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10 Things No One Tells You About Childbirth and Postpartum Recovery

February 08, 2014 14 min read

After the recent birth of my 3rd baby, I lay in the hospital and took a good look around. Being that this was my 3rd pregnancy, 3rd delivery and 3rd hospital stay, I started to think about how each one was different. Different more in a sense that my first time around in 2009 was in a word, 'unexpected'. Second time was 'easier,' and now my third (and probably my last), somewhat 'bittersweet'. See, if someone told me in 2008 that by 2014 I would be living in the 'burbs' with 3 kids as a stay at home mom, I would have told them they're crazy. Don't get me wrong, my husband and I always wanted kids but didn't think in 5 years we would have 3. I guess it's just the age we live. We are having kids later in life (I started at 34), and want to feel settled and grounded both financially and mentally. It also doesn't help that the medical world calls 34 years old 'advanced maternal age.' First time I heard that I thought, "you're joking right?" No indeed they were not. Before I had my first, I imagined what it might be like, as any hopeful expectant mom may. I got pregnant and had a 'birth plan' that I thought was going to go exactly as planned. Boy was I wrong. From the first onset of contractions, till the 2 weeks postpartum, NOTHING was as I imagined. That first go at delivery was an eye opener. I had a wonderful, healthy pregnancy with no complications at all. The onset of contractions and labor was a totally different story. I had that birth plan and HOPED to stick to it, but in the end had a completely different experience. This is MY story. I'm not here to say this happens to every woman, but am here to say that if you end up NOT having the experience you put forth in your 'plan', to not be discouraged. Don't feel like a failure. Don't dwell on it. You have created a little human being and that in itself is a miracle. I did everything right each time, and was blessed to have an active/fit pregnancy, but for me, this DIDN'T mean a fast and quick vaginal delivery. Everyone will have their own experience and in the end, a healthy baby and mommy is what is most important. Regardless though of HOW I delivered my 3 babies, (I myself had 3 C-Sections), the days following childbirth were TOUGH. I'm not just talking physically. They will test your strength, will and patience. Just know that in the end, you will become a stronger, determined and more patient woman. I took the childbearing course with my husband, read all the books and online blogs, but really wasn't fully prepared for what lay ahead of me. There are a few things in my 5 years of having my 3 kids, that I have found to be true for childbirth and postpartum recovery. Below is a list that rang true for ME every time.

1) Don't pack your entire wardrobe in your 'hospital bag'

You may hear about women going home in their 'skinny' jeans, but I have to say I have NEVER seen this happen. Whether you are delivering vaginally or end up having a C section, your abdominal area will be SORE, tender and sensitive to the touch. My scar area was always sore after just 3 days and heading home, so the LAST thing I wanted to feel was buttons, zippers etc. Bring VERY loose clothing, sweats etc to go home in. If you give birth in warmer climates or warmer weather, think loose maxi dresses. Anything that is not constricting. If you feel that wearing your own clothes in the hospital will also make you feel better, then go for it, but think loose on bottom and cotton maternity bras on top, especially if you are nursing. But again, you will NOT need 20 outfits! And definitely NO JEANS.

2) Wear the hospital's underwear not your sexy bikini's

When I first saw the mesh undies they put on me to wear after the birth of my first, I thought, what in the world?! But TRUST. You do not want any other undies on, especially ones that are bikini's if you have had a C section. The mesh ones will go over the scar and will be loose, but will stay up. If you deliver vaginally, especially if you had any tearing, you will have a lot of swelling down below and it will be sore, so you are going for comfort above all else. From the swelling to the severe edema you will experience after a C section, these mesh undies will be the best thing. In fact STOCK UP and TAKE HOME!!! You may want these for at least a week, or at least until things start to move back into place!

3) What the heck is going on 'down there!?'

Ok, so you may have heard this before, but if not then just know you will bleed for weeks after delivery. This discharge, called lochia, mainly consists of blood, tissue and uterine lining. You also had increased blood volume during pregnancy of about 50%, so this loss is normal. In the hospital you may or may not really notice since at first you may be on your bed while the nurses change your pads (if you have had a C section), but once you get up, you will notice it when standing after a period of sitting, while walking around, and even while nursing. While nursing you  may have uterine contractions (which help your uterus get back to it's pre-pregnancy size). These can be painful. In fact, I thought they were more painful than normal pregnancy contractions. Just know this is all normal. If you tore or had an episiotomy, you will also have some blood from that. The next 2-4 weeks following birth, this blood gets lighter and eventually subsides completely. Another reason TO USE THE HOSPITAL'S DISPOSABLE MESH UNDIES!!

4) MOVE MOVE MOVE

The nurses are usually pretty good about getting your butt out of bed to walk around and move shortly after delivery, or within several hours after a C section (once the spinal wears off). Even if you feel like moving is the worst idea you could think of, THINK AGAIN!! You will need to move to get juices flowing, blood circulating, gas expelled and to help prevent blood clots. Not to mention, an overall feeling of recovery beginning. I advise you to begin moving as soon as the doctors ok it!! After a C section, the nurses will start giving you anti-gas meds. Take them as long as they are administered! I once had gas pain in my shoulders and it is HORRIBLE!! Sometimes it's an effect of slow moving bowels after surgery pressing on the diaphragm resulting in gas pains and other times its what's referred to as 'referred pain,' or pain coming from another area of the body (i.e. uterus), that is felt in your shoulders instead because of the way your nerves react. Either way, it will go away, but the best medicine outside of anti-gas meds is MOVING. I made the mistake the first time around not moving enough, if almost at all and paid for it. From my second delivery and the third delivery, I made it a point to stalk the nurses until they gave me the green light to move.

5) Nursing is not always painless and easy

The first time I had my newborn at my breast, I also had the nurse next to me basically telling how I am NOT doing it right. I had just an emergency C section after 24+hours of labor and all I wanted to do was have SOMETHING go smoothly! I was so emotional and didn't care if I was 'doing it' wrong, I just cared that my baby was there and taking to my breast beautifully. To my own defense, I don't think I was "DOING IT" wrong, but my approach was not textbook in terms of how to 'latch' on properly. Five years later, 2 more babies later, I think my 'latch' technique has worked fine especially since my babies all gained weight and do well. You may have lactation consultants approaching you and/or nurses telling you, "It shouldn't hurt and if it does, you're not doing it right and/or they are not 'latched' on correctly." I will tell you this. You go your entire life before breastfeeding with NO ONE feeding at your breast, to now with a  newborn who has just seen the light of day, feeding at your breast every 2 hours, it's NOT GOING TO FEEL AMAZING! It may hurt at first. You will live and learn and understand what it feels like to have the baby latch on correctly and feel better, but it takes TIME. USE the nipple cream they give you OR BRING YOUR OWN TO THE HOSPITAL.  Your nipples will toughen up eventually.But, you will be exhausted. You will be the only one up at 2am in your house. You may feel like you and your baby are the only ones up ANYWHERE, and you are barely staying awake, and this will add to the exhaustion and draining feeling you may feel. Know that this will soon pass. You really have to get past the first month or so, before your baby is not nursing round the clock and you can finally say, 'I think I may have the hang of this'. If you don't, don't beat yourself down either. Breastfeeding is hard! It's a natural thing for a mother and baby to do yes, but it's tiring, not always pain free and has you by the balls in terms of commitment! I have known many women who also wanted and tried to nurse, but it didn't work for them for one reason or another, and that's ok too. Everyone will have their own opinion on this, and won't be afraid to share it with you, but do what's right for you. Get help form a lactation consultant if need be. Being a new mom is challenging in itself , and the most important role you will have in life. The last thing you need now is judgement on how you are or are not doing it RIGHT.

6) Your first bowel movement is an event

Whether you give birth vaginally or via C section, your first BM or what I like to call, PP (postpartum poop) might be something you are NOT looking forward too. If you tear or have an episiotomy, you may have fear of pain during your first PP. With a C section on the other hand, pooping can be a problem since it's tough to push when your abdomen is tender and sore. Not to mention, if you take the narcotics they give you to ease the pain after surgery (which I always do for the first 5 days), you MUST MUST MUST take the stool softeners after delivery to help with the constipation the pain killers will cause. Just remember to drink lots of water, and walk around as soon as you can, to keep your bowels moving. It's also completely normal to NOT have a PP for a few days after delivery. Once you are back home and in the comfort of your own home, is when you will most likely go. I got off the narcotics 2 days after I was home and just kept up with the pain using ibuprofen. But continue to take the stool softeners. Give yourself time once you feel like you have to go. I know this may be a little TMI for some, but you may find yourself on the potty for a good 30-60 minutes. Just know, you WILL go at some point and you will feel A LOT better after, but you can't rush it. Hemorrhoids are also very common in both post vaginal and C section births. Even if you went your whole pregnancy without suffering from these little monsters, don't be surprised if they show up postpartum. Again, there are remedies for these and all should subside within a couple weeks postpartum.

7) Sleep? When will I get this back?

I always heard that after having a newborn you can kiss sleep goodbye for the first month or two. I really had NO idea though what this meant until I had my first. The first week, you may think this isn't so bad since it's your FIRST week of getting a few non consecutive hours of sleep a night. But after 2-4 weeks of this, it catches up to you. You hear it all the time, "SLEEP WHEN YOUR BABY SLEEPS." I know, easier said than done and it's very hard for me to follow this especially with 2 other kids to look after, but TRY. Even if it's 20 minutes here and there, it all helps. As I mentioned, I nursed both my girls to 12-15 months PP, and am currently 1 month in with my son. It's TOUGH. He still is nursing every 2-3 hours and does not have his days/ nights straight yet, so nighttime is not sleep time for us. Luckily, I am a 'see the light at the end of the tunnel' type of gal, so I know this won't be forever, but it can be very draining. You think, HOW CAN THIS BABY BE HUNGRY AGAIN, I JUST FED HIM! Just know that you are strong and will get through it. You will have moments of frustration, resentment, exhaustion and even cry now and again since you feel like you may be the only one not getting sleep, while the rest of your family may be sleeping soundly. Ask for help . This too is hard for me to do sometimes, but is worth every sleeping moment you can get, if you can get it! Trust me.

 8) Am I going to lose ALL of my hair?

No. But, you may be alarmed, even frightened about how much hair that you will see coming out postpartum. All women experience some amount of hair loss after pregnancy, some more than others. Basically, during pregnancy the change in your hormones causes your hair to remain in a 'resting' phase for longer so you will lose less on a daily basis. Also why you may feel like your hair is so full and gorgeous during pregnancy! But then in the weeks following birth, your hormones settle and level out and then you will go into a 'shedding' phase and will start losing a lot of hair.  Possibly even 500 hairs day. I know within a few weeks of all my deliveries, I would notice the most hair loss in the shower while I conditioned my hair. During my first pregnancy, it was almost like a horror film, I was so freaked out by it. Again, I had heard of the hair loss, but didn't expect this much to come out at a time. It takes about 6 months for your hair to get back to it's pre pregnancy thickness. But even with that, you may  find that it's a little different then it was before. I noticed that after the birth of my first, my hair was less wavy and curly than it was before. Whatever the case, be patient. Eventually everything will level out!

9) The crying game

Before I gave birth to my first, my mom warned me about the 'baby blues.' I pretty much brushed that off as something that I personally would NOT have to worry about since I believed I had EVERYTHING under control. That I was going to be one of those moms who can juggle it all. Come to find out that was not the case. I had just gone thru a marathon 24+ hour labor to end up having to have an emergency C section. I was so emotional those days following my surgery. Crying for no reason. In pain with my incision which through my for a loop since I hadn't prepared for the idea that I COULD end up with major abdominal surgery. Friends and family were visiting me in the hospital and I felt like I was in a daze, just handing on my baby to everyone, but didn't think anyone really was wondering how 'I' was doing. This was furthest from the truth, but it's how I felt in that moment. I left the hospital, with a new body I didn't recognize, with exhaustion and sadness I couldn't understand and above it all, a baby who was counting on me to keep it alive and provide for. I was a wreck. My milk didn't come in for about a week after I gave birth, and I STRUGGLED with breastfeeding. I wanted so bad to have it work for me, but my newborn was crying all the time, since I nursed her for what I thought was an eternity at a time, but yet, she wasn't getting enough milk. Then 30 minutes later, to start 'rooting' again to nurse. I felt hopeless and incapable. I cried. I stayed awake at night and would nurse her with tears streaming down my face. What was going on? I loved her so much, but yet I couldn't control my emotions. I stayed inside for the next 2-3 weeks and just recovered, but it wasn't until about a month later that I realized what I was going through was indeed the 'baby blues'. The Baby Blues are a normal part of new motherhood. With the hormonal changes occurring after birth, along with the exhaustion and anxiety you may feel, this results in this feeling of sadness,irritability, sleeplessness, and moodiness. The majority of new moms will experience some degree of the baby blues, but just know you will feel better once your hormones level out. Getting some help from others and support from family and friends also helps. This along with resting and getting some Z's will be all the treatment you will need. If you find though that these feelings are NOT going away, or are becoming more severe, you may have postpartum depression (PPD). This should not be ignored, and needs special attention.

10) You post pregnancy body

It seems like these days you can't turn on the T.V. or open a magazine anymore without seeing celebrity mom's postpartum bodies and how they 'bounced' back so soon after giving birth. After the birth of my second via C section in 2011, I remember reading about how Victoria Beckham got back into shape just 8 weeks after delivering her fourth baby Harper via C Section. I thought to myself, how did she do that, seeing that you are supposed to wait 6 weeks before starting any strenuous exercise program after a C Section. After the birth of my 1st, I felt so depressed after I got a good look at my postpartum body. During my pregnancy, I had really bad edema. That and coupled with the fact that I received an IV for 24 hours + before and after delivery, I had a lot of water weight to lose. The edema can be pretty shocking for a first time mom, but know that within about a week or two, it will be gone. After the first week or so postpartum, I had lost most of my pre pregnancy weight gain but my body didn't look the same as it had before getting pregnant. Stuff was just 'loose,' to say the least! My breast were always engorged, and I felt puffy and swollen for a good while. I joked to my husband that I had hooves instead of feet because of the swelling. None of my shoes fit leaving the hospital, so I knew going forward to bring slippers to the hospital nothing else. We all have high hopes that when we leave the hospital with our beautiful baby, that we will have somewhat of our old body back. Truth is, it took us 9 months to get there, and many times can take the same amount if not longer, to get it back. It takes your uterus about 4-6 weeks to shrink back to it's pre pregnancy size as well. But even so, many women still look several months pregnant months after giving birth. Your abdominal muscles have stretched and with each pregnancy will do so again and again. But, with patience and dedication, you can absolutely attain the beautiful strong body you hope to see in the mirror. In fact, I made it my mission after the birth of my second to get into the best shape of my life, and did so with HIIT workouts and jogging. I even get my kids involved with my workouts too, so it becomes a family affair! As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor with a specialty in pre/post natal fitness, I make it my mission to help other moms new and old get that body they so desire. It's there for you to grab, you just need to be patient and dedicate the time and commitment to get you there.   Embrace what you have accomplished. Becoming a mother is the greatest gift that can ever be bestowed on you. Enjoy it. Love it. Learn from it. You have created a human being. It's not always going to be a walk in the park, and you will doubt yourself a lot. Just know that you are beautiful, amazing, and mean so much more than you will ever know to that one little miracle, your newborn baby. From this moment on, your life means much more than it did before. Understanding that and knowing you are more capable and stronger now than before, will give you the strength you need to overcome just about everything. Wishing you all the best in your journey!      
Photograph by Stefan Schuhart/iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

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