Postpartum Life: What’s going on for new moms?
When you’re pregnant, everyone tells you what to expect while you’re expecting. What they don’t tell you is what your new mom postpartum expectations should be. And let me tell you, the fantasy you envision and the reality you end up living are not always the same.
Here are eight things to expect in the postpartum period, both physically and emotionally.
1. Feeling a little bummed… or a lot.
The image of new motherhood is one with perfectly styled hair, a beautifully made up face, a sweet and loving baby, and an overwhelm of love and happiness for Mom. It’s really beautiful, right?
But many new moms experience “baby blues” or postpartum depression. Postpartum anxiety may also occur. Baby blues tends to be a very mild feeling of unhappiness and worry and can affect up to 80% of new moms. Postpartum depression can affect up to 15% of new moms and last much longer.
Typically, the temporary depression and/or anxiety of baby blues is due to the sudden hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and delivery. It often only lasts a couple of weeks. When it is more intense or lasts longer, it’s most likely postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel like you’re experiencing it, you shouldn’t hesitate to talk with your midwife or doctor. The best way to overcome postpartum depression is to get the help you need — whether that’s medication or assistance from others as you adjust to being a new mom postpartum.
2. Breastfeeding sucks (no pun intended).
Whether it’s telling you that “breast is best” or that formula may have ingredients that are unhealthy for baby, there’s lots of pressure to breastfeed. This pressure often includes singing the praises of breastfeeding, but almost never mentions the problems.
The reality is that breastfeeding isn’t always easy. Baby might not want to latch on. You may have sore or cracked nipples. You might have trouble producing enough milk or have inverted nipples. You might feel overwhelmed at how often baby needs to eat and being the only one who can feed him or her.
If you struggle with breastfeeding, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or your baby. It just means you need a little extra help. There are support groups that can provide free information and sometimes even send a trained professional who can work with you to help you and baby learn how to breastfeed.
And if you decide that breastfeeding isn’t right for you? That’s okay too! What’s best for your baby is getting enough to eat and having a healthy, happy mom — and that can happen with breastmilk or with formula.
3. It’s like looking in a (funhouse) mirror.
Whether you gained five pounds or 100, you grew a human being inside your body. A person who was around 20 inches tall and weighed between 5–12 pounds came out of a hole much smaller than that.
Extra pounds, a bigger stomach, bigger boobs, stitched up episiotomy, C-section wound, limp dry hair, acne…the list of changes that pregnancy and delivery have caused is endless. Some will heal and go away in time. Some you can work on with exercise and diet. Others may be with you forever, like a C-section scar.
Expecting your body to bounce back to pre-pregnancy appearances within hours or days of birth is unreasonable. Even expecting it within weeks might be too much. You’ll be busy with a new baby and that takes a lot of your time.
Don’t be hard on yourself. When you feel down because you’re still carrying the extra weight, or can pinch some stomach between your fingers, remember what you’ve done. You created life. These changes resulted from creating life. You may not find gratitude for the changes but you might be able to find indifference.
4. How much blood does one body have?
Be prepared for it to look like a crime scene between your legs for a while. We’re told that postpartum bleeding (or lochia) can last a while after birth, but not prepared for just how long — or how heavy it can be.
Usually, the first 10–14 days are the heaviest, sometimes with clots. After that, it usually begins to lighten up some, and by the end of your 6-week postpartum period, you may only have light spotting. Postpartum hemorrhage, or very heavy bleeding, happens to about 5% of women and should be brought to your doctor’s attention.
The heavy bleeding can be heavier than you think. You might feel like you’re bleeding way too much. Particularly if you usually use tampons or cups during your period (which you can’t do postpartum) and aren’t used to seeing much blood from your periods, this can be jarring.
If you think that your bleeding is heavier than it should be, bring it to your doctor’s attention. Your doctor should also tell you before you are discharged what signs to look for — pay careful attention to those details. Take notes or ask someone else to take notes for you if you’re afraid you might forget.
5. Constipation, hemorrhoids, and gas, oh my!
Sometimes the hospital requires you to have a bowel movement before you are discharged. Others give you a stool softener. If you have a C-section, you might be expected to get up and walk and pass gas. Trust me, this is not because the nurses and doctors want to see and smell it.
Postpartum constipation is common. While it typically returns to normal within a couple of days, sometimes it lasts longer. Hemorrhoids often result from straining or sitting on the toilet too long trying to have a bowel movement (hence the stool softener).
Drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fiber can help avoid constipation. If you get hemorrhoids, you can also add in sitz baths a few times a day and wiping witch hazel on the area to soothe them.
6. I’ll just stand, thanks.
It seems like a no-brainer — you just pushed out a baby, of course your vaginal area going to be sore! It can be surprising just how sore, though. Even sitting can be painful. Urine can cause an episiotomy to sting. Wiping can hurt.
You’ll likely be given a bottle to fill with warm water and instructed to use that after peeing. Do it! If you find that urine makes your episiotomy (or anything else) sting, try using the bottle as you pee to ease the sting.
Avoid sitting on hard chairs. Try sitting on couches and chairs that have soft surfaces but still provide enough support to easily get up. You can also put your legs up on the couch or in a recliner so that your hooha has less contact with the surface beneath you.
7. Sleep? I think I vaguely remember what that is.
We all know that a new mom postpartum is going to be sleep-deprived. Hopefully your partner is too. Mom shouldn’t suffer alone, right? But the level of sleep deprivation can often be much higher than expected. The baby is probably waking up multiple times a night. But there are so many other reasons you’ll be losing sleep.
Milk production can wake you up with sore or leaking breasts (and can be negatively affected by lack of sleep). Vaginal soreness or heavy bleeding that requires a bedding change can wake you up. As a new mom postpartum, you may also just wake up repeatedly because you’re adjusting to needing to wake up to take care of the baby. Hormonal fluctuations can also contribute to waking up or sleeping poorly.
Sleep is critical for everyone, but especially for a new mom. Don’t hesitate to sleep whenever baby is sleeping. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner, mom, sister, or friend to take baby for a few hours so you can take a nap. Don’t worry about keeping the house up in the beginning so you can sleep when possible.
8. You look familiar… didn’t we make a baby once?
Particularly for a first-time new mom postpartum, adjusting to being a mom means some major changes. One of those changes is often a shift in the relationship with your partner. Sex is generally off the table during the initial 6-week postpartum period, but you may find your sex drive is lower anyway. You and your partner will have less time for each other as you spend more time focused on the baby.
You’ll both be exhausted, which can lead to snapping and arguments. Additionally, many new moms try to do everything themselves, leading to the other parent feeling left out and useless. This feeling can lead to other problems in the relationship. Often those problems end up lasting far beyond the postpartum period.
It’s important to make sure that your partner feels included in the parenting. Even if you are breastfeeding, you can ensure that your partner can change diapers, burp baby, play with baby, rock baby to sleep, bathe baby, and more.
As hard as it is, try to make time for each other. Even if it’s just a few minutes each day over a quick dinner, try to find a few quality minutes that the two of you connect and focus on each other instead of the baby.
The changes that come with having a new baby are both exciting and scary. Now you know some of the big things to watch for, so it should be a little less scary. As a new mom postpartum, don’t forget one more thing: trust yourself. You have plenty to learn but you are capable and you know what’s best for both you and your baby. Trust that knowledge.