Working out how to build your postpartum support network is really useful to do before you have your baby, but it’s not too late to plan after the baby has arrived.
There are lots of reasons why you may want to build a network to support you after the birth of your baby - for example little/no family support, a likelihood of postnatal mental health issues, or children close in age to care for.
In this article though, we’re going to look at how you can go about constructing your own personalised ‘village’ of postnatal support.
What sort of people do I need in my postpartum support network?
The best sort of people to surround yourself with after having a baby are going to be the ones that:
- Can support you with carrying out practical tasks in the home such as cooking, shopping, cleaning etc.
- Can help you to care for other children in the household
- Provide and hold space for you by listening without judgement, advice or opinions
- Can help you with aspects of motherhood which involve learning (such as babywearing or yep, breastfeeding)
- Can help you to feel relaxed, peaceful and calm
The art of asking
For many of us, asking for help is not easy. Society often has us believe that we should be doing everything ourselves. Actually, we didn’t evolve this way - Alloparenting is an integral part of our evolutionary history.
‘alloparenting’ is a term used to classify any form of parental care provided by an individual towards a non-descendent young” - Wikipedia
Are there people around you that you could ask for help? Sometimes the reason we don’t ask is because we don’t want to trouble people or hear a ‘no’. This is especially understandable after having a baby, which can be an incredibly vulnerable time in your life.
What would make it easier for you to ask?
Paying it back
As our babies get older, we naturally become less reliant on the support of our support network than we were in the early days. (Some) things become easier, we fall into a routine and in some cases go back to some sort of working life.
For the concept of a modern-day village to work and thrive though, it’s important that once we’re further down the road on our own journey that we look at ways we can pay it back for others.
For example, if you have a friend who has recently had a baby, maybe offer to batch cook some meals and take them over. Pop the dishwasher on for someone you’re visiting. Some places can end up getting really organised and doing things like meal trains for new mothers!
Consider paid elements of your postpartum support network
So what happens when you know what sort of people you need to surround yourself with to support you, but you simply don’t have people like that in your life?
Some of us have moved away from family and/or friends for reasons such as work, getting married etc. - so we may have limited access to this support because of the distance.
Some of us may have relationships that don’t fit the criteria above - friendships that have drifted apart, or strained relations with family members that can potentially cause more stress and frustration than peace and calm…
Even if we do have healthy relationships with people near to us, they still may have other commitments of their own which mean they simply aren’t available to give as much as we need at that point.
Paying someone to provide a service such as cleaning, meal delivery or childcare is a really wise and empowering choice. It may seem like quite a jump financially, but postpartum is a time when it’s worth prioritising this help and support into your budget.
The value it provides to you, your baby and your family unit is often far beyond the cost of hiring someone for a few months.
For some hints and tips on how to set up your own network using paid support, check out this post on paying for your village.
Join a support group
Another way of building your village both face to face and online is by joining a support group. This could look like going along to your local mother & baby group (which are great in the early days for getting you out of the house without the expectation of having to hold a coherent conversation!).
It could also be a slightly different kind of face to face group that is more geared up to a specific activity - for example baby massage or rhyme time. These are useful places to find other like-minded new mums if you find that your local mum & baby group isn’t the right place for you going forwards.
As well as groups geared more towards the baby, there are more and more support groups emerging that focus more on the mother - like our EMN Mother’s Circle. These offer a supportive space of like-minded women and usually have a specific topic to discuss at a meeting, as well as being a space for mum to safely share how she is feeling and what she might be struggling with.
If you can’t find any face to face groups that feel right, or you can’t get to them for any reason, then you might want to consider online groups. Many of these are now Facebook groups, and bring together groups of mothers around a specific topic or shared connection which you may not find around you within travelling distance. These are often closed groups so the general public cannot see what you’re posting, and offer a space online to share your feelings and chat to other mums. The only drawback with online groups is that you don’t get to leave the house!
A final point about support groups - at the end of the day, joining a group at what can be a pretty vulnerable time in your life can seem really daunting. Not all groups are right for everyone - some groups are very welcoming and inclusive, but unfortunately some can feel cliquey and remind you somewhat of being back at school again.
The most important thing at this time is that you pursue things that bring you peace and joy, and let go of those things that don’t - so if a group is making you feel upset or drained in any way, either talk to the group leader (especially if it’s a paid program), or simply move on and find another group that’s a better fit.
Building your village helps you reclaim your power
When we’re trying to do everything and be everything to everyone, we’re stretching ourselves so thin that cracks will inevitably start to show.
Instead of being in our own power (in this case, by doing everything ourselves and not letting anyone else help), actually the reverse becomes true. We’re so stretched that it’s diluted down. We cannot sustain ourselves long-term.
Now I honestly don’t think anyone sets out to do this - in a lot of cases, the assumed support we think we’ll have after the birth either turns out differently to what we expect, or we just don’t have it in the first place and don’t know how to go about finding it.
But once we’ve put the support we need into place, it gives us room to concentrate on the role we want to step into (and that can look different at different times, eg. being a mother, being a wife, being a work colleague etc.)
Hopefully these tips have both got you thinking about ways you can build your own village of support, and also given you some actionable ideas about how you can make a start.
You can get even more tips and advice on building your own network by downloading our free guide below - or why not join one of our local workshops to create your own personalised Postpartum Plan? You can find all the details of upcoming talks and workshops here.