There was a headline going around the internet this week about a commercial that was rejected by the Oscars because it showed a real (unpretty) look at postpartum recovery. Needless to say, people had opinions.
Women feel they weren’t warned or prepared properly about postpartum because it simply isn’t spoken about or shown in the mainstream media. The media prefers to portray birth as a beautiful act, which of course it is, but it’s also extremely messy and difficult. The pressure on women to “bounce back” quickly is immense, and often times unrealistic.
Instead of the pressuring women to bounce back from birth as if nothing happened, we should be preparing them and supporting them in their recovery. That is the entire reason behind my ebook The Postpartum Handbook, because women need to know what the expect and how to prepare for the delicate postpartum phase. Too often, all the focus is on the baby, and it’s easy for the mother’s needs to go unnoticed. We women deserve better!
In this effort, here are 14 things I wish I’d know about postpartum recovery. Hopefully you are reading them while you’re still pregnant so you won’t be caught off guard.
Use Stool Softeners
Your first postpartum poop is downright terrifying. It can be a very painful experience, so prepare yourself accordingly.
If you had a c-section, you’ll have the side effects of constipation from the anesthesia. If you had a vaginal delivery, your vulva will likely be a torn-up mess. Either way, pooping will hurt, but stool softeners help a lot with easing the pain of those first few trips to the toilet.
Abdominal Pain and Cramping
Postpartum recovery is kind of like a period on steroids. Be prepared for a lot of cramping, especially when you’re breastfeeding, as your uterus contracts to its original size. A warm bath or shower, hot water compress, and herbal tea can all help alleviate your discomfort.
Sweatpants are Life
Be sure to stock up on the fluffiest, squishiest sweatpants before you give birth. Sweatpants are pretty much the only thing you’ll be wearing for the first few weeks of postpartum life. It helps to have multiple pairs to cycle through as you’ll be dealing with spit-up stains, diaper mishaps, and worse.
Painful Nipples and Boobs
Your boobs will get swollen and sore as your milk comes in, and your nipples will be very tender as they grow accustomed to breastfeeding.
Expressing milk with your hands and warm showers work wonders with breast engorgement. Your nipples will thank you if you invest in a non-lanolin based nipple cream. I highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant to help you learn the breastfeeding ropes. This is one of my five major tips on how to start breastfeeding successfully.
The Stomach Pooch Stays a While
Your mom might have told you it takes nine months to gain the baby weight and nine months to lose it. That statement couldn’t be more true! It takes time for your body to return to normal.
Your stomach might never have quite the same shape it used to, and that’s ok. Imagine blowing up a balloon, and then allowing it to deflate. The elasticity won’t be the same as it was before. Getting some exercise in (after you’ve healed and are ready) will help some.
Here is a post about how I gently lost the baby weight.
You Will Probably Pee Yourself
You’ll find yourself leaking pretty much every day. Laughing, coughing, sneezing, and working out are common culprits, and don’t even think about jumping on a trampoline.
There are pelvic floor exercises you can do to help regain some bladder control. Consider wearing a pad until you regain a semblance of normalcy.
You Bleed–A LOT
As I said before, the postpartum recovery stage is like a period on steroids. It’s normal to have vaginal bleeding and discharge for up to six weeks after giving birth. The bleeding gradually lightens in color and tapers off.
You’ll have to wear a pad instead of a tampon during this time, as your vagina still isn’t healed. Remember- NOTHING in the vagina for at least six weeks after birth! A tampon can expose you to bacteria and cause infections.
You Will Be Crazy Thirsty
Lactating takes a lot of liquids out of your body, making it easier to become dehydrated. Make sure to listen to your body and drink lots of extra water. It might even be worth it to invest in one of those big, fancy water bottles to make it easier to drink enough water each day.
Be Sure to Eat Enough
According to the American Pregnancy Association, you burn between 425 and 700 extra calories per day when you’re lactating.
It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re trying to care for the most demanding, tiny human you’ve ever met. It might even be tempting to skimp on your meals to help shed that baby weight. Getting adequate nutrition is essential for your milk supply and your health. Try making up for the extra calories with healthy foods as opposed to empty calories.
Here are some ideas for easy, healthy snacks to grab while you’re breastfeeding.
Your Hormones Will Be Crazy
Your emotions will be all over the place after giving birth. The lactating hormones, combined with your depleting pregnancy hormones, will render you a blubbering mess. If you feel the urge, don’t be afraid to have a good ugly cry. It’ll help you feel better, and there’s nothing wrong with crying.
Be sure to seek professional help if you’re displaying any of the signs of postpartum depression (PPD). Crying out of the blue may be normal while you’re recovering from birth, but socially withdrawing and feeling constantly sad or anxious are not.
Embrace Your New Body
Your post-pregnancy body might never be 100% the same as it was before, and that’s ok.
You will probably have a few extra stretch marks, rolls, and thigh dimples. Your boobs will be bigger and saggier, your nipples will be large and dark, and you might pee yourself a little when you jump on the trampoline. Your body just gave birth to a human, and that’s a fantastic accomplishment. Don’t beat yourself up over those few extra stretch marks and pounds.
Take Care of Your Vagina
If you delivered vaginally, peeing will hurt a lot. Newborn diapers full of ice, pads soaked with tea or aloe vera and frozen, and using a peri bottle to clean yourself instead of wiping all offer some relief from the pain. Especially if you had tearing down there, accept that your body just went through a traumatic experience and give it some TLC.
NEVER underestimate the power of a newborn baby. Many first time parents make the mistake of assuming their newborn baby won’t be too much work because they sleep all the time. But some babies only like to sleep a half-hour at a time, sometimes they sleep all day and are awake all night, and often they won’t sleep without being held.
Add all that on top of your newborn being a tiny poop making machine, and your body just having given birth; you’re going to be one tired mama.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Have your hubby get up with the baby a few extra times at night or ask your mom to come over and watch the baby for a few hours while you nap. You deserve that much-needed rest.
Most doctors recommend waiting at least 6 weeks after giving birth to engage in sexual intercourse. Sex is gonna hurt the first time you do it postpartum, and you’ll still probably be a little tender down there. Don’t skimp on the lube when you’re getting in that postpartum action.
For more on postpartum sex, check out my realistic guide to sex after baby.
For more detail, get the handbook!
Want to know just how much bleeding is normal? The exact recipe for a sitz bath or soothing padsicles? How about C-section recovery guidelines? The Postpartum Handbook covers it all- because no one should go into this crazy ride blindly.