As a new mother, your first instinct is to focus on taking care of your little one, even if that means ignoring your own body’s needs. It can be easy to dismiss that you’ve just undergone a very intense physical and emotional experience, but it’s important to acknowledge that it will take a while to recover and feel “normal” again.
An overwhelming number of new mothers do not feel adequately prepared for the postpartum experience. To help you plan for the unexpected after you give birth, we’ve compiled the top things you need to know before delivery day.
Postpartum Bleeding Is Normal
You will continue to have vaginal bleeding for several weeks, which should get lighter and lighter, but this is not your period. As your body recovers and your uterus goes back to its normal size you release lochia, which looks a lot like your cycle. This is resolved in 3-6 weeks, so stock up on panty liners to help you stay fresh (tampons risk infection at this stage).
Involution (AKA Afterpains)
You spent nine months expanding and after birth your uterus will shrink back to its normal size. Referred to as afterpains, new moms will get short, sharp, cramps in your abdomen that often come on while nursing, which helps expel blood clots.
When your little one latches on and begins suckling, your brain releases a hormone very similar to the medication you receive when you’re in labor. This six-week process, called “involution,” can be a painful one. Regular ibuprofen works to take the edge off. The trick is remembering to medicate about 20 minutes before feeding.
Difficult Bowel Movements
If you had a vaginal delivery you may be anxious to have that first poop after delivery. This is completely understandable if you received stitches close to that area. Even if you don’t have tearing, it’s going to be really sensitive for a while.
However, delaying the first bowel movement only makes things worse. Make sure to drink lots of water. If you think you may have a problem getting things moving, ask your doctor to prescribe a stool softener or just buy one over the counter. You can also prop your feet on a box to minimize straining.
You May Not Be Period-Free For Long
Your period will typically return about six to eight weeks after you give birth. Those who practice “exclusive breastfeeding” might not have a period the entire time they breastfeed. Exclusive breastfeeding means that your baby is receiving only your breast milk. But for others, it might return after only a couple of months, whether you’re breastfeeding or not. And note—a cycle returned early brings ovulation, another thing to prepare for.
Expect Your Hair To Change
Another unpleasant postpartum surprise is hair loss. When you are pregnant your body produces more estrogen. While this makes your hair and skin look fantastic during pregnancy, after delivery your levels normalize over the first few weeks. This is when handfuls of hair can start to fall out. Most moms notice it in the shower when they are washing their hair. Even when you know this is going to happen, the amount of hair loss can be shocking. Don’t worry though, this phase is short-lived and your normal volume usually returns within six months.
Mothers should also be prepared for the emotional roller coaster that can happen after delivery. Your life has changed completely, which is really hard if you’re usually someone who has everything under control. Sporadic tears, frustration and fatigue – all to be expected. But it’s important to identify when you need additional help.
Perinatal depression has typically referred to a period of time when symptoms appear anytime during pregnancy or within four weeks of delivery. When left untreated, perinatal depression can hinder bonding and healthy attachment, distort perception of the infant’s behavior and impair the mother’s attention to and judgment concerning safety.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers are screened for depression once during pregnancy, and that pediatricians screen mothers again during the infant’s well visits at 1, 2, 4 and 6 months of age. Take advantage of this time to discuss your feelings with your provider and ask for the support you need.
How long will it take my body to return to normal?
The first thing to realize is that following delivery you have a “new normal”. Don’t feel defeated – it will take time to figure out and adjust your new normal so be sure to manage your own expectations. Some new moms say it takes around a year to get into their routine and new body. Allow yourself grace during this time of change, get as much rest as you can and set realistic goals.