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. 2 months away from birth and THIS is the kind of stuff I’ve been wanting to hear!! Yes, we all know about sleep deprivation, changing 30 freakin diapers a day and hearing screaming all day long (is there really any benefit to scaring the crap out of future new Moms with these threats?). NO ONE talks about the gross stuff! Maybe women just block it out? My Mom seems to have no memory of those first few months. So THANK YOU ladies and please , keep it coming!

  2. I am not a mama yet. I stuggle between LOVING this post, and being scared to have children. I am not sure if it does a service or a dis-service to mamas to be!

  3. Nobody told me I would have the craziest, stinky B.O. EVAR, pp.I seriously couldnt stand the smell of myself. And I leak milk to this day and still sleep on a towel, 12.5 months PP.

  4. Not yet Mamas: I know this all sounds scary, but I was amazed at how much easier being a mom was than I had feared. Sure, I dealt with most of the same things that are being said, but you’ll be so proud of what you realize you’re capable of. Moms are fierce and powerful.

  5. Yes, please don’t be scared. You can handle it. And you, too, will be able to give that knowing look….

    As things turned out, I had a c-section and didn’t have a milk supply, so a lot of the goopy stuff never happened to me — except for the baby emissions. There are some great suggestions here, especially about having food on hand that you can eat one-handed and not expecting to do more than one thing a day around the house. A couple things I would add:

    – Get out and exercise as soon as you can. I started at a stollercize class at 12 weeks and it helped so much to be out with other new moms. My compromised abdominals thanked me, too. I was at risk for PPD and I think the exercise really kept my mood even.

    – If your post-partum days are in the summer, skorts are great. You’ll be forever bending over to pick up the baby or something you dropped and you don’t want to worry about the people around you.

    – It can’t be emphasized enough — you’re going to be sitting a lot! If you read, get a paperback book holder. If you like movies, go to the movie showings just for moms. If you can’t live without tv, get satellite with time-delay so that you can watch the end of your show at the next feeding.

    – Be flexible with your schedule. Your best-laid plans will be upset over and over again by a napping or colicky or cranky baby — and that’s okay. My daughter is 15 months now and every so often we still need to bow out of a social activity because she’s napping or overtired or it’s her bedtime.

    – C-sections are not ideal, but you don’t have to deal with as much bleeding afterwards. It’s still scary to go to the bathroom for the first time, though. Make sure you get advice before you leave the hospital, or even before the C-section. Once the baby is born nobody cares about you and the fact that you just had major surgery. Ask the nurses what normal recovery is. I ended up bringing my 2-week-old to a germ-filled walk-in clinic because I didn’t know that the bumps under my scar was just scar tissue forming.

    – A C-section is surgery. I had to have my husband pull me out of bed each morning for a week because my bladder was full and it was pushing against the abdominal muscles that were trying to heal. It was scary and hurt a little. I also had to try to stay straight as he lifted me up so I wouldn’t pee the bed!

    And finally:

    – Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Within a couple days you’ll already be an expert at diaper changes and how to hold the baby. You just do it because you have to.

  6. This post is great. I’ve been watching it ever since it was brought up and has made getting ready with postpartum a lot easier. I’m actually due to go in for educing this coming Friday morning. I still constantly find myself asking… ok did I get everything I need for my stay at the hospital or for when I come back….

    I know in a couple of weeks after I have my daughter I will be coming back and posting my postpartum experience.

  7. Yes, don’t be scared!

    In the hospital, the hardest thing to cope with was the midwives manhandling my boob and shoving it into my baby’s mouth. We had some latching issues, so I was pretty much asking for their help at every feed. They were really great and supportive and never pressured me, but they were a bit…. rough. Just be warned!

    They also were quite insistant that I was up and walking to the bathroom 24 hours after my c-section. Holy god, that was scary! My legs were shaking and I was so weak. And the amount of blood that came out when I stood up… jeeeesus. It was everywhere.

    I had about 6 weeks of bleeding, thank goodness not quite as bad due to the C-section (they clean your uterus) – but still, I was wearing heavy, overnight maxi pads for a loooong time.

    I took stool softeners before my first poop. I think that really helped. But yes, I was scared!

    I had an enormous stack of burp cloths that I went through every day. I wasn’t a milk-leaker, so I wore the cloth breast pads only in the beginning when I would spontaneously let-down…(that was fun! like out shopping! or in a restaurant! and milk comes flowing out of my boobs!)

    I also had the sweats (day and night). It was gross. But at least it was winter so I could go outside and cool off!

    I watched an entire season of Dexter while sat on the couch holding a sleeping baby or breastfeeding. In a week. I would highly suggest lots and lots of DVD’s or books (though I needed both hands to breastfeed (bad latch, needed to constantly adjust things the first couple months), so the book thing wasn’t happening)

    Breastfeeding. It takes about 6 weeks to really get things working. I had no idea! I was dealing with cracked nipples, bad latch, plugged ducts, lactation consultant, the whole 9. But at the 2 month mark it seemed to miraculously work out! Don’t give up. 🙂

    It’s ok to introduce a bottle to give yourself a break and let your husband do a feed (day or night). my husband always took the baby Saturday and Sunday mornings and I had an extra long sleep (6 hours instead of 3!!!) and sure, I needed to feed the baby or pump IMMEDIATELY after waking, but hey — 6 hours is amazing… truly, truly amazing, and you feel like a totally different person. 🙂

    Granola bars! Peanut butter! Apples! Homemade muffins crammed full of walnuts and banana etc! If you can manage to have lots and lots of handy snacks near where you normally nurse, in the diaper bag, etc. you will be a very happy person. Breastfeeding is so draining, and I was ALWAYS thirsty, and frequently starving! It was worse than being pregnant! (PS, not an allergy worrier here)

    I held my baby for every nap, for every sleep, for 4 months. She absolutely refused to be put down in the first 6 weeks, and even after that 15-30 mins was all she could manage on her back. For 8 weeks she wore a hip brace due to some hip dysplasia, and her little legs were up in the air, so it was understandable she didn’t want to lie down. I held her while I was propped up in bed at night. I wore her in a wrap during the day. The mechanical swing was the only other alternative to holding her, but still she’d max out after an hour or so in that. I could take a shower or eat dinner, but that was pretty much it. You learn to pee and poop holding a sleeping baby, brush your teeth, get dressed, make food, pump milk… all one handed or while wearing a baby! That’s just the way it goes sometimes!!

    The depression set in at 6 months. I thought I’d dodged a bullet. Things were going well! We went out! We did stuff! (admittedly it took an hour to leave the house, but still…) Then I had a Mirena inserted. Then things got bleak. Lots of crying. Lots of hating my husband for not being there, with me alone all day with a sweet, and good natured, but still demanding baby. I couldn’t craft, I couldn’t manage to keep the house clean for more than 5 minutes. I was just really struggling to keep it together. Joining mommy groups helped. Scheduling coffee dates and other activities kept me busy. I’m feeling much better now (15 months).

    anyways, that’s all I can really think of?

    hope that helps.

    • I’m guessing you’ve already thought of this, since you mentioned that you got depressed after the Mirena was inserted, but I’ll mention it anyway just because I’m worried. The hormones are probably causing your depression. Sounds like you’re feeling better now, but it still might be worth switching to a copper (non hormonal) IUD?

  8. OMG! I love that you wrote this so for many reasons.. This whole postpartum thing is HARD work.. My daughter is almost three months now, and I am still pretty sure that 3/4 of the time I have no idea what I am doing, and usually when I think I’ve figured it out, she changes her mind.

    I am going back to work THIS Thursday part time, which is killing me– So, on top of the normal stresses of mothering and over-load of tear inducing hormones, I have to leave my baby with someone else to watch and feed while I go to work with my handy dandy breast pump which is so sad.. So needless to say the tears start with even a thought of this weeks impending events. However, I am determined to not give up breastfeeding even though I am going back to work.. I have been pumping and storing like a champ, and it’s the one piece of my bonding time that I am not willing to give up just yet.

    I had a c-section (not by choice 🙁 ) and I thought the bleeding thing would be lessened because the stress on my nether regions was minimal compared to those who birth vaginally.. Of course I was COMPLETELY wrong, and I am pretty sure the fact that I didn’t bleed for the 10 months I was pregnant was made up for in the three to five weeks after I gave birth.

    My body is all weird and saggy in places it never was. My boobs are stretched, leaky and my nipples are often sore from using the pumping and nursing. My emotions are totally different from one second to the next, and despite the lack of sleep and bizarre-ness of postpartum life, I have never felt more fulfilled.

    I am glad there are so many others that feel the same.

  9. Just found this site, and, although it’s been nearly 8 months for me (and my beautiful son!), it’s great to read other new moms’ experience. I’ve been having the time of my life, and have to say I even appreciate the inconvenient and gross stuff. It all means I’m a mom, and have been blessed with a beautiful son!
    Anyway, one experience I have to share – fairly embarrassing, but possibly helpful to others to know this can happen – the lack of muscle control for not just pees and poos, but also gas (!!!). This one really surprised me and I was really scared that I might never get the control back. I fortunately didn’t have to go out into public much at first, but I did have to attend a few holiday gatherings while I was still recovering. People must have thought I was a bit nutty with all my comings and goings, but I literally couldn’t hold it, and my only option was to scram really fast when I felt a rumble in my recovering tummy.
    Good news is I got full control back after 8 weeks or so – but it would have been nice to have some confidence that it would return!

  10. Here’s the best tip I got from my midwife: Get some of those huge, long, thick maxi pads, cut each of them in half (the short way), soak them in water or chamomile tea, set them on a cookie sheet and put them in your freezer for the days and weeks after delivery. They stick into underpants and don’t leak and they felt SO good!

  11. Wow, reading all this I’m amazed at all the stuff I’ve already forgotten, and my baby is only 6 months old!! No wonder my mom couldn’t remember anything.
    People have mentioned that maxi pads aren’t enough but special post partum pads usually are. I used these Natracare New Mother pads and they were great (and the stretchy disposable undies I took home from the hospital).
    I wish someone had told me that new babies can eat pretty much constantly. I knew that nursing on demand was the way to go, but I still for some reason thought feeding would be around every 4 hours. 6 months later, she still never goes that long during the day (but she does sleep all night, so lucky!).
    And I really wish someone had told me not to believe everything Dr. Sears says, even if you believe in attachment parenting. Forget what you think you know. Your baby will tell you what she really wants.

  12. Wow, this post hit home. I was so un-informed with the birth of my first child and felt like so many of the difficulties I had were because of ME not being a good enough mom… Nope, they were just the way things were- but no one had bothered to tell me that!

    My second child was adopted as a toddler, and what a difference that was! I wouldn’t say it was easier, because the adjustment was huge and I felt unprepared for so much of my little girl’s grief and other adoption-related issues, but at least my body was in shape and rested (until she went on a sleep strike) and it made a huge difference in my ability to respond to her needs.

    I will soon be adding a third child to the mix through birth. I have already warned people that I want to do things differently. Things I learned:

    * You cannot have too many nursing bras/nursing pads/nursing tops. It takes a while to establish the supply/demand balance with your baby. I slept in a good nursing bra at first because I was just so sore and constantly engorged, and would leak all the time. I kept disposable absorbent pads (chuks) under me when I slept to help ease the laundry burden and keep the bed dry. For at least the first 10 weeks, I felt like I had 2 bowling balls strapped to my chest, so it was also really helpful to go to the chiropractor and use hot pads for my back pain.

    *A hand-held shower head is necessary after a vaginal delivery. I had the heaviest lochia for 3 months straight after giving birth (I mean, soaking ultra-absorbent pads every hour or 2 for MONTHS!), and was so sore from my huge tear. I was only able to feel clean by using the hand-held shower head to really “clean” down there- not to mention that it felt soooo good to let the warm water sooth the soreness. I also used the peri-bottle every time I went to the bathroom and blotted dry with paper towels. I would sometimes re-fill it 2 or 3 times in one sitting to help me feel clean and to sooth.

    * I had no appetite after my baby was born,and lost weight too quickly. I know that this was part of my lack of energy (that, and the whole not sleeping thing, and the anemia from blood loss.) At my 6-week post-partum visit, I weighed 10 pounds LESS than my pre-pregnancy weight. This was resulting in poor-quality breast milk since my body was not getting enough nutrients. So, I now am keeping up my “feed the cravings” metality for the post-partum time just like I do now when I am pregnant. Good nutrition is so important, if if you are having a craving, there is probably a reason why! Don’t worry about getting in shape- worry about being healthy for you and your baby.

    *Sleep or rest when the baby does. I got no more than 2 consecutive hours of sleep until my baby was 3 months old. I had PPD and anxiety, and woke up at every little noise. The only rest I really got was by practicing my relaxation techniques from labor while my baby napped.

    *I had lots of “visitors” and very few “helpers” the first time around. When I brought home my second daughter, I only had “helpers” (ie- my sister came and did the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping- and took the big one out to play!) and no “visitors.” People want to see the baby, but that’s why I can put videos and pictures on facebook. If you are coming into my home after the baby is born, it is because you love me, won’t judge the relative tidyness of my home, and are willing to help with whatever chore needs to be done. If you want to come over to “visit” me or the baby, it can wait until I am not constantly leaking from several body parts and my baby is able to keep his/her eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time. We will both enjoy a visit more then.

    *Stool softeners are our friends. I cried and nearly passed out when I had my first post-partum poop and made my husband stay right outside the door and talk me through it (like he did when I was in labor:) I was convinced I had ripped some of my stiches, but there was so much blood already, I couldn’t tell what was coming from where. I wasn’t taking any medications, so I can only imagine how much worse it might be for someone who has been on constipating pain meds. I now know that I will be starting a stool softener while still in the hospital, and continuing on them until I am less sore. I now understand why they didn’t use to let women leave the hospital until after they pooped… it’s a huge freaking deal!

    *Some of the most precious moments we had as a family were when my husband would read to me while I breastfed our baby. Sweet, precious times. He read The Hobbit to us, and it was a book that seemed to help lull both of us into a relaxed state- which was really useful when breastfeeding was on the painful side. I wish we had some pictures to document those times, as the are such sweet memories.

    • My husband read the hobbit to us too, both while my daughter was in utero and while I nursed her. Such a great, calming book!

  13. Thank you SO much for writing this. I just had my little prince last week and read this a few months ago. This article was a life saver!

  14. This post and all the comments are excellent. I am expecting my first in November but a friend of mine who has been through it told me about using depends as a few of you lovely ladies have recommended. She said for the first couple of weeks and esspecially at night she didn’t feel comfortable with the maternity pads as she was constantly concerned about leaking. She felt much more secure and happier in depends.

    She had a few issues with breastfeeding and cracked nipples and recommended soaking breast pads in chamomile tea and allowing them to cool (or popping them in the fridge) before applying to her nipples was really soothing.

  15. Just wanted to add what everyone already knows, but that is—every body is different.
    I was all prepared for post-partum recovery and bought lots of Depends but ended up not needing them at all. The bleeding was far less than a period for me.
    But yes the other stuff I can agree with. And the first month post-partum I wasn’t tired at all. Then the second month hit and I felt all those lost hours of sleep!

  16. I’m slightly terrified now. I’m due in May, and have never heard about any of this. Once I can call my mother again, I’m going to freak out to her hahah.

  17. Holy Hell! I am due in December and I am not looking forward to it! This site is a life saver. OBB was when I was planning my wedding, and in true form OBM is now. Everyone fails to mention all of these glorious little details. Even though I am sitting here in complete horror with my hand over my mouth, at least I have a heads up, and for that I am grateful.

  18. Oh man, the depends are a total yes. I really wish I had thought to buy them after my daughter was born. The comically enormous pads they give you at the hospital are a joke and they only fit inside clown bloomers. Mine would get so bunched and twisted up at night that they would fall out of my underwear while I was asleep.

    I wish someone would have advised me to be better prepared with edible food to eat at the hospital after the delivery. I was SO HUNGRY after giving birth that when the nurses brought me a tray containing a soggy, 3″ hamburger and a watery jello cup I actually started crying. Designate a family member to bring you good things to eat after the delivery and during your hospital stay, because really, the “nutritionally portioned” hospital meals are not appropriate for a breastfeeding woman who has just completed the most grueling physical task of her life.

    Also, invest in a good waterproof mattress pad for your bed. You’ll be dealing with your own “accidents” (milk, blood, sweat, etc.), as well as your baby’s if he or she sleeps with you. My daughter was a major barfer, so the $100 mattress pad was a very worthwhile investment.

  19. Definitely make sure you have snacks to eat and water to drink within arms reach whenever you’re breastfeeding. I had my “breastfeeding basket” filled with a jar of nuts (don’t go bad), a bottle of water, chapstick, washcloths (I agree that these were so useful-better than nursing pads for leaking boobs), a book, tv remote, nipple cream, cell phone, etc. It sits on the couch beside where I breastfeed.

    I was suprised by how sore and tired I was for weeks after. I waddled more after birth than before and slept any chance I got. I’d wake up feeling energetic and ready for the day and after just 3 trips from the bedroom upstairs to the main floor living room and kitchen, I’d need another nap. Sleep when your baby sleeps! Leave the chores and projects.

    While there are all kinds of negative things about post partum I wasn’t aware of, there has also been a positive one I hadn’t expected. I’ll be honest and admit I’ve always been a bit of a wimp when it comes to exercising. I’ve always been quick to say “this is too hard, I need a break.” But I’ve started working out again (my boy is 4 months old) and working out doesn’t seem as hard (and believe me I’ve lost alot of the strength and flexibility I had pre-pregnancy). I think that after giving birth, which was by far the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done, I’ve realized how powerful my body really is. It’s pretty cool.

  20. Yes to the waterproof mattress pad. And if you need it, a breastfeeding “station”: water, lip balm, snacks. I ate a lot of trail mix, and at 6 months out I still keep Luna bars under my pillow for just in case. Nursing makes you hungry!

    The best thing that happened to my postpartum self was an iPad. Reading with one hand, while a newborn baby sleeps in your lap…heaven.

  21. Fantastic ladies…i actually wrote a list of things I want to do/buy/try while reading all your replies. I’m due in November and while a lot of this was scary, i’d rather know than not. Thanks!

  22. Glad to hear these stories but I can’t believe no one has yet mentioned the Milk-Saver! Reduces leaks, spares you from pumping constantly… if you’re having trouble with nipple soreness from pumping or are especially leaky, check it out– totally worth the $28. You just can’t sleep with it.

    The exercise thing drove me nuts– I wasn’t supposed to work out till 6 wks postpartum, and I felt like I was being ‘bad’ if I took a long walk. I suppose the concern is that you might rip your stitches, but that restriction, along with no baths or swimming, was aggravating.

    Good thing the baby is freaking cute as hell!

  23. I found this thread very helpful when I was pregnant, and I had just a few things to add now that my little guy is 4 weeks old:

    *middle of the night feedings are boring. I had visions of these sweet mother-baby moments, staring deep into each others eyes… turns out you can only do that for so many hours a day. The thing I’ve been most excited for is when there’s someone to chat with on the computer – makes me feel less alone.
    *I knew I’d be wearing maternity clothes for a while after delivery. What I didn’t know is that my maternity clothes would be stretched out and my pants would be falling down. I still have enough of a belly that my waist is larger than my hips, so regular pants look like MC Hammer pants. I’m still trying to figure this one out, as I’d really rather not buy more maternity clothes!

    And, I just wanted to reiterate what others have said- handheld snacks for midnight feedings have been essential for me. My partner gets up with me for the first feeding and gets me a snack then goes back to bed. My favorites have been apple slices with peanut butter, or yogurt in a mug (thin it with a little milk and you can drink it, much easier than trying to manage a bowl and spoon)

  24. I am in no way TTC but definitely have some baby crack issues. Reading this post albeit helpful for future reference, just made my fallopian tube suck the freshly released egg back up. Pretty sure I heard the slurping sound too.

    I think this post can be the baby crack temporary cure for those of us who know right now isn’t quite the best of times to make a baby. I will just have to read this about once a month for the next year to remind myself we aren’t ready but waiting just a little bit longer will allow us as parents to feel better off and in better places both financially and emotionally for taking on the task of child raising.

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