Congratulations on your new baby! If you’re checking this post out, you’ve likely had a lot going on the past few weeks (or you will soon).
The adjustment to having a new baby is huge. And while there’s lots of information on how to take care of that precious bundle of joy (in fact, we have a great post on what to expect for the first few weeks of your baby’s life), there’s a lot less out there about how self-care for new moms.
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And frankly, that sucks. Your body and mind deserve better. If nothing else, your baby deserves for his mother to be treated better.
There’s a lot to cover on postpartum care during those first few weeks! Of course, there’s the down-and-dirty, practical things to discuss (it’s not very often on this site that I’ll be talking about pooping, but today’s the day!), as well as more sensitive topics about mental health and relationships with others.
Let’s talk about what to expect after childbirth and what should be done to take care of you. You matter too.
1. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby is one of the best things you can do for you.
The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for newborns is often touted, but you hear a lot less about the benefits for mom. But it’s helpful for us too! Skin-to-skin contact with your newborn (ideally immediately after birth, no bath or weighing before!) actually changes the chemistry in your brain! Cuddling your baby, you bare-chested and him stripped down to a diaper with a light blanket over you both boosts your oxytocin level (the “love hormone”), helping you bond to your baby. It also boosts another brain chemical called beta-endorphin. This chemical calms you, allows you to enjoy your baby more, and even relieves pain! And if you’re interested in breastfeeding, skin-to-skin also increases prolactin, which bumps up your milk supply.
Did you have a C-section? Don’t worry, it is possible to enjoy skin-to-skin contact even after a Cesarean. In this case, just hold your baby across your chest.
And skin-to-skin doesn’t have to be for just in the hospital. Even weeks or months later, if you and/or your baby are overwhelmed, you might just need a cuddle session. Get together on a firm mattress with no gaps (not a sofa or recliner!) and just have some time together with nothing else going on.
RELATED: Bed sharing with baby – how to do so safely
2. Take the Colace.
I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about, but I think it’s better that we have this conversation.
Yes, you’ll eventually have to have that first poop postpartum. Believe it or not, it will be okay.
Your nurse will offer you a stool softener. Do yourself a favor and take it. Another good option once you get home is to have a prune or two a day. And stay hydrated!
One tip that I found that is really helpful: Use a few fingers to press back against your perineum while you’re working on that bowel movement (BTW – the perineum is the area right behind your vaginal opening).
Awkward? a little. But no one is watching.
Makes the process less painful and scary? For sure.
(By the way, need more information on those first few days in the hospital after baby? Check this out.)
3. Pay attention to your bleeding.
No, you don’t have a period after birth. This bleeding is different, and it’s called lochia. Lochia lasts about six weeks after giving birth. But if you pay attention, you can use this inconvenience as a way to listen to your body.
The first week or so of bleeding will be pretty intense. The hospital will give you some hygiene products a friend of mine affectionately refers to as “thunder pads.” Once you run out of those, it honestly wouldn’t be a bad idea to have one small pack of Depends to use for a few days.
After that, your bleeding will start to slow down and become more of a brown or pink color. Then, 2-3 weeks postpartum, lochia is a yellowish color. It should be done by a month or so after that. For this time, a regular pad or even a pantyliner will probably get you through.
I tell you these things not because I enjoy TMI (by the way, pretty much nothing is TMI after a baby), but because lochia is indeed something to pay attention to. If you try to do too much, you will start bleeding more. This is your body’s hint to you to slow down and rest. Even after my third child, I spent a few hours vacuuming and doing a little laundry when I was about three weeks postpartum. By the end of the day, my body was definitely telling me I had done too much.
All that to say, if one of the three stages of lochia lasts longer it “should,” call your OB and ask about it. Postpartum hemorrhaging is not a game.
Pro tip: Do NOT use a tampon, menstrual cup, or anything else that you insert into your vagina for lochia. Your cervix is still not completely closed, and your uterus has a lot of healing to do, so NOTHING goes in there for six weeks.
4. Don’t feel obligated to do anything for anyone (except the baby).
Seriously. Someone else can handle the laundry, the vacuuming, the cooking, whatever, for a few weeks. And if there is no one else, you can just let it go (really!). Order pizza, get Subway, make it work (not a paid advertisement for Subway, I just eat their subs way too often).
Do not think that since you’re home with the baby that you should be “productive.” And if for some reason you don’t get to be home with the baby, even more reason that you shouldn’t have big expectations of yourself after childbirth.
But seriously. You are being productive. You just gave birth to a brand-new human being, and now you are working 24/7 to help it grow and thrive, not to mention heal your own body. You don’t owe anyone anything.
And this includes (hopefully) well-meaning family and friends who want to meet the baby. You do NOT have to let someone come over, “help” by holding the baby all the time while you work your bleeding body to the bone by dealing with your house, toddler, and so on. If there’s company and you’re exhausted (because, you know, you gave birth and now are only getting like four hours of sleep a night), tell them to go away so you can take a nap. Or just don’t let them come over in the first place.
RELATED: 5 steps to setting boundaries (even when you weren’t raised to)
And I know this is coming across harshly, but your baby, your body, and your mind are first priority right now. If someone wants to come over and help, ask them to bring some dinner over, do a load of laundry (yes, really), or to wash the giant sink full of dishes. And if someone wants to hold your baby while he’s hungry, you can tell them no, you need to nurse him (or heck, even if he’s not hungry you can hang onto him! It’s YOUR baby).
There’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries to protect yourself when you are potentially at the most vulnerable you ever will be. And if you’re not feeling mentally/emotionally up to the challenge of putting someone in their place, let your partner or trusted friend help you out. That’s what they’re there for.
5. Don’t label yourself a “bad mom” due to negative emotions about your baby.
This is really scary to talk about, because we’re afraid of the judgement of others. When my firstborn came, I remember that I didn’t feel exactly “attached” to her. I wanted her because she was mine and I enjoyed cuddling her and learning about her, but I didn’t feel super affectionate.
And then our second night together happened. We were home for the first night from the hospital, and she woke up hungry. I got up, sat in our glider with her, and she latched on to nurse.
A few minutes in, I felt a wave of emotion wash over my body. I literally felt myself fall in love with her. It is the most magical, beautiful moment I’ve ever experienced. After that, I was head-over-heels.
It might not happen that way for you. You might love your baby as soon as (or before!) you meet her. Or maybe it’s been a few weeks or longer and you still don’t know how you feel about your baby. It will be okay. Keep doing skin-to-skin with her (whether you’re breast or bottle feeding), keep cuddling her, and the feelings will come. And if they still don’t, find someone to talk to, like a friend or even a therapist.
It may be that as your baby gets older and more interactive, you’ll enjoy her more and more. Some people just aren’t big fans of the baby stage, and that’s okay.
6. Be aware of postpartum anxiety or depression and get help for it.
The first few days postpartum are an absolute roller coaster. I can remember being overjoyed about the baby so that I would cry, so overwhelmed with all the changes that I would scream, and then back to crying because the baby was already just a few weeks old and growing so fast.
I would despair because I tried to clean the house but was bleeding too much and had to stop (see Point 4) or for any other number of small things. These mood swings are unfortunately just part of the postpartum experience.
RELATED: Dealing with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety
But there are symptoms that are definitely not normal and need to be checked out. Is the depression continuing months later? Do you feel kind of numb or spaced out, like that’s the only way for you to deal with your new existence?
Or are you terrified of being alone with the baby (like I was with my second) or unable to sleep from fear that something horrific will happen to her in the night?
Or maybe you’re just really irritable. Everything your husband says or does just pisses you off (even though he’s trying really hard to be nice), your toddler drives you absolutely insane (also me after the second kid), or you just cannot deal with other people. Believe it or not, anxiety often shows up as irritability.
RELATED: Stop yelling and be a calmer mom
Here in the United States, there’s not a lot of postpartum support. We have a check-up after six weeks where we fill out a little form to check for depression, the doctor asks us if anything hurts, and then sends us back into the world. For many of us, that’s pretty much it.
And it’s not enough. OBs pay some attention to postpartum depression (or “baby blues”), but there’s often a lack of medical help for postpartum anxiety. On two different occasions with two different providers, I talked to an OB/gyn about mental health, and both times I was basically ignored.
My first experience with this problem came when my provider asked if I had any questions or concerns. When I told her I had been dealing with anxiety for some time, she gave me a puzzled look and said, “Well, I meant did you have any concerns with your lady parts.” So I said no and dropped it.
A second time, when I mentioned anxiety to my OB at my six-week postpartum checkup, she told me that the difference between anxiety and depression was how pervasive the two were (as in, if you were just a little depressed that was anxiety, but if you were depressed then they should actually help you). These are two different conditions! Why was I being given such wrong information from a medical professional?
I think another thing to be aware of is that PPA or PPD can show up weeks or even months after the baby is born. Looking back, I can see now that for every one of my three children, my overwhelm peaked at about five months postpartum. The concern? People (including some healthcare professionals) will strike PPA and PPD off the list of possible problems immediately if you aren’t presenting symptoms within a few weeks of birth.
What do you do to get back to feeling good?
- Go for daily walks outside. You can wear your baby as you walk, and just focus on your surroundings. Don’t think about your to-do list.
- Find a friend to talk to who is good at listening. Often, they can “normalize” what you’re going through and make it seen a lot less like a big deal.
- Do some yoga. Not the whip-your-body-into-shape type stuff (like vinyasa or flow yoga), but mindful, gentle (Hatha) yoga. Yoga can literally change your life (in a good way), regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs.
- Find a psychotherapist. If anxiety is your main problem, you’ll probably need to talk to do cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Don’t expect to magically be all better in a month, but if you give therapy a chance, it can also make a HUGE difference in how you react to what’s going on in your life.
- If nothing else works, try an antidepressant (preferably while also doing talk therapy). There are antidepressants (like SSRIs) that have also been found to help with postpartum anxiety. And yes, these drugs are compatible with breastfeeding.
Life will never “go back to normal” like you expect, but that’s okay! The trick is to learn to live with your new normal.
7. Don’t immediately start worrying about “getting your body back.”
Your first job is to take care of that new little one while allowing your body to heal. That’s a major undertaking in and of itself!
Those gentle walks I suggested to help manage postpartum mood problems? They can help you regain physical strength too. But they may need to start out really short (as in, to the end of your road/driveway and back).
Whatever you do, don’t jump in and start doing pilates and crunches like a madwoman. Even after that initial six weeks of your reproductive system healing, you could actually be doing more harm than good.
If you have a belly that just won’t go away, even months or years after the baby came (more likely with second- or third- time mamas), you may have a condition called diastasis recti, where your abdominal muscles are separated. I have a whole post on this condition, including what causes it and the best resources for healing an ab separation, so check it out (but again, give yourself and your body grace).
RELATED: Living with diastasis recti (aka Nope, I’m not pregnant)
You’ve got this, momma.
I know these first few weeks are HARD. But they can also be absolutely beautiful. Let me know in the comments what specific postpartum issues or questions you have!