Living with and taking care of a tiny human is HARD. I mean, you probably weren’t expecting it to be a walk in the park. Most people have an idea of what it’ll be like; you expect to be tired and sore, you know that babies cry, but it’s not until you’re in it that it hits. This is hard, exhausting, you hurt, everything is leaking, and why didn’t anyone tell you it would be like this?? If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. I think most of us have felt like that, especially after baby #1.
You don’t know how recovery will go, you don’t know what kind of temperament your baby will have; those are factors out of your control. What is in your control? Doing some research beforehand! Look up postpartum things the same way you wrote out your birth plan, or the same way you designed the baby room. You will be glad that you did!
As you may know, I’m a mom of 4, birth and postpartum doula, and core/pelvic floor specialist. I want to share some personal insights, as well as tips that I give clients. There is a lot to be said about postpartum life, but this blog post will be focusing on what to expect mentally and physically, and I also want to provide some insights about breastfeeding and the 6 week return to exercise and sex mark. Read to the end for some thoughts from other moms!
First of all, consider all that the body has gone through. You go through labour and delivery, which is a marathon in and of itself. Now, your body is making milk, reorganizing hormones, and not getting a whole lot of rest due to the tiny human. You may not recognize yourself, your moods might be a little wonky, and you might miss life as you knew it. It can be hard to communicate these things with your partner too.
Recoveries vary from person to person, and also from delivery to delivery. No matter the kind of birth you had, your body is recovering internally and externally. Did you know that when your placenta is gone, you are left with a wound the size of a dinner plate?! Your uterus still has a bit of work to do after baby is born to get back down to size, so you’ll be feeling some cramping and experiencing some bleeding, much like a period. Tissues also go through 3 phases of healing: inflammatory, proliferative, remodeling: this applies to tearing or incisions.
Keep any incisions or tearing clean and dry, and follow doctors/midwives’ orders for pain meds. Gentle movement is important for blood clots, circulation, and constipation. Speaking of poop (everybody poops, as I tell my 5-year-old) fibre and water are your BFFs. Popping your feet on a stool and holding a towel or cloth against your perineum or c-section incision can make that first postpartum poop a little easier to pass. Preventing constipation will also help prevent pelvic organ prolapse from appearing or worsening. Is your perineum a little tender? Sitz baths and witch hazel can do wonders for areas that need a little TLC. These tips will also help with hemorrhoids.
Your milk may come in anywhere from day 3-7. This is accompanied by a hormone switch, as estrogen and progesterone levels take a dip after baby is born and prolactin levels rise. This is very uncomfortable for some, not too uncomfortable for others. This may also be tough mentally; a combination of the hormone changes, physical tiredness, and the initial ‘birth buzz’ wearing off can take a toll.
What else can you do to promote healing? Rest is so important, as is eating nutritious foods, drinking 2-3 L of water, accepting help, and getting gentle movement in. Rest doesn’t need to be sleep. It can be prioritizing sitting, watching lots of movies, reading books, and letting other people take care of the extra stuff. In addition, warm showers, heat packs, and gentle massage can help with sore and aching muscles.
I don’t know about you, but when I was pregnant with my oldest, I just figured breastfeeding would be easy. You stick the baby on your boob and that’s all there is to it, right? Oh, was I wrong. I wish I had paid attention to breastfeeding matters beforehand, because I’ve had all kinds of breastfeeding experiences, and none are what I had imagined.
It takes time for your nipples to adjust, yes, but it shouldn’t hurt. Take the time to make sure baby has a good latch! There are creams and lotions you can use for nipples, if you want to use something. Lactation consultants are amazing people who can visit you, see how you and your baby are doing, and provide strategies and support as needed. Don’t wait, make an appointment sooner rather than later!
I wish someone had also told me that being the only one to feed the baby can be downright exhausting. Babies like to feed, and in the beginning, they feed a lot. If you feel touched out, exhausted, emotional, you aren’t alone. And you aren’t a bad mom for feeling that way. Let your partner help in other ways to help share the load. You don’t have to do it all!
Most of all, remember that if breastfeeding doesn’t work, there is nothing wrong with formula. You can still bond over bottles; happy and sane is what matters. Mom’s mental health matters. Baby’s growth matters. It doesn’t matter how they get that food. Besides, all kids eat food off the floor at some point. At a high school graduation, there are no extra smart kids who were breastfed. My personal experience has been being ok with breastfeeding, but feeling an immense amount of relief when they had switched to formula.
The feeling of your sweet baby out in the big world can be a big eye-opener. YOU are in charge of this tiny human, and it can be terrifying! Will you make the right decisions? Will you be able to do this whole motherhood thing? What if something happens? Lack of sleep can also take a huge toll; some people are angry, some are emotional, others are impatient and lack energy. You may feel all of those things, but you have a very new baby who is getting used to this new world, who knows YOU best. They love you and might just want to eat and be held. This can be a very hard time as well. You love your baby, you want to take care of them, but you also want a shower and a nap and a minute to yourself.
With all of the newness, changes, lack of sleep and hormone changes, you might be wondering; what is the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression/anxiety? Many people feel weepy/down/off the first few weeks after baby. If its continuing or worsening, talk to your doctor! Just know that you aren’t alone. The combination of sleep deprivation and life being turned on its head is a lot to take in. You aren’t a bad parent for loving your baby but also missing aspects of your old life.
It helps to talk about these things before hand with your partner and family/friends. Research and talk about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety (dads get it too, by the way!) Discuss the ‘division of duties:’ who will do what, who will help with what. Learn what each other’s non-negotiables are. I’ll give you an example, for me it’s having a bit of gentle movement and having the house tidy. I need that for my sanity. My husband needs 5 minutes when he walks in the door before being bombarded by a tired wife and crying kids. By having these conversations beforehand, you will be better able to support each other.
Postpartum depression doesn’t always look like you think. I think that a lot of people imagine depressed people to be sleeping a lot and not caring about washing their hair. The truth is, PPA/PPD looks different for everyone. Some people exhibit the tiredness, yes but it can also present as not being able to sit down and relax, trying to control everything, getting angry, not being able to eat or sleep. Read up on the different signs to look out for. Enlist the help of trusted family and friends, because it can be hard to see it when you’re in it.
Another helpful exercise is to research community resources beforehand. What is available for house cleaning, mental health, breastfeeding support, child care support for older kids, or anything else you’re wondering about? Who can you call for meals, when you need a break? Make a list and refer to it when needed. It is so helpful to have resources at your fingertips when you’re overwhelmed.
Fitting in gentle movement, eating nutritious foods, drinking water, and getting as much rest as possible is also important for mental health. Nourish yourself physically and it will also benefit you mentally!
6 week return to activity
Let’s talk about this milestone from a rehab perspective.
Your core has stretched and strained to accommodate the growing baby; Diastiasi Recti is normal in the third trimester, as its your body’s way of making room for baby. Your posture has changed due to the body’s centre of gravity changing, and your pelvic floor has taken a bit of a hit from holding up the growing uterus. Then you had the baby, and its not the gradual change it was when you were pregnant; when your placenta exits your body you are considered not pregnant anymore, and that change in status happens in minutes, as opposed to months. You aren’t pregnant, but you have tissues to heal (remember the stages of healing) as well as a dinner size wound from the placenta detaching.
Our bodies need more than 6 weeks to heal. Movement is helpful for healing, but doing nothing for 6 weeks, then BAM back to normal isn’t a good idea either. So what can you do?
Here’s something to consider instead. Gentle activation of the posterior muscles and some stretching/releasing to show those sore muscles some TLC. Pregnancy causes some major postural changes, and that stuff doesn’t go away overnight when baby is born. Many of us still move around in a perpetual slumped state, aggravated by the fact that we haven’t exercised those posterior (back body) muscles a while. Now we add in more front work: carrying, changing, feeding, rocking, and our bodies continue to curl in.
Moving out of those positions can help reduce aches and pains and just feels good mentally to move around. Want to go for a walk? 5 minutes week 1, 10 minutes week 2, 15 minutes week 3, etc. You could also do a few gentle pelvic floor exercises to increase blood flow and promote healing. Yes, I’m talking about kegels, but remember that the pelvic floor should move in a full range of motion, just like other areas of the body. A kegel is a lift and squeeze (what most people are familiar with) but it’s also a full relaxation. Seeing a pelvic floor physio before your baby is born is a great idea, so you know if you’re doing it right!
It’s not all about working out either. All of those postural, core and pelvic floor changes benefit from a few foundational things, namely breathing and alignment. Diaphragmatic breathing helps coordinate the diaphragm with the pelvic floor, which is the first step toward rehabbing your core and pelvic floor. Alignment is important in reducing aches and pains, but it also lets your body work optimally and helps prevent injuries and core/pelvic floor dysfunction.
The newborn stage is hard, but it’s beautiful in its own way. Soon enough you’ll be back on your feet and doing the things that you love.
Thoughts from Fellow Moms
“Take it easier than you think you should”
“Ask for help! Plan it, and don’t cancel if you’re feeling good’
“Pooping can be difficult and painful after birth, have some laxatives at home just in case”
“Be informed about more than just the birth. I didn’t’ know what to do with the baby once we came home”
“The newborn stage is so beautiful. I loved it, but my sister hated it. There is no right or wrong way to feel”
“Do the things you like. Make time for your hobbies”
“Always accept help and don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for it”
“Make sure your partner knows to look out for the signs of PPA/PPD
“Babies change relationships. It doesn’t have to be a bad change, but it is hard”
“I wish someone had told me about postpartum night sweats. I woke up drenched in sweat and breastmilk for about a month”
“Postpartum OCD is a thing too”
“I love the feeling that my stomach and lungs aren’t squished. I can breathe fully and eat a full meal again!!”
“Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t make it easy”
“It’s ok to not love breastfeeding and to give your baby formula”
“Babies don’t really need all of the fancy things. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money borrow a friends swing/bouncy chair to see if your baby likes it first”
“You will sleep again. Life will settle down into some sort of new nomal”
“Showering is a form of self-care”
“Your baby will want to be held a lot and eat a lot and it can be overwhelming”
“Birth trauma is real and you aren’t alone”
“It took me a bit to bond with my baby”
“I love seeing my husband with my baby, it makes me love him more”
“It is so nice to sleep on my back and stomach again!”