No one talks about it, but postpartum is hard. It’s miraculous and exciting and fulfilling, but also a lot harder than I imagined. I had a perfectly healthy pregnancy and a very wonderful natural birth, so I fully expected that to transition right into smooth motherhood. But for many of us, those first 6 weeks are anything but smooth.
I was so blessed to have a doula and a midwife who repeatedly discussed the postpartum period. I remember my midwife insisting that my husband commit to staying by my side 24/7 for at least 2 days after the birth. Both of us thought this was total overkill at the time; I’m a high-capacity woman, after all. But it turns out I really did need him!
The birth is the hardest thing I have ever done, but that only lasted 20 hours, give or take. Those next 6 weeks of adjusting to a new normal were a different kind of difficult.
You all saw the cute pictures of my baby on social media, but there was real, raw recovery behind the lens. And just like in birth, real and raw can be beautiful.
You will have the heaviest period of your life and things will be sore for a while
So you just pushed an 8 lb baby out of the most delicate part of your body. That speaks for itself. If you’re in the 92% of first-time moms that have a perineal tear during delivery, you might have stitches there too. Needless to say, things are going to be sore for a while.
You will be so afraid to poop, but most of it is unwarranted. Just relax, and it will probably be fine. If you need a little extra help, try Smooth Move Tea.
It might burn when you go #1 too. You’ll have the peri bottle, but I would recommend investing in this bottle, which is at the right angle to make it so much easier.
If it hurts to sit, a hemorrhoid donut is your best friend. Speaking of hemorrhoids…you might have those too.
Two words: mesh. underwear. I had a home birth, so I stocked up on oversized granny panties before my birth, but if you’re in the hospital, grab as many of those mesh underwear as you can! Get more pads than you think you will need: maternity pads for the first few days, and regular pads for the next few weeks. Yes, weeks.
The number one thing I wish I had done differently is listen to my midwife and stayed in bed. Scooting out of bed to change the baby’s diaper and doing stairs once or twice a day really took a toll on my stitches, and may have lengthened my recovery. If at all possible, try to have someone there with you for those first few weeks. Even if you think you’re Wonder Woman (I know I felt that way after giving birth!), your body needs to rest.
You will be wet. Everything is leaking. Your days and everything else are fluid.
I remember tucking my two sets of nursing pads into the drawer next to my rocking chair, thinking I would probably never even need them. Fast forward two weeks, my nipples are like sprinklers and I’m on Amazon prime, frantically ordering 12 more sets of nursing pads to keep up with my oversupply. When I tucked those pads into that drawer, I imagined myself sitting in the rocking chair, peacefully nursing my baby as he drifted off to sleep. I never pictured my breasts constantly rock hard and my son choking, coughing, and gagging as my milk sprayed him every time it let down. I had a few soft nursing bras and a few of the clip-down type, but I found comfort prevails and I ended up ordering 8 more of these sleep bras.
It wasn’t just milk either…you will literally leak everywhere. In addition to the heaviest period you’ve ever had, you will sweat more than you could imagine possible. I gained 30 pounds during my pregnancy and my son was only 7 1/2, so all that fluid has to go somewhere! Have an extra set of sheets on hand, and be ready to change clothes a few times a day. P.S. you’ll probably stink. P.P.S. it doesn’t matter because your baby likes it!
It turns out your baby leaks too. I thought I would be able to do cloth diapers right away, but they were too big for him and the size 2 diapers I had on hand were too big too! I would recommend starting with at least one package of these newborn diapers, even if you plan on using cloth. They go through them faster than you think.
Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to every woman or every baby. It takes work and determination. But it is so, so worth it.
They tell you it isn’t supposed to hurt. And it shouldn’t. But it does. Nearly everyone has some discomfort with nursing in the beginning. For me, my nipples were in no condition to be sucked on 24/7, which led to blisters, cracking, and even bleeding. But trust me when I say, this gets better quickly. If your baby has a good latch, the pain should be gone in a few days. Nipple cream is your best friend! But if you are having pain, I would highly recommend seeing a Lactation Consultant to ensure your baby is latching properly. Soreness is something you want to be on top of before it gets worse.
Then there’s oversupply and its evil twin undersupply. Your body is doing something brand new for the first time. It has no idea how much your baby needs to eat. In time, it will figure itself out if you are breastfeeding correctly. I would highly recommend reading a book on breastfeeding while you are still pregnant to know what’s normal!
The best thing you can do is stay in bed with your baby, skin-to-skin, and nurse on demand. I nursed seemingly every hour in those first few weeks and still got mastitis at 5 weeks. Just another reminder that you can do everything right and still not have control!
If you have to supplement with formula, don’t beat yourself up! Remember, breast isn’t best; fed is best. But don’t give up breastfeeding! Things will probably work themselves out in time, and nursing is one of the most special bonds you can make. Remember, you and baby are both learning and brand new skill and it may take some time to master.
You aren’t going to want to, or be able to cook.
You thought you were hungry when you were pregnant? Within hours after giving birth I was ravenous, I felt like I could not get not hungry. Meal-planning and cooking will be the last thing on your mind, yet it is absolutely imperative to eat healthy to replace the nutrients given to your baby. Opting for convenience food and empty calories may fill you, but it will leave you depleted, as our bodies naturally give the best nutrients to the baby. You want calorie-rich, protein-dense, nutritional powerhouse foods.
If your husband can commit to making dinner, that’s great! But I’m the cook in our house, and I knew we’d be getting take-out if I didn’t prepare ahead of time. One of the best things I did while still pregnant was make freezer meals that my husband could just toss in a crockpot during the day for a hot, nutritious meal in the evening. I did it the easiest way: for the last two months of my pregnancy, I just doubled the recipes of whatever I was making on a given night, and froze the other half. Easy! We had 30 freezer meals by the tine I went into labor.
Freezer meals are great, but you are also going to be nursing and holding a baby pretty much nonstop, which leaves little time to sit down and eat. Enter the one-handed snacks. My favorite were these energy bites which I made ahead of time and froze. I also made scrambled eggs with veggies and cheese in muffin tins and froze those as well. Then I could just direct my husband to bring me what I needed! I also kept a basket by the bed with these meat bars, these superfood bars, and all the nuts. That way I could just grab what I needed when I needed it.
Also don’t forget to keep taking your prenatal vitamin as long as you continue to breastfeed. I recommend a whole food vitamin like this one.
After about 3 weeks, I was ready to meal plan and cook again, but I’m so grateful that pregnant me took care of postpartum me in those first delicate weeks! Oh, and my husband 🙂
Also…you’re going to be thirsty. So thirsty. You don’t want to get caught nursing without water! I kept two of these tumblers filled up by my bed with these straws because we all know Mama can’t handle tipping a cup. I drank at least 4 a day, so that’s literally a gallon of water a day.
Your brain might stop working temporarily, and you might feel like not-you.
It does come back, I promise. But from the moment you go into labor, you will enter a slightly augmented reality that is fed by hormones, sleep deprivation, physical discomfort, and total infatuation. I didn’t sleep for over 36 hours when I delivered Raphael, and I know some women go even longer. Now 3 months in, I still have not slept for more than 3 hrs straight. It will be hard at first, but your body will adapt, so go easy on yourself in those first few weeks.
Your hormones will also be changing more rapidly than ever before. I consider myself pretty level-headed, but on Day 3 when my milk came in, I could definitely feel the hormones running wild! Everyone experiences this differently, but it is perfectly normal. I would recommend getting your placenta encapsulated, which can really help even out hormone levels and even prevent postpartum depression. I wound up not really needing my capsules, but I was grateful to have them on hand just in case.
You might not want to see or entertain anyone
And that’s okay! You don’t have to invite anyone over right away, and you can say no when someone asks to visit. Entertaining is extra draining in these first few weeks, so don’t feel obligated to take a shower, put on clothes, or even leave your bed. This time is about you and your baby, and these are precious days. Even if you thought you’d want to show off your baby right away, you might find you want to hole up just the three of you. There will be plenty of time for everyone to see the baby when your reality returns. And just as a friendly reminder, here are some rules for visiting a newborn.
If I could sum it all up, here’s the crux: have support. Accept help. Give your partner a turn with holding the baby too, and let their bond develop as well.
Don’t expect to be able to perform at the level you once did immediately. Go easy on yourself on the days when you get two hours of sleep. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself or cry with your baby. It’s normal. You’re not perfect, but you’re doing great.