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What It’s Actually Like After Giving Birth

When you’re pregnant for the first time, you will find yourself diving into research-mode about so many topics. Labor, childbirth, newborn baby care, breastfeeding, infant gear, safe sleep, and more. Somehow, it’s so easy to neglect to think about yourself and what actually happens to you after giving birth.

Most people (myself included) think of postpartum depression when they hear the word “postpartum”. But all postpartum actually means is after giving birth.

So many things go on with a new mom after delivery, both physically and emotionally. Here is a summary of the most notable experiences that stood out to me after birth that I wish I had been a little more prepared for.

(Note that my birth experiences were both vaginal births, so if you have a c-section some, but not all, of these may be different.)

What It's Actually Like After Giving Birth

Being forced to get up and walk

I had never heard of this requirement in my life, but a mere 90 minutes after giving birth for the first time, I was told I had to get up and walk to the bathroom. I have no idea what the medical reason is for this, but I can tell you it was downright terrifying.

First of all, I had an epidural that was not fully worn off yet and one of my legs was still numb.

I also had brand new stitches from “many” second degree tears down there. Not to mention the blood loss.

All of these factors combined made for quite the show out of my hobble to the bathroom which was probably only 3 yards from my bed.

Immediately upon getting up I felt extremely dizzy and was scared I was going to faint. The one nurse who was helping me realized she needed backup and called for another nurse to help support my other side. I almost asked for a chair to sit down on half way through, but it felt ridiculous given how close I was to the toilet already.

I have since heard of many postpartum nurse horror stories that are so much worse than this, that I don’t even want to complain too much about it. But at the time, I felt very humiliated and unsupported over this walk- no, shuffle- of shame. If I’d been given just an hour or two more to recuperate I’m sure it would have been a lot easier on me.

The pain of peeing

After pushing a baby out, you might have first, second, third, or even fourth degree tears (the one that goes all the way through- try not to wince, and don’t worry- these are rare). But even if you’re lucky enough to make it through without any tears severe enough to require stitches, you still had a great deal of stretching which is enough to cause many minor, fine tears in the tissue.

These will heal quickly on their own, but when you sit down to pee and the urine washes over them, it will burn like your entire womanhood has been lit on fire.

To avoid this, this handy dandy little squirt bottle will be your best friend. Just squeeze cold water on yourself while peeing and you will barely feel the urine on the cuts.

They give these out at most hospitals, but you may want to check and ask ahead of time and make sure they do at your hospital.

The scary first poop

After giving birth

Ok, I apologize that so many of these revolve around toilet issues. But this is the real deal and I’m trying to be honest more than polite.

Having to poop after giving birth is scary.

Maybe you are lucky and can avoid having to go in the first day or two after birth. Typically your body “clears out” before delivery, and you typically can’t eat during labor, so it’s possible.

But sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

Right in the midst of hobbling around feeling like your insides are falling out, while you’re rocking your padsicles trying not to feel anything down there- you have to push out a poop. I’ve been told this particular poop can feel like pushing out glass.

Luckily I had been warned ahead of time that when they offer you the stool softener, you say yes.

Without this warning, I’m sure I would have been perplexed as to why it was even being offered to me. “No thanks, I’m good, I’m not even constipated!” could have been my completely naive response.

Thanks to an older sister who had given birth before me, I said “yes please” and avoided a terrible post-delivery poop trauma.

Not gonna lie, it was still a little scary. But at least it didn’t feel like glass.

The most sore abs you’ve ever had

Think of pushing a baby out like the most intense ab workout you’ve ever done.

The pushing stage could go on for hours, especially if it’s your first. And chances are you haven’t done any ab exercises in many months.

Makes sense that you’re going to feel very sore after? You bet!

Want to be 100% prepared for labor, delivery and beyond? The Birth Smart Planner is a bundle of over 75 Printables with checklists for everything including packing your hospital bag, prepping your house, writing your birth plan, and more (oh how this would have helped my disorganized mommy brain when I was pregnant!) My favorite part is the Breastfeeding Handbook- it’s comprehensive, yet straight to the point for when you need quick answers during those first few weeks of figuring out breastfeeding.

Postpartum bleeding

My midwife had warned me ahead of time that it’s normal to bleed for up to six weeks after giving birth. I scoffed at that timeframe and thought “no way is it going to last that long.”

Well the karma gods must have heard me and laughed, because I ended up bleeding for TEN STRAIGHT WEEKS.

The first few days postpartum is when you experience the very heavy bleeding. You may have even heard about “golf-ball sized clots”.

This is the time when you need the big mama pads. Don’t send your husband out to go buy some cute little pads. Get the biggest, ugliest pads you can find. Pair them with the biggest, ugliest underwear you can find as well, because chances are they are going in the garbage after.

The next couple of weeks after that, the bleeding is similar to a normal period. You can use normal pads, and you’ll probably want to wear your comfy maternity underwear.

For an unknown number of weeks following that, the bleeding is much lighter. It changes from bright red blood to pink, then yellowish. It gradually tapers off to nothing just when you think you’ll never be able to live without pads again.

The fatigue

After giving birth

If you’re like me, you have something written in your birth plan about how “baby will room in with me” or “keep baby with me at all times.”

It’s a good goal to have, and certainly some new moms are able to pull it off.

Just consider the possibility of this:

  • Your water breaks at 1am after only a couple hours of sleep
  • The rest of that night is spent preparing and making your way to the hospital
  • 20 more hours are spent in labor
  • 2 hours are spent pushing
  • You are handed your bundle of joy and you have now completely missed TWO NIGHTS OF SLEEP IN A ROW.

In any other circumstance in life, after pulling two consecutive all-nighters you would go home and fall into a 12 hour coma-like rest.

But now you have a newborn, so you are sleeping with one eye open for maybe 90 minutes at a time.

If you decide in that moment that you’d like the nurses to keep the baby for a couple hours so you can get something that almost  resembles real sleep, forgive yourself. You are allowed to change your plan.

Believe me, it won’t be the last time that your motherhood ideals don’t mesh with the reality of parenthood.

Not being able to handle visitors

During pregnancy, you are so excited at the thought of your new little one being here, you can’t wait to show him off to all your friends and family. You might even tell people you want them to come meet the baby while you’re still in the hospital.

I would caution against this in most cases.

The reality of the hospital experience may be very different than what you imagined. Of course there is the hefty dose of exhaustion, and there is also a revolving door of doctors and nurses coming and going to check on you and the baby. Vitals need to be taken, tests need to be done, more blood needs to be drawn.

After giving birth

Added on top of that is the stress of trying to figure out breastfeeding. There will certainly be no such thing as a schedule for a baby who is only a couple days old at maximum, so you will need to nurse at unpredictable intervals, possibly every hour.

Trying to coordinate a time for people to come might just be overwhelming to you during all of this. Even more so if visitors drop in unannounced.

You honestly might just be dying for some alone time.

My advice would be to hold off on visitors outside of the immediate family until you get home and decide you’re ready. Or, decide in the moment how you’re feeling in the hospital and let the people you want to see know when you want to see them. I recommend giving them a short window of 20-30 minutes so they don’t overstay.

Remember, you can always invite more people or extend visits longer. It’s much harder to take back an invitation that you previously extended or try to cut a visit short while it’s in process.

The clothing dilemma

Everyone knows someone who knows someone who left the hospital maternity ward in their pre-pregnancy clothes. It’s like the baby name myths of Lemonjello or La-a.

For the rest of the world, you’re going to leave the hospital in maternity clothes. Possibly the same size you came in with, but probably your second trimester size clothes.

You’ll also be sore, so stretchy clothes are your friend.

When packing your hospital bag, it’s a wise idea to pack a couple options of clothes (especially if you’re going with pants) because it’s very hard to predict how much swelling you’ll have or how fast your belly will go back down.

Don’t dress for fashion, you’ll be sporting humungo pads and mesh underwear and you will just want to be able to walk comfortably.

A lose-fitting comfy dress might be a good choice too, especially in the event of a c-section when you won’t want anything rubbing near your scar.

The rollercoaster of emotions

Even if you’re not a crier, get ready for a ridiculous amount of tears after you give birth.

I promise you, there will be crying.

You’ll cry because you dropped your pen. You’ll cry at every single commercial on TV. You might feel like you’re going crazy crying over these ridiculous things.

It’s just the insane amounts of hormones that built up throughout the pregnancy rapidly exiting your body. Some call it the baby blues, and it’s completely normal.

What you want to watch out for (and alert your partner to help you be on the lookout) is the normal baby blues becoming postpartum depression.

Crying for silly reasons and then quickly laughing it off during the week or so after giving birth = baby blues

Feeling anxious about being alone with your baby, not wanting to leave the house, not wanting to see anyone, feeling like you’re a terrible mother, or thinking that you shouldn’t have this baby, are not baby blues. These are red flags for postpartum depression.

If you’re even questioning that you could have postpartum, call your healthcare provider and let them do a screening and decide. If you feel unable to make that phone call, ask your partner or someone you trust do it for you. Don’t suffer until your 6 week follow up if you think there may be a problem sooner.

The sweating

Another fun side effect of the hormonal changes is night sweats.

I gave birth in the dead of winter and New England and still woke up in the night completely drenched in sweat.

Yes, it’s gross, but luckily it only lasted a week or two and then it was back to dry PJs (well, dry except for the leaking breasts).

The pain of breastfeeding

After giving birth

I’ve written before in 7 Breastfeeding Surprises how I felt extreme pain and cramping in my uterus while breastfeeding shortly after giving birth.

In addition to that, many new moms experience painful breast engorgement and cracked nipples.

It’s safe to say you can expect breastfeeding to be uncomfortable at the start. The range could be anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to very painful.

Most of the time, these issues are resolved pretty quickly and breastfeeding should not continue to be painful beyond that initial stage. If it is, there is probably an underlying issue like a tongue tie or lip tie, and you should have a doctor look into it further.

Feeling like you don’t matter anymore

This is truly one of the hardest parts of the postpartum experience, and it’s rarely talked about.

When you’re pregnant (and especially at the end when you’re very noticeably pregnant) everywhere you go you get comments, accommodations, and just generally people trying to help you out. Everyone wants to give you a seat, hand you a glass of water, make sure you’re comfortable. Everyone asks how you’re feeling, how you’re sleeping, if you’re hungry.

As soon as that baby exits your body, all (or almost all) of that care and concern shifts to the baby.

Of course, in a way, that’s how it should be. The baby is a helpless new life and you’re an adult woman.

But that doesn’t mean that the change isn’t jarring, and that it doesn’t hurt.

If you’re lucky, you will have one or two close people in your life that still remember to ask how you’re doing and if they can help you with anything. Your partner, if he’s a good one, will still be looking out for your comfort and bringing you food and water.

Just don’t be surprised if all the other family members barely act like you’re there.

And if it makes you feel invisible, or sad, or like you don’t matter anymore, remember to talk to the people closest to you and remember that you are important. You are important now more than ever! The new baby craze will die down soon enough, and you will resume your normal, average place in society.

Most of all, remember that a good mother makes herself a priority. Seek out the support you need. Let others know how you’re feeling and get help when you need it.

The postpartum experience is paradoxically one of the most difficult and most beautiful times of your life! Remember to treat yourself gently. And when it gets hard, remember that it doesn’t last long.

After giving birth

Moms, what was your postpartum experience like? First time expectant moms, what are your concerns about the recovery after giving birth?

All Your (Not So) Stupid Birth Questions Answered

When you’re pregnant for the first time, it suddenly hits you how little you actually know about giving birth. As the big day approaches, it is normal for fears to set in. I know before I delivered my first baby, I suddenly had a million birth questions and some of them seemed SO BASIC I was embarrassed to even Google them.

Honestly, everyone wonders about the what is going to happen during labor and delivery and many, many people have the same questions. I gathered up all your not-so stupid childbirth questions and tried my best to answer them from experience. My hope is that some of your fears will be put to rest after this!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

birth questions

And if you have a million more questions beyond these, make your life easy and take a birthing class. The best online course I have heard about is by Mommy Labor Nurse, a L&D nurse. Her course is called Birth It Up! and is especially geared towards those who have their heart set on a natural birth. The video modules take about 3 hours to get through and she packs a LOT of great info in.

How do I know when my water breaks?

Watch any Hollywood movie about pregnancy and they’ll have you thinking your water is going to break in the middle of a crowded restaurant or some other equally embarrassing public place.

In reality, most of the time your water breaks when you’re already in the hospital in labor. With my second, I was 5 cm dilated and my water still hadn’t broken, so my midwife actually broke it for me. This is very common!

Still, it can happen that your water breaks out of nowhere at the onset of labor. And there really isn’t any warning before your water breaks in these instances. With my first baby, my water broke in bed at 4 am (thankfully I had prepared and put the waterproof mattress protector on the bed!)

When your water breaks fully, it is a big gush and you won’t mistake it. But sometimes the bag of water only partially breaks, so it comes out as a trickle or slow leak. This is when people get confused and start Googling “did my water break or did I pee?”

There are a few ways to tell the difference:

  • One little trickle- possibly pee. A slow leak that continues to trickle out all afternoon? Most likely your water.
  • Smell it. Does it smell like pee? Or does it smell like nothing or slightly sweet? (This is what amniotic fluid smells like.)
  • Wear a pad and look at the color. If it’s yellowish it’s pee.
  • See a medical professional. They can test the fluid and tell you what it is.

What do contractions feel like? How can I tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and real contractions?

Braxton Hicks contractions feel like a soft squeezing or tightening of your uterus, almost like flexing a muscle. They are gentle, irregular, and not painful. By the end of pregnancy you will probably be familiar with them and won’t be alarmed by Braxton Hicks.

Early labor starts out similar to Braxton Hicks because the contractions are not regular and not painful yet. As labor progresses, the contractions get longer, stronger, and closer together. Eventually they will come in a regular pattern and gradually become more intense, which is how you know you’re in labor.

birth questions
Having to stop what you’re doing to breathe through the contraction is a good sign you’re really in labor.

Once you’re in active labor, contractions are gradually become more intense and painful. At this stage, they feel somewhat similar to a calf cramp when the muscle flexes painfully and you can’t get it to relax. If you’ve ever felt that sensation, try to imagine it wrapping all around your waist and that’s pretty much what an intense contraction feels like.

The saving grace of labor is that you get breaks in between contractions. The contraction builds like a wave, stays painful for a minute or so, and then just as quickly dissipates. Then you have a few completely pain-free minutes in between contractions to recover and rest.

How will I know when I’m in labor?

The first signs of labor can be a little vague and it’s normal to be wondering “Am I in labor?”

The tricky part is that they don’t all happen for everyone, and they don’t always happen in the same order. Some early signs include:

  • nausea/diarrhea (the body often “clears out” to prepare for birth)
  • loss of mucus plug/bloody show (if you don’t know what a mucus plug is, you can learn all about it here but be warned: there are pictures!)
  • cramping, back pain, joint pain
  • water breaking
  • regular contractions that you need to breathe through

The last two are the clear and straightforward signs. The others are just there to confuse you!

How will I know when to go to the hospital?

Call your healthcare provider when your water breaks or when contractions are regular. He or she can tell you whether to stay at home longer or go to the hospital.

Keep in mind that the average first time labor is 24 hours long. There is typically no need to rush to the hospital. You will be more comfortable in your own home for early labor, plus you can eat, drink, shower, and bathe as you please.

Why can’t you eat during labor?

Most hospitals still don’t let you eat during labor because of the possibility you will end up needing a C-section, in which case you could aspirate vomit while under anesthesia. Some hospitals have changed their policies on this, so ask beforehand to see if this is even a concern.

Labor can be long (like 36 hours long) so it’s pretty crazy to think about not eating for that entire time. This is a good reason to stay home during early labor. There you can eat what you want and give yourself some energy for all the work you’re about to do. Stick to something with protein to make you feel fuller longer.

By the time you’re in active labor, you probably won’t feel very hungry so you should be ok with popsicles and Gatorade. That first meal you eat after giving birth will taste positively heavenly though!

Does an epidural hurt?

Words like “pain” and “hurt” are relative terms when you’re in labor. After experiencing childbirth, your entire pain scale is going to be different.

By the time you request an epidural, you are most likely experiencing such painful contractions that the thought of a needle being put into your spine will not scare you. Women would not request this if they didn’t feel it was necessary!

In fact, that’s the exact gage I used to decide when to get the epidural. When I was more afraid of the next contraction than I was of an epidural, that meant I was ready for it.

If your anesthesiologist is kind, they will prep you in between contractions and not do anything when you’re in the middle of one. A tiny needle with numbing medication is inserted first, and you will feel the sting of this one but it’s really nothing worse than a regular shot. The numbing medication will take a minute to set in, and then you really don’t feel much of anything when they put in the larger needle.

birth questions
It’s really not as scary as it looks. And you don’t have to look! All the needle action will be going on behind your back.

The whole process takes just a few minutes and before you know it you are laying there comfortably like nothing ever happened.

If you are planning to go without the epidural, you do your thing! I’m a super wuss so the epidural was in my birth plan from day one. You do what feels right for you, but don’t let fear of the needle stop you from getting an epidural if you want one.

Will I poop during pushing?

So, so many women are scared of pooping during labor and especially during the pushing.

The answer to this question falls somewhere in the range of possibly/probably/does it really matter? I don’t think there is anyone officially collecting data on who poops the table while giving birth, but I think it’s safe to say it happens more than half the time.

For one, during pushing the doctor will actually TELL you to push like you’re having a bowel movement. So it’s pretty natural that you will have a bowel movement if you listen and do it correctly.

If you’re asking because this seems like the most humiliating thing that will ever happen in your life, let me just tell you it won’t be that bad.

Labor and delivery nurses see this every day and they are good at quickly and discretely changing the pads. In all likelihood you won’t even notice because, ahem, you’re pushing a baby out. As for your partner and whoever else is there to support you, well they are there to support you. They probably aren’t looking at your butt and they certainly aren’t there to judge.

The energy in the room during the pushing stage of childbirth is really something amazing. After all the hours you hours have labored, you’re now just moments away from holding your baby! I know poop seems like a big deal now, but in that moment it truly will be the last thing on your mind.

Will I throw up during labor?

This might not seem like a big deal to everyone, but if any of you have emetophobia like me, it is truly terrifying.

I attended both of my sister’s births and had to leave the room quite a few times because she was vomiting. It’s a pretty common thing, and your nurses will tell you it’s a good sign if you’re vomiting because it likely means you’re in transition.

When it was my turn, I didn’t really care if it was a good sign or not, I did NOT want to throw up when I was in labor. And the time did come when I felt the urge. I was able to keep it at bay by putting ice-soaked wash clothes on my face and neck until the nurse came through with the anti-nausea meds.

So to answer the actual question, yes you might throw up during labor and this is normal. But you also might not. If you really don’t want to throw up, get your order for anti-nausea meds in to your nurse early on before you get to transition.

What happens if you pass out during delivery?

This actually wasn’t one of my personal fears, but I have since discovered that a lot of women are scared of passing out during labor.

Passing out not one of the body’s typical reactions to labor pain. Labor is more like an endurance test than a blunt trauma type of pain. Women tend to get exhausted, not faint. If you do feel light-headed during labor and think you might faint, make sure you tell your nurse and she can give you oxygen.

birth questions
Statistically, it’s more likely that your spouse will faint during delivery than you. But both are rare!

In case you are still afraid of passing out during birth, maybe it will quell your fears to know that women can successfully deliver a baby vaginally while unconscious.

Will I tear during birth?

Unfortunately, tearing during childbirth is very common, especially among first time moms. According to Parents magazine:

First-time moms have a 95 percent chance of experiencing some form of tearing during delivery, since the tissue down there is less flexible. But other factors contribute to your likelihood of lacerations, such as being overweight or having a fast birth, since the tissue has less time to adapt and stretch as baby comes down; the position of the baby (those facing up, for example, put extra pressure on the bottom of the vagina) is another factor. Having a vacuum- or forceps-assisted delivery or an especially long labor that results in severe vaginal swelling increases your chance of tearing as well.

The good news is that the most common type of tear is a second-degree tear (out of a possible 4), meaning that stitches are required but the tear does not extend to the rectum.

Having stitches down there is obviously not the most pleasant feeling, so stay on top of the pain with the prescription you get from the hospital. You will also get some relief from these Perineal Cold Packs (affectionately called “padsicles” among Moms) which stick right into your underwear to keep it all numb down there.

What does giving birth feel like?

Giving birth is incredibly surreal so this is a hard question to answer. I’m sure it’s very different when you’ve had an epidural versus without. You’ve probably heard of the “ring of fire” people describe when the baby is coming out in a natural delivery, which I can only image is a circle of burning pain in your lady parts as they stretch when the baby comes through.

I had an epidural with both of my deliveries and can’t say I’ve experienced anything that I’d call a ring of fire. For me it is somewhat similar to the feeling of pooping, but not quite. For me when the baby is crowning,  you feel the stretching and something coming through. But on that last push, when the shoulders and body come out it feels more like a small explosion. Luckily not a painful one, thanks to the epidural. Just a crazy feeling of something passing THROUGH you. Because someone is!

I apologize for not being able to describe it better. It’s just a difficult feeling to put into words.

What is afterbirth?

After the baby is out, your body needs to expel the placenta and fetal membranes. You might be wondering, does delivering the placenta hurt? Let me assure you, there is a good chance you will not even notice it is going on. The baby is so much bigger and harder to deliver, the afterbirth is nothing to hem and haw over.

Additionally, your baby will likely be in your arms and receiving his or her first kisses while the afterbirth is being delivered. This is a huge distraction from what’s going on down there. Your doctor will be paying attention to make sure the entire placenta is delivered, but you will probably be way too wrapped up in your bundle of joy.

They might ask you to do a few little “mini pushes” to get the placenta out, but the effort required is pretty minimal. Sometimes birth attendants will apply pressure to your uterus from the outside to help too, which can be uncomfortable but not extremely painful.

I actually have a photo of myself delivering the placenta, but you can’t really tell what is going on in the picture because the focus is on me enjoying my new baby.

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What will my belly look like after the baby is out?

I know I imagined a postpartum belly would look something like a deflated balloon. Immediately after birth, it doesn’t. In reality, it looks just about the same as it did when you were five or six months pregnant. This is because it takes time for the uterus to shrink back down to size and for everything to go back to its place.

With time your belly will shrink back down to size, but it’s hard to say whether or not the skin will look like a deflated balloon. Depending on several factors including your age, fitness level, and genetics, some people’s skin tightens back to what it was before pregnancy. Other people end up with loose skin that never regains the same elasticity. (And I have heard some stories of success getting rid of stretch marks using organic and natural products).

I am so not the type to take stomach after delivery pictures, but luckily other people are! Take a look at some postpartum belly pictures here.

I hope I’ve answered all your most pressing birth questions!

Remember, the more prepared you are for delivery the less scary it will be.


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