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How to Set Boundaries in the Postpartum: A Guide

Setting boundaries can be difficult, but it’s so important to do – especially after having children. Setting them (and communicating them) ahead of birth can ensure that you have the support you need when you need it. 

edmonton doulaWhen my first was born, I didn’t think about the importance of making boundaries. We invited our entire family up to the hospital, and then to our home the next day. We had visitors in and out of our home for the first few weeks. I was so excited to share my new baby with them all!  I did not ask for help from our visitors. We hosted them and delighted in our new baby together. 

We drove all around the province showing off our new little one. I thought it was great to share this sweet babe with those that loved me so. 

But then I crashed.

I suddenly felt exhausted. I did not take the time I needed to rest and recover. My emotions were a rollercoaster, and my body was not healing. I felt awful.

You would think that that experience would have taught me to set boundaries in the early days for my next baby, but alas no. I did the same thing after my second – hosting my son’s 2nd birthday party only 4 days after I gave birth in my dining room to a 10 lb baby. Thankfully, I did not have to ask my family and friends to help out this time. I also had my follow-up midwife appointment with family members steps away at my kitchen table. It was not ideal and I do not recommend it.

What I needed to do was to set some boundaries around the early days – both with my family and friends AND myself. I needed to be clear about what I wanted the early days to look like, but I wasn’t. In fact, I had no idea what I wanted for those days. But most of all, I had no idea how to actually set boundaries without feeling like I was being difficult.

Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries

Many folks have a hard time setting boundaries – and yet, it’s so very important in our every day lives. So many of us have been socialized to make everyone around us happy, regardless of what we need or want. Our parents and their parents have handed down these beliefs that we must make others happy before ourselves. This handed down belief doesn’t disappear once you have a baby. So when it comes down to needing to set a boundary about someone’s smoking habit or sick kids or how long a relative can visit for, it feels really, really hard. And if we don’t do it ahead of time, we end up getting frustrated and just not saying anything – which leads to resentment – or getting mad and blowing up. Especially if the folks we are setting boundaries with are family.

Your family and friends just want to love on you and your new baby. And that’s great! We want that! We want them to come and support you. But also, you just had a baby. You have to set some boundaries around how that support looks.

And here’s the thing. Just because we set a boundary, doesn’t mean we can’t change it later on. Perhaps, you decide you don’t want any visitors for the first two weeks after your baby is born. You set that boundary with your family and friends. But after one week, you are ready to have people over. So, you invite them then. It is MUCH easier to set tight boundaries and then relax them then it is to set more loose boundaries and have to tighten them up.

So, how can you communicate your boundaries in a compassionate way?

  • Share things on social media and with loved ones that explain your values. Sharing poems, quotes, and blog posts can be an easy, non-confrontational way to show how you want your early months home to look. Be as explicit as you need to be to get your posts across. This method won’t take care of everyone, but it will make it clear to some of the people in your life!
  • Write a letter from your baby – it’s hard to argue with a baby! Do you have a smoker in your family? Write out a letter to this person from your baby asking them to please protect their lungs by not smoking around them or before coming for a visit.
  • Be open about your expectations for what visits from family and friends will look like. Want your visitors to bring you a meal? Tell them. Want them to unload the dishwasher or fold a load of laundry? Tell them. Want them to hold your baby so you can get a hot shower? Tell them. Unmet expectations can result in so much resentment – tell your support system your expectations! And as much as it seems like folks should naturally know some of these expectations – people around us are not mind readers. You need to tell them.


Now, you may be thinking: “Um, Sarah, have you forgotten the pandemic?”

And you’re right. 

Setting boundaries has changed. But setting boundaries during the pandemic almost feels easier at times. Don’t want visitors in the early days at all? Just blame it all on COVID. It’s almost an easy out!

But that won’t necessarily work for everyone. And it doesn’t take into account that there may be some visitors that you do want despite the pandemic.

While it is recommended to strictly limit visitors by keeping any visitors to those in your cohort, that might feel extremely isolating. So, you may decide to allow minimal visitors outside of that. As a parent, you get that choice. If you do, be mindful of who that is and how they are practicing physical distancing. 

Some things you might do to make visits safer with people outside your cohort:

  • Ensure that any person who does come into the home is not showing symptoms and hasn’t been around anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Make sure that hands are being washed immediately upon coming into the house, and OFTEN throughout the visit.
  • If they are able to, you might ask them to wear a non-medical mask. 
  • Make sure they do NOT kiss the baby, or touch the baby’s face or their own face. 
  • Ideally, they should also keep their distance from you and the baby.

This is your new baby. You get to make the rules about what visits look like. Think of it like a parenting decision – because it is. And like any parenting decision, some people will applaud you, and some will roll their eyes and say you’re wrong. Sadly, this will not be the last time that you will be faced with these types of reactions to a decision that you’ve made. You can’t please everyone, so make sure that the decisions and boundaries you make are the ones that are right for YOUR family.

Love Sarah   XOXO