When I was expecting my first baby, I read lots of books, talked to all my friends who were already mothers, and even took a three-month-long Bradley class with my husband. You’d think, even though I hadn’t experienced birth and recovery from birth for myself yet, that I would at least mentally know what to expect. But aside from all the things that you just don’t know and can’t specifically prepare for (how your birth will unfold, etc.), there were some surprises in the phase of immediate recovery after birth. These are the things I make sure to mention to my friends who are preparing to have their first babies.
You’re going to bleed afterwards – a lot
Most of us realize that there are many bodily fluids released during the birth process. What first-time moms may not realize is the amount of bleeding that happens afterwards. The bleeding continues after birth for anywhere from two to six weeks, and the technical name for it is lochia. In the beginning, the bleeding can be heavier than a period (so pay attention to the doctors’ and nurses’ instructions about signs of bleeding that could be problematic). Make sure to stock up on pads at home as you’re preparing to welcome Baby, because you’ll definitely need them.
The nurses will press on your uterus and it’s not fun
In order to make sure your uterus is contracting properly, and that you don’t bleed excessively, the nurses taking care of you after you give birth will press on your uterus pretty forcibly. Your uterus is tender from having just housed a baby and pushing it out, so, as you can imagine, this is not comfortable. Breathing into the discomfort rather than fighting against it and keeping in mind that they are doing it to keep you safe helps to get through it.
You might feel like a train ran over you again and again
Giving birth is an arduous process. Your body will use more strength than you ever knew you had in you – and muscles you didn’t even know you had will let you know that they were used. After my first daughter was born, everything hurt. Sitting and standing was especially painful and I had to do it very slowly. Patience with yourself, rest, and knowing that this is normal and common (and will dissipate!) will help you get through this phase of soreness and pain.
Contractions don’t stop after the baby is born
After you deliver your baby, you still need to deliver your placenta. These contractions will more than likely feel very mild after the hard work of giving birth, but it’s good to know that they’re coming. Your doctor or midwife may even have you push again to help expel the placenta. Even after the placenta is delivered, contractions still aren’t over. Nursing triggers uterine contractions as well. This is part of your uterus shrinking back to normal size and ensuring that you don’t bleed excessively. While at the time it may seem really unfair that you have to endure contractions after birth is over (and so soon after!), it’s also a time to appreciate your body’s interconnectedness. Your nurses may offer you anti-inflammatory painkillers for the cramps because they can be quite painful.
You’ll be afraid to go to the bathroom
Urinating might sting the raw skin that is still healing, especially if you’ve had stitches, and the thought of having a bowel movement is downright frightening after you’ve given birth. You may be given a soothing, numbing spray that will help in the beginning, along with a stool softener that should help you pass your first bowel movement more easily. A squeeze bottle with a spray nozzle will help you wash with warm water without having to wipe as much with toilet paper, which could irritate delicate, still-healing skin. Remember that holding your stool isn’t good for you and will increase your discomfort and that once you get past this little milestone, you’ll feel much better.
Breastfeeding isn’t always easy
I have a pet theory that breastfeeding isn’t instinctive so that new mothers see that they have to rely on other women in the whole raising babies thing. A biological beginning to the notion of “it takes a village.” Don’t be afraid to ask anyone and everyone for advice about breastfeeding, and seek the professional counsel of lactation consultants, especially if there are some at the hospital. Making sure you know what a good latch looks like in the beginning will make a world of difference in avoiding many breastfeeding problems down the road. Also be prepared for the discomfort and adjustment period that will happen when your milk comes in.
Knowing that your body knows what to do but may take a little time to get into a rhythm can give you that extra dose of patience and peace you need as you’re navigating all the drastic changes your body continues to experience even after you give birth.
About the author:
Shifrah lives in Tallahasse, FL with her husband, four children, two cats, and dog. In the midst of mothering and writing, she enjoys reading, lifestyle photography, sewing, going to the beach, and documenting it all in pocket scrapbooks. She drinks her coffee black.