Let’s be honest about postpartum recovery after pregnancy
Over the past 4 months there have been so many moments where I’ve thought “why does no one talk about this” or “why did I not know this.” As prepared as I felt throughout my pregnancy with a stocked nursery, my “postpartum recovery kit,” childcare lined up for when I returned to work, it's crazy how unprepared for life as a postpartum mother I really was.
Here’s the truth behind some of my postpartum experiences. These are things I now know resonate with so many new moms, but aren’t outwardly socialized because it's way more fun to share the fun times, not always the struggles behind the scenes. Of course every new mom has their own experiences, so this isn’t necessarily what you can expect, but it's an experience you can reference to feel better prepared, or if you are currently postpartum, know you are not alone.
What is even considered the Postpartum period?
Postpartum refers to the period after childbirth. Thanks to our fabulous (joke) maternity policies in the US, our social norm has made society think that 6 weeks is an ample amount of time for postpartum recovery. Some consider the “fourth trimester” or 12 weeks after birth, the postpartum period. In reality, postpartum recovery lasts 6 months to a year after pregnancy.
It’s rewarding, overwhelming, exciting, scary, and heartwarming to welcome your new baby into the world, so be kind to yourself in the days, weeks and months that follow.
What I expected during postpartum recovery
I expected to be tired and running off of little sleep. I knew breastfeeding would be painful. I anticipated the discomfort I’d have from labor and delivery. I was mentally prepared to still look pregnant for quite awhile.
5 Unexpected Postpartum Experiences
1. It was truly terrifying to leave the hospital.
When the nurse came into my room 2 days after having Caden via an unplanned c-section and said I could leave the hospital that afternoon, I burst into tears. I was still very uncomfortable from my c-section recovery, and hadn’t walked more than a lap around my hospital room (we weren’t allowed to leave our room to walk the hallways because of COVID – maybe if I had been able to move more I would have felt more confident). I could barely get out of the bed – a bed that had handlebars and propped up and down with the push of a button… how was I supposed to get home, climb the stairs and function normally? We ended up staying one more night, I just wasn’t ready to leave.
My biggest tip is to make sure you have your own “nest” when you get home: a cozy place on the couch with all the stuff you could need for you and baby – breastfeeding pillow, nipple cream, nipple gels, nursing pads, the Haakaa, SnuggleMe, burp cloths, swaddle blanket, cozy blanket, tissues (more on why below), snacks (try my Apricot Almond Coconut Bites) and giant water bottle. And when you need anything at all, or the baby needs to be changed, that’s when your partner comes in and helps!
2. Think you’re getting your body back? Think again.
No, I’m not talking about weight gain or your body’s ability to “bounce-back.”
I remember thinking at 39 weeks, “okay baby, I think I’m ready for my body to be just mine again.” I’ve also heard so many pregnant mamas say they can’t wait to have their bodies back to themselves. Funny thing is, your body really isn’t back to being yours after pregnancy. In fact, being the sole food source for my baby made me feel even more out of control of my own body. Breastfeeding is demanding. Needing to be there constantly whenever baby is hungry is hard. I can’t tell you the number of skipped or cold meals I had those first few weeks because breastfeeding was the priority.
On the topic of your body, wow night sweats, or in my case all-the-time sweats, are a very real thing. Initially in the hours after having Caden I was a sweaty mess. I brought a handheld fan with me in my hospital bag (see my full hospital bag packing checklist) with the intention of needing it during labor. While I didn’t actually use it then, it did come in handy post labor. I was a very hot mama for the days after birth, and eventually this turned into *just* having intense night sweats for the months following.
On a body positive note: I have never had more appreciation for my body in my entire life. What women are able to do to bring a baby into this world is truly a miracle and magical. I’ve never loved my body more, even if it doesn’t look like it did pre-baby.
Use the postpartum time to focus on feeling good: go for walks, squeeze in just 15 minutes of movement (MNT Online has some very approachable Pilates & Barre workouts on-demand if you are ready to get back into the swing of things), hydrate, eat healthy.
3. Physically you’re in recovery, emotionally you’re on a roller coaster.
You’re not just physically adapting, your emotions are on a whole new level. I was not prepared for the amount of crying I’d be doing, nor did I even realize I could cry for literally no reason so much, so many days in a row. One night for 2 hours in the hospital I sat there just staring at my baby crying because he was just so damn cute. My husband would actually just wait for me to cry daily. If I hadn’t cried by dinnertime he thought something was wrong. Needless to say, have those tissues handy.
I also developed anxiety. Between Jason and myself, we thought I’d be the chiller parent, but oh were we wrong. I never considered myself an anxious person, but having a baby changed that. As a new mom, there are so many concerns I’ve found myself having, often times irrationally. Like the first time Caden slept in his nursery: I could not stop staring at the monitor making sure he was breathing… and when the monitor froze, well I spent an hour researching new baby monitors (we did stick with the original despite my obsessive search).
4. Mom guilt is a real thing.
I’m a pretty independent person, so asking for help is often hard for me to do. Don’t try to do everything yourself Mama – receive the help with open arms. Motherhood is hard and you shouldn’t do it alone.
We were so fortunate to have our parents nearby to help and amazing friends who dropped off dinners after Caden was born. Not to mention, Jason is as helpful as a dad as you can get. He really took care of me when I was basically immobile because of my c-section. I feel for all you Mamas out there whose family isn’t able to come support you with the new baby because of COVID. I can’t imagine the position you are in – you are truly warriors!
Even though I know it's okay to ask for help, and have accepted so much support, I constantly feel guilty that I’m not the one doing something for the baby. I really struggle to not feel guilty if I’m not the one taking care of him. In fact, I feel guilty if I’m doing anything else taking my attention away even while I’m the one taking care of him.
I also feel guilty for feeling like I get nothing done the days I am taking care of him.
Somehow minutes turn to hours turn to days turn to weeks… time is just going by so fast. Know that doing things on your to-do list can wait, take this postpartum period to live in the moment and enjoy this time with your little baby. They seriously grow and change before your eyes.
That being said, what you do need to take time for is YOU. Which brings me to #5…
5. You’ll have a new definition of feeling like yourself.
When will I feel normal again? I found myself asking this a lot. To be fair, I think all of us are still adjusting to this “new normal” with COVID. Layer on a new baby and you can imagine the frustrations you may have.
Every day in those first few weeks gets easier, and each day felt more and more like we were settling into a routine. Once I felt like we knew our *flexible* schedule (thank you TakingCaraBabies), I started feeling more confident in myself and that I could handle whatever the day brought.
Self-care is so very important to include in this daily routine. Ensure you take a few moments for yourself. If you need help finding ways to get ready fast, check out my 10 minute beauty routine.
While I’m not a different person than I was pre-baby, I do have a new definition of who I am, with additional priorities, expanded interests and more experiences under my belt.
The highs of motherhood are definitely worth it
Despite feeling unprepared for these postpartum experiences, I can’t describe how amazing the highs of motherhood are. Some days I just stare at my baby for hours. When he smiles, I drop everything to run and see him. Motherhood is a big ride of ups and downs, but oh it's so worth it.
Special shoutout to one of my readers for the inspiration for this post! I love your ideas so please continue to share them!