Postpartum: That emotionally turbulent and physically demanding period that follows the birth of your perfect little bub. Most Mamas spend their pregnancy preparing for the birth, the big show, the grand entry of your little one into this world! Throughout pregnancy people ask you if you are scared or how to you feel about giving birth. Will you have an epidural or go drug free? Scheduled C-section? Have you been doing your prenatal yoga? So much focus is put on the birth that many women are completely blind sighted with the realities of their postpartum recovery.
So what actually happens postpartum? Here are some things that you can expect in the first 6-8 weeks postpartum:
THE BLOODY TRUTH
After the birth, whether you have given birth vaginally or via cesarean, you will bleed heavily, like, more blood than you have probably ever seen! After an entire pregnancy with no periods, this amount of blood can be downright shocking, but don't worry, it is totally normal. This bleeding, or Lochia, will taper off after the first week or so and turn from red to pink, brown and then to a yellowish white before finally stopping sometime between 4-6 weeks postpartum.
TMM Tip: Load up on those mesh undies or old cotton panties that you can toss. Buy a box of heavy-flow nighttime pads so you don't have to use those diaper-esque ones they give you at the hospital.
PAMPERING YOU PERINEUM
Whether you have had minor tearing or a full episiotomy, any birth takes a serious toll on your perineum. Most women have relatively minor Level 1 or 2 tears which will get stitched up and you will be sore and uncomfortable for a few days and then the pain should subside. For those of you who had more intense tearing or episiotomies (like me), the pain and discomfort can really take a toll on your overall recovery. These tears or incisions cut through the perineal muscle which takes longer to heal. Most perineal tears and incisions should be fully healed by 4-6 weeks.
I found this to be the most difficult part of my recovery. That said, it isn't worth stressing about as it is completely out of your hands. You will fully heal and feel normal again. Even once the pain subsides, however, it can take months to feel "normal" again down there but, rest assured, YOU WILL.
TMM Tip: Sit in a warm Sitz Bath. The warm water will bring red blood cells to the area to help speed up the healing. For an extra boost, you can make your own "bath tea" with natural healing ingredients like Arnica, Raw Manuka Honey, Calendula and/or Lavender which can help with inflammation, healing and fighting against infections. You can also use chilled witch hazel pads like these. Witch Hazel can help with the soothing and healing process of the perineum.
Hemorrhoids (or Piles) can be annoyingly itchy or downright painful! The swelling of the vein in the rectum is common in late pregnancy and the first few weeks postpartum. It is thought that the likelihood of their appearence correlates to how hard and long you pushed during birth but, hey, it happens to the best of us and the important thing is to know how to treat them.
TMM Tip: Use those Sitz Baths & Witch Hazel pads mentioned above for some instant relief here too! Drink lots of water and eat high-fibre foods which will loosen your stool and help you pass those BMs! There are over-the-counter hemorrhoid creams that can help as well so stock up!
INCONTINENCE & CONSTIPATION, OH MY!
After all the stretching, tearing, swelling and stitches, it is no surprise that Mamas frequently have leakage issues (ever heard of snissing??). The first few days after birth, you might be scared to pee because of possible stinging but this soon gives way to potentially months of leakage. On the other hand, it is also incredibly common to have constipation issues postpartum that can sometimes last up to 2-3 months!
TMM Tip: Do those keigels, ladies!! This is the only way to build up those perineal muscles to gain more control. Breastfeeding is a great time to practice while little one eats. For constipation, your doctor can prescribe you some stool softeners but it also helps to drink lots of water and eat more fibre to get things moving!
You thought your boobs were big during pregnancy? Wait until day 3-4 postpartum when your milk changes from the nutrient-rich colostrum to the real-deal mature milk! In the time span of a few hours your boobs will get huge, and I mean cartoon-like HUGE. They will also be rock hard and pretty uncomfortable until your milk supply evens out with your little one's eating schedule within the first week. Other common boob-related woes: engorgement, leaking breastmilk and breastfeeding complications like thrush, mastitis, sore or chapped nipples. It WILL get better. Breastfeeding is natural but doesn't always come naturally! Babies are born knowing how to suck but not how to latch. The first few weeks can be a little rocky while you find your rhythm and your supply will even out and once you and baby get the hang of it, its pretty much one of the greatest joys of new motherhood!
TMM Tip: GET HELP! It is normal to have some pain and discomfort in the first week or so but if pain persists, check in with an expert to make sure your baby is latching correctly. A bad latch is the source of almost all breastfeeding issues! If you do get chapped or cracked nipples, slather on that Lanolin cream! If you get thrush, make sure you wash your nursing bras regularly, let them dry in the sunlight, avoid foods high in sugar and air those tats out!
HORMONAL HIGHS (AND LOWS!)
You did it! You pushed and pushed and your little bundle of joy has arrived! So why do you feel so down? Blame it on the hormones! Throughout pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone increase and just after birth the levels plummet back down to pre-pregnancy levels by day 5! That combined with the sudden realisation that you are responsible for a tiny human being 24 hours a day, the fact that you often leave the hospital around the time when your hormones are most in flux and the happy-inducing oxytocin that is released when you breastfeed or stare at your beautiful newborn can lead to some serious emotional extremes! The so-called "baby blues" often hits around day 3 and lasts anywhere from 48 hours to 6 weeks (and sometimes longer!) affects up to 80% of new moms. Rest assured, your hormones will even out as time goes by and you will find a healthy balance in life again.
TMM Tip: Hormonal extremes are often the most difficult postpartum reality for moms and, without the right support, Mamas can easily slide into Postpartum Depression (PPD) which affects as many as 20% of women. Getting the proper support in the early weeks postpartum can significantly reduce the likelihood of PPD. Make sure you have friends, family, experts, doulas, partners, etc. whom you can call on for support because, Mama, everyone needs it!
ACHES & PAINS GALORE
Depending on how difficult the birth was, most Mamas experience a range of aches and pains in the week or so after baby is born. Hip, knee and back pain are common (pregnancy and birth is no cake-walk!) and should subside after the first few days. Many women are surprised by cramping afterpains as though they are still having contractions. Well, Mamas, you kind of are! During the 6 weeks postpartum, your uterus shrinks back down to pre-pregnancy size. This is frequently noticed during breastfeeding as the hormone oxytocin is released which causes the uterus to contract.
TMM Tip: Patience, Mama, patience. Apply a warm compress to your stomach and continue breastfeeding as this will speed up the process. The cramping will lessen as time goes on and the aches and pains will fade away.
Unfortunately, most of the above woes apply to you too in addition to an often longer recovery time. Cesareans, although incredibly routine, are still major abdominal surgery. The scar, although it might be rather unsightly at the beginning, will fade and the incision sight is so low that it won't be noticeable even in a bikini. Don't pick at the scar! Simply wash with warm soapy water and pat dry. Be sure to rest as much as possible and be sure to have someone with you to help with the baby for the first week (at least!) at home.
TMM Tip: Keep rockin' those maternity pants for a few weeks to avoid any pressure on the incision sight. Apply Manuka Honey to the scar to help with the healing process!
THE MODERN MAMA'S ULTIMATE POSTPARTUM HACK
My BIGGEST tip for the first few days home postpartum is actually a tip for you, Dad! Every morning when baby wakes up, bring Mama breakfast while she does the first feed. She has probably been up most of the night and is exhausted an starving so getting some food in her system will help kickstart the day! Once baby and Mama are finished eating, take baby to the living room or out for a stroll while Mama takes a shower and gets dressed. There is nothing more refreshing than a nice shower and Mama needs this time to recharge and prepare for the day. This also gives you some nice one-on-one bonding time with baby!
A FEW WORDS ON "BOUNCING BACK"
Many women are given the impression that after the first 6-weeks postpartum they are expected to "bounce back" to their pre-pregnancy bodies and be completely adjusted to their new mommy life. This, however, is completely unrealistic and, in reality, it takes our bodies at least 12 months and often longer for us to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth and, honestly, I have a 14-month-old and every time I feel like I have this "mommy" thing down, something changes and its all back to square one. It is a constant learning process!
There is an amazing movement going on worldwide to address the realities of the postpartum period and help prepare women for this time of physical recovery and hormonal ups and downs. Instagram accounts and blogs have been launched to help women feel empowered by their postpartum bodies and struggles.