Giving birth is the most surreal moment in a woman's life. It’s a moment when you physically feel time slow down you as you settle into the calm of cuddling your newborn. At that moment, nothing matters. You can’t hear the nurses and doctor scrambling to clean you up and check the vitals, in fact, you probably won't even notice them in the room. In those first moments, time truly stops. You created life--and it looks so much like you!
But what can you expect after that? How do you mentally prepare for the days ahead? What can you expect to face after giving birth? Today, we will lay out what to expect so you can face the days to come like a boss!
Before we start, there are three things to remember when going into postpartum.
Don't let postpartum recovery intimidate you. Just like after any significant life event, you will need downtime to rest and to allow your body to shrink back to what it was. The recovery period does not last forever but is a short time for you to heal while adjusting to an infant in your life. While many parts of birth recovery sound scary, your body is designed to handle it smoothly and you will bounce back to normal.
Many women like to share their birth and postpartum horror stories with each other, but it's important to remember that no two women are the same. The chances are in your favor to recover easily and speedily if you plan ahead and make an effort to take care of yourself.
You will not "lose yourself." Many women fear that the sleepless nights and the craziness of the postpartum recovery period will be their new life story and they will lose themselves in motherhood. This is a mindset, not a fact of life. Staying positive, focusing on the fact that this is a season and not a life sentence, and taking time for yourself and your interests is the greatest tool you have as a mother.
Enjoy your downtime as you get to know your new baby!
Post Partum Recovery
The first week of postpartum is a slightly painful adjustment, but after the first 7-10 days, the pain subsides, along with swelling and any bruising that might have occurred during delivery.
But postpartum is not just a physical experience, you will also experience physiological changes as well.
You knew your body would change, but is it supposed to change this much?!
Many women don’t fully expect their bodies to change so drastically. Don’t worry though, the physical changes are not permanent! Your body grew a baby then pushed it out--you're going to feel squishy for a few weeks. After all, it took 9 months to grow a belly, so 6 weeks to shrink is a good exchange! If you take care of yourself, your body will bounce back!
The first thing you will notice after birth is that your body will feel like jello. Everything will feel stretched and out of place. Your center of balance might seem a bit wobbly because your brain is used to compensating for the “bowling ball” that was strapped to your belly for the last 9 months. This is normal. Nursing will help your uterus shrink quickly and nursing also turns the "baby fat" around your hips and thighs into breastmilk! Talk about a powerful mom body!
Secondly, you will definitely notice that your “lady parts” are “different” and slightly on fire. You just pushed a baby out of your body so it’s obvious for there to be swelling, bruising, soreness, and even some tearing in and outside of your vagina. Your doctor will stitch you up if you had a tear, which means you will need to be extra careful when wiping and bathing.
The best way to care for the area is to have tucks pads on hand to help with the swelling and irritation, use a post-natal healing or numb spray, and a peri bottle to squirt water on yourself when you pee (yes, it might burn for a few days. The hospital should offer you all of these items, so don’t worry about purchasing them.) These painful symptoms usually last about a week for most women and then subside.
Thirdly, hours after birth your breasts will hurt and swell to a beautiful new cup size as they prepare to bring in your milk supply. Most women don’t have a milk supply the day they give birth. Instead, they have small amounts of colostrum and this is enough for your baby until your “fatty milk” arrives a few days later. Pack soft, unlined nursing bras for the hospital so your breasts don’t feel pressure as they prepare for nursing. For the first few weeks, your breasts will feel swollen and sore and as they adjust to the demands of your baby. Remember, breastfeeding gets easier with time and the discomfort goes away the longer you do it.
Fourthly, when a woman’s placenta leaves the body, all the extra “stuff” that supported the placenta and your baby will now bleed out like a period for the next 4-6 weeks. The first few days will be the heaviest, and after that, it will feel like a light period. The hospital should send you home with pads, so take as many as they will give you, but also stock up on some at home and put them in the diaper bag so you are never without them.
Often we focus on the things we can see like scars or postpartum bleeding, but the feelings we can’t see are just as (if not more) important. The birth of a baby releases many emotions as hormones and chemical reactions take over to repair your body. It’s important to mentally prepare yourself before you give birth so you and your partner can face them as they come.
First, when a woman gives birth to a baby, she suddenly gains maternal instinct. It’s a shift in your brain and behaviors that you never had until you hold your baby.
In nature, when a dog gives birth to puppies, she knows how to clean them, protect them, play with them, and even feed them. No one trained her about what to do, she just knows to do it. The same is true for human mothers. When the placenta leaves your body, a heightened sense of instinct kicks into autopilot and suddenly you can communicate with your crying baby. You know at that moment what they need from you. A nurse or a dad can’t calm your baby or comfort them as you can. Suddenly your body knows what to do like how to change a diaper and how to feed them even though you are half awake and had no idea what to do before.
The good news is, your instincts don’t go away. They only grow stronger as your baby grows older, helping you to parent them and communicate with them in a magical, almost supernatural way. Many women fear birth and parenting because they assume they don’t know enough about babies. But the truth is you do. It’s all instinctive and will come to you as you need it. You are enough. So trust yourself and your gut feelings.
“A mother knows best.”
The second physiological change you will experience is bonding. People talk about bonding, but it’s not something you can grasp until it happens to you. You will know it when it happens, as bonding is a very powerful hormonal reaction. Instinctively mothers know that something will happen the moment they cuddle, kiss, and smell their baby. Smelling your baby, as well as skin-to-skin contact, releases a powerful reaction in a mammal’s brain, which then results in bonding. The hormone responsible for this bonding experience is oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” This also explains why we feel “connected” to a sexual partner since oxytocin is at play in both men and women. Even fathers can experience the release of oxytocin. In fact, new dads were found to have the same levels of oxytocin as mothers! So ask him to take his shirt off and cuddle that baby!
Bonding is something you might not feel before birth, but you will definitely feel the rush of hormones when you hold your newborn for the first time. The bonding hormone is also thought to help women forget the pain of labor (yes, you do forget it!) The hormone will calm you and relax you in the first few hours after giving birth as well as give you the ability to nurture and care for them.
Thirdly, women can experience postpartum depression or “baby blues."
This doesn’t tend to happen on the day of birth or for the following three or four days. However, within a week a new mom can start to feel some crazy mood swings.
Postpartum depression used to be thought of as a myth or as sleep deprivation. It was ignored as a condition until recently. Sadly, many women in the past suffered needlessly, but you don’t need to! The postpartum mood swings start a few days after birth and should only last 6-8 weeks until your body stops bleeding. These are called “baby blues” and usually go away on their own. Sometimes, however, the “blues” can turn into full swing depression, which is debilitating and even dangerous. Most mothers usually bounce back and only feel minor mood changes, but if you are feeling “off” always talk to your doctor about it immediately to make sure you are getting treatment before it gets more severe. Common signs of postpartum depression are crying, feeling emotionally numb, sadness, lack of interest in things you once enjoyed, and a lack of bonding with your baby. If you are worried about depression, or if you have a history with it, ask your partner or friends to check in on you and monitor you after the baby arrives. A pro tip to fight depression is to stock up on dark chocolate. It increases serotonin levels in the brain, the same mood-enhancing chemical that the SSRIs, a widely used type of antidepressant, work on. So when you’re feeling low, try some chocolate!
6 weeks can be a long time to battle depression while you also battle sleep deprivation. Postpartum depression can get out of hand become dangerous. It’s extremely important to talk to your doctor if you start to feel low--don’t wait for it to get worse! Remember, postpartum depression isn't a character flaw or a weakness, it's just simply a complication of giving birth and needs medical treatment.
Also, remember that your body is healing from a major event. It needs nutrients to repair itself and store energy for the weeks to come. Eat superfoods like smoothies with protein powder and kale, take your prenatal vitamins, and sleep when the baby sleeps. These things not only fight depression but also aid in healing your powerful body!