$#*! You Didn’t Know You Needed for Recovering from Birth, and Self-Care Beyond Recovery
As a doula, recovering from birth is one of my very favourite topics. We all know how much goes into caring for a newborn, but I’d love it if we gave just as much attention to caring for new mothers in the postpartum period.
How you’ll feel in the days, weeks and months after your baby is born will depend on several factors including the events of your birth and the care you receive throughout your recovery. It’s a little different for everyone, with one common thread: it’s an adventure in extreme multi-tasking.
First of all, you’ll have just gone through a massive physical transformation. Whether it’s a marathon or a sprint, and regardless of exactly how your baby is born, no one really gets off easy in the game of childbirth. So, your body will begin the healing process from that ordeal while you simultaneously embark on the journey of learning and responding to your baby’s needs (no easy feat!). And on top of it all, you’ll likely cycle through an array of intense emotions – joy, worry, overwhelm and even sadness – sometimes all within the span of a few minutes.
All of this is normal. Manageable, yes? Yes. You can do this.
You’re probably stocked up on newborn essentials (diapers, onesies, swaddles and the like). But have you considered what might help you out in those first few weeks?
Your Precious Perineum: Take Care Down There
If you thought your pregnancy waddle was awkward, you’re going to love your post-birth hobble.
Your perineum will probably be a bit sore and swollen for a while. The key here is to listen to your body. Spend lots of time off your feet. I promise-every day, it will get a little better until it feels somewhat normal again and, eventually, you’ll (mostly) forget about the struggle. That’s why most women are willing to do this a second (and sometimes third, fourth…) time!
To minimize disruption of the perineum as it heals, I always recommend a spray bottle. Spray while you pee and once more after you’re done, in lieu of wiping. This one from Fridababy is my favourite because it sprays at just the right angle, and I’m told you can repurpose it later for messy diaper changes.
You can also try short soaks a couple times a day. Dissolve a half cup of epsom salts in a few inches of warm bath water, sit and soak for ten minutes, then air dry. A soothing bottom spray is the cherry on top; I’ve had clients who never leave the house without it!
You Probably Need More Pads than You Think
“Lochia” is a fun way of saying your uterus is going to empty, cleanse and heal itself in the weeks after birth. All women bleed after delivery (vaginal or caesarean) for two main reasons. First, the placenta detaches from the uterus and leaves a sizeable wound behind. Second, the plush lining of the uterus that supported the pregnancy will shed. What you’re going to need is pads, and more than you think. Most women experience something like a heavy period for a couple of weeks, then something like a light period for another couple of weeks. Time to stock up!
If you gave birth by cesarean (c-section) you might be wondering how your recovery will be the same and how it will be different. You’ll experience the typical postpartum bleeding and, if you spent time pushing before your cesarean delivery, you might have tenderness at the perineum as well.
Your care provider will give you instructions for after care based on which combination of stitches, staples, and surgical tape is used to close the wound. They’ll also recommend a regimen of pain relievers and stool softeners to keep you comfortable.
You might not feel like it at first but getting up and moving a few times throughout the day can help with circulation and get your bowels moving, relieving gas pain. Start *very* slowly and walk a little more each day.
More than anything, I find myself reminding mothers who have given birth by cesarean to ask for and accept help. To be honest, the first few days can be rough. Again, it gets a bit better every day and I promise, even just a week of truly resting and letting other people care for you can make a huge difference in your recovery.
Patience is a Virtue
You might have your postpartum OB check-up or be discharged from your midwife’s care at the six-week mark, but that won’t necessarily mean you’re done recovering from birth. For most women, it takes a while. At six weeks, you might get the okay to get back in the gym, or back in the sack…but you might not be ready, and that’s okay.
Self Care for Moms
Here’s the thing: the first month after birth isn’t going to be the time in your life when you take the best care of yourself. Life with a newborn is hard. You might leave the house; you might not. You might shower; you might not.
You will adjust (you are wired for this!), and it won’t last forever. I find the most powerful coping tool is your mindset. Even five minutes of simple self care will make you feel like a goddess if you stay present and revel in the happy moments in between the tough ones.
Say Yes to Rest
First things first: you NEED sleep. Yep, you are strong – miraculous, even – and theoretically you can push through for a while without proper rest; however, it always comes back around. You might hear the advice, “sleep when the baby sleeps,” and you might cringe thinking of all the things you’d rather be doing. And at some point in the near future, you might find your joy working out, or working on your business, or binge-watching Jersey Shore: Family Vacation while the baby sleeps. Do your thing, mama. From the bottom of my doula heart though, I highly recommend taking every precious #sleeportunity in those first few weeks. This is self care for new moms in a nutshell.
Worth Saying: Drink Water and Eat Food
It can be easy to overlook even your most basic needs when you’re tending to a newborn. A massive water bottle was actually one of my first post-baby purchases after my son arrived. I quickly realized a little glass wasn’t going to cut it. And hey, it might as well be gorgeous.
Similarly, I’m often heard asking new moms, “Have you eaten today?” You might not believe me now if you’re still pre-baby, but regular meals tend to go out the window after baby arrives. Staying hydrated and eating throughout the day can do wonders for your energy levels and your mood.
Make it easy on yourself by loading up on “grabbable” snacks that you can stash in your night stand or diaper bag and consume with one hand. If you’re lucky, your little village will take care of the big meals, but I highly doubt that anyone’s going to drop off a jumbo box of energy bars for when your growling stomach starts to make more noise than the baby.
Remember when we talked about air drying to heal your bottom? Go ahead and add a sheet mask to the experience. Could this be the new mama equivalent to a day at the spa? Don’t forget to laugh at yourself because, really, it’s 15 minutes of goop on your face and a cool breeze on your stitches. Mindset, though: so fancy.
Also, Grab a Tissue
That first month will race by and you’ll feel the shift. You’ll feel a deep emotional transformation and the effects of a month of less-than-ideal sleep and a lot of hard work.
It might feel thankless, or lonely, or both. The influx of visitors will have tapered off and your spouse will have likely returned to work full-time. You’ll spend the majority of your days and nights with your inherently needy baby without so much as a pat on the back (we don’t thank mothers enough…but I digress!).
And then. One day, about a month into the journey, you’ll be plugging away, doing the work of motherhood, and your baby will smile at you. A smile! You’ll feel superhuman. YOU MADE THAT! A thriving, smiling human. Alive and happy because of you and your body.
Until then, pick a mantra:
I am perfect for my baby.
I honour my own needs.
I’m taking it one day at a time.
What’s the most helpful advice you’ve received about recovering from birth? What are your go-to essentials when self care is sporadic? Hop onto Talk Baby to Me-Well.ca’s Facebook community for expecting and new parents-and get talking!
Jaklyn Andrews is a birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and mom of two from Oakville, Ontario. She’s passionate about supporting families through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period and strives to promote compassion and connection in the local parenting community.