Today I’m continuing the series on 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Pregnancy, but about the transition into postpartum life! The first two posts in this series were some of my most popular posts, so I’m thinking people might also be interested in reading about what happens postpartum. If you missed the two original blog posts, you can read them here: 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Pregnancy and 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Pregnancy (Part II).
Literally everyone asks you how everything is going while you’re pregnant. “How are you feeling?” is the question that you get somewhere between 5 – 100 times per day. For the most part, you just reply “fine” unless you’re having a really awful day or it’s your mom asking and you need to tell someone how exhausted / sick / large you are.
One of the perks about being pregnant is that there’s someone there to answer literally any and all of your questions – your obstetrician. And if you’re too embarrassed to ask questions directly to your doctor or if you forget once you’re actually in the office, you can just do a quick search on one of the many pregnancy apps you probably downloaded on your phone and guarantee someone else has already asked it.
However once you’ve birthed your baby and he or she is out into the world, nobody is asking, “How are you feeling?” Instead, they are all wrapped up in the baby and how the baby is doing, how much he or she weighs, do they have hair, are they eating well, the list goes on. While the baby naturally becomes the priority once they are out in the world, it’s unfortunate that the mom gets a little “left in the dust,” so to speak. The postpartum time period, I would argue, is just as important as the period of pregnancy. Sure, you’re no longer growing a tiny human inside of you, but now the baby is on the outside world and everything you do has a much greater and direct effect on what happens to the baby.
Unfortunately, nobody in the medical world really prepares you for what to expect postpartum. My OB essentially said nothing about what to expect. The nurses who tended to me after Leo was born just wanted to make sure my body was on its way to recovery in the two days following delivery, that breastfeeding was going well, Leo was eating and sleeping, and that my pain was managed by the appropriate pain killers (a cocktail of ibuprofen and Tylenol). So almost everything I experienced in the weeks and months after delivering a baby came as a surprise. And now I’m going to share with my expectant mamas so that you are hopefully more mentally prepared than I was!
- It feels like your organs are floating around in your body for several weeks to a month after giving birth – perhaps because they literally are. If you’ve ever watched an animated video of how your organs shift during pregnancy to make room for the baby, this might make sense to you. Your organs literally get squished in places they are not normally supposed to be as your baby grows and pushes your organs out of the way as they take up more room. Once the baby is out, those out-of-place organs slowly start to move back into their original positions. As you can guess, this is a very unpleasant sensation. The best thing for me when I felt this was to sit down, which relieved some of that sensation.
- Your skin changes, yet again. While you keep many of the hormones postpartum that you gain during pregnancy, your hormones also change yet again. Your body also starts producing milk, which means hello engorgement. For the most part, I would say that my skin changed for the better postpartum. I was breaking out randomly during pregnancy, which stopped after having Leo, and I also had a rash on my belly near the end of pregnancy which disappeared. I have also heard that stretch marks can appear after giving birth (ugh), but I did not suffer from that. The one thing I continued to do to avoid stretch marks postpartum was moisturize my body – both belly and breasts – because those are two of the places where stretch marks can appear after birth. I’ve also heard that stretch marks on both the thighs and butt are common. But it doesn’t happen to everyone!
- Your hair falls out. Don’t let this scare you! It doesn’t happen overnight, so for most women I believe it’s not very noticeable. However over the first 6 months postpartum, due to hormone changes, your hair starts to thin and shed more than usual. In case you aren’t aware, you stop losing as much hair during pregnancy, so your hair actually thickens. Which is why it eventually falls out, because it’s essentially going back to normal.
- Your boobs grow – and then shrink. Regardless of whether you plan to breastfeed or not, your breasts will naturally fill with milk a couple of days after giving birth. This is both uncomfortable and somewhat shocking. This is what is referred to as “engorgement” and is when your breasts are literally expanded to the tenth degree overnight – I went to bed having my pregnancy-sized breasts (a cup-size fuller than my pre-pregnancy size) and woke up looking like Pamela Anderson – no joke. One of the nurses couldn’t stop commenting on my “new” boobs because they were that large… it was actually humorous. Your breasts will suffer from engorgement over the first several weeks while your body learns how much milk your baby needs and then regulates itself. By the time I hit six-months postpartum, my breasts stopped engorging, with the exception of overnight. At six months, several things happen that lead to this – 1. Your baby is most likely eating less frequently, so your body has learned not to reproduce milk as quickly. 2. Your baby is (hopefully) sleeping through the night at this point, and your body will adjust to not feeding the baby during those night hours. 3. Your baby should be starting solids so might be drinking slightly less milk throughout the day because they are filling up on other nutrients in addition to breastmilk.
- Postpartum depression is incredibly common. There’s a reason why you receive several documents describing postpartum depression, urging you to contact a healthcare professional if you have symptoms following birth. While having a child is one of the most amazing things in the world, it also completely changes your life. Those changes can be hard to adjust to, especially as the mom. Your purpose in life is suddenly to tend to another human’s needs constantly – which pushes your own needs and desires to the side. It can be exhausting at times – especially in the first few months – when the baby constantly needs to eat at all hours of the day and night. Even the simple things can be hard to achieve, for example a shower or finding the time to eat breakfast. The majority of women feel a bout of depression for the first 2-3 weeks, which is referred to as “Baby Blues,” and typically goes away. However a smaller percentage of women have these symptoms for longer, which is when you’ll want to check-in with your doctor regarding postpartum depression.
- You can survive on less sleep than you think – and you’ll have to. Prior to pregnancy, I was convinced that I need to have 8-9 hours of sleep. If I had less than that, I was incredibly tired throughout the day and by the time the late afternoon hit I felt like I needed a nap (drama queen lol). During pregnancy I got very used to not getting a full nights sleep because there are so many different things that cause you to be uncomfortable. I would often be awake for 1-2 hours in the middle of the night. And I would frequently need to go downstairs, get a glass of water, make myself toast because I was starving in the middle of the night, and then go back to bed. But that does not even compare to what your nights become once you have a newborn. Some newborns are apparently great sleepers right out of the womb, but Leo was not one of them. He woke up somewhere between 5-8 times per night for the first three months and then was so sporadic it was hard to ever feel rested.
- Apparently most women are starving while breastfeeding. But this surprisingly didn’t happen to me. I guess this should only come as half a surprise because I strangely was not hungrier than normal while I was pregnant, either. But most women say that they’re super hungry during pregnancy but even more so while breastfeeding because you burn so many calories doing that. So if you feel ravenous once you start breastfeeding – completely normal!
- Nursing bras will become your best friend. It’s the sad truth. Expect to give up regular bras for a while and get used to just whipping out a boob at any time of day or night. While not the cutest accessory, nursing bras really make everything about breastfeeding so much easier. They make nursing on demand faster, they are comfortable, they are practical, and it’s much better to be discreet when you’re wearing a nursing bra instead of trying to manuever one boob out of a regular bra – sorry, not happening.
- Your boobs may or may not squirt your baby in the face. Hahaha. Not sure if this happens to most mamas or not, but Leo certainly got his fair share. Going back to engorgement, when your boobs are full, they are full. As in, must wear breast pads in your bra so you don’t soak through your shirt full. As in, when you go to breastfeed your baby if they aren’t quick enough to latch on or if they pull off in the middle of eating, they’re bound to learn what a super soaker feels like. This isn’t something to be embarrassed about – embrace the humor because it’s pretty damn funny.
- You may not feel like yourself for quite a while. Having a baby takes a toll on you. Your body, your emotions, your mental health. With hormones raging, your body changing yet again, and trying to adapt to a whole new lifestyle and life purpose, you’re bound to feel different. Your past self will seem far away. Yet that is okay. It may take time to get used to, but the reality is that you’re a new person. Having a child changes you forever. You instantly become more empathetic, protective, mature, and you realize what really matters in life. But that doesn’t mean the change isn’t hard! Some days it hits you like a ton of bricks that you feel different, or you don’t feel like yourself. What worked for me was calling my mom, talking to my husband, going out and doing something for myself (aka hitting Home Goods or getting my nails done) or even working out. You’ll find what makes you feel more like yourself and what gets you in a better headspace when you start to feel down.
While there are many side-effects of postpartum that aren’t super pleasant, the reality is you now have a precious tiny baby that you brought into this world. You’ll know a love that is different than any love you’ve experienced before, and there is nothing like watching your baby grow and develop right before your eyes. It’s one of the best things in the entire world and when you compare everything you went through during pregnancy and postpartum to the new little baby in your life, it is 100% worth it. I anticipate that I’ll go through it all over again for another little baby… eventually 😉