One of the things that surprised me the most when I had a baby was how unprepared I was for the postpartum recovery period! Everyone has plenty to say about pregnancy and childbirth, but for some reason, the postpartum period gets kind of passed up. It isn’t the prettiest or most delicate of experiences, but I don’t think women should be embarrassed about it! I did have some awesome friends who gave me helpful information based on their recovery experiences, but my doctors, family members, etc. didn’t really tell me much. Maybe a lot of women don’t remember their postpartum recovery periods as well as the childbirth experience? I guess that would make sense, since childbirth is such an amazing and even traumatic (to put it frankly) experience for the body. I did get a little bit more preparatory information from the prenatal/childbirth prep class we took and from the website I got regular updates/advice from. However, Brian and I found ourselves surprised over and over again as I recovered from childbirth… Basically, the recovery was more intense than I thought it would be! Hopefully, this post can give some of you first time moms out there a little insight about what to expect during the postpartum recovery time. Now to be fair, everyone’s experience is different, just like every childbirth experience is different. But these tips are based on my personal experiences, and I know that other women can back me up on them!
What to Expect
1) Your uterus needs to contract itself back to normal size after giving birth. Your nurses and/or doctors will help speed up the contraction process by kneading on your tummy soon after you have your baby. I remember this being uncomfortable for sure and I didn’t enjoy it by any means, but it wasn’t excruciating pain. The nurses first did this within minutes after I was stitched up in the delivery room, and then they would periodically do it throughout my recovery stay in the hospital. It seemed to get less painful each time they did it, from what I remember.
Another thing that helps a uterus contract back to its normal size is breastfeeding. Each time I breastfed my son for the first week or two, especially for the first couple days in the hospital, I could literally feel my uterus contracting- kind of like a menstrual cramp. Again, it wasn’t a terrible kind of pain.
2) You will bleed for a little while after the birth. The bleeding shouldn’t be really intense (if you ever notice big clots, you need to call your doctor right away). It is kind of like being on your period for the first few weeks after giving birth. Your body has a lot of extra “stuff” to dispose of after you have a baby! In the hospital they give you large pads to use (they may feel like diapers, but they are necessary!), and I continued to use large ones for a week or two after I got home. After that point, the bleeding was still there sometimes (like spotting), so I just made sure to always have pads on hand. I would sometimes notice that I would bleed more after breastfeeding (remember the whole uterus contracting back thing?). Just like the cramping, the bleeding aspect of postpartum wasn’t too difficult for me.
3) Going to the bathroom will be painful at first. For me, this was the worst part of postpartum recovery. I almost had to have a catheter inserted again when I was in recovery at the hospital because I had such a difficult time peeing! Thankfully, it eventually got easier during the hospital stay. I just had to make sure to get up and go often or else I would wet the bed (no muscle control right after pushing out an 8 pound baby!). The little squirt bottles they provide you with in the hospital are a life-saver- you use them as you urinate to help relieve the burning sensation.
Going #2 is a whole different experience… It was VERY painful the first time! But I think my situation was worse than it needed to be because I was constipated. I think doctors want you to have a bowel movement within 5 days after having a baby, and it took my body this long to figure it out. What I suggest is preparing yourself before you go into labor by getting lots of fiber!!! Toward the end of my second pregnancy, I starting drinking prune juice and I ate a lot of fiber bars. I’m pretty sure this helped a ton the second time around, because going potty was WAY easier after my second delivery!
4) Tearing takes a toll on your body. If you tear during pushing (which is very common, especially with your first baby), you will need stitches and these will need to heal. I had to have an episiotomy with my first because forceps had to be used to flip him from the posterior position. I can tell you that it took several months for me to feel normal again down there, and I think it was mainly from this episiotomy (plus the other natural tears I had). I know it was good and necessary so I could have my son safely, but it caused me pain for awhile. In the hospital I was given a small inflatable tube to sit on to relieve pressure from the tearing, and this definitely helped. And when I got home, as long as I was following my pain medication schedule for the first few days the pain wasn’t unbearable. But even after the initial pain went away, I could feel some scar tissue forming. You do eventually get back to normal (and I’m really hoping my second postpartum recovery won’t be as painful and long), but it takes some time. Let your body heal and don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor if you feel something is wrong or abnormal.
5) Intimacy will be an adjustment at first. As you have probably heard or can imagine, sex after having a baby is not the most comfortable experience… But never fear, things will get back to normal! Again, just let your body heal and listen to its needs. And remember that there are lots of ways to be intimate besides the obvious. 🙂
6) Start thinking about birth control before you have your baby. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will be able to prescribe you your preferred method of birth control when you see him/her for your postpartum checkup (usually between 4 and 6 weeks after the baby’s born). But make sure you’re thinking about what you’re going to do before this point, and make sure that you don’t consider breastfeeding your method of birth control, because it is not a method of birth control!….. 🙂
7) Your period. I can’t speak for other women here, but I didn’t officially have another period after having my baby until he was about 5 months old (this is when I stopped breastfeeding). But I think I’ve heard of some women’s ovulation starting back up again within a couple of months after having a baby.
What You’ll Need
I found that the hospital provided me with most of the materials I needed to get through my recovery. I got witch hazel pads (which help with hemorrhoids), numbing spray (which helps while going to the bathroom), a squirt bottle (as I mentioned above, to help with urinating), and some large pads to wear for those first few postpartum recovery days when lots of fluids are still leaking. Some other things I would suggest having are:
Nursing equipment. If you’re planning on breastfeeding, you’re going to want a comfortable place or places to do it, and you’re going to want equipment to help you feel comfortable as you’re getting used to feeding your baby. I needed a water JUG (the one they gave me in the hospital) at all times with me because I always felt like I was going to die of thirst! 🙂 I also loved my nursing pillow and my nursing cover (for when people visited). You’ll probably also want lots of snacks to munch on, books and/or your phone/laptop to entertain yourself with. I watched a lot of my favorite shows while I breastfed my son.
Lots of help at home. If you’re fortunate enough to have loved ones who can come to your home and help you after your baby is born, take advantage of that! My mom and sister came to help us after my son was born, and it was SOOO nice having them with us. My mom pretty much took care of all of our laundry, meals, and cleaning, and she even watched the baby for us in the morning if we had a long, sleepless night with him. I also really needed my mom and sister there emotionally, since having a baby and experiencing all that comes with it can feel overwhelming at times. It was very therapeutic to have people there with me during the day when Brian had to go back to work and school during the day.
Emergency formula. Even if you’re planning on breastfeeding, I suggest having a small stash of formula on hand just in case you’re going to need it. Plus, I’ve heard that emergency preparedness kits should always have infant formula if there are babies in your family. This totally makes sense, because if an emergency were to ever happen in your home or area (or to you), your baby still needs to eat their specialized milk.
I could go on and on about different things parents might need when they have a baby, but since this post was dedicated to the postpartum recovery period specifically, I’ll leave it at that. 🙂
It may seem overwhelming or scary to have a baby and to handle everything that goes along with having one, but don’t worry- everything will work out and you will end up having your own story to tell! I honestly did not think things were that scary or painful when I was experiencing all of this; I was so in love with my baby and so excited he was here that those happy emotions usually overpowered any of the confused or overwhelmed ones.