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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The first week: things no one talks about (but should!)

When my first child was born, I remember thinking "labor was nothing compared to the pain of recovery". I also remember that I had felt completely unprepared. No one had talked about my own physical recovery, they only spoke of the pain of labor. None of my classes or books covered it either. In what I have seen in postpartum topics, it seems like everyone typically talks about the possibility of postpartum depression, breastfeeding, and then getting back into your pre-baby body. Which, while some of that is helpful, they do not talk about the normal healing process.

As a result, my mental image of bringing the baby home from the hospital was this rosy picture of me sitting in my rocking chair, nursing, and cuddling my baby as we both blissfully fell into our afternoon nap. I thought the pregnancy aches and pains would be over, the pain of labor behind me, and I would be into baby bliss. Ha. I was mistaken.

Lately, I have been thinking about those first two weeks of baby bliss: the emotional/hormonal breakdowns as your hormones try to re-balance, the stitches I had because I tore in two places, the fact that I couldn't walk up and down the stairs, the menstrual cramps you have because your uterus is shrinking back to it's former size, the insecurity of when you first start breastfeeding, the hemorrhoids from pushing with an epidural, and the tiredness from waking up at all hours of the night. Where was all that reality in the baby books?

Now, don't get me wrong. It is all COMPLETELY WORTH IT. These are things that once you get into the 3rd-4th week you begin blissfully forgetting and don't cross your mind until you are preparing to go through it with subsequent children. BUT, I would have liked to been more prepared the first time, and I thought I would share so that other first timers could get a little more mentally/physically prepared for their own recovery (since most of our energy is focused on getting prepared for the little ball of joy we are growing in our tummies).

Here are some things to consider:
  1. Where is your baby stuff in relation to where you will be spending most of your time? Do you have to take stairs to get to all your baby stuff? The first week or so, you may not be ready for many trips up/down the stairs. The first week I had Sam, I could only make 1 trip per day up the stairs (in the evening to go to sleep). Therefore, we needed to set up a mini camp in the living room or a side room on the first floor so I could still be near a bathroom and the kitchen throughout the day.
  2. Do you have someone who can be home with you the first week (or preferably 2)? If your husband/partner can't be there, a friend or relative would be very helpful while he/she is away or at work. This person will be invaluable helping you around your house, bringing you a glass of water, helping you lift the baby. They can also run to the pharmacy if you need anything. Then you can focus on healing and on nurturing your new baby. It is good to work this out ahead of time. This is vital in cases where you give birth by cesarean and have even more healing to do.
  3. Can you prepare meals ahead of time or have a sign up sheet for loved ones to bring food for the first week or two? Think about how much you'll want to be up and down getting yourself water/food much less cooking after giving birth. You will be tired and sore. You will also need good nutritious food/energy. Don't be afraid to ask for help and support. No one expects you to do it all on your own. If people offer their help and support, practice saying "Yes please, that would be great".
  4. Who can you call? Post phone numbers for the nursery, local lactation consultants, other new recent moms, and a local postpartum group. Make sure you feel supported and do NOT be afraid to reach out to other people. If you begin feeling isolated or overwhelmed, you will need people to call who have been there before. You are NOT alone! If you are the first one of your group of friends to have children, be understanding that they may not necessarily know what you need because they haven't been there before. So either tell them what you need, or be prepared with other phone numbers to call!

Next, while you are getting ready for baby, prepare a Survival Kit for your own healing/recovery needs. You may not need any or all of what I list here. I have met some women who have natural births and are up and around a day or two later. The trouble is, you cannot predict if that will be you. So this is nice stuff to have on hand, and then you can always save the receipt and send your hubbie/partner/mom/friend to the pharmacy to return whatever you didn't use or need.

  • Sitz bath: you will need this if you develop hemorrhoids from pushing or if you need stitches from a tear or episiotomy (or if you are lucky enough to have all of the above!)
  • Pads: The overnight, long kind. You know that period you haven't had for 9 months? Well the first few weeks more than make up for it. Do NOT use tampons.
  • Cotton rounds: You can soak these in witch hazel and use as a compress.
  • Witch hazel: to use as a compress and to clean areas...
  • Donut pillow: It is sore to sit. It feels better to sit on a donut for a few days.
  • Stool softener that is approved by your doctor/midwife or some kind of guidance on what to eat to ensure soft passage of stools. Things are going to be all sore down there, you do not want any more trauma.

Now, hopefully I am not scaring you, that is really not my intention. I think it is just really easy to miss this stuff when the cultural focus is on the cutesy stuff like new clothes and decorating the nursery, which is clearly more fun! So, I hope you enjoy bringing home your new bundle of joy. It truly is a remarkable part of life. Hopefully feeling more prepared and supported will make it even smoother and more enjoyable for you!

In health and wellness,


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