The Postpartum Crap No One Talks Aboutby Elizabeth MacDonald
After birthing 5 babies, I feel obligated to write about everything that can potentially happen after having a baby. All of the crap that you forget about while pregnant – or maybe you think you remember it not being that bad last time, or maybe you just have no idea what happens postpartum. It is time to put it in words and share it with every pregnant mama out there.
Obviously, the postpartum period is not so horrible that it makes you not want more babies; so there’s that. But here’s my takeaway after 5 births: The postpartum period is a time when you think about bonding with a precious baby, but the reality is anything but beautiful.
And of course, I took to the masses. I read the blogs, all the research, and then polled the social media worlds for all of the unexpected postpartum experiences. There is a lot to be said about ‘Not understanding until it happens to you,’ BUT that’s why I’m writing this. Take this seriously – as seriously as you can at least. None of the following, or all of the following may happen to you, so take the time to read and educate yourself. You may not be able to prepare for most of these things, but just knowing they are ‘normal’ may be enough to calm you a bit during your postpartum period.
Thank God these babies are so freaking cute; this crap is Cray Cray.
NICU: No one plans for this, but the emotions can be a struggle to understand. (understatement of the year.)
Locia (Bleeding): There can be blood for 6 weeks – or longer. There can be large clots passed with the bleeding. Overworking the body can cause bleeding to last longer. The pads that are used immediately after birth are huge – like airplane sized. Do not laugh at these. They will look like a crime scene within 2 hours of putting a new one on. The blood decreases quickly, but it can come in waves. It changes color as healing occurs. – Oh, and the smell, it is quite distinct. I’ve never smelled anything like it.
Physical Healing: This is different for every mother and every birth. The body heals differently after baby 5 compared to baby 1. The body heals drastically different from a c-section versus a vaginal birth. Even medicated versus unmedicated births will have different ways of healing. When the recommendation is to rest, THEN REST. Surgical incisions can reopen, infections can happen, swelling does occur. Follow orders, ask questions, and know the possibilities EVEN WHEN YOU ARE NOT PLANNING A C-SECTION.
Stitches: They are not as easy as they seem.
Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti): This *could* be the cause of the mommy-gut. The abs separate during pregnancy and it leaves a gap that feels odd (to say the least). There are certain exercises you can do to lessen the gap and strengthen the muscles.
Jelly Belly: Your stomach will have a numb, foreign feeling to it. It will also resemble your 4 month pregnant self for a while. Strangers may congratulate you on your pregnancy.
After Pains/Cramping: The contractions do not end at birth. No, those suckers continue to happen to help shrink the uterus back to size. These get worse with each pregnancy. I swear another baby was still in there trying to get out after baby #5 was born. (Personally, I use a homeopathic called ‘cramp bark’ to ease these pains.)
Swollen Vaginal Area: A watermelon sized human sat inside your birth canal. Swelling can occur in both vaginal and surgical deliveries. Each woman is very different, but TUCKS with ARNICA OIL are amazing. I’m not lying about this one. Grab a mirror and check it out, or avoid it all together, but sometimes you can become so swollen that the area is unrecognizable.
Hormones: The emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy continues postpartum as hormones rebalance. I highly recommend encapsulating your placenta to help with this!
Isolation: This can be depressing. The happiest time of your life and within a week, you are alone with a baby.
Exhaustion: New mothers do not sleep. Old mothers do not sleep. Mothers never sleep again. We have this sense that connects us to our babies. We can hear them breathe; sleep deprivation is real.
Night Sweats: You can thank the hormones, but these can get so bad that you’ll be changing sheets.
The Chills/Shakes: Another strange possibility is to feel cold or have uncontrollable shakes. This will stop once your body balances a bit.
Body Odor: Again, the hormones. Deodorant cannot help. Just hide, or blame the baby.
Flatulence: The gas cannot be held in.
Neck and Shoulder Pain: If you have a c-section, you may have very intense pain in your neck and shoulders due to the gas trying to escape your body.
Breastfeeding Hunger: Cravings! You think pregnancy made you eat weird shit? Breastfeeding will have you eating buckets full of everything. oh and pumping sucks:
Pelvic Floor Problems: Frequent urinating, wet underwear, impossible jumping jacks. There can also be a ‘dropping’ feeling – not quite pain, just a weird feeling. DO YOUR KEGELS PEOPLE. (and seek pelvic floor therapy.)
Breast Engorgement: With milk comes Dolly Parton. Frozen peas will help the pain.
Clogged Milk Ducts: This happens after every baby with me. It doesn’t turn into full mastitis because I jump on the sunflower lecithin train! (Choo Choo!)
Hair Loss: This is much more than what you are expecting. This is fist-fulls, bald spots, and clogged drains. This is crying-in-the-shower kind of hair loss. Keep taking your prenatal vitamin, the hair will grow back – awkwardly, and in time to get pregnant again.
Hair Growth: A mustache, side burns, thicker hair everywhere... This of course happens after all of the hair falls out.
Hair Color: Don’t be surprised if your natural shade changes. Each child has darkened and reddened my hair. (Thank God for good hair dressers.) oh - and it can change texture, too.
Eye Color: This is not a joke. Your eye color may permanently change postpartum.
Weight: Numbers may drop, climb, or plateau because the body is SO CONFUSED.
Shoe Size: It wasn’t just swelling that made your shoes too tight, but your feet actually grew. I’m a full size larger after 5 babies. Kiss those precious pumps good-bye. Just invest in some Tom’s and call it a day.
Linea Nigra: The line that runs perpendicular to the abdomen that shows up during pregnancy, it can last FOREVER! Mine is still faintly there 9 years after baby #1 and never re-darkened with my other pregnancies.
Swelling: Contact your birth team ASAP if swelling is sudden because preeclampsia can occur postpartum as well. But normal swelling needs adequate time to dissipate. Drink plenty of water and eat well.
Blood Pressure: Birth can alter the mother’s normal BP and it can cause a lot of issues. Talk to your birth team about monitoring and lowering if needed. (Preeclampsia)
Pooping: The first few bowel movements postpartum are scary. No, they are way worse than that. Please take a natural laxative.
Hemorrhoids: Pushing a baby out causes these (as does pregnancy). They never actually go away. I’m telling you because a friend told me this – not because I personally know. (UUUUUUUUUUUUGH)
Carpal Tunnel: This one is really strange. Maybe we type on Facebook too much?? Nope, it I actually linked to pregnancy. A chiropractor may help.
Gallstones: The cramping and pain may be more than after pains; they may be gallstones!
Depression: PPD can spiral quickly. Ask for help, and never doubt your gut instincts.
Anxiety: Until recently, no one claimed this was a real thing that happened to mothers. Some of us see vivid actions play out in our minds that terrify us. We catch our breath thinking about things. We are always on our toes and anxious over things others seem to brush away. Again, ask for help.
Sex: Breastfeeding is linked to low libido, as is the entire postpartum timeframe. Sex can be painful or uncomfortable, scary or unwanted. The body has a way of naturally spacing children, and I feel like this is one of them.
Return of the Menstrual Cycle: Or lack thereof for many breastfeeding mothers. The pendulum swings from 6 weeks postpartum to years after giving birth. Mine returns between 13-14 months postpartum after each baby (this is called ‘natural spacing’ and why my children are all 2 years apart!)