After delivering a baby, most women feel a big sigh of relief, and overwhelming gratitude – both for the presence of their child, and the fact that they are no longer pregnant. Hooray! The first few days float by in a blissful haze of feel good hormones, leftover adrenaline, and baby gazing. And then reality hits (like a ton of bricks). Here are ten things about the postpartum period that no one tells you (except me. You’re welcome.)
10 Things No One Told You About Postpartum
1. Breastfeeding can be hard (or not).
Ok, so maybe someone told you this already. But what they don’t tell you is that it will pass, and there are plenty of things you can do to ease the pain and challenge of early breastfeeding. My milk came in pretty early, within 72 hours of birth, which was great, because baby was chewing the shit out of my nipples, but once it came in, there was a slew of other challenges. First was engorgement – overfull, abundant milk supply which led to hard, leaky breasts and lots of milk stained sheets, tank tops, etc. The days of sleeping braless are over (for now). Then came the raw, painful nights when every feeding was a test of my pain endurance (okay, maybe it wasn’t as bad as my drug-free labor, but it still hurt). After about four weeks, things started to even out and my nips toughened up, and I thought we were in for smooth sailing. Around ten weeks, I got my period back (!!WTF!!) and noticed that while it was present, my supply seemed to be a bit lower. I whipped up some lactation cookies, started eating oatmeal and taking fenugreek capsules, and added a pumping session at night after Tanner fell asleep and again in the morning after his first feed. This brought supply back up to manageable levels. If that weren’t enough, I started to get a few blocked ducts (felt like pain in my armpit and a little node/bump thing) but thanks to hot compresses and hot showers and gentle massage, it disappeared. Now, three months down the line, the biggest challenge is trying to build a milk supply so I can go places and do things without the babe on the boob. It’s slow going, but by adding a pumping session one hour after every feeding, and pumping just 2oz or so, I’m slowly building up a stash so I can go to school without worrying, attend an evening workout class, and eventually spend a few hours in the office again.
2. Bleeding varies, stops and starts.
I thought it was going to be a bloodbath after baby surfed into the world on the crimson tide. I was right, and I was wrong. The first three days post-birth were pretty heavy bleeding, warranting an enchanting ensemble of ginormous pads (seriously bigger than you ever imagined) and mesh panties, which thankfully were provided to me via our birthing center. Had they not been so kind, I’d prepared by ordering a large package of Depends – yes, adult diapers. As it turned out, I didn’t really need those because by day three, my bleeding tapered off to a normal period-like flow, and by two weeks, had stopped entirely. Then, without much warning, it came back at 4 weeks, and six, and ten (actual period. boo). Every person is different, so be ready for anything.
Besides bleeding, there may be some other recovery happening down there – things can tear as your babe makes their way into the world. For some reason, when people explained this to me during pregnancy, I imagined only a tear going from the vagina towards the rear. I imagined it in a nice straight line, easy to repair with a few well placed stitches. REALITY CHECK: things tear in all sorts of different ways. They can tear towards the front! Your labia may never be the same. I say this not to scare you, but to inform you, so that if/when it happens to you, you are not as shellshocked as I was. The good news? By eight weeks, this is pretty much healed and back to normal. Well, a new normal.
3. Placenta > Prozac
Have you ever thought about taking the temporary life-giving organ which feeds your baby in utero and turning it into a delicious smoothie? Yeah, probably not. BUT placenta dehydration and encapsulation is a thing, and I decided to give it a whirl. I actually wasn’t even sure why I was doing it when I first decided to pay the $250 to have it sliced, dried, and put into capsules. But in the weeks following birth I was actually glad I did, because I noticed a measurable difference in my mood on the days that I ingested the placenta capsules versus the days I did not. How does this work? I have no idea, but for me the placenta pills seemed to operate as an anti-depressant and mood stabilizer. It may be from the hormones present in the placenta, which help to gradually lower the hormone levels in mama’s body, instead of experiencing an abrupt drop after baby arrives. For me, I also experienced an increase in breastmilk production when I started taking the pills – no way to know if this is correlation or causation, but it happened.
Common questions about placenta encapsulation: 1. Is it gross? Not really, though they don’t smell like roses. I advise you to not smell your placenta pills, and just eat them. 2. How do I find someone to encapsulate my placenta? I was referred to my specialist Meghan Johnstone of By Your Side Birth Services by my doula, Leah Brodt, and Meghan was great. They coordinated to drop off my placenta the day Tanner was born, and Meghan dropped it off at my house 3 days later.
4. Air bubbles… where?! Your vagina is different (at first).
Oh man, where do I start with the vagina stuff? Well, we already talked about bleeding, but aside from that, you may be wondering about the state of your “pink thang” in the weeks post-partum. The most annoying thing I noticed, aside from random intermittent pain (which stopped by week 8 as well) is air bubbles. For about the first twelve weeks post-partum, I experienced random air bubble sensation inside my vagina, and sometimes they threatened to escape – usually in the most inopportune times, like during three legged dog in yoga practice. Yikes. I normally love to pop the bubbly, but not in this way. What’s a girl to do when queefs become a part of daily life? Kegel, kegel, kegel. Contracting the pelvic floor muscles with regularity will help tighten, tone, and recondition your vaginal canal, and also help prevent unexpected bursts of air (or pee) when you laugh, sneeze, walk, workout, or pretty much do anything at all. Ha.
5. Priorities change.
This one, you should be like, “No shit. I knew that.” So maybe it goes without saying, but all of a sudden the world seems like a very different place when you are holding this perfect, precious, tiny, brand new human. Nothing is as important as making sure they are safe, secure, and loved. Hanging out with friends, doing your job, cleaning your house… it all becomes second to staring at your baby for hours on end. Will things ever get back to normal? I have no idea, but for me around 8 weeks I started feeling ready to venture out into the world, baby bear in tow, and act like a regular person again – but only for like 3 hours a day. I think the biggest thing here is that there are no breaks. Like, really, no breaks. Even if you get a break, your mind is still with baby. I think that might last forever (at least, that’s what my mama tells me).
6. Joint pain, stiffness & instability.
This is the biggest annoyance which I had NO idea may occur during the postpartum period. By week 5, I was ready and raring to go exercise. I was tired of feeling cooped up, and equally tired of looking at the extra 45 pounds I was still carrying around, so I took the plunge and joined Stroller Strides, a mama & kiddo workout which combines circuit training and cardio – walking or jogging between workout stations over the course of an hour long workout. This did wonders for my mental health, as I started to feel human again just from going out and getting some fresh air and exercise, but I noticed right away that my joints – particularly my knees – felt really unstable during lunges, squats, and even jogging. After doing some research, I realized that the relaxin which allows joints to loosen during pregnancy so baby can come out is still present, and it may take a few months (up to 9) for your joints to get back to normal .
7. Sex is still awesome (but not at first).
Ah, sex, the activity that got you into this
mess motherhood situation. It used to be so fun, right? A bit of flirtation, some nice foreplay, a romp in the sack, multiple orgasms (ok, not always, but this is my post so just go with it), finished with a nice long snuggle/nap/cookie/whatever floats your boat. Well, welcome to post-baby sex. If you’re in the first few weeks, just skip this section, ’cause that shit ain’t happening for you, mama. If you’re at the six week mark, and your doc said your vag is good to go, then let’s talk: your doctor doesn’t know your lady bits like you do. They may say good to go, and you try it and realize that the inside of your vagina literally feels like someone peeled your skin off and left you raw in there. Or maybe it feels as dry as the Sahara desert, or maybe you’ve got new creases, cracks, and folds in your labia that are making you feel like you’ve got a Frankenvag. There’s a lot of possibilities here. My message is this: be patient. At six weeks, I got the go-ahead, so hubby and I gave it a valiant effort but it. just. hurt. Like, a lot. So, I said ix-nay on the ex-say and we agreed to try again in a few weeks. Week eight, I had my first glass of postpartum vino, and a special herb that I’ve heard makes you feel more sensual, and sure enough, I felt ready to try again. We went slow. We used LOTS of lube. It was awkward, and clumsy, and uncomfortable at first… and then it got better. and better! AND BETTER! AND YES YES YES WE DID IT!!!!!! After our successful encounter, I felt about a billion times better. I felt re-connected to my husband, I felt beautiful, I felt relaxed. It was awesome.
The moral of the story: Your parts may look and feel different at first but they will work again someday and that is all that matters.
8. You’re a sweaty mess…
The first few weeks postpartum I was sweating like crazy. I’m talking soak the sheets, three shirts a day kind of sweating. It was gross, but apparently a normal side effect of the hormonal changes happening postpartum. For me, it was over by week 5 or so. It’ll pass.
9. and balding…
HOLY HAIRBALLS. Starting around two months postpartum, my hair started falling out in clumps. I’d brush it, and watch as strands of hair fell out and littered the floor. I started to find hair everywhere – in our sheets, in my underwear, in Tanner’s mouth (poor little guy) and when I would shower, it looked like someone murdered Chewbacca and left the evidence plastered to the shower wall. I’d like to tell you that I have a helpful hint about how to deal with this, but I’ve got nothing. Help me, please!
10. …and still look pregnant.
If you packed your pre-baby jeans in your hospital bag, go ahead and pull those bad boys out and replace them with your coziest preggo sweats. You’re not going to be rocking your low-rise jeans anytime soon, at least not if your experience is similar to mine. Immediately postpartum, most women tend to look about 6 months pregnant. At about seven weeks postpartum, someone actually asked me when my baby was due. I gave them a really long pause, and then said “he was due about two months ago, and he’s doing great.” *smile*
Today marks 14 weeks postpartum, and things are starting to feel like a new kind of normal. I’m madly in love with my baby (and my husband) and overall, think I’ve got it pretty damn good. I have reverence and awe for all the mamas out there, but to the single mamas, I especially salute you. You’re amazing, in case no one told you today. You are literally a superhero without a cape.
On a serious note, one thing I didn’t mention here is that postpartum depression is a real thing, and it happens to a lot of women. It’s not part of my story, but if you are experiencing depression after baby, don’t be afraid to talk to people. Talk to your doc, and talk to other women – we need a village, a tribe to navigate this new journey with, and you’ll be surprised how once you get vulnerable, a whole lot of people will listen carefully and then say, “You know what? Me, too.”
I gotta go, you guys. The monster is calling. I love hearing from you! Leave me a comment and let me know what was the craziest part of the fourth trimester that you never new about?
Big love & baby drool,