What should you expect postpartum?
The days that follow the birth of a baby can be some of the most wonderful you will ever know. Hormonally, it mirrors falling in love with a partner. Losing sleep to immerse yourself in this new person. Prioritizing them and their needs over your own. Those first days can also be some of the most trying. Many things are happening physiologically in this early postpartum period. On one hand, you are healing physically from the birth itself. Your uterus is healing from the release of the placenta from the uterine wall and working hard to contract and get back to its pre-pregnancy state. And, chances are you will be physically spent from the act of birth itself and often working on little sleep and sustenance. On the other hand, you will be incredibly sensitive to your baby’s needs, in a heightened state of awareness learning to read your baby’s cues, so that you can better meet his or her needs. The first weeks postpartum are a time of balance - nurturing yourself so that you can nurture your baby.
As it did during pregnancy, your body will change quite a bit in the early postpartum period as it returns to its non-pregnant state. Most women report their body resembling themselves at around 5 months pregnant within a few days of delivery. It took a while to grow your beautiful belly and baby. It will take a while to get back to your pre-pregnancy shape. Be patient with your body. It has just done something amazing. If you are breastfeeding, your body will actually require an additional 200 calories a day from your pregnancy. Make sure you support yourself nutritionally, just as you did while pregnant. You are still growing your baby.
You will bleed postpartum. Blood loss will begin immediately after birth. It can start off heavy, but should you ever fill a pad within an hour, please call your care provider. Bleeding will continue for at least a couple of weeks. It is common for it to last up to 5-6 weeks postpartum. Please note, that it should gradually decrease in amount and change color from red to brown to white. Any increase in amount or return to bright red can be indication that you are doing too much postpartum. Bleeding is a good indication of your healing.
Some other common experiences postpartum include hair loss and sweating. During pregnancy, hormone changes cause less shedding of your hair than when you are not pregnant. Postpartum, you are simply catching up on your normal hair loss. Though it can be disconcerting, it is normal. And, sweating is another indication of fluctuating hormone levels as your body returns to its non-pregnant state. It is temporary and should resolve within a few weeks.
Like birth, the unexpected can also happen in the postpartum period, but some forethought will go a long way toward a peaceful transition to life with a new baby. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your early postpartum period.
Make a plan.
A postpartum plan does not need to be a formal signed written agreement. Some open conversations with your family and close friends will often do the trick. The goal is that you plan for the meeting of your needs as a family, so that you can focus on meeting the needs of your new baby. Things to consider include: how you will be fed, who will help with cleaning and laundry, who will take care of your other children, breastfeeding support and emotional support. Communicate your hopes and fears about your time with your new baby. This is a special time in your life as a new parent. Once these moments have passed, you can not get them back.
Give yourself 2 weeks.
One of the most common questions families ask about life with a new baby is “How long should we give ourselves after baby is here?” Two weeks is a good rule of thumb. Generally, 2 weeks serves as a turning point on the road to recovery. If you can allow yourself 2 weeks before jumping back in to life as you knew it, your chance of a more peaceful transition increases. While staying in bed and being served all of your meals for those two weeks would be great, it may be that arranging for someone else to take your other children to their activities or doing the shopping for you will be enough to help you find your feet more smoothly. (Please note, this does not include exercise. Returning to a fitness regimen postpartum is important, but please discuss the particulars of this with your care provider, as they may vary depending on individual factors.)
You have a beautiful new baby. You want to show her off. Remember, you have the very important task of establishing a breastfeeding relationship with your baby, and skin to skin contact is helpful in accomplishing this. When considering a visitor, ask yourself these questions, “Is this someone I am comfortable being topless in front of? Are they someone I want to share the intimate moments of our first feedings with? Can I be truly vulnerable with this person?” If not, they can wait a week or more to come say hi. If so, include them in the next tip.
Ask for help. And, accept it when offered.
This one sounds simple, but it can often be the hardest to implement, especially when our society holds babies, not the women who bore them, as the star of the show. If asking someone to do a specific task is hard, consider making a list of things that need doing, putting it on your refrigerator and ask those who offer to take a peek and see if there is something they wouldn’t mind helping with. Ask that everyone who comes to visit brings food or something else you may need. And, remember that we benefit when we help others. Allow others the joy of caring for you.
Prepare your tool box.
Just as you prepare yourself for birth with tools to help comfort yourself during labor, so too can you prepare yourself with tools to help comfort yourself postpartum. Whatever your fears or concerns about the postpartum period, there are many resources available to help you handle them. Look into a sitz bath, salve or making frozen pads to help with postpartum healing. Touch base with your chiropractor, acupuncturist or massage therapist about a postpartum visit. Stop by Mommas Milk Circle, take a breastfeeding class or consult with a Lactation Consultant for a head start on breastfeeding. Download movies or shows you have been wanting to see but haven’t made the time for. Get tools to help you sleep postpartum, such as an eye mask, blackout shade or comfy pajamas.
Encapsulate your placenta
The placenta is an incredible organ, responsible for sustaining and nurturing your growing baby throughout pregnancy and birth. Shortly after the birth of your baby, your placenta is birthed too. This is referred to as the Third Stage of labor. Most mammals consume their placenta after the birth of their babies. As humans are mammals, some humans consume their placenta after birth as well. This practice is known as placentophagy. While there are no published scientific studies supporting this practice in humans, anecdotal evidence is strong. Women who consume their placenta postpartum report a reduction in symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression, a boost in their energy level, an increase in their milk supply, a decrease in postpartum bleeding and a shorter recovery overall.
“In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical sense of two people existing only for each other.” - Anne Morrow Lindbergh