I think no matter how much you prepare, you may never feel completely ready. Especially the first time around. The days and weeks after birthing a beautiful little human are intense, to say the least. Of course, everyone’s postpartum situation is unique. But I wish I had read as much about women’s experiences during recovery as I did about labour and birth.
In hopes of helping anyone else feel a little more prepared or not alone, I wrote what I wish I knew about the postpartum period.
Please note that the information here does not touch on postpartum depression. I have not experienced these symptoms nor am I educated to provide such information. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please find the resources and support available in your local area. Anyone living in British Columbia, Canada where I’m posting from can visit this HeathLinkBC website for more information.
What is Postpartum?
Before we get into the details, I thought it may be useful to provide a quick overview as to what the postpartum phase actually means. The provincial health resource where I live explains it as follows:
During the first weeks after giving birth, your body begins to heal and adjust to not being pregnant. This is called postpartum (or the postpartum period). Your body goes through many changes as you recover. These changes are different for every woman.
Should I repeat that last part again? “These changes are different for every woman”!
Please don’t take my experiences as an assumption of what you’ll go through. Every postpartum journey, just like every pregnancy and birth, is quite unique. Every mother has different levels of recovery, support, and emotions.
I’m open to sharing the things that I wish I knew because I like to write in this blog as though I’m discussing significant motherhood topics with my best friend. And well, since I’d probably dish a little “TMI” with my bestie, anyone reading gets that too!
Reader beware! We’re diving headfirst (ha-ha) into the nitty-gritty bits of postpartum life including hormones, poops and vaginas! You can exit out now if you don’t want to know that much about me. If you’re interested, read on for the things I wish I knew about the postpartum period.
Leaving the Hospital With Baby!
Did you know that you just leave the hospital with your baby? Ok, maybe that seems a little obvious. But it’s actually a pretty bizarre feeling to exit the hospital with a bigger family than when you entered!
To be frank, I’m not even sure what I was expecting. Perhaps I never imagined the moment of physically leaving the hospital. But you get your baby ready and you LEAVE…with the baby!
I think I was assuming I’d have to sit down, show all possible forms of identification, sign some massive declaration, initial a bunch of papers, and perhaps make an oath to be a good mom before walking out the automatic doors with my brand spanking new baby in tow.
Nope, there’s none of that! You’re pretty much given the go-ahead and ahead you go! And you don’t even register your child as a citizen until you get home!
Maybe you have to do some or all of that in other places. I only speak from my own experience here in Canada. And sure, it’s not quite as simple as I’m making it sound.
You and your baby will have had all the necessary tests completed and medical checks done before you’re on your way. The nurses will also ensure you know how to properly strap your new baby into their car seat prior to your departure.
Take your time when getting ready. I know you’re probably eager to get home but now’s the perfect time to ask any final lingering questions.
The nurses can be so helpful with any doubts or concerns you may have. Seriously, they have so much experience caring for these brand new babies and new moms. Make the most of their expertise and wisdom while you’re there.
Ask if you can take home some of their awesome mesh undies, ginormous pads and the peri bottle. They’ll come in handy when you get home!
The Postpartum Hormone Drop
I’m putting this one next on the list because I feel it is IMPORTANT. The hormones estrogen and progesterone, which have been produced at a much higher level throughout pregnancy, drop back to non-pregnant levels not long after delivery. Wow, that’s a lot!
This drastic shift in hormone levels (combined with the new drastic change in your life) can lead to some pretty intense emotions and physical symptoms too. Personally, I started to feel emotional and alone and confused at the same time (even when I was SO happy and SO supported).
After birth, you receive so many calls and messages to congratulate you on your new baby. And hopefully to check in on mom every once in a while too. But one of the most impactful texts I’ve ever received was from a friend who said something along the lines of:
“There’s no need to respond, I know how it is in the beginning. For me, day three and four were pretty emotional so if that’s the same for you, just know it will pass!”
I was on day 3 postpartum and I was SO emotional and I can’t even begin to tell you how much this message meant to me.
She was right, I couldn’t respond that day. I wasn’t that busy, I was just drained. I was an emotional wreck. If I was “busy”, I was probably busy crying. Oh, yea, and trying to keep my tiny human alive.
Whatever it was, I couldn’t muster up a response and I was so relieved she wasn’t expecting one. But I was even more relieved to know I wasn’t alone (and I wasn’t losing my marbles!).
Day 3 postpartum was particularly difficult, hormonally and emotionally. I felt alone, even though I wasn’t. I felt sad, but I wasn’t. I felt guilty and didn’t know why. I felt like those feelings were never going to end. And until this message on day 3, I had no idea this was normal and other women experienced that too.
I assumed perhaps I was having a hard time adjusting, although the love for my baby was absolutely indescribable. I thought it was because I struggled to breastfeed in the beginning. Perhaps I was just overtired. Maybe it was because my pet was sick…
I blamed (and sought reasoning from) everything but hormones. My hormonal self was too hormonal to realize it was the hormones!
I knew that estrogen and progesterone would regulate after delivery but I had no idea it would be that intense.
Turns out this is called the “baby blues”. I had heard something about this term in my prenatal classes but clearly, I didn’t learn enough to feel prepared when it hit. It’s like an unexpected cocktail of emotions (sadness, irritability, overwhelm) mixed with physical symptoms (frequent tears, exhaustion, poor appetite) topped with a lack of concentration and mood swings!
If you do experience something similar, know that baby blues should improve within a week or two, or possibly sooner! Don’t fret. This isn’t the “new you”.
Many women go through this after delivery, all while juggling the physical side of postpartum recovery and caring for a newborn. If your symptoms don’t improve or if you have any concerns of what you’re experiencing, get in touch with your healthcare provider.
Ever since my days of “baby blues” and receiving that message, I do my best to reach out to every new mom friend I know on their third day postpartum, as a dear friend did for me.
Maybe they wouldn’t experience the same. But if they did (and an estimated 60-80% will), I hope to offer just that little bit of support for them to know that they are not alone and it will pass!
Postpartum Vaginal Changes
Didn’t you believe me that this post would be very TMI? Well, I had to go here… I delivered both my daughters vaginally and let me tell you, I was not prepared for the aftermath the first time round!
I was expecting some pain, of course! I knew a head wasn’t going to just slip out of there. So there would surely be some soreness after, perhaps a lot. I was even fortunate enough to not have any extreme tearing or anything of that sort.
Did you know that often with the vaginal pain comes swelling? Yea, it gets a little (or a lot) swollen down there. And it feels… unusual!
Did you also know that with that big ol’ head coming out you may also experience some “openness”? I expected that maybe to last for an hour or two after my baby came out. I didn’t know this could last for days!
For the week after delivery, I was uncomfortable doing just about everything: walking, washing, sitting… You name it!
Don’t worry, even if these (totally normal) postpartum symptoms happen to you, there are plenty of ways to treat the discomfort and encourage healing.
You can apply a cold compress or ice pack to the area. Some women swear by “DIY padsicles” (search for yourself, but it’s basically a fancy frozen pad). You can also use a peri bottle when using the toilet to be extra gentle with that area.
If you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort, your medical provider may recommend pain relievers. And you can ask them about pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the stretched area as well.
You can find more ways to help alleviate your discomfort listed here. There are many resources out there with specifics on vaginal recovery. Turns out this happens to many women (and why don’t we talk more about this?!). But don’t be alarmed, your vagina will not stay this way forever. One day you will feel “normal” again.
Fearing the First Postpartum Poop
Ok, while we’re oversharing, let’s talk poop. It’s ok, it’s not bad news!
Honestly, I was so scared for my first poop.
BUT, I was scared not because it was that bad! It was only because of the horror stories that I had read before giving birth. I felt like everything I heard was about how traumatizing the first poop could be.
However, for me (and hopefully, I’m not an anomaly here), it really wasn’t anything to be concerned about!
The nurses at the hospital I delivered at provided gentle stool softeners which really helped while my body was in the most intense part of postpartum recovery.
So don’t stress about it, it may not be that bad for you either! Talk to your doctor about what they would recommend to avoid any discomfort with postpartum pooping.
Maintaining a Safe and Healthy Baby
So, we have made it through the TMI portion! But now how honest did I want to go with this post? Well… very honest. So here are the straight goods.
Realizing that you have total responsibility for keeping a tiny new baby alive, safe, and healthy can all of a sudden feel like a BIG weight to bear.
I’ve worked with so many small babies in my past (however none were just HOURS old). I have years and years of childcare experience. I feel so confident in caring for babies and the training I’ve completed for infant first aid. But I did not realize that having your own could feel so intimidating in the beginning.
When my first was born I literally could not keep my eyes off of her. Sure, I was madly in love with this little thing. But I also mostly wanted to make sure she was ok, healthy and breathing every second of every day.
I had ZERO hesitation that I would do everything and anything for her but it can still feel a little daunting when you go from being a daughter to a mother literally overnight.
This point isn’t to scare any future moms. No, it’s actually quite the opposite.
You’ve got this! Trust your maternal instinct. Ask for help when you need it from the right people.
If you are too nervous to sleep because you’re not watching your newborn, ask for your partner or friend or family to watch them while you nap.
If you have any doubts about how that little body is functioning, ask your medical practitioner. (Do not turn to Dr Google!)
If you need support on how to do any of the mom-things that you need to do, ask a nurse or someone else you can trust.
Find support if and when you need it. But also believe that your maternal instinct will help guide you to do the right thing for your baby’s welfare.
Adjusting to Your New Self as a Mom
All I’ve ever wanted was to be a mom. Quite literally.
For as long as I can remember, I just wanted to be a mom. But when my dream actually came true, I still had to adjust to this new role and sense of self. My world was no longer about me.
Some women do, but I didn’t actually feel like I “lost” myself. As cliché as it sounds, I absolutely found myself.
However, just because I didn’t feel like I lost my identity doesn’t mean that it didn’t take time to adjust and learn about the new one of being a mom.
Everyone adapts to motherhood in their own way and at their own pace.
You are not a bad mom if you struggle to figure out what you’re doing. You are not lazy if you just need some time to rest. You are not weak if you ask for help. And you are not any less of a mom if you search the internet daily for answers to your questions on how to look after your baby.
Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. We are all just doing the best we can.
Were there any things that surprised you about the postpartum phase? Let me know in the comments!