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Before my first daughter was born I spent so much time preparing for the “delivery” aspect of her birth that the reality of the challenge of postpartum recovery hit me like a ton of uninformed bricks.
In hindsight, it’s my responsibility for the lack of education in that area, but it’s also a problem with our society. We have failed to prepare and support women very well for AFTER baby comes.
I do feel that there is a movement going on right now towards changing this culture and I am ALL for it, because let me tell ya, there are some things I really wish I had known a little more about before I welcomed my first tiny creature into the world.
(One of which is that you need a postpartum care kit in your bathroom. For my full post on what to buy and what to get from the hospital for that you can click here!)
Here’s 5 honest truths I’ve learned about postpartum recovery.
1. You Will Be Exhausted
You will be exhausted to a level you have probably never experienced before. And not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
On our first night home from the hospital with our first baby I can remember my husband hallucinating that he was holding her in the middle of the night. She was in her bassinet crying and he was beside her hallucinating that he picked her up and handed her to me. Nope. She was just laying there crying.
No, he was not on drugs or alcohol of any kind.
And unfortunately no matter how many babies you’ve had, it is still exhausting to care for a newborn!
Though after bringing home our second child we were no longer naive about the temporary loss of sleep and exhausting nights ahead, it didn’t really make it LESS exhausting to do again.
Our second night home with our second baby was a rough one for our whole family. Our toddler was awake in the night crying for hours and didn’t understand why I couldn’t be there for her because I was nursing our newborn all night. Daddy was up with her for hours, I was up for hours with baby, and crying was happening all night with both kids.
Sitting in bed by night light around 5am I finally cracked. Through tears I looked down into my three day olds eyes and started singing the only truth I could hold onto in that moment.
“The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow
‘Till there’s none”-ANNIE The Musical
And it did. The sun came out. And we made it through one day at a time until it was easier.
I think one of the hardest parts of broken sleep and long nights is just the loneliness of it all. I hate being awake in the dark alone. Broken sleep is difficult physically, yes, but it can be a very hard time emotionally as well.
But I can offer you hope.
First of all, let me say “this too shall pass.”
Having a baby is exhausting, yes, but is so rewarding and worth it and you won’t be getting broken sleep for forever. Really.
Focus on getting rest instead of sleep.
Secondly, I learned about the principle of “rest versus sleep” from my lactation consultant and I have found it to be incredibly helpful. Essentially, instead of keeping track of how many hours of sleep you are getting just let it go and focus on getting as much “rest” as possible.
Instead of feeling anxiety welling up inside of you when the baby cries for the millionth time in the night you just focus on getting comfy and resting. Whether that’s in a rocking chair with pillows or nursing that little one laying on your side or however you can force your body to relax.
Breathe and know your body is recovering and you will make it through.
And of course, if you can take a nap during the day that will help immensely as well.
This is also one of my tips on how to get better sleep while you are pregnant!
2. You Might Feel Sick When Your Milk Comes In
This won’t happen to all women, but it is very common to experience flu-like symptoms or an overall run-down feeling when your milk comes in.
I definitely experienced this my first week postpartum and even thought I might have had mastitis because I was running a low-grade fever when my milk came in. A check-in with my LC assured me that I did not have a breast infection but was merely experiencing a “milk fever” along with engorged breasts.
Sure enough, by following her treatment plan for dealing with engorged breasts I was back in shape within a week and didn’t have to take any antibiotics. Taking ibuprofen, however, really helped relieve the pain and flu-like symptoms temporarily for me.
According to my OB, your estrogen levels drop to menopausal status at this time which can cause hot flashes and a general physical/emotional roller coaster which is a major contributor to how run down you may feel when your milk comes in.
Again, hang in there! Do watch for mastitis if you are feeling ill or have a temperature, but try to relax and continue to focus on getting as much rest as you can.
Along with feeling sick you also might discover that you are incredibly weepy and emotional when your milk comes in. Again, this won’t happen to everyone – but if it does just let the tears flow, Mama. Let ‘em flow!
3. Your Body Will Be Eliminating Extra Fluids
Don’t be surprised if your frequent need to pee continues even after delivery. Nothing is wrong with you and your bladder is not permanently ruined. Your body will naturally be eliminating extra fluids after giving birth (and even more so if you had an IV for an epidural.)
It’s also very common for this to cause night sweats for women in the week after giving birth. I know my first week was filled with such bad night sweats that they caused me to have chills and shakes, which along with the hot flashes was a whole ball of fun.
Plus, of course, you are having a heavy postpartum period on top of all of this.
So it is crucial for you to stay hydrated. Along with plenty of water I recommend enjoying some hot herbal teas and bone broth to nurture yourself. Here’s my favorite postpartum recovery tea!
And if you get the night sweats like me I recommend just sleeping in a lightweight nursing gown or summer pajamas to help you be more comfortable.
4. You Will Need To Take It Easy
Keeping a free schedule and limiting visitors early on can be very helpful in promoting a rest mindset. You really will need to take it easy on yourself physically during postpartum recovery.
In Natural Healing After Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness, author Jill Aviva calls mothers to respect the postpartum period as a designated time to retreat and prioritize the gentle healing and recovery she desperately needs.
I loved this book and wish I would have read it before having my firstborn! One of the principles she tends to come back to over and over is to listen to your body and not to push yourself at all. Your body will usually tell you when you are not resting enough. You will see an increase in bleeding or fatigue and you will know you are pushing yourself to hard.
It’s actually be quite difficult to put this into practice when you have kids and a family to take care of and are staring at a messy house! But it’s so, so important. Take my word for it and be okay with “cave-womaning” it up for awhile.
5. Your Older Children Might Be More Challenging Than Your Baby
If this is your first child then this obviously doesn’t apply to you, and if it’s number three or higher than you probably already know what I’m talking about.
If this is your second baby…watch out! A toddler and a new baby can be the absolute sweetest and yet most challenging dynamic many moms face (including myself to this point!)
If you think your older children might pose more of a challenge to you the first few weeks home than your newborn here are my suggestions.
1. Arrange for as much help as you can get!
If grandma can come by or a mom friend can take your kids on a playdate out of your house then do it. Those are precious, valuable hours and everybody wins!
2. Know that they will adjust.
They are just learning what it means to have a newborn baby in the family and trying to understand how they fit into the picture now. Reassure them with as much love and individual attention as you can. Before long there will come a time that they don’t even remember life without their littlest sibling.
3. If needed, allow yourself to grieve.
Your previously youngest or only child is no longer your baby. Things change quickly and new challenges spring up the day you come home with a new child. Though exciting, change can be really hard at first.
When my 22 month old pleaded and cried when I wouldn’t let her nurse again as soon as she saw baby sister doing it my mommy heart had to process big time.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to take your time to adjust. Being mommy is hard.
4. Do everything you can beforehand to prepare your children for a sibling.
From what I’ve shared it was obviously a huge adjustment for our toddler to welcome a baby sister into the family. However, we did a few things to prepare her that helped immensely and got her excited about baby from day one.
If you have a toddler or preschool aged kiddo, I highly recommend reading some books together about becoming a big brother or sister, learning to take care of and play “gently” with a baby doll, and allowing them to be a participant in your pregnancy by hugging your belly and talking to the baby etc. Let them be a part of the process and explain as much as you can even if they don’t understand all of it. It helps a lot!
Postpartum Recovery is a marathon not a sprint.
Take my advice and be gentle on yourself, mama. Use these tips. Take as much support from your friends and family as you can get. And you go on and love that baby as much as humanly possible.