A wise woman once told me: Nobody talks about the after party. Ironically, this mother of three told me this after seeing me basically every day of my first pregnancy, and yet uttering nary a word about what I could expect in the postpartum days and weeks. The impending labor and birth we talked about, naturally, along with pregnancy matters galore – from ultrasounds and iron supplements to headaches and contractions. Parenting plans came up, name ideas, baby furniture. Hospitals, midwives and nursing consultants. But postpartum recovery was just never mentioned. No one was game to raise the issue, it seems.
It’s understandable. You’d sound like a right downer if your first reaction upon finding out your friend was pregnant was to tell them, “Now love, you should know that sitting down may well hurt for quite some time after delivery.” I get it. But women need – and deserve – to be prepared for this intense period. This paradoxical moment in time when you need quiet and rest more than anything else – and instead you get basically no sleep, well-meaning family and friends bugging you round the clock, and varying degrees of aches and pains. And just to make things more confusing and ambiguous, all of this is sprinkled with heart-bursting love, super birth hormones and an amazing appetite.
And so I write this by way of preparation for those about to give birth, and vow to send it to my friends and my sisters when their time comes. Even if they don’t love me for it at the time.
- You’re gonna bleed, big time – and not just like the “heavy period” that I remember hearing about. The midwife is gonna stick three surfboard-size pads together for you, and you’re gonna thank her for it. Keep in mind that the more you rest, the quicker your postpartum bleeding will stop. Rest.
- Black is the new black. You don’t want to find out what happens when your grey sweatpants make it to your hospital bag. This goes for underwear for the first couple of weeks too (though I actually recommend buying the sexy disposable mesh ones for the first few days. So much easier).
- Going to the bathroom is going to hurt, one way or another. You got through the birth, you can get through this. Take it slow and if possible take the shower head with you (assuming you had a vaginal birth). Spraying water on the area while you’re doing your business is a godsend. I wish someone had told me this earlier.
- Cold is your friend. If you’re in a hospital they should provide frozen magnesium or witch hazel pads, and at home you can easily make your own. Trust me, you’ll almost enjoy it.
- Stay in the moment – don’t waste your precious energy worrying about what you could have done differently during the birth, or how long this discomfort is going to last. Try this nursing meditation, if it tickles your fancy, put your phone down and focus on your breath for a few minutes, or utilize whatever reminders you need to stay mindful of what you’re doing right now. I really believe this will keep you sane through at least some of the exhaustion and the emotional breakdowns.
- Give the nursing apps a miss – unless you (or your baby) are having real problems. I used one at first and started to feel like I couldn’t feed unless I had my phone, not to mention getting obsessed with how long, which boob, averages etc. Losing my phone 4 weeks in was a blessing in disguise, and I realized that a hairband on my wrist to tell me which boob was next worked (and continues to work) just as well.
- Let people help, but remember to tell them when you need space. I didn’t do this enough and I should have. The first few weeks are crucial for bonding with your new baby – and if you’re anything like me, resting properly with guests in your space is difficult. Leave the washing. Screw the dishes. Forget about other people’s feelings for now. Lay on the couch.
- Bring a snack bowl to bed (better yet, get someone else to make it for you). Waking up every hour or so to breastfeed feels a lot better when you have chocolate, dried fruit, nuts etc at arms reach. Ditto for a liter or two of water.
- Give yourself a break. There is an unrealistic expectation on women (I loved this blog post on the topic) to bounce back right after birth, and for most of us it’s just not that simple. Many cultures around the world expect new mothers to be completely out of action for the first 40 days. Don’t expect to feel “normal” for the first month, at least.
If you’re reading this before giving birth – or even before getting pregnant – I should add: it’s totally worth it. It would be even if you needed to wear the triple maxi pads for six months (you don’t). It can just be a bit of a shock, that’s all.