14 things you probably didn’t know happened after childbirth
So many books and online platforms focus mainly on pregnancy – in other words, the time leading up to birth. They go into great detail about the week-to-week size of the baby using fruit comparisons (at week 19, it’s as big as a grapefruit). They also give you information about the length it should be and what development phase it’s at. And they give you numerous tips for common issues during pregnancy and even explain what sort of sports are safe to do, not to mention all of the advice on how to prepare for the birth.
But where on earth can you get advice about the day after your baby arrives? What do you do then? That kind of thing is rarely talked about. Why? Maybe because it’s become something of a taboo. Or because people forget about pregnant women by then or just want to brush issues under the carpet. Perhaps women just don’t want to tell their stories.
I think it’s time that changed. So here are the 14 most important things I think you need to know before giving birth about what happens once your baby is here. It’s only by sharing this kind of information that you’ll feel ready to approach this phase. Now you’re armed with the knowledge you need, rather than feeling lost at sea.
1. You’ll still look pregnant
First thing’s first, you will still have a bit of a belly even once the baby is here. I’m sure that’s the last thing mums-to-be want to hear. But it’s not so easy to shed the pounds. The result being you’ll still look one month pregnant.
The womb needs time to return to normal and your stomach muscles and organs still have to adjust. Breastfeeding helps with this and also aids weight loss. You can tone the pelvic floor and your stomach with postnatal exercises that help prevent issues such as incontinence.
But do remember that not every woman puts on the same amount of weight during pregnancy. For some it can be 10 kg; for others, 30 kg. Don’t let yourself be influenced by other people and just focus on your own weight goals. It’s about feeling good in yourself.
2. Not every woman gets baby to latch on straight away
There are apparently magic women who get their babies to breastfeed straight away. And I’ve heard talk of magic babies who only want to feed every four hours and just suckle. Equally, there are lots of women who really struggle with nursing and say it’s like having a little vampire that wants to feed every few hours.
Sore nipples, breast inflammation and engorgement as well as other aches and pains become part and parcel of your everyday routine. But feeding your baby is the most important thing; you have to see past the pain. It (usually) gets better.
I’ve found this to be the best advice: let the midwife help you right from the start. The only way to avoid pain is to use the right method from the first time you breastfeed. With plenty of patience and the right method, you’ll be off to a great start.
If you can’t stick with it, there are alternatives you can fall back on. It doesn’t matter what other people say or whether it’s supposedly best thing for baby or not. At the end of the day, it’s your body and you’re the only one who can decide when enough is enough.
3. Baby blues and postnatal depression are real
A lot is expected of your body during the birth. You might start to forget what sleep and showering are. You’re bound to feel drained and everything will revolve around the newborn. In hospital, nursing staff will usually look after your baby for a few hours so you can rest. But as soon as you’re home, you find yourself back to reality with a bump.
As soon as dad goes back to work, you’re left alone at home with the baby. Around 75% of all new mums report feeling sad, depressed, exhausted and suffer from mood swings three to six days after giving birth.
These so-called baby blues usually go away after a few hours or days. However, for about 15% of women, these feelings don’t pass and they end up developing postnatal depression. This is a more serious, longer lasting illness that can occur in the baby’s first year, and it’s something that needs to be treated.
There will come a point where you reach your limit. It’s important to admit when you’re no longer feeling happy and seek help and support from friends, family or advice centres.
4. It’s not over until… abdominal pain and afterpains
If you think all the pain is over after giving birth, you’re in for a rather unpleasant surprise. Enter afterpains. You’re even more likely to experience these in the weeks after the birth if you had a tear to the perineum, episiotomy or caesarean section.
However, burning pain when you pass water, soreness and tenderness are all to be expected, even if you don’t have any tears or stitches. While the womb returns to normal, you might experience cramps and contractions in your lower abdomen. These sensations are called afterpains.
5. You will bleed
Without wanting to worry you, I should probably mention that after giving birth you will notice bleeding. I don’t mean like when you have your period. It’s even more than that. In hospital they’ll give you these monster XXXXL pads that you’ll be reluctant to use.
Will you feel like an incontinent granny? Yip. But rest assured, these monstrosities will be your best friend right after you give birth. You might even find yourselves inseparable. It’s only when you’ve got one of these things on that you feel confident enough to leave the house. They might not be trendy but they stop anyone else knowing about the red issue going on downstairs.
6. You’ll have no shame
You’ll have strangers’ near your breasts. They’ll be felt, pressed, shaped and massaged all just to nurse your newborn and stimulate the production of milk. If you don’t manage to breastfeed or if you have breast engorgement, there will be even more helping hands around than you’d like.
During and after the birth, you’ll need to cast aside any ideas of shame and learn not to overthink anything. Once your breast milk starts to flow, you might get a few leaks. And it usually happens when you’re least expecting it. For instance, you might be out and about and see some wet patches around your nipples.
Just laugh it off and say «oops» if anyone picks up on it. Other mums will certainly flash you an understanding smile. Besides, what anyone else thinks really doesn’t matter. However, if you want a bit of relief, try some nursing pads.
7. Believe it or not, breasts can turn into water pistols for milk
When it starts to flow, it really flows. No, really. Once you’ve stimulated milk production, your breasts might become tight and become painful when the ducts get full. It can help to attach the baby or express or pump milk. If your little one lets go of your nipple, the milk can spray in all directions. That’s why it’s worth having enough cloths to hand when you’re breastfeeding.
8. You won’t forget things; you’ll just push them to the back of your mind
A combination of adrenalin and gazing at your newborn’s face can make time stop. The moment is all that matters. But once the adrenalin slowly fades and cuteness overload is put on pause, it’s only a matter of time until you become aware of the pain in your body.
Although it’s often said you forget what happens during the birth, I personally don’t think you can. The best you can do is push it to the back of your mind. Somehow or other there comes a time when a woman wants another baby in spite of all the pain she went through. The next time around, you’ll know what to expect, but just you wait... It can still be different to the first time around!
9. The moods that can take you over: couch potato syndrome or the need to keep busy
Immediately after the birth, you might just want to be left alone and think: «What?! I’m actually supposed to leave the house?». Adjusting to having a child can make you morph you into a couch potato, especially at the beginning.
Changing out of your pyjamas and having a shower at a decent time in the morning will feel like a massive achievement. And leaving the house on time when you have an appointment will seem like a medal-worthy event. All of that is normal, so just give yourself a bit of time.
However, you could feel the exact opposite. You might feel compelled to leave the flat and enjoy time in the great outdoors.
10. You might think you’re taking part in a best mum competition
You want to be the best mum out there. If the midwife says you need colic suppositories, you’ll go straight to the chemist and get them. If your mum says you should be drinking fennel tea, you’ll head off to the supermarket and get it. If a colleague says she used a hammock for her baby and it slept better, you’re out like a rocket to the baby supplies shop.
If your baby doesn’t drink very much, you couldn’t be on Google fast enough to find out what the problem might be. You need everything and want to know all there is to know as well. But remember this: Mums have their own special intuition.
Everyone will be trying to give you tips and well-meaning advice. But please follow your own intuition and consider if what they’re saying really makes sense in your case. It’ll save you time, money and energy.
11. Comparing babies
You don’t mean to compare your child with other babies but you’re only human so you might catch yourself doing it. Only you can decide how much and what kind of comparing is healthy.
Take what other mums say about their babies with a pinch of salt. Let’s face it, every child is the best and does everything just right in their mum’s eyes. You want to learn to read between the lines and not be mislead. Every child develops at their own rate and so shouldn’t be compared with others. Otherwise you’re just giving yourself unnecessary things to worry about.
12. Sex after the birth
In this instance, it depends if you had a natural birth or a caesarean section. You usually need to give it six weeks for a perineal suture (stitching) or tear of the perineum to heal. There are women who have sex again a week after (even while they’re bleeding after the birth). Equally, there are women who need to wait for a year or longer.
It’s really important to follow your doctor’s advice and listen to what your body is telling you. Don’t let yourself get stressed out by it. Instead, talk it out with your partner to see how both of you feel.
13. It could happen all over again
If you’re not breastfeeding, you can ovulate and get pregnant again about three weeks after the birth. Within 8 to 16 weeks, your menstrual cycle will have returned. However, if you’re nursing, your period usually won’t start again until you stop breastfeeding.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to get pregnant during this time. In other words, if you don’t want to fall pregnant again straight away, you need to talk to your doctor early on to discuss what contraception methods are best for you.
14. There’s no shame in asking for help
Once baby is here, do let other people help you. This can come in different forms: it could mean a girlfriend bringing some food round when she visits, letting your mum do your laundry or having your sister look after the baby for a few hours.
Your partner could clean the flat or your neighbour might shop for your weekly essentials. Getting help and support never hurt anyone. So accept it with thanks and be grateful that the people around you are happy to lend a hand.