There is so much to worry about when it comes to the labor and delivery that often, the postpartum experiences get overlooked. I was much more concerned about how the labor would go and whether there would be complications, and I wish I had focused a little more on how to handle inevitable bodily changes AFTER delivery.
Note: These experiences are solely my own. Everyone is different, with different birth experiences, situations and health conditions that factor into postpartum recovery. I had an unmedicated, uncomplicated birth in a hospital. (Read about my story HERE.) Even if I had had a different experience, it would have been nice to at least know the possibilities of what to expect postpartum.
#1- Delayed Pain.
Right after delivering, the pain disappeared! It was miraculous. I stood up from the bed and slowly walked to the bathroom. I was lightheaded, but not in pain. It took a couple of hours before I really felt the tenderness of my nether regions and the soreness all over my body.
#2- Not being able to pee right after.
When the nurse walked me to the bathroom, I sat there for what felt like ten minutes. I could not pee! It was like the plumbing and the muscles were so exhausted that they forgot their other responsibilities. The nurse mentioned that maybe I had stage fright and asked if I’d like her to step out, but I knew that wasn’t the issue. Finally I was able to get a slow trickle.
#3- It stung to pee.
The first pee didn’t sting. It was an hour or two later when I was transferred to the postpartum floor. The nurse magically knew I would need a warm squirt bottle and pain relieving spray. I was so grateful for those, even though it didn’t completely take the pain away. Maybe everyone is supposed to know this, but the squirt bottle is most effective if you spray it during urination, not after. And it’s also much more comfortable if it’s warm, not hot or cold. I had to learn these things the hard way. 🙂
#4- I was sore from head to toe.
I swear I burned more than 10,000 calories during childbirth. It was the hardest feat I have ever accomplished, and I felt so weak and depleted afterward. I never weighed myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had lost all my baby weight in that one day. Two weeks later, when I weighed ten pounds more than pre-pregnancy, I felt like I had gained some of it back after sitting around. It was really interesting watching my birth videos and noticing that I was arching my feet during every contraction. No wonder my feet were so sore!
Every muscle was sore to the touch, from my neck down to my feet. My body felt like one giant bruise. They say the recovery is easier if you give birth naturally, but I’m pretty sure certain muscles wouldn’t have been sore if I’d received some kind of pain management.
#5- Even without the baby bump, I was still unable to sleep on my stomach due to sore breasts.
I had been so looking forward to sleeping on my stomach again, but alas, it was not to be. As soon as I returned from the hospital, my breasts were too sore to tolerate stomach sleeping. I honestly wondered if I would ever be able to sleep on my stomach during the breastfeeding months and years. Now that I’m five months postpartum, I can tell you that stomach sleeping is much more comfortable, but I still don’t do it for long periods of time because I might end up in a puddle of milk.
#6- Nursing was pinchy and painful.
I kept asking the nurses if breastfeeding was supposed to pinch so much, and I got so many different answers! Some said yes, it takes time for your nipples to get tough and callused enough to breastfeed comfortably. Others said no, pinching means you’re doing it wrong. I’m still not sure if I was doing it right or wrong at the time, but eventually the baby and I both got used to nursing.
During the first two months, I applied nipple cream every single time after a feeding, without fail. I thought this would get me out of having to deal with cracked and bleeding nipples. It did not. The difficult thing about having a bleeding nipple is that you still have to pump or feed your baby with that breast, so it never truly gets a break. I found myself practicing the hypnobirthing breathing techniques while breastfeeding to get through the discomfort. Luckily it wasn’t so bad after the first minute. I thought about sharing the picture of Claire with blood all over her face after she finished breastfeeding, but I’m not sure you want to see that…
I really should have taken a breastfeeding class, but I was able to find some reliable online sources. Alli and Trina from Mom Smart, Not Hard wrote this excellent comprehensive breastfeeding guide that I still refer to sometimes!
#7- The baby hardly ate for the first few days.
I was so worried about my baby because she hardly ate at all for about five days! She would latch okay, but then she would only suck for a few seconds before becoming disinterested or falling asleep. I was glad that when we left the hospital, she had only lost a moderate amount of weight and seemed to be right on track. If babies are born full term, they usually have a pretty good fat store so that they can survive those first few days on very little milk. I wish there had been someone to reassure me that my baby was actually doing just fine. I could have been spared the anxiety!
#8- The pain of engorgement was real.
When my milk came in on day three, I tried to get my baby to eat, eat, eat. But she was still in the sleepy stage, and even if she had eaten, there was no way she could have emptied the amount of milk I had available. It was not just uncomfortable, it was painful. I couldn’t move my arms or stand up straight. I cancelled the visitors who were supposed to come that day and called my mom in tears.
I didn’t want to pump because I had been told that pumping when you have excess milk can affect your milk supply. If your body thinks the baby is drinking that milk, it produces more. I sure didn’t want that milk coming back! So I thought I had to just suffer it out, and the result was a million new stretch marks within a few hours. I was horribly misinformed. Finally, I let my mom show me how to use the breast pump (I didn’t have the brain power to figure it out at the time). I was able to pump enough to relieve the discomfort.
After a few days, my milk supply regulated and I had no issues with oversupply. If I had known not to worry so much about my supply, I would have relieved myself much sooner!
I decided the day my milk came in that I would never judge anyone for deciding not to breastfeed. The pain involved and the time it requires are reasons alone not to do it. Not to mention that some women are not able to produce enough milk or have problems latching or milk compatibility issues. Seriously, the baby will be fine. Formula has yielded smart people for decades.
That being said, I am really glad that I stuck it out for the first few weeks. After about three weeks, my body was mostly adjusted and Claire and I both had the hang of breastfeeding.
#9- I had to shower with a bra on.
For the first two months, I could not stand the feeling of the water hitting my sensitive nipples. At first, I would try to just use my hands as shields, but that was kinda tricky. So eventually I found a really thin, small bra and wore that while showering. Did you know that you can actually buy bras just for this purpose? I found a couple on Amazon and almost caved! But they are a little pricey, and for me, an old training bra did the trick.
#10- I had problems with clogged ducts for the first month.
There was one pesky little milk duct that got clogged about once a week for three to four days at a time. As soon as it was unclogged, it would get clogged again. Symptoms for me included redness and tenderness in the area. I’m not sure if it was because I was wearing the wrong bra, positioning the baby wrong, my breasts were still getting used to producing milk, or some other random reason, but I was glad when it stopped. After about a month, I didn’t get clogged ducts anymore.
To get rid of clogged ducts, what worked for me was massaging the area while nursing and taking warm showers. Trust me on the massaging. It hurts, but it helps resolve the clog much sooner!
#11- Standing up and sitting down had to happen slowly.
Especially standing up. For the first week, if I stood up too fast it felt like my insides were going to fall out of my nether regions. It felt like my internal organs were all bunched up in my pelvis, creating pressure. I had to remember to move slowly, and then it was fine.
It was also uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time, which was difficult because sitting was the only position I knew how to breastfeed.
#12- No control over passing gas.
The pelvic floor definitely needs TLC after having a baby. I thought I had practiced kegals quite often while pregnant, but apparently it wasn’t often enough. I peed my pants while walking during the first week postpartum.
But one thing people fail to mention is that you lose the ability to hold in gas, too. And I personally think that’s more embarrassing that peeing your pants, depending on the situation. When people came to visit the baby, I farted in front of at least three people that I would NEVER have farted in front of…
I have no solution for this. Except maybe follow my advice for this next point.
#13- Having visitors stay for long was worse than spending an hour making dinner.
I have a tough time putting this one in here, because having people see my baby was very important to me. I wanted our close friends and family to meet our new addition. I had no problem with people who came and kept the visit short and to the point, but any longer than 20 minutes to a half hour was hard for me because I was uncomfortable in a sitting position, and standing up made me nervous because I never knew when urine or gas might slip out in front of my guests!
Some people offered to bring dinner, which is always a kind gesture and made me feel very loved and remembered during a special time in our lives. But sometimes I didn’t realize that “dropping off dinner” actually meant visiting for an hour. In these cases, I felt like I would have rather spent that hour making the dinner because it would have been less stressful and taxing on my body.
After having my own postpartum experience, I realize I have totally been guilty of visiting moms and newborns for too long, but I’m hoping I can be more mindful in the future.
#14- I learned how to multitask while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding takes up so much of your day that you eventually learn how to do other things at the same time. I learned how to cook dinner, read a book, or even type on the computer while feeding my baby. I seriously think someone needs to invent a sling that will hold your baby in the perfect position during breastfeeding so that you can have your hands totally free to do other things! Or is there such an invention already out there? If you know of one, please let me know!
Breastfeeding time is a great time to bond with your baby, and it’s a good idea to make eye contact and interact with your baby as she eats, but there are also times when you have to get stuff done.
#15- Mom guilt set in almost immediately.
Maybe this has to do with the postpartum hormones, but I felt some serious mom guilt within the first few hours of my baby’s birth. And it has not stopped since! I felt guilty for allowing the hospital staff to take her for most of the second night, guilty for not feeling the bonding that you’re supposed to feel when you breastfeed, guilty for not seeing her first bath. There is always something to feel guilty about! Now I feel guilty for letting her cry while I eat, go to the bathroom or attend to my own needs.
The worst is when people say things about how they parent, and I feel guilty that I don’t parent that way. I don’t think people are trying to be rude or judgmental. It’s just the new way my brain is wired to react to comments and situations. When people say things like, “I never let my babies cry at all”, or “I always lay my baby on his back to sleep”. Even when someone tells me that my baby’s diaper needs to be changed, I feel like I’ve neglected my baby by not noticing sooner.
I’ve decided that mom guilt is necessary and it means we really love and deeply care for our babies. But at the same time, we can’t let it get us down. We all parent differently and have our own strengths. As long as we are keeping baby safe and meeting her needs, we are good moms. 🙂
#16- It was really difficult to follow the rules and let my body heal.
They say you’re not supposed to exercise until six weeks postpartum. This was so difficult for me because I have a hard time sitting still. I was good for the first week, only going for walks. After a week, I tried an easier workout, thinking I felt pretty well healed and ready to exercise. That was a mistake. I paid for it the next day and I believe I slowed down my recovery.
All through the pregnancy we are encouraged to stay active and exercise, then all of a sudden we are told to rest and let our bodies heal for six weeks. I believe walking is the only physical activity that is generally approved. There are some sources that say “listen to your body” and exercise when you are ready, but I do think you have to be really careful because sometimes you can feel well and be unaware that you’re not 100 percent yet.
But it’s all worth it!!
If you’re reading this as a first time mom and getting totally scared, then I have to tell you that these bodily experiences are only a fraction of what it means to be a mother, and the joy that is associated with motherhood far outweighs any pain involved. My own mother would always tell me about the effects of motherhood on her body and would always follow it up with, “But it’s worth it.” I always kind of raised my eyebrows doubtfully to that answer. But now I understand.
Motherhood is beautiful, and when you become a mother, it feels like you are suddenly part of a big community of other moms who are on your team and know what you’re going through. I couldn’t believe the amount of support I received in the different areas of my life from family, friends and acquaintances. We moms are not alone. 🙂