There is a lot the doctors don’t tell you up front about your postpartum experience. I don’t know if that is because they don’t want to scare you shitless, but I would’ve much rather had it all laid out for me in my third trimester prenatal visits. So, here it is in unfiltered details.
Somethings I didn’t know that I wish I had been emotionally prepared for:
Your body goes through some things similar to menopause. It is extremely common to lose hair in clumps, have bald patches, and receding hairlines after birth. In fact, your hair can go through an array of changes during and after birth. Fortunately, most of the hair loss usually stops around 6 months. For me, my son is almost 6 months old at the time of this post and my receding hair line is growing back, but I’m also getting grey hair.
What about your post-birth vulva? (Scroll past if you don’t want the gory details) I am speaking from a vaginal birth perspective since I didn’t have a c-section. Basically, birth is just like having a small watermelon going through your vagina (those southern ladies joking about that really weren’t kidding), leaving bruising, possibly tears, so much swelling that everything down there might seem like it’s hanging to your thighs, a weak pelvic floor that makes it near impossible to hold your bowels in properly, everything will most likely dry up and it feels like sandpaper when you walk, and there is a lot of bleeding (like, think, having such a heavy period that you can barely contain it in the mesh panties they give you). Oh, yeah. It’s a lot. I would recommend not looking down there after birth, but I thought it was cool. I also would highly recommend getting a donut pillow to sit on to take the pressure off everything.
Fortunately, vulvas truly are amazing and they bounce back really quickly. It will never look quite the same, but all that elasticity goes back, and you can strengthen your pelvic floor with exercises and time. Give it at least 8 weeks for the pain and swelling to go down, stitches to heal, etc. but don’t expect if you’re going back to work between 6-8 weeks to have the mobility you need for a labor-intensive job. It takes MONTHS to fully heal from a birth. If you are blessed with the finances to do so, go see a postnatal physical therapist, or one who specializes in women’s health.
Speaking of mobility: You will seriously need someone’s help. For most people, birth is like going through a pretty serious car accident. Someone needs to be with you to help you sit up, waddle to the bathroom, and if you have a house like me, lift your legs to get up the stairs. Right after birth, my arms were SO sore from holding my legs up during pushing, I could barely move my legs, the swelling of my vulva was so much that I felt I had to practically straddle my legs to walk, and my abs couldn’t do anything. You need help to sit up, to get in bed, to get out of bed, to stand (when you stand, it feels like all the lochia [post-birth fluids] will gush out), to roll onto your side, and to hold your baby. It is surprising how little you can do on your own without strength in your abs. Now fortunately, the worst of that may only be the first few days or week. But, it’s SO, SO important to have someone who will be there to help you move, clean, and cook meals. I think those first 4 weeks postpartum are a three person job, because mom can barely move let alone feed herself, dad is in shock from having a baby and no sleep, so someone else has to be there to support the mom and keep the dad sane so he can help mom care for the baby.
I may talk in detail about postpartum mental health in a different post, since it’s a lot, and hard for me to talk about. Just know that what you experience is normal and common. Your body goes from a massive surge of estrogen, progesterone, the pregnancy hormone HCG, and prolactin (in the last trimester) during pregnancy, to a surge of oxytocin (the love hormone) during birth, to dropping significantly in those hormones post-birth. It’s no wonder why you might feel super down right after birth, because all the feel-good hormones and the pregnancy high decreases.
Some notes on newborns:
Ease their transition to outside the womb. Make their environment as much like the womb as possible. Snuggle them lots and hold them close. Talk to them. Even if you don’t/didn’t get the bond you want with your baby from skin-to-skin contact, love them immensely. The first 8 weeks are the hardest- getting used to having a baby, not sleeping, baby figuring out how to live in the outside world, postpartum recovery, etc. but it does pass. The colicky cries will go away. You will get sleep again. You will bond with your baby. The endless poopy diapers will slow down to one or two a day instead of what feels like 20 a day. They will hold their head up soon. They will help you dress them soon. They will smile sooner than you think. I promise, it does get better and the hardest parts do pass. I know nothing can fully prepare you for life with a newborn. But, enjoy the littlest things every day, and take as many videos and pictures that you can. Especially of their tiny little hands, feet, and funny newborn things like furry ears. ❤
Resources that helped me:
The Baby Center is fantastic during pregnancy and after. I recommend the website and the app.
Just about any mom blog. You can take or leave whatever they say, but I muster up so much more confidence because I can relate to what they’ve been through. This is a great list.
Books to read while you’re waiting for labor to happen or post-birth:
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp – Seriously, I don’t care if you get it from the library, read the first few chapters of this. This book goes into sleep techniques that helped us SO much with our son.