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Last year I wrote a post all about what to expect during labor and delivery. It’s basically a big long list of things that I had no idea about before my first baby was born that would’ve been helpful to know. It’s already been viewed so many times that it’s my ninth most popular post of ALL TIME. Seriously, it’s insane. I thought that since it was so popular, it might be helpful to write a detailed post all about what to expect postpartum! I shared a few things in my labor and delivery post about the hours immediately following childbirth (you can read about delivering the placenta and getting stitches here), but I wanted to give more information and talk about what I wish I had known about the first few days and weeks postpartum, because mamas, IT GETS REAL, and you’re going to need all the help you can get.
For some reason, with my first baby, I didn’t even think about what it would be like to have a newborn. All I was focused on during my pregnancy was getting to the end and pushing him out. I didn’t prepare myself emotionally, physically, or mentally for all that would happen when I was actually holding my newborn baby in my arms. I didn’t even think about postpartum bleeding or my milk coming in or what my belly was going to look like after my son was born. My goal was just to get my son here healthy and safe, and anything else was irrelevant.
But once he was here and we were the parents of a living, breathing baby, there were a lot of things that happened that I did not expect. So looking back five years later, I have come up with this list of what to expect postpartum to help prepare any first-time mamas about to have their baby. It’s a mix of tips about what to expect in terms of your body and the changes you’ll go through and your new life and what it’s going to be like with a newborn in the house! Preparation and knowing what to expect will make a big difference in how well you adjust when the time comes!
1. After your baby is born, your sweet nurse will help you clean up. Birth is messy, and when it’s all over, you’re going to need to clean yourself up. If you had a hospital birth, your sweet L&D nurse will help you into the bathroom and she’ll show you what to do to take care of your nether regions postpartum. This includes gently rinsing off with a squirt bottle, using dermoplast spray to help ease the pain, getting some mesh cotton undies on, and putting a big giant maxi pad in your undies for the postpartum bleeding. As a first-time mom, it feels super awkward to have someone help you do something you’ve been doing on your own most of your life, but you’ll be so grateful!
2. You will probably be super thirsty and super hungry after childbirth. If you weren’t allowed to eat or drink during labor (which is standard for most hospital births), you’re going to realize that you’re ravenous and parched after things calm down. And if your baby is born in the middle of the night when the cafeteria is closed and restaurants around the hospital are closed, you might not be able to get exactly what you want. Just plan ahead, know your options, and know what you’re going to do (even if that means sending your husband out for a Big Mac!).
3. If you had an epidural and got a catheter, the first time you pee might take you a minute or two. Totally normal, but it’s hard to pee the first time post-catheter. You might have to sit there for a few minutes. Don’t be alarmed.
4. The first poop can be terrifying but actually isn’t that bad. While we’re on the subject of bodily waste, don’t stress too much about the first poop. Yes, people talk a lot about it. Yes, it can be hard. But if you take the laxatives they give you, drink lots of water, and just relax, it will happen. Just please don’t push too hard! You already did enough pushing!
5. Breastfeeding will be hard at first and you might not get it right away. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s totally normal, incredibly common, and not a reason to give up immediately. And of course, if you do decide eventually to give up breastfeeding and switch to bottle feeding, that’s totally okay, too! It’s okay if you decide not to breastfeed. The most important thing is that you figure out what’s best for you and your baby and not worry about what other people say or think.
6. Your boobs and nipples are going to HURT. Regardless of if you’re breastfeeding or not, they’re going to be extra tender and sensitive. Two lifesavers are using nipple balm and therapy pillows. The bamboobies® boob-ease® 100% Organic Nipple Balm is awesome because you just need a tiny bit, you don’t have to wipe it off before nursing again (it’s non-toxic!), and it helps soothe your sore, chapped nipples. Therapy pillows are something I didn’t discover until my third baby, but they are HEAVEN! The bamboobies®Soothing Therapy Pillows are gel-free and made of super-soft rayon from bamboo and flaxseeds (so they really feel like pillows for your boobs!). They can be heated in the microwave to soothe clogged ducts and increase milk flow or cooled in the freezer to provide therapeutic cooling to soothe sore new mama nipples and breasts. They’re seriously a lifesaver for new mama boobs. And if you’re reading this and you’re horrified by how many times I just said nipples, I apologize. But that’s postpartum life.
7. Your milk supply is going to be off the charts when it comes in, and your boobs will probably leak a lot. Until your supply adjusts (which can take a few days or a few weeks), you are going to feel giant (the word “engorged” is the official breastfeeding term) and really, really wet. Especially in the beginning, it’s important to wear nursing pads that you can change often and that you’re not going to leak through. I would definitely recommend using disposable pads (like bamboobies® EcoPure Disposable Nursing Pads because they’re both antibacterial and antimicrobial) in the beginning, and then switching to washable (if you want to switch) after you feel like you’ve adjusted and you’re not going to leak in between feedings.
8. Your body is going to cramp, feel weak, hurt, and be sore in places you didn’t even think could be sore. You just did something unthinkable. You pushed a bowling ball out of a whole the size of a golf ball. Girl, you’re going to be sore. You’re going to hurt. You’re going to be physically weak and exhausted. You’re also going to cramp as your uterus shrinks back down to size. It’s unpleasant, but it will go away.
9. Even after childbirth, you’ll have very little modesty in the hospital. Regardless of if you had a hospital birth or not, childbirth involves a lot of nudity. And just because your baby is out and you don’t have to sit there with an open hospital gown anymore, you’re still going to have very little modesty in the hospital after your baby is born. Nurses will come in to check your lady parts, nurses and lactation consultants will come in to make sure you’re breastfeeding okay, and your doctor will come in to make sure that things are looking good down south. Be ready to continue revealing yourself for a few days until you get to go home.
10. Be prepared for the nurses to come in, push on your stomach, and check your bleeding. While we’re on the subject of little modesty, this is something I really wish someone had told me to expect postpartum. To make sure your uterus is shrinking back down to size, your nurses will come in every few hours to push on your stomach and feel your uterus, and also check to see how much you’re bleeding. It’s super uncomfortable and you’ll probably hate it. They’ll also help you change the little puppy potty training pads that you get to sit on after childbirth so you don’t bleed all over the hospital beds. It’s a glamorous life, friends.
11. You’re going to have postpartum bleeding for about 4-6 weeks. It’s basically like a super long period where you’re not allowed to use tampons. As such, you’ll have to use giant maxi pads that make noise when you move. Hopefully your bleeding will be on the shorter end, but if it takes 6 weeks (or even a week longer like it did with my third), just know that it will eventually end and you won’t feel like you and your baby are both wearing diapers anymore. Although sometimes I do miss those stretchy, mesh undies!
12. You’ll have a “jello belly” for a while after your baby is born. Naturally, your belly won’t be flat and tight after your baby is born, right? In the place of your once round and stretched out belly, you now get to experience what I have affectionately termed a “jello belly.” You know how squishy jello is and how it wiggles around easily when you poke it? Imagine a skin colored bowl of jello on your stomach, and you’ve got a pretty good image of what’s going to happen to your belly. It’s normal, it will eventually get a little tighter and a little smaller, and it happens to everyone. Don’t stress about it.
13. You also won’t get much privacy in the hospital. This also comes with the whole lack of modesty thing, but there are constantly doctors and nurses coming in and out of your hospital room after you have a baby. People who want to check on you, people who want to check on your baby, and of course, if you allow it, visitors. It’s not going to be calm or quiet until you go home where you can lock the front door and really be on your own.
14. You’re going to feel like you’re feeding your baby ALL THE TIME. This is the stage I have dubbed “the milk factory” stage. When your newborn isn’t sleeping, they’ll probably be eating, and heads up, newborns take a long time to eat, and they eat a lot. Hence, you’re going to feel like a milk factory that runs almost 24/7. And if you want to cover up while feeding your baby, try using bamboobies® Chic Nursing Shawl. It’s pretty stylish so people might not even know it’s a nursing cover if you’re out in public with it (and it can be used as a car seat cover), and they just came out with an Open Nursing Shawl that is open so it looks kind of like a kimono. They both have UPF50+ protection so you can use it on sunny days and not worry about your baby getting sunburned! Because if you’re away from home for more than two hours, you’ve got to plan ahead and know that you’ll probably have to feed your baby on-the-go.
15. You can decide who you want to visit you. This is a big one that I don’t think a lot of people realize or understand. I actually have a whole post about how to handle visitors after childbirth. If you’re stressed about it, I recommend reading that post because I give a lot of tips about how to decide who can visit you, how to decide when they can visit, and being okay with the fact that you are the one who gets to say when people can come visit. To sum it up here, YOU are in charge and you shouldn’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings if you’re not ready or not feeling up to having visitors. You had the baby, not them, and it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you and your family.
16. You’re going to be exhausted. The times in my life when I’ve been the most tired physically, mentally, and emotionally all happened right after my babies were born. Since your baby eats every two hours, you have to be awake to feed them every two hours. And if they have a hard time going back to sleep after eating or their days and nights are mixed up, you’re going to be awake during those times with them. For me, this is the hardest part of having a newborn, because even though they’re cute, they require so much of your time and energy. The light at the end of the tunnel is that the newborn stage doesn’t last forever and you’ll adjust to getting less sleep (even if that means upping your caffeine intake!).
17. You will likely have very little bladder control. There is a reason they tell you to do kegels, mamas. Now I’ve shared this story before, but I feel like for the sake of keeping it real, I feel like I should repeat it here. One night when my oldest was a baby and we’d been home from the hospital for a few days, I got up to nurse him and had to go pee. I figured I’d wait and feed him first, because that was what a good mama would do. Well, of course I also had to change his diaper, and as I’m trying to hold it while changing my newborn, I emptied the entire contents of my bladder all over my feet and the carpet in front of my son’s dresser. It was humiliating, and nobody was even there to see it. The next day we went out and bought a carpet cleaner (that has come in handy MANY a time). Moral of the story, if you need to pee, go immediately. Don’t try to hold it, because after you have a baby, you may not be able to hold it.
18. You might go through a phase where you absolutely hate your husband. With all the hormones coursing through your body after having a baby, you might find yourself a little irritable. Now before I say this, know that my husband is an incredibly kind and loving man. But after my first baby was born, there were several instances when I just wanted to punch him right in his mouth. It wasn’t his fault, but those hormones, man, they are A-RAGIN’! If this happens to you, let him know how you’re feeling and that it’s just because of the hormones, then give yourself some time out or some space to cool off. And again, remember that it doesn’t last forever!
19. You won’t always know what you’re doing, and that’s okay. Having a newborn requires learning a lot of new skills fast. You have to swaddle them, bathe them, feed them, dress them, help them stop crying, change their diapers, care for every little thing they need, and take care of yourself at the same time. Sometimes, you won’t always know what you’re doing or how you’re going to get through the day (especially if your baby has colic, and if so, I feel for you!). Want to know a little secret? Nobody really knows what they’re doing! Sometimes, you’re not going to know how to help your baby stop crying. Sometimes, you’re not going to know how you can possibly cook dinner and do the laundry and sweep the floor and hold your baby at the same time. You learn something new about being a mother every single day, and just when you think you’re getting pretty good at parenting, something new will come up and you’ll be back where you started. That’s okay! That’s part of motherhood, and we all go through it. You are definitely not alone there!
20. This stage doesn’t last forever, and it does get easier. My oldest son is five, and as I write this, I still think the hardest stage of his life so far was the newborn stage. For all of the above reasons, and more. Yes, there are always going to be challenges, but at least when your child is older you’re (hopefully) sleeping more and you’re able to find time to feel like yourself again. The newborn stage only last for a few months, and then things start getting easier. That might sound like a long time when you’re right at the beginning, but it goes by so fast, and before you know it, your baby is turning one (cheesy, I know). So hang in there, keep trying, and know that it WILL get easier!
21. Colic is real, it sucks, and it eventually ends. Until my third baby was born, my husband and I didn’t think colic was a big deal. But guys, that kid cried for six weeks straight, and it was SO HARD. I was exhausted, my body was still recovering from childbirth, I had two older kids to take care of, and nothing I did would get him to stop crying. From two weeks to eight weeks, I was a hot, stressed-out mess. But at eight weeks he magically stopped crying and it was like my baby was a completely new little person. So if you’re in the colic boat and you feel like you’re drowning, don’t worry. The hole in your boat will get plugged up and you’ll be afloat again soon.
22. Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis are serious business. I’m so glad that some of the stigmas are starting to be removed from mental health disorders, because they are SO COMMON and they won’t get better unless you admit something’s wrong and you tell someone. If you feel off, don’t disregard it. This post has more tips if you think you might be suffering. Mamas, please, please, please don’t ignore these postpartum disorders. You can always get help if you’re suffering!
23. Don’t expect your body to bounce back quickly. I assumed that after I had my first baby I wouldn’t immediately go back down to my pre-pregnancy weight, but what I didn’t realize was that it takes a long time and a lot of work to feel like your body is yours again. I never lost the “baby weight” with my second baby, and even now 20 months after my third baby was born, I still have extra, saggy skin on my belly. That’s fine! I don’t think that worrying about the number on the scale is healthy, but I do think that feeling good in your body and loving it is important. Your body made you a human being, so please be nice to it and appreciate it instead of feeling down on it. And NEVER call yourself fat postpartum. Every new mom goes through this stage. And definitely, definitely don’t compare your body to anyone else’s. With your postpartum hormones a-ragin’, that will only cause you pain. And please, don’t look for quick fixes. Don’t do anything drastic to try and get your pre-pregnancy body back. No juice cleanses, no stupid fad diets, no dumb belly wraps. Just eat healthy, exercise, drink enough water, and love every single inch of your body. You only get one body and you need to love it and take care of it.
Postpartum life is hard. With all the emotions and physical pain and major life changes you’re going through, it’s going to be hard. But we all go through it, it gets easier, and your sweet baby is absolutely worth it. Try not to compare yourself or your baby to others in your life or in the media. My friend Jen summed it up perfectly when she said, “You know what is best for you and your baby. Don’t fall slave to the judgement society gives.” Mamas, you are the exact right mother your baby needs. They were sent to you for a reason. You have the final say in whether you breastfeed them or not. You will be able to tell if they aren’t walking at 14 months because they have a development problem or if they’re just a late walker. You know what’s best for them. Take care of yourself, trust yourself, and love your baby. The fourth trimester only lasts for a few months, and you’re going to be out of it before you know it!