By Natalie Fitzgerald
When we’re pregnant, we spend so much time preparing for baby, wondering about labor, and anticipating the delivery, that what comes after can make us feel like we’re scrambling, playing catch-up while a tiny, totally new-to-this-world human has upended every sense of normalcy. Especially when it comes to caring for ourselves while we simultaneously figure out how to care for said new human.
It’s an ever-changing roller coaster, which, tbh, is all part of the magic, but in addition to having a good support system, arming ourselves with knowledge can be the best way to survive (and maybe even thrive) through those first few months of new motherhood. There are so many “Why didn’t someone tell me this?” moments that happen after bringing baby home, so in order to address at least a few of them here’s a postpartum survival guide. So that when your hair starts to fall out, your hemorrhoids won’t go away, and breastfeeding isn’t as “easy” and “natural” as you’ve been lead to believe it should be, you’ll know it’s all normal.
The First Days
The first days with your baby can feel like a fever dream—is this even real?! And it’s not all bliss and radiance (though there can be plenty of it); it can also be an enormous challenge. Giving birth is a major event and being birthed is no piece of cake either. You and your baby will be depleted from the experience. Be gentle with yourself: move slowly, accept help, drink fluids, eat fiber, and rest or sleep as much as you can. If that “love at first sight” feeling seems elusive, it’s OK. Give yourself some time, you and your baby might just need a little space to bond and get to know one another. And while you probably spent at least a few of your pregnancy daydreams imagining your baby sleeping peacefully in your arms, don’t feel defeated if it’s 3 a.m. and you’re both feeling fussy. Some newborns have periods throughout the day or at night when they just need to be held or rocked, close to a warm body. Loud shush-ing near their face can be a soothing for newborns too, since it’s similar to the sound they hear in utero.
Feeding your newborn baby with milk from your breasts seems like the most innate, natural thing, right? Oof, if only. Breastfeeding can be a new mom’s greatest challenge. Not only are the physical aspects troublesome (latching, soreness), but the mental hurdles aren’t easy either (is my baby getting enough milk? How can I tell?). Combine all that with sleep deprivation, delivery recovery, and any number of other things that may come up and it can feel like there’s nothing innate or natural about it! Which is why seeking help can be a huge relief. Some discomfort is normal, and it can be hard to distinguish what’s normal from what isn’t if you’ve never done it before. But if you feel like your baby might not be getting enough milk, or if you feel pain or blistering, a lactation consultant can be great resource to help you and your baby get comfortable with breastfeeding if that’s how you choose to feed your baby. The sooner you can pinpoint any issues (tongue tie, low milk supply, etc.), the sooner you’ll be able to correct them, which can help make getting into a good feeding rhythm with your baby a lot easier in the early weeks.
Everyone will have a different recovery depending on their delivery. But whatever your experience, there are a few typical things you can expect. Most new moms will feel contractions after birth, especially while breastfeeding (they tend to come on stronger with each consecutive birth). Your uterus has to go from the size of a watermelon back to its typical grapefruit size in the span of a few days, and contractions are how it gets there (sometimes they can last up to two weeks!). They’re not necessarily painful like labor contractions, but it can be a crazy sensation. Grin and bear it, or, if they’re really uncomfortable, there are some medications that can help with the pain. And something else super fun you might experience postpartum: hemorrhoids! If you made it through your entire pregnancy without these pesky swollen veins in your anus, a long labor or push period can bring them on. Eat lots of high fiber foods after giving birth, to make elimination easier, and you can also ask your doctor about using a stool softener, creams, or essential oils that can help if your hemorrhoids persist.
Yes, a handful of hair is falling out every time you take a shower; no, you’re not crazy. It might be gradual or it might come out in clumps, but either way you can probably say goodbye to that thick, luscious pregnancy hair around the three-month postpartum mark. It happens! And it sucks even more for those of us with thin or fine hair. But it also grows back. Eventually.
First Period Postpartum
Your first period after having a baby can come at any time. Most women will get it once they’ve finished breastfeeding, but this is not always the case! Be prepared for a heavy flow (your body’s making up for lost time!), possibly more cramping than usual, and hormonal changes that can affect you physically and emotionally.
Newborns in the 0- to 6-weeks range sleep a lot, 17-20 hours a day. But their sleep “pattern” maybe be nonexistent. Aim to give your little one “full feedings,” so they hopefully sleep a little longer, rather than waking up hungry after a short nap. This can be easier said than done, since newborns have a tendency to fall asleep at the breast.Try to keep your newborn awake while eating by tickling toes and staying engaged. As your baby gets older, their stomach will grow and be able to hold more, allowing for longer stretches of sleep at night if you feed your baby enough throughout the day.
As a sleep consultant, I often encourage my clients to incorporate rituals and routines before sleep time with their babies, even with newborns. The sooner your little one learns what to expect when it comes to sleep, the easier sleep will come. One ritual I love is the bath before bedtime. It can be relaxing for baby, bring down their body temperature, and help them wind down during witching hours when they’re fussy or unsettled.
Most importantly, take good care of yourself so that you can take good care of your baby. It may seem impossible, but it is essential. You’ve got this, mama!
Natalie Fitzgerald is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Postpartum Doula.
Natalie’s approach to sleep training is tailored to each family she works with, meeting them exactly where they are and developing a customized plan to help them reach their sleep goals, based on their unique baby’s needs and their parenting style. Natalie walks alongside families during the time they need the most support, encouraging parents and helping them find a rhythm that works best with their baby and lifestyle.
Natalie is also a member of the Postpartum Health Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders.
She lives in San Diego with her little ones: Connor (7yrs), Kate (4yrs), and Makenna (1.5yrs).
You can follow Natalie or reach out to her with questions on Instagram and Facebook.