The moment you’ve waited and planned for has arrived! The first weeks with your newborn are a busy time, but it’s important that you find the time to take care of yourself. Here are some tips that will help with an easier, happier and faster postpartum recovery.
Rest! You’re recovering, and your post-pregnancy body is working hard to adjust. Don’t start off trying to be supermom because there is no such thing. Ask for help, and accept it when it’s offered. Stay in your pyjamas when you have visitors because it reminds people that you are recovering from birth and that you need help. On the other hand, when you don’t have visitors, sometimes taking a shower and getting dressed really does wonders psychologically.
Tend to your bottom. The condition of your vagina, perineum and rectum depends a lot on your particular childbirth experience, but regardless expect lots of bleeding and general soreness. Your peri bottle and sitz bath will be lifesavers in the coming weeks. Fill your peri bottle with warm water and squirt it on your perineum while/after you use the bathroom to keep yourself clean and help with the stinging you may experience when pee hits your stitches. Herbs such as comfrey root, witch hazel, calendula leaf and plantain leaf ease soreness and help with postpartum recovery. Steep the herbs in boiling water, let cool, then transfer the herbal infusion to your peri bottle.
Tend to your boobs. During your first week postpartum your milk will come in and your breasts will engorge. They may become bigger, tender and hard. Engorgement should diminish within a few days, but if you’re seeking relief in the meantime there are a few remedies you could try. Try a warm compress before nursing and a cold compress afterwards. You can also use your hand to express a little milk to relief pressure, but don’t express too much because the more you express the more milk is made. To ensure that all milk ducts are being emptied, alter the position of your baby at the breast and compress your breasts gently while nursing to help get your milk flowing. Lastly, have some nipple cream on hand in case your nipples get a bit sore. A little bit of soreness is normal, but if the pain becomes intense, seek help from your doctor, midwife or a lactation consultant.
Tend to your uterus. Your uterus was recently the size of a watermelon and now it must return to the size of a pear. You may notice some contractions and gushes of blood as your uterus slims down. You can speed the return of your uterus to its normal size by drinking red raspberry leaf tea, which acts by strengthening the uterus. Drink this tea daily, and your uterus will thank you. If you're breastfeeding, it will also help your uterus to contract down to size quicker, which makes postpartum bleeding end sooner too!
Drink lots of water. Drinking lots of water in the weeks to come is very important for you and your baby. Your body is recovering from possibly a long and tiring labour, and needs to be rehydrated. Also, diluting your urine by drinking lots of water may help reduce the burning sensation you feel when pee hits your stitches. Most importantly, you will need lots of fluids if you are nursing in order to stay hydrated while producing milk for your baby. Breastfeeding an infant is a round-the-clock job, so it’s important you take care of yourself. Always have a glass of water beside you when you’re nursing, as well as snacks. You could also keep a large water jug in the fridge and be sure to empty it every day.
Invest in some lube. Your low estrogen levels after delivery, and while breastfeeding, causes the thinning of your vaginal mucosa which can lead to dryness. So when you’re ready for sex, be sure to have some lube on hand, because you’ll need it!
Give yourself time. Your postpartum body is coursing with hormones, your uterus is returning to its normal size, your milk is coming in, and you’re likely not getting very much sleep. Try not to expect to feel back to normal right away, because you won’t. But give it some time, you will eventually.
Talk about your experiences. Pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum are all very overwhelming and life changing experiences. It helps to talk about your experiences. Join a support group, call your family or friends, or reach out and connect with other women in your community. You’re not the first mom to be overwhelmed, so get the support that you need.
Shame and guilt appear to be accepted aspects of motherhood. There is very little a mother can do that doesn’t make her susceptible to being shamed into feeling like a ‘bad mother’. If you formula-feed, you are denying your child a healthy start. If you breastfeed past one-year, you are a hippie attachment parent who can’t let their baby grow up. If you go back to work early, you are abandoning your child. If you stay home, you have no ambition (I have done ALL these things by the way). The list goes on…
Shaming also extends into the birthing world, and birth shame is personally something that I have carried with me for some time now. After attending an awesome lecture by Jodi Hall at this weekend’s Birth & Beyond conference, I was inspired to explore my birth shame a little deeper.
When I was pregnant with my first son I had planned the birth that many doulas dream of. I had the midwifery team, the doula, my home birth supply list, and even a spot in my backyard picked out for planting my placenta. It was going to be a peaceful, primitive and undisturbed birth experience, complete with rainbows and unicorns. Well, it turns out (in case you didn’t know) that things don’t always go as planned, and I ended up in the hospital at 36.5 weeks facing an induction.
Induction is a bad word in the birthing community. It should be avoided like the plague! And I was a doula, so shouldn’t I know better? Shouldn’t I be ‘informed’ enough to know the risks? Against what I was taught I went ahead with the induction. After 12 hours of labour my son was born, and was immediately whisked away to the NICU. Instead of making memories of our first gazes, or taking pictures of his tiny feet, I was left in the birthing room without a baby. Were my choices the reason that my baby was in a cold incubator all alone? Was I the reason that we missed out on those first precious moments together? My shame convinced me that our mother-child bond was compromised by my failures. All I could see was that I hadn’t been good enough, that I hadn’t tried enough, and that I hadn’t been smart enough. Maybe if I had refused Pitocin, the birthing process wouldn’t have been so hard for my son. All the things that I could have done differently swirled in my head.
As a doula, I felt somewhat like an imposter for not having the intervention-free birth that I had envisioned. I would share my birth story with other moms and doulas, but I felt the need to justify all of my actions and to explain all the medical reasons that led to an induction so that I wouldn’t be judged. Luckily, with time, the shame simply morphed into disappointment. I was soon pregnant with my second and I had convinced myself that I would do things entirely different this time around. But unfortunately many of the same problems that plagued my first pregnancy started creeping up again, and it looked like my rainbow-coloured home birth was just a fantasy.
After 37 weeks of a very emotional second pregnancy, I made the decision to be induced before my medically necessary 'deadline date' (cue audible gasps). I was exhausted and worn down by a difficult pregnancy. And I was sick of being treated like a ticking time bomb. I was done with the blood tests, the ultrasounds and the non-stress tests. I was just done. I knew it was the ‘wrong’ choice to make, and I carried a lot of shame over it. I didn't telI anyone about my choice (until now!) because I was afraid that I would be judged by other moms, and by other birth professionals. But after some self-reflection I have realized that it wasn’t the wrong choice to make, because it was the right choice for my family in that moment and it involved so much more than simply weighing the medical benefits and risks of an induction. My fears, my hopes, my past experiences, my knowledge, my insecurities, and the information I was given were all factors in my choice to be induced. And people can judge my birth choices all they want, but I am no longer going to let their judments cause me shame. I am proud of myself, and I am proud of my births.
Being a mom is the source so much guilt and feelings of failure. Let’s not make birth one more thing that we fail at as moms. Let’s support each other and the decisions that we make, even if they were ‘uninformed’, or based on fear or pain. Let’s watch our words and our thoughts, because they can have a big effect on how a woman remembers her birth experience. Let’s not project what we feel is an ideal birth onto someone else…it may not be what they consider ideal at all. And let’s focus all of our judgey energy on making maternity care system better, and not on shaming the woman within the system.
Kiss-ass doula, pretty okay-ish mom, spreadsheet enthusiast, punctuality freak, ice cream addict.