Giving birth is a magical, exciting experience, but that’s just the beginning! During pregnancy, most women focus on labor and delivery, and not as much on the aftermath. What exactly happens when you get home from the hospital? What will those first weeks with your new baby look like? How will you feel as a new parent?
No matter what kind of birth you had, if things went according to plan or not, whether you breastfeed or formula feed - it’s important not to lose yourself once you become a mother. All the excitement and anticipation surrounding your newborn’s arrival can make it easy for a new mama to get lost in the crowd! If you’re wondering what you can expect as you begin your postpartum journey, here are some things you can consider:
Although this comes as a surprise to many women, your baby bump doesn’t disappear the moment you give birth! Don’t be alarmed if you still look 4 months pregnant for a while after delivery. Don’t rush to get rid of all those loose, comfy maternity clothes - you may still need them for a while, even several months postpartum! Your uterus has expanded for nine straight months, and it will probably take your body just as long to fully recover. If you had a C-section, your belly may be swollen around the incision.
You might as well ditch the scale, too. Obsessing over your postpartum weight loss will only add more stress to your life! Immediately following delivery, you may drop about 10-15lbs. But the rest of the “baby weight” can take significantly longer to lose. A great rule of thumb is the mantra “9 months on, 9 months off” - and go ahead and give yourself a solid year to feel back to your usual weight and fitness level. Your weight can be largely affected by how your body responds to the hormonal changes, and many breastfeeding mothers report an even harder time dropping the weight. Learn to love your body for the wonderful work it did!
Due to the shift in hormones, you may experience some not-so-fun side effects. Most women experience night sweats in the first few months postpartum. Try to sleep with a towel or an extra sheet nearby if your night sweats are particularly bad. You will also experience bleeding, and usually, it is very heavy for the first 1-2 weeks. Passing small clots is normal as well. If you suspect your bleeding is excessive or if you pass large clots, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
As your uterus shrinks, you will experience contractions and cramps. The pain can be exacerbated if you’re breastfeeding, too, due to the trigger of oxytocin production. Take pain relievers and use a heating pad as needed.
After you give birth, you may experience pretty intense mood swings. You may also feel the “baby blues,” periods of random crying or sadness. These mood shifts can be triggered by hormonal changes, lack of sleep, adjusting to a new routine, and the pain of trying to heal from delivery. Be sure to give yourself some grace! Know that the newborn phase is only temporary, and eventually, the sleepless nights will end!
If you are feeling excessively anxious, depressed, tired, or nervous, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are common but serious, issues many women face after having a baby. They are both highly treatable with therapy, medication, and other routes! There is no shame in getting help.
Your postpartum nutrition is very important, especially if you are breastfeeding! As your body heals from delivery, you may retain water and become bloated. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids after delivery and at home. Make sure that you are eating enough calories (from a variety of healthy foods) to support postpartum health and wellness. You will also need to continue to take your prenatal vitamins, or at least a good women’s multivitamin, to support postpartum healing. You will probably find major changes to your hair, skin, and nails, so be sure to choose foods and vitamins to support a healthy body!
If you are breastfeeding, you need to consume extra calories to support healthy milk supply. You don’t need to go overboard, though, even though many nursing mothers report feeling ravenously hungry all the time! You may also continue to experience food cravings very similar to those during pregnancy. Even if you indulge from time to time, try to maintain a balanced diet composed of healthy, minimally-processed foods full of nutrients. You also need to drink plenty of fluids to maintain your milk supply.
There aren’t any foods you need to avoid, but you may find that some foods irritate your baby or make her gassy. By process of elimination, figure out the “trigger foods” and try taking it out of your diet to see if that makes a difference. Common culprits are dairy, soy, caffeine, spicy foods, and acidic foods. Some babies react severely to a portion of food their mother consumes while nursing, so it is sure to check with your child’s pediatrician if you suspect a food intolerance.
One aspect of the postpartum journey that can be difficult is finding your “new normal.” While you may once have had an active social life, been a fitness guru, or enjoyed spending most of your time at work, these things change when a baby enters the scene. You may feel that you have lost yourself and that your life is so different than it was before. Some women mourn the loss of their independence and child-free life - even while adoring their new bundle of joy - and it is ok to feel these conflicting feelings!
After your baby is born, you will want to establish some kind of routine so that you know what to expect, and others can figure out how best to help you. Newborn sleep is very erratic, so it is nearly impossible to make a daily schedule for the first 2-3 months. As you and your baby learn about each other and your baby’s sleep and wakeful patterns become more predictable, you can try to come up with a daily routine. Maybe you go on morning walks, or go out for an afternoon coffee, or go to library storytime. Setting up daily expectations and goals can help make the hard days a little easier!
Many parents choose to divide and conquer when it comes to parenting and household duties. Maybe you do all the night time feedings, while Dad takes over the first-morning feeding before he leaves for work. Or maybe he gives the baby a bottle in the early evening while you take a nap. Maybe you do all the laundry, and Dad does all the dishes. Splitting up childcare and household management tasks can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the number of things that need to be done. And most important of all, keep in mind that the laundry, toys, dishes, and messes will always be there...but your baby will only be a baby for a short while. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Enjoy the time with your baby while she is little.
Here’s a quick summary of ways to check in with yourself after delivery:
- How is my body feeling? Am I sore, achy, exhausted, or in pain?
- How am I feeling emotionally? Am I very tearful and lonely? Am I overly anxious and worried for no reason?
- How is my nutrition? Am I getting enough to eat? Am I drinking enough water?
- How is my daily routine? Are there tasks that aren’t as important as taking care of a baby? Are there fun activities to add to the daily schedule that promotes parent-child bonding?
The postpartum journey is different for every woman. Remember, don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.