having open and honest conversations with the people around you about your physical and emotional needs. Remember to prioritize your needs and that this is your baby, your family—only you know what is best for you!
By Diana Aydin