Your New Normal- What Postpartum Life Really Looks Like
Updated: Feb 16, 2019
Life after birth is a whole new world. A brand new normal. Like any major life change, the weeks and months after giving birth can bring with them not only a rollercoaster of emotions, but an endless list of questions you need answers to. In my experience as a Birth and Postpartum Doula, as well as a seasoned Mama, I find it a bit concerning how little we talk about life after birth, a.k.a postpartum, or the "fourth trimester."
It's been two years since I was at this point: preparing for a baby. After the birth of my son, I wish I could say it was effortless, and the oxytocin-filled newborn days I had envisioned became my reality, but that would be quite the exaggeration. While many things were wonderful and I was so in love with this tiny little human, a few aspects of my postpartum journey completely caught me off guard—big time. These were things I never even thought about prior to living them.
Fundal Massage May Not Be What You Think
A fundal massage is when your care provider presses firmly in and down at the top of your uterus (after birth the uterus is as high as the belly button) and vigorously “massages” to make sure the uterus is behaving as it should. The uterus needs to be firm and empty of blood clots, which prevents a serious complication – postpartum hemorrhage.
You guys. A fundal “massage” is not a massage. It freaking hurts. Because the uterus is so tender after all of the work it just did, the vigor of this “massage” is very painful. Try to remember that this is time limited, and have your partner's hand available to squeeze. I never leave my birth clients side until they have completed these checks, and they are always so relieved to have this additional support.
Breastfeeding Can Be Really Challenging
Even for those who breastfeed without complication, the first few days for any Mama can be tricky and frustrating to navigate. I think a common assumption is that baby essentially just plugs into the breast, but this is far from reality. It can take a great deal of practice, patience, position changing, and mindful guidance from your Doula, Nurse, and Lactation Consultant to gain confidence in your breastfeeding relationship. This was an aspect of postpartum that greatly surprised me; how there was truly quite the learning curve to breastfeeding, even when things were going well.
Padsicles are the BOMB
For some reason I anticipated bleeding heavily for weeks on end, and stocked up on one million pads. I was surprised by what actually happened. The first few days of bleeding was heavy, but things quickly lightened up after the first week. So, don’t stress about buying a million pads. BUT you will want to buy an extra pack or two for one of my must-haves for postpartum healing and recovery… the padsicle, an incredibly helpful and soothing item for women who’ve recently had a vaginal delivery. They have so many benefits you guys, and are super easy to make. They reduce swelling, heal bruising, lessen pain, provide relief from hemorrhoids, encourage healing of tears and episiotomies, and smell amazing.
Make about 20 – 24 (I made a full 24) pads with aloe vera, witch hazel and lavender essential oil. Store them in the freezer and when you get home, you have a handful of soothing pads in your first few days home. The aloe vera and witch hazel have healing properties, so it will actually aid in your healing while giving you some relief. The lavender is just a calming addition. My 5 year old daughter had a blast helping me make these. She spread the aloe vera for me in our little assembly line. Here are the directions to make these yourself:)
Instructions 1. Apply liberal layer of aloe vera all over pad (gel, not liquid concentrate) 2. Pour about a teaspoon of witch hazel (make sure it’s alcohol-free) over the aloe vera 3. Sprinkle on a few drops of lavender essential oil 4. Wrap each pad in tin foil and freeze for use in your early postpartum days
Night Sweats (Why is this a thing?!)
Something else about postpartum recovery that surprises new Mamas are the night sweats. Night sweats are typically caused by the wonky hormonal changes that are happening. Think about it- your body produced a certain combination of hormones to support pregnancy, but now that baby is gone your body needs something completely new – especially if you’re breastfeeding. Hello, hormonal rollercoaster!
Many Moms have told me stories about waking up in the middle of the night completely drenched in sweat. So much so that they had to change their sheets. These night sweats are no joke, especially if it chills your body (intended effect) too much, and makes you cold. But don’t worry, as time goes on these become less and less of a thing. I never experienced nighttime sweats, but in general was very hot postpartum. In any given moment I would feel overheated and start sweating. It was so strange.
Baby Blues- Is This Normal?
Speaking of hormones, baby blues is yet another one of the things about postpartum recovery that can feel extremely overwhelming in the moment. But rest assured, baby blues are a totally normal thing that happen to all women in the first few weeks after giving birth. It’s not postpartum depression, but more like temporary mood swings that bring mothers from happy, to sad, weeping to laughing, sometimes all within the same hour.
Baby blues made me feel a little strange to be in a body that was doing things I was not used to experiencing. Honestly, I felt a little out of control.
In my experience, having a lot of support (your village) in place before baby comes, building a mom tribe, and choosing placenta encapsulation were all really helpful to me in coping with the baby blues. Also, I made daily guided meditation non-negotiable, and through this practice was able to stay just a little more present, calm, grounded and inspired through the sacred first forty days.
All of this being said, postpartum depression is also very common, and very serious. Symptoms may arise 3+ weeks post birth, all the way through the first year. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your partner, Doula, Therapist, or Doctor if you are worried about extensive, ongoing, uncontrollable baby blues. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of as this is such a common prognosis and you may just need a little medication to begin to feel better.
Two Errands is Too Many
Before having babies it was so easy to make a lengthy to-do list, harmoniously checking each item off before noon, recharging at a cozy hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, and then keeping on until dinnertime.
Things are a whole lot different when baby is in charge. As much as this may frustrate the type-A mamas out there, two errands may be too many for most women during the first six weeks postpartum. Start off with one errand a day – a baby doctor or chiropractor appointment perhaps. In that moment you may think you can do more, but trust me on this – go home. Pace yourself. One errand at a time. Your sanity is worth it.
Why the Language We Use to Discuss Postpartum Life Isn’t Working
In our culture, the main focus when it comes to postpartum recovery is how fast a woman “bounces back" I remember wanting to do everything so perfectly. Looking at myself in the mirror, two days postpartum, wondering when my uterus would start to go down and when I would stop looking pregnant. I wanted to be the perfect mom that had flowing hair, breastfed in public with ease, and had homemade wholesome meals every evening. I am the type of Mama that takes great satisfaction in getting things done, however, the lifestyle accompanied with having an infant is not conducive to getting things done or “bouncing back.”
The truth is, there is no going back, and nobody is bouncing except, perhaps, the baby. The person you once were before baby doesn’t exist anymore. The only direction to move is forward, and figure out who this new woman, this new mother, truly is.
How does this new woman spend her time? Who are her friends? How does she see the world and think about things? Everything is different, and that’s okay.
As much and as quickly as you may want to “bounce back”, STOP. Slow down. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself to take things one day at a time. It took nine entire months to grow your baby. Allow yourself enough time for this new woman to grow, evolve, and be reborn again too.