What no one told me about post-partum life

Guest post by Princess Lasertron

I am embarrassed to say that it never occurred to me to educate myself about how life would be different — both practically and emotionally — in the weeks after Alice’s arrival. Everyone always says “your body will never be the same.” Or other parents would laugh knowingly when I said things like “I’m moving into a co-working space four weeks later” or “I’ll just bring her along to the photoshoot” or “I’ll just work while I’m nursing.”

What would have been more helpful is if people had given me specific examples of adjustments they made after giving birth. So knowing that, here are my observations as a new mom of three weeks. I can’t speak about cesarean recovery or anything other than my own experience, but here we go:

Have a dedicated postpartum wardrobe.

There are a few reasons for this! First, you will want to be able to move freely as you slump into every chair and couch in the house holding your infant, as well as be able to change quickly when your clothes get soiled. And when I say “soiled” I don’t just mean baby poop — I mean sweat (yours and baby’s), lochia, soapy water from baths, snot, tons and tons of milk (which doesn’t smell so great after a few hours), and any other body fluid you can imagine.

I recommend getting lots of pairs of XXXXXL cotton underwear, solid colored yoga-type pants (you can wear them in public), solid-colored nursing tanks (I love the ones from Target), and knit cardigans and shawl-type sweaters. Things that wash easily and can be mixed and matched. And I didn’t expect to be changing my shirt three to four times a day, so I also recommend buying more than you think you need.

Skip buying maxi pads and just get Depends

Especially for the first week after childbirth, just get these. The amount of discharge that I had was not like a “heavy period.” It was like a mass murder bloodbath. I had no concept of postpartum bleeding and I wish I had known what to expect.

The lack of sleep hasn’t been that hard to cope with.

I think mothers must get some kind of new hormone that helps them feel better with less rest. I’ve been getting sleep in four-hour blocks (except on the weekends, when Dave lets me sleep in), but I don’t feel that my energy level is diminished. I don’t know if other mothers have similar experiences though.

You might not feel clean for a while.

I never really feel clean although I shower every day (a privilege, I know). Milk dries on my skin, I sweat a lot more than normal, and the changes in my hormones have changed the balance of oils on my skin, causing acne.

Once again, I had no idea how much postpartum bleeding there would be.

Four hours can go by in a moment when I’m trying to calm the baby or do “Alice chores.” In four hours, I can answer all my e-mail or make six headbands or 20 boutonnieres or a posie bouquet, and have time to meet a friend for lunch or a client for a meeting. Or in four hours, I can feed Alice and give her a bath. Or do a load of laundry and make myself a bowl of cereal. Maybe.

Nothing I bought has been more important than washcloths.

Tons and tons of the plainest, most ordinary cheap white washcloths. They work as burp rags (we save our cloth diapers to actually use as diapers), to wipe off sweat and spit-up, and most importantly they soak up all the milk that leaks all over all day long. I was proud to buy several sets of handmade nursing pads from Etsy, but for me they work for about two minutes. Instead I put folded washcloths in my shirts and I go through about eight per day. I know there are bigger problems — I’m glad nursing is going well — but leaking is cold and wet and inconvenient.

People will judge you no matter what.

Someone will always think you’re the worst mom ever. I recommend not asking anyone for their opinion unless you really want to hear it.

Although babies sleep 16-19 hours a day, I still don’t often find more than an hour or two to get anything done.

I have mastered sewing while nursing, and being able to hold the baby in a wrap helps, but when baby naps there are so many other things to do — tidying the living room for the barrage of guests constantly arriving, keeping the dishes done so the baby can take baths in the sink at a moment’s notice, keeping breast pump/bottles washed immediately so they don’t get stinky, constantly running loads of laundry up and down the stairs and folding the laundry. Plus work.

Some days are harder than others

I have two side projects due to clients and I’ve been up for the last seven hours with my wide-awake, alert genius baby. Now it’s almost 5pm and dad will be home, so hopefully I can take that time to tackle those work projects! What a lesson in prioritizing this has been.

Comments on What no one told me about post-partum life

  1. It is true that the “warnings” people snicker at you while pregnant are not really helpful! A couple of my own things no one told me about post-partum recovery and life:

    – It lasts longer than you think. People stopped offering help about a month in, but we were still in crisis-mode around here until almost 3 months.

    – You need to be specific about how people can help you out. Lots of people said generic things like “let us know if you need any help” or “call us if you need anything”. We should have been telling people immediately that we were going to need help with meals and cleaning.

    – Breastfeeding can take up to two months or more to really feel normal and under control; it helps to remember that at 4 weeks when it seems like it will never work out.

    – Get lots of breastfeeding friendly jammies if you’re nursing.

    Also, I didn’t start really feeling the exhaustion until recently; I think I was on a high of hormones and the emotional uppers of trying to stay positive while our baby recovered from surgery. Now at 4 months I am having a harder time. Sleep deprivation is cumulative, and I know a few moms who have had a second, intense round of post-partum depression around this time because they are exhausted and frustrated, because it feels like things should be getting much easier and routine than they actually are.

      • Oh rodrigues, thanks for talking about the changes at 4 months. My good sleeper/napping baby is now a on a sleep strike and very fussy and I was wondering if I could have PPD now. Its not quite that bad but I do feel better knowing its not just me.
        If I had any sleep tricks, I would share. I promise.

      • I totally agree about the 4 month stuff – right around that point I suddenly just got TIRED. I think part of that may have been because I went back to work a couple weeks before, though.

    • Sleep deprivation is most definitely cumulative. I’m on month 9 and haven’t slept more than 4 hours at a time. I can’t remember anything, I have trouble finding words for things like, “baby” and “dog,” I’m cranky, and I’m tired. And it’s not the, “Gee a nap would be nice” tired, it is profound, catatonic tired.

      BUT- Apparently the adrenaline is still around because I’m still getting things done. So there’s that. 🙂

    • There are mom groups where I live run by a very knowledgeable nurse, and she said that often PPD won’t hit until 3-4 months, and it’s because at that time your body has used up the 3 month supply of hormones from pregnancy and birth, so you’ve got lots of hormonal changes. You are also expected to have the mom thing down, so there is a lot less help than before, and lots of moms are going back to work at that time too.

  2. I didn’t even think about depends. That might have saved my sheets, since I leak if I sleep with a pad on even if I’m just having a light period. I’ll put depends on my list of things to get the next time I give birth.

  3. The post-natal poo! No one EVER talks about your first poop after giving birth, and I wish someone had told me that I would be sat on the toilet scared to death, with my partner outside the bathroom ‘just in case’. TMI, but in the end, I got over it by holding a pad against my groin, so I felt more secure in the knowledge that my insides weren’t going to fall out after pushing a baby out of there!

  4. Awesome post! Those first few months postpartum are such a delicate time – in all respects: regular-emotionally, hormonal-emotionally, and definitely physically.

  5. I wish more people would talk about the “gross” stuff. It’s like people are ashamed to mention it to new moms, and instead talk about the cliche’s (Oh, your body will change, oh you’ll see how much sleep you get, etc) I want specifics when it comes time for me to get pregnant!

    • I don’t know about other moms but honestly, I forgot about stuff pretty quickly once it was over. I remember being 2 weeks postpartum and reading about someone’s experience. I was like, oh yeah, that did happen to me!

      So the specifics of the postpartum horrors can be forgotten fairly quickly.

  6. I lived in the nursing tanks from Target, yoga pants and a sweater I found at Goodwill that is remarkably flattering to a post-natal body.

    I also had no idea. I was stunned by the first 6 weeks. I had a pretty bad tear, and I had to spend most of my time laying down for the first 4 weeks. Sitting was very hard. We ended up folding down the futon in the living room, so that I could spend time out there. I also had to let my honey know that when people visited, and they left the room I was in, I felt left out, especially if I was nursing the baby. I felt very pinned in place.

    • I can relate. I lost a lot of blood, had a big ol’ episiotomy and was super week for the first 3 weeks. I couldn’t walk up & down stairs, so I had to be moved from the bedroom into the livingroom in the morning, then back in the evening. I couldn’t really shower, and needed help with baths. It was really, really lame.

    • Totally did (and still do) live in nursing tanks from Target. Inexpensive nursing bras just don’t fit right, and I don’t want to pay $40 for a bra. At least the pajama bottoms and t-shirts phase only lasted the first 3 weeks until my abdomen healed up.

  7. Here’s a good laugh: You know what I had planned for a materinty-leave project? Refurbishing an antique wood cookstove.

    Bwahahaha! No really. That was my plan.

    I figured I was going to be off work for three months, I’d totally have time to be out in the shop, sanding off rust and refurbishing a gigantic piece of metal, between baby naps and feedings and stuff. You know, I didn’t want to get bored, with all that time on my hands…

    (18 months later – rustly wood cookstove is still rusty. and in peices. and there is no plan to do anything about it anytime soon.)

  8. man, i could write a book about all the things i didn’t know would happen to my body after i had a baby. i mean, i figured pain, bleeding, milk everywhere but i wasn’t anticipating the extent of the madness.

    and i soooo i agree with Gennie. those first bathroom visits after delivery are terrifying. i found a few things helpful:
    keep a peri bottle by the toilet filled with an herbal sitz bath or peri tea remedy. use the bottle to dilute and rinse away urine, lochia and leaky stool (yes, it can leak) then dab with a panty liner, paper towel or washcloth. stay away from toilet paper.
    if you feel constipated or just want to get it over with, try “Natural Calm” magnesium to get things softened up.
    eat soft foods to keep things softened up.
    when you feel the poop coming, try to give yourself time. open up and let it come slowly. then, get in the shower and wash up. you’ll have a lack of control over the muscles down there so wiping will be futile.
    but i promise it gets easier.

  9. I also never thought I would sleep in a sleep bra. I bought one because it was comfy. Little did I know that I would be leaking all over the bed without it and breast pads.

    I recommend getting a sleep bra and several nursing tanks, and leaving getting nursing bras until your breast size has settled a little, after 4 weeks. I don’t think I wore a nursing bra until I went back to work at 10 weeks.

      • It’s different for everyone. It’s pretty minor for me; I need to have a spare cloth on hand to hold up to the other side while nursing to catch any drips, and I use nursing pads if I’ll be going a while without feeding (e.g. when my husband gives her a bottle so I can sleep), but otherwise it hasn’t been an issue for me.

  10. It’s true, there are so many things I was unprepared for. Did anyone get the postpartum night sweats? That was gross. The leaking breast milk at night was terrible – I’d wake up shivering from it and I haaaaaaaaate the way it smells when it dries. Ick.

    I also didn’t know how urgent it would be to poop for the first few weeks. I would feel the urge and almost not make it to the toilet! Now THAT would be embarassing.

    Thank goodness my baby is cute. It makes it all worth it. 😉

    • Does anyone ever tell you that you might not instantly feel the rush of bonding with your baby? First and second babies it was like the nurse handed me an alien or someone else’s kid. It wasn’t until my milk came down the next day that the whole overwhelming rush of “My Baby!” hit. Hormones and exhaustion I guess.
      It comes with a vengeance though. I still jump and turn when a baby or toddler starts fussing in a store, and my youngest is turning three this year!
      Also, for years I could NOT watch anything on TV that had real or implied violence against children…think sobbing hormone filled vengeance with no outlet….

  11. And the whole thing about time flying by. I NEVER get anything done in the day with this baby and she’s an easy baby! My husband has been home sick for a few days and he finally got to witness what my day is like and why I only got one load of laundry done in 8 hours.

  12. I think the big thing with us was we figured that if it was important, someone would tell us about it. Later, people said, “We wanted you to find out on your own.” Stuff like naps during the day being important. Or the shot-gun effect of unencumbered baby poop. That’s a dirty play! It could also be that time flies so quickly that first 6 weeks that people just don’t remember it that well (or maybe the PTSD kicked in?)

  13. I’m bookmarking this post. I hope to be a mama in the next couple of years or so, and I want all the honesty I can get. Thanks to all of you for sharing your (brutally) honest opinions about life/bodies immediately after birth. Ya’ll rock.

  14. It’s interesting how different people’s experiences are. Our little one will be one month tomorrow, and I haven’t had much of a problem with leaking milk, but I have had an issue with plugged ducts and Mastitis, and the sleep deprivation is pretty brutal for me (I’m a wimp because he can sleep three or four hours at a time!).

    I totally agree with the bleeding issue, though. Four weeks later and I’m still bleeding! It’s not much, but it still concerns me. I’ve called the midwife more postpartum than I did during the pregnancy!

    Although sleep is a big issue for me, I’m annoyed with all the people who said, “rest now because you won’t be able to after he’s born.” I know they meant well, but you can’t make up sleep and you can’t save it up for use later. I was well rested before my son was born, but oh do I miss my eight hours now.

    I agree, we spend so much time learning about what the labor will be like and what it will be like to care for baby that we forget to educate ourselves about what will happen to our bodies after the birth.

    • Although you can’t build up a “sleep bank”, so to speak, going into it pre-exhausted does not help anything. I think that whole “sleep now!” thing is mostly snotty(yes, I am totally guilty of doing it anyway), but the advice is still sound on some level. hehe

      • That’s definitely true. Having a hectic schedule before you’re about to give birth is a bad idea. It’s good to be well rested and well hydrated.

        I think the most important element to those sentiments is to appreciate the sleep you’re getting. Wake up after 8 or 9 hours and think, “wow, that was an awesome night’s sleep.” Or sleep-in on a Saturday and think, “that’s a great luxury.”

        Kind of like how I have to remember to appreciate every moment with my newborn because he’s growing so fast. So I should go now and snuggle him. (;

  15. I agree with the washcloths tip. We were given a whole heap of them before my twins were born, and I thought, “Jeez, how many baths do they think these kids are going to need?” 😀 Three years later and we still using those plus all the ones we’ve bought since. Very useful items. So many fluids, so few absorbent items to hand!

    Certainly one thing I found useful was to have lots of nutritious snacks around that can be eaten with one hand while breastfeeding. I always found the instant I got settled feeding I’d become ravenous. I became a dab hand at whipping up a fruitcake that was jammed with nuts and seeds and all kinds of other goodies. 2am I would be swinging through the kitchen with a squealing baby in one arm, slice off a chunk of cake with the free hand, and could then sit and snack as the baby did the same. Seriously, that recipe sustained me during that time.

    I also had non-challenging books at the ready to keep me amused while I was breastfeeding. In the middle of a winter’s night, if I didn’t have some diversion, I found my mind going into dark places as I was pinned to the chair for what seemed like hours on end. Granted, I had two babies on the go at once, but I found being stuck in a chair feeding a bit of a drudge at times, particularly while the rest of the world slept. Far better to keep your mind amused and just not mull over how unfair it is that you’re not in bed sleeping, blah, blah, blah. I went through the entire ‘First Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series during that time. Nice, light, positive… and not too intellectually challenging. 🙂

    I agree with the sentiment in the post, too, that we don’t really hear about what it’s like after the baby arrives. People were very happy to tell me all their horror stories, like babies that scream all night, living on an hour of sleep a day (thanks for that scaremongering, people!), but didn’t get any practical advice. And it didn’t occur to me to ask. Good on you for getting the discussion out there.

    • I love your idea of fruitcake at your fingertips. I know my appetite has gone through the roof with the pregnancy and I’m guessing its gong to stay with the breast feeding. I tend to try to find finger foods but end up with baby carrots and cheese and I’m so burnt out by them. I miss my sweets but really can’t stand chocolate or super sugary stuff. I miss my cakes but would love to try to find a recommended recipe. Could you please share yours with us or maybe a link?

    • I loved your comment about the light reading. It should have been an easy answer considering i work (and practically live) in a library but these are the things you don’t think about right? One of the hardest things for me was midnight feedings. It seemed like the kid and I were alone in a sea of sleeping people and my mind would definitely go to bad places. It was arduous at best. I’ll keep your tip in mind for the next one!

  16. Darn, maybe it’s because I am still about five years or so away from when we can start planning a family (not wanting kids while hubby’s in college) but this stuff is frightening without having that investment right now that would make it worthwhile.
    Especially this whole issue with poo during and after delivery (I have IBS so I am already very sensitive with the issue) and episiotomies. 0-o
    And yet I keep coming back so I can read new comments. Gonna eventually go into this thing as knowledgeable as possible.

    Question for you ladies: How did your husbands react to a lot of this stuff being mentioned? Just cause I know if I shared half of this with my single guy friends, well, you could guess any number of reactions.

    • My husband was fabulous. But I’ll be the first to say, he’s a rare one. he’s a nurse, so he’s used to gross stuff. he also has no problem coming across my used moon pads in the laundry. Put it this way, when I was feeling better, I flopped on the bed without thinking about it, and I felt a painful pull in the old crotchal region. he checked me to see if I had pulled any of my stitches (I hadn’t, but I had wrenched my tear a little). How many men would be comfortable with that?

    • I think that watching what we have to do to get that baby out might make the after-effects somewhat less dramatic, though. Especially if they know to expect some of it.

    • You have to realize that by the time you’re in postpartum, you’ve already gone through being huge pregnant (which is super uncomfortable), given birth (which is probably the most painful thing you’ll ever experience), your husband has probably witnessed your child emerging from you (which I hear is quite gruesome. I opted out of the mirror), and you have your beautiful child to hold and love (which makes almost any discomfort seem worth it).

      I think I’ve had a fairly easy postpartum (although there have been many things that have surprised me and made me uncomfortable), but by the time you get to postpartum, you’ll be a changed woman, tougher than before. You can handle it and so can your husband. (;

      • I was going to say something similar to this. By the time you’ve gotten to the post-partum phase, you’ve gone through the delivery, during which you’re so intent on GETTING. THAT. THING. OUT. that you’ll happily sit there with your legs in the air and your naughty bits on display to a room full of people.

        You never go back after something like that. It’s even more pronounced the second time; after having my son, I was on a cell phone with my mom (who was watching my daughter for me) while the doctor was still down below stitching me up.

        I must’ve been fairly fortunate in the PP bleeding, lochia department, because for me it really was like a fairly-heavy, drawn-out period.

  17. The best thing I did in those first weeks was find some night wear that could pass for day wear. Yoga pants are great, particular fav were those ones you can fold the top down or up on, much less pressure on the cesarean scar.

    Also having a partner who is totally fearless about “Women’s Troubles” to quote a favourite English euphemism is brilliant (he is a middle child with 6 extremely fecund and outspoken sisters, so has heard EVERYTHING before).

  18. I freaking love this post! For so many reasons! Seriously, there are tons of books on what to expect when you are pregnant, but post-partum…nada.

    I totally agree about the pp bleeding. When the instructor of our childbirth class pulled out the depends we all laughed, we seriously thought it was a joke. But when I was still wearing them 6 weeks post-partum, however, not very funny. I’m still cursing my mom for leaving out this vital piece of information

  19. Tbh, not grossed out or surprised by much/ any of this, but I’m glad as hell it’s here. I think what has really pissed me off so far in my pregnancy, is what you refer to as “knowing laugh”. I find in enraging, and really REALLY condecending when people do this. Especially when they don’t tell you specifically what it is they’re sniggering about- like having gone through it entitles them to some secret club membership.
    I also am severely pissed off by people who say:
    “Oh, you will definitely_______” as though our pregnancies will without a doubt be identical. (facepalm)
    Neither of these approaches are even remotely useful to a mom-to-be.

    This post, however, was. It was exactly what ten people should have already told me but instead just grinned and flaunted their experiential learning. Which is useless. and mean, and really really childish and annoying.

    Anyway, I really wish more poeple could be as open and honest as the OP. Than you SO much. I know know a bunch of stuff I didn’t- and for once got some useful, practical advice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. please keep up the posting on this topic!! very useful! and it will really force me to have the conversation w/my mom on what her pregnancy was like, if she remembers all this stuff, or maybe she blocked it out!! thanks!!

  21. can i recommend those feminine wipes?
    My mom bought me Always Feminine Wipes, and I was like WTF is this for? But… OMG! They helped sooo much! They helped make me feel CLEAN and they soothed my poor swollen and stitched vagina.

    BTW,Why didn’t I know my vagina was going to get swollen? The first time I looked at i almost screamed! VERY scary looking! Luckily it looks normal now… but how long will this bleeding last! GAH!

    Great post! I just gave birth two weeks ago, and it’s nice to see that I”m not just complaining! One day, I will be able to sleep for 8 hours, and that will be a GLORIOUS day, because having to feed my little Penny every two hours is EXHAUSTING!!!

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