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5 Things I Wish I Knew About Postpartum (That Would Have Changed the Game)

Things I Wish I Knew About Postpartum

It's a tale as old as time... I had the stroller. My baby registry was organized. The nursery was beautiful. I even prepared deeply for birth (I had a hypnotic home birth).

But postpartum? Well, I kind of forgot about that. Actually, it's more that I didn't really know it was going to be "a thing" and no one told me. So, first things first:

What is the postpartum period?

While it tends to be overlooked in our cultural dialogue throughout pregnancy, the postpartum period is an intense part of this journey into parenthood.

Your body is recovering from vaginal or surgical birth (both are incredible feats of human strength!), your hormones are on a roller coaster ride and you're adjusting to this new role as parent (whoa).

Now, it's not all bad. You're also likely to be in a haze of love (however, it's normal if you're not) and hopefully you're feeling like the unbelievable badass you are after bringing life into this world.

But the challenges of postpartum are easier to deal with if you actually know what's coming ahead of time. These 5 things were some of the major postpartum surprises that caught me of guard:

1. We're not given nearly enough time for postpartum recovery

We typically talk about the six weeks after giving birth as being the "postpartum period", but really the effects and symptoms can last for months and even years.

The idea that one doesn't require any further medical help after only six weeks is so wrong, and is only second to the notion that we're supposed to be "bounced back" by the end of that timeline.

When I was first pregnant I scoffed at the idea of laying low for weeks after birth. My attitude was honestly the result of how little reverence we seem to hold for birth in our society.

But I was quickly given a reality check when I tried to go for a walk a few days in and could barely make it a block. Everything was sore and I was just making the bleeding worse (more on that soon).

I ended up bursting into tears and going home. I really had expected to feel like "me" again, at least in the physical sense, a lot sooner.

So what can you do about it?

Give yourself the time, space and grace to heal. Accept help. No, really. Like really accept help.

Don't carry the car seat. Allow your support people to bring you that glass of water or tidy up those dishes. If you can, hire a postpartum doula to help. Or better yet – put it on your registry and have you friends and family contribute to one for you! 

All of this care will actually allow your healing process to progress more quickly.

2. Milk coming in can be more painful than birth

At least that's honestly how I felt about it – both times.

While in the immediate (or near immediate) aftermath of birth you will likely express colostrum, it typically takes 2-4 days for your milk to come in. For me, this process was excruciating.

No joke, my breasts swelled to the size of basketballs. My skin felt so tight and uncomfortable that I had trouble sleeping (in what little time I had to even try).

I had never heard even one person say this could be a possibility, so I was completely taken aback by the pain.

So what can you do about it?

The best thing you can do to deal with pain when your milk comes in is to nurse your baby. Nursing your baby is going to give you relief when the build up feels too intense and it will ultimately help to regulate your supply.

If, for whatever reason, you're not planning to breast or chestfeed at all, then you can still get some relief with a pump (just be sure not to use it too much unless you're planning to exclusively pump as this will tell your body to produce more milk).

You can also enlist your partner or a support person to help. Grab a natural oil, like coconut, or you can use a generous dose of our organic/vegan nipple balm, and have your person gently massage your breast in a downward motion toward the nipple. 

3. Postpartum bleeding can last for weeks (even months), and the vaginal swelling is REAL.

The bleeding you experience after childbirth is a discharge called "lochia" that is similar to your monthly period. Though mostly comprising blood, it's actually a mixture of your uterine line shedding, white blood cells and mucus.

I know it sounds naive now, but I was only vaguely aware of how much bleeding there would be and how long it would last (and yes, there is still bleeding if you had a Cesarean).

The other thing I truly didn't grasp until I was experiencing it was how swollen I was going to be after giving birth vaginally.

So what can you do about it?

Again, this is where giving yourself the time and space to heal will make a huge difference. The less you are on your feet, the better it is for healing. Too much movement can even cause agitation and prolong bleeding.

And as for swelling and pain, there are two great solutions we recommend. Our Perineal Spray is super convenient for instant relief after giving birth. This one is great for your hospital bag if you're planning for a hospital birth.

The second is to prepare padsicles. Check out our full guide on what exactly they are, and how to make them, here.

4. Baby blues can be really intense

To be honest, calling them "baby blues" is so offside. It minimizes an experience that nearly 80% will experience, and one that can be extremely challenging and even scary. 

Your hormones are in major flux after giving birth and for a few days you're often riding the high of the experience (this also assists in allowing you to be on call 24 hours a day for feeding a new human 'round the clock).

At about day four there is dip in hormones that is often experienced as an emotional crash. After this most people will begin to feel better, or more like "themselves" again, but if not, that is when we begin to classify the experience as postpartum depression or anxiety.

Yup, you read that right. That means that what we call "baby blues" is actually the exact same experience as what we call postpartum depression or anxiety, but just on a shortened timeline.

For me, my anxiety skyrocketed (intrusive thoughts, very unpleasant and scary ideations), but it can look like many things for different people. And it's very real.

So what can you do about it?

One of THE best things you can do is to simply be aware.

I'm not saying this is the case for everyone, but my second time was much better because I was able to talk myself through how normal the experience was. I knew it was coming and I was able to brace myself, and it did feel different.

The other critical step is to prepare yourself with a plan for postpartum mental health. Our Postpartum Mental Health Workbook walks through the top five ways you can prepare yourself for a better overall experience.

5. Parenting is a skill

The learning curve we experience in our society is STEEP. It's basically, "Here's a baby. It now depends on you for everything. Good luck." The postpartum period is a true trial by fire for parents.

And while we do have great instincts as parents – no one knows what's best for our children more than we do – parenting is a skill. Second or third (or fourth or fifth!) time parents are a testament to this.

After the experience of postpartum I was so scared to have another child and go through it all again. I truly didn't think I could handle it. Imagine my surprise when the whole thing was, well, so much easier.

I'm not saying it was EASY, but it was a heck of a lot EASIER. It was like going through the motions of something I understood deeply... Something I had built up a skillset for!

So what can you do about it?

Don't expect to have everything (or anything) figured out right away – or ever, really. Because just when you think you've got it all figured out, the rules of the parenting game change.

Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to feel it all and know that wherever you are, whatever your situation, you are doing a great job. It's not easy but you get better at it just by going through it.

You're always enough for your baby. But the skillset you're building in the beginning will make the experience feel easier – and likely make any subsequent babies you choose to have a much smoother experience too!

Grab our free Guide to Better Postpartum Healing guide:

Better Postpartum Healing

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