Warning: this post contains lots of details around bleeding, toilet visits and sex after childbirth.
The postpartum period (the time after childbirth) is a time that is often described as a baby-bubble – where all the focus is on cosying up with your new little human as the rest of the world kind of disappears. Throughout my first pregnancy, I didn’t think too much about the time after birth – with only one session with my midwife and one parental class to prepare for breastfeeding. I was not fully prepared for what was going to come – and perhaps I could never be prepared enough – but there were a few things that happened to me, my body and my baby that I wish I had known before giving birth. I am not writing this post to ‘scare’ you, but to help prepare you, at least a bit, for what can happen in those first few days and months after birth.
1. You can’t plan your childbirth
I had written up a birth plan and really thought through what I did and didn’t want during childbirth. I had read about different methods of pain relief and had opted for a natural birth. I was looking forward to handling the pain with a warm bath, using gravity to speed up labor and get into a zen zone during birth. However, despite my greatest efforts to avoid medication and medical intervention, I ended up with morphine in a hospital bed and a room full of midwives and doctors when my daughter was born with the help of a vacuum. You can read my full story here.
Although you may not be able to plan your childbirth, you can prepare by reading up on your options and thinking through different scenarios. It’s important to keep an open mind and to have an environment where you feel safe. If things don’t go as you had hoped or expected, demand to talk to your midwife or doctor about it.
2. Postpartum breastfeeding pain – not in your breasts!
After birth your uterus needs to start contracting again to pull together and stop bleeding. Breastfeeding is a natural way to help speed up a woman’s recovery after childbirth – which is fantastic! However, the pain of postpartum uterine contractions during those first latches at the hospital and during the first few days, was not expected. I needed pain relief during my first breastfeeding sessions in the first week after childbirth.
3. Your first toilet visits can be a nightmare
After popping out a baby from your vagina, having to pee or poop can be very scary. The only thing you don’t want to do is to put any more pressure on your open wound and it may feel like you are on the verge of turning inside out! Holding a pad to relieve the pressure can help you as you relieve yourself. This does pass, quicker than you may think when you’re sitting on the toilet seat in fear after delivery.
4. You bleed, and you may bleed a LOT
I bled a lot – although not more than what’s ‘normal’. At the hospital I was given unrestricted access to huge pads that barely fit in a pair of regular panties, and despite the size of these diaper-like beauties, I still left stains in the hospital bed 30 hours after birth. The bleeding escalates during those postpartum uterine contractions, so when you get up after breastfeeding those first times, be ready for the flood. However, this too does decline and eventually turns into a brownish mucus in the weeks after birth, to end at around 5-6 weeks postpartum.
One week after giving birth I was beginning to feel better. My blood pressure had been incredibly low and my energy levels limited my movement to staying inside for the most part (although I did walk home from the hospital… what on earth was I thinking?!). However, on that Thursday I called the hospital in a state of worry after a bathroom visit when my vagina had just handed me a ball of thick blood – the size of a golf ball. “Oh, that’s just coagulated blood. That’s completely normal,” the midwife on the other end of the phone told me. So, how come I was not aware of any of this normalcy?
5. You may wake up in a huge puddle of breastmilk
I was ready for my breasts to swell up and to become hard as stone in that third or fourth day after birth when the milk starts it’s high-level production. The body is amazing. I was not ready to wake up in the morning with aching and leaking breasts and notice that I was soaked in breastmilk. Neither was I ready for the power of my breasts to squirt a TV-screen from 1,5 meters away when my newborn stopped latching. There were several other lessons that I learned about breastfeeding, but this was definitely one of the most surprising.
Want to know more about the difficulties of breastfeeding? This is a great article on The Guardian.
6. You still can’t wear your pre-pregnancy clothes
Although this may be a small problem, it was a major concern for me. I was looking forward to getting into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe and pampering myself with a bigger range of clothes to wear, to feel fresh and comfortable in my new life as a mother. I hadn’t thought so much about how everything I was going to wear had to be breastfeeding friendly. You need clothes that can zip up, button down, or be lifted up to reveal your nipples for your little one to nurse. Also, you may still not fit into those favorite jeans, and may need to continue wearing maternity tights to comfortably sit and breastfeed your baby. When you’re in a hormonal haze and sleep deprived there are little things that make a big difference, so prepare yourself with some items that make YOU feel like YOU.
7. Getting “back” to your pre-pregnancy body may never happen
While we are on that subject, your baby-belly doesn’t just disappear and your body changes in ways you wouldn’t expect. I was incredibly comfortable in my body when I was pregnant – I felt gorgeous. I had not expected that it would be so difficult to embrace my post-pregnancy self – which isn’t so strange given that women’s bodies are constantly objectified everywhere we look. With time I am accepting my stretch-marks and my saggy skin and now that I’m in my second pregnancy, I’m just utterly in awe of my body and what it can do! I believe that that feeling will continue into this second postpartum period, as I am more prepared of what awaits me. Expect your body to change and be grateful for it.
8. Sex can hurt
After pregnancy and childbirth sex might be the last thing on you mind, but eventually intimacy with your loved one is something that you miss – as there is a baby sucking out most of the energy from you. And once you feel ready to have sex again it will most probably not feel the same, especially if you have scarred tissue. Thankfully there are many ways to be intimate. Take your time and talk about it with your partner. If you have prolonged problems speak to your midwife about it! This too should pass.
9. You may lose your hair – lots of it
After about 4 months postpartum I started losing hair. My fluffy pregnancy hair suddenly disappeared and I was afraid I was balding for good. Not only did my hair fall out in clumps, the texture of my hair definitely changed. And come to think of it – my skin also changed. I’ve never ever had as dry skin as I had that winter after birth, trying to remedy my body with coconut oil with no result.
10. Not all babies get into a routine
My baby was a great sleeper in the first 3 months, then became a mega-eater and non-sleeper at 4 months. Just when I felt that we were getting the hang of things, my baby changed and so did her mood. I found out about The Wonder Weeks (which deserves it’s own blog post!), which helped me understand her development and be humble to the changes in her little life.
There are several other realities about the time after childbirth which I was fortunately spared from. For the most part you just don’t know what may happen and it is good to be aware of what can take place to prepare as much as possible and be aware of any serious symptoms. The good thing is that these things too shall pass and here I am in my third trimester with my second baby trying to prepare again for childbirth and the upcoming baby bubble.
Read more posts on Girls’ Globe about the postpartum period:
- Postpartum Depression and the Danger of ‘Bad Mom’ Stigma, by Chaarushi Ahuja
- Preventing Haemorrhage and Saving Lives on the Front Lines of Care, by Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact and International Confederation of Midwives
- Girls’ Globe interviews Ashlee Wells Jackson, by Emma Saloranta
- and posts on pregnancy, breastfeeding and more here.