Congratulations, mamas! You made it! Nine long months of pregnancy, the chaos of labor and delivery, and the exciting moment when you return home with your new little baby. Your life is going to be a whirlwind of nursing, bottles, diapers and sleep deprivation for a while, and it’s wonderful and overwhelming and hard and glorious. I remember being somewhat prepared for the sleepless nights and the spit up and the questions, simply because everyone had told me to expect this. What I wasn’t really prepared for was what was happening to me and my body. No one really talks about what happens physically after birth and how we can take care of ourselves (I guess because all of our focus is on this new little miracle in front of us!). I think it’s really important to understand what our bodies are going through after birth, and to have some strategies to cope with this.
I’m going to focus here on the first 8 weeks after birth. There are many postpartum issues that last beyond that, such as exercise, rectus diastasis, prolapses, losing weight and longterm body changes after birth. Each of these topics deserve their own full article and post, so we will have fun addressing these in the future. If you are a first time mom, you may also want to check out this post I wrote about my mommy advice for the first year after birth (take a shower every day :).
For now, let’s talk about the time immediately after you give birth to your wonderful, sweet baby.
Physical Healing and Exercise
There are many variables to what issues you may be dealing with following the birth of your baby. The most obvious is whether you had a C-section or delivered vaginally, but other considerations include if you had an epidural, how long you were in labor, your ability to move around during labor, tearing, stitches and loss of blood. The general rule is to wait six weeks after a vaginal delivery before starting an exercise program, and a little longer for C-sections. (You will want to check with your doctor for the go ahead before exercising after having your baby, as they will know your specific situation the best!).
Many women are itching to get back to exercise as quickly as possible, and I definitely understand this feeling! When exercise is a part of your stress relief and daily routine, it’s hard to imagine waiting so long to get back to it. What you have to remember is your body has gone through a major trauma. Even if you had the smoothest labor and delivery imaginable, your body has still been absolutely beat up! A friend described it to me this way, “When that placenta pulls away and is delivered, it leaves a huge giant wound that has to scab and heal. Just imagine that every time you want to run or lift weights.” This may seem extreme or a little gross, but it made all the difference for me in understanding the reality of what was happening inside my body! I really kind of just thought that, once my baby was here, my body would miraculously return to pre-pregnancy status. I never thought of the bruising and tearing and internal scabs that needed to heal. Be nice to yourself in these 6-8 weeks. Don’t push yourself! I started very light and gentle – walking with the stroller two weeks after birth (we are talking 5-10 minutes) – and slowly built that up. I did a few light stretches when my back felt tight. I only did what sounded and felt really good and didn’t cause exertion. The time will fly by, and you’ll be able to return to your normal routine in no time. Be patient and let your body heal so you are as healthy as possible when you do start working out again.
This was the thing that may have surprised me the most because I just had no idea what to expect. I was in shock at the amount of night sweating I had in the first two weeks after pregnancy! Your body builds up a ridiculous amount of hormones specific to pregnancy in nine months, and once your baby is here, you don’t need them anymore. Your body suddenly cleanses itself of all of these hormones, and this can result in a lot of hot flashes, sweating, headaches and even crying (oh great, more senseless crying!). Just go with it and know it will be over soon.
I have found both for myself and my friends that the problem after birth isn’t eating too much – it’s finding time to eat enough! Every time I found a moment to make a snack, my daughter would need me to nurse again, and suddenly it was two hours later and I still hadn’t eaten all day. When she finally did nap, I either got sucked into cleaning or napping or working, or I was too scared to make noise in the kitchen and wake her up. It is extremely important to either have convenient and healthy snacks in the house or to have friends and family bring filing and wholesome meals for the fridge and freezer (thank goodness for the meal train!!). You want to have a good combination of whole grains, protein, and good fats to keep your energy stores up and your mood elevated. If you are nursing, it is recommended you get an extra 500 calories a day from a variety of healthy foods. You also want to remember to stay hydrated! Water, water, water and more water.
It is also recommended to continue your prenatal vitamins after birth. I continued with the Usana prenatals that I had been taking, and added an additional iron supplement per my doctor’s instructions (due to blood loss during birth). Remember to stay consistent with your vitamins, and that they shouldn’t be making you feel sick! If they are, try another brand.
Talk It Out
The first months after bringing your baby home are magical, wondrous and indescribable. They are also hard, confusing and indescribable (lots of indescribable). Whatever you are feeling, please know another mama out there has felt it too! You are not alone, and you will never be alone in this journey of motherhood. Don’t be ashamed if you feel unprepared. Don’t feel guilty if you pray for another 20 minutes of sleep and for your baby to stop crying. Don’t feel bad if you have no idea what breast to nurse on. Don’t beat yourself up if your hot shower is the part of the day you look forward to the most (I’m obviously big on hot showers to cure many things). Don’t hold it in. Talk, laugh, reach out, ask questions. I will tell you something I swore I’d never write down – our daughter rolled off the bed when she was six months old and it was on my watch. MY watch. I felt like the worst mom in the entire world and was so scared to tell anyone. I finally mentioned it to one of my friends in a group setting, and EVERY SINGLE mom there said it happened to them at some point. We all love our children and we all know what those first few months are like, so reach out. Don’t let that last poop blowout send you into a crying fit! Laugh out loud, kiss your baby, start the laundry and email me or comment below and tell me about it. I’ll tell you “it’s ok” and I’ll laugh with you. Then I’ll tell you about the poop-tastrophy my husband and I walked into yesterday after nap time. It was a doozy.