Giving birth is an amazing and empowering experience that will forever change you, but what about afterwards? You may have a very detailed birth plan, but the first few days and weeks postpartum is an unscripted time that is just as important. I think that being prepared for what will happen to your body after giving birth will help to make the postpartum recovery process much easier.
As I reflect on my most recent (and quite wonderful) postpartum experience (after baby #5), these are the things that I wish I had known ahead of time with my other postpartum recoveries. I felt completely blindsided by some of these things, and completely unaware of others, and now that I know what I know, I wanted to share the knowledge, resources, and accessories that have been helpful to me. *You may also like to check out my best advice for having a peaceful postpartum recovery here.
1. After Pains
After you have a baby, your uterus will continue to contract until it is back to its normal size. You might not even feel this after your first baby, but with each child after that, the pains will start to get progressively more noticeable. These pains floored me when I first felt them after baby #3 (Ophelia). For the first day or two, it felt like I was in labor all over again! After babies #4 (Julian) and #5 (Jack), I was prepared to deal with the pains.
- Heating Pad – Applying this over my uterus whenever I would nurse was a lifesaver! I had one plugged in by my bed and one by my favorite nursing chair.
- After Ease Tincture – Made with crampbark, black haw bark, yarrow flower, and motherwort leaf extract, this tincture made my after pains melt away. You’re supposed to put 2-4 drops in water, but I would just take it straight and repeat the dosage until the pain subsided.
- Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Red raspberry leaf contains an alkaloid called fragrine that helps to tone the muscles in the pelvic region including the uterus (Source). I like drinking this regularly during pregnancy as well as during my postpartum recovery.
In the first few days after birth, the lining of the uterus will shed resulting is some pretty heavy bleeding. During this time, diapers are so wonderful! After that, the blood will taper off and turn brown as the placental site heals, but you can still have bursts of blood and spotting for 4-6 weeks. If you notice bright red blood after it has turned brown, it’s probably a sign that you are doing too much. (This is a great resource that does a wonderful job explaining the bleeding from both the lochia and placental site.)
- Women’s Diapers – These are soooooo nice for the first few days. You don’t have to worry about pads slipping around, ruining your underwear, or leaking onto your bedsheets. Seriously, get these.
- Overnight Maxi Pads – I have tried several different brands, and these are my favorite. basically, you want something for a heavy flow, super long, and with wings. You can wear these the entire duration of your bleeding, or getting something thinner like this, or smaller like this.
- Mesh Underwear – This can be nice for the first few days (with a pad of course) so that you don’t have to worry about staining your nice underwear. They pull on really easily too if you’re dealing with a painful recovery.
- Comfortable Underwear – You want something snug, but not too tight. Maternity underwear are really comfortable. These are nice too if you don’t want maternity underwear.
Nobody told me about the pains of my first postpartum poop with my first birth, and boy oh boy did I learn my lesson! After Ruby was born, I just chuckled and said, “No,” when they asked me if I’d had a bowel movement at my two day postpartum check up. A couple more days went by until I finally got the urge to poop, and let me tell you, it felt like I was giving birth all over again! What I’ve learned since then is that after birth, it takes the intestinal tract a little while to function normally again, and these are the things that helped me along. (This is a great story about postpartum pooping, and this article has a lot of great information.)
- Fiberwise – I love this because it comes in single serving packets and makes me go almost immediately. I took this right before I gave birth to make sure I was cleaned out!
- Psylliam Husk – This helps to bulk up the stool and makes elimination easier. This is good to take this daily after birth until you’re regular again.
- Prunes – This is another good way to keep you regular.
- Drink Lots of Water – It’s very important to drink lots and lots of water to get things moving! I like using glass mason jars (I cut out plastic lids to make tops and add a straw) and have them set up around the house or you could get something like this.
- Eat Lots of Fiber – Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and beans.
- Avoid Laxatives – While they may provide temporary relief, they are a crutch you don’t want to have to rely on.
- Hemmorhoids – Thankfully, I’ve never had hemmorhoids, but if you did, you might find relief with a sitz bath and sitz bath salts, hemmorhoid ointment, and hemmorhoid cushion. (*Here’s a good article about how to avoid hemmorhoids and what to do if you have them.)
4. Your Vagina
Without the pressure of the baby on your bladder, you’ll lose the urge to pee temporarily, and to avoid urinary tract infections and damage from a bladder that is too full, you’ll want to remind yourself to pee often. A good rule of thumb is to pee every time before you nurse. I never had an episiotomy, but I did need a few stitches after Ruby’s birth plus I had a lot of what they called “skid marks” inside from what we think was her hand being near her face when she was delivered. The first time I peed, it burned like the dickens, so the following is what I used to help me heal downstairs.
- Herbal Afterbirth Sitz Bath – After every birth, I have soaked in one of these. This mixture is full of healing herbs and salts and is a great way to treat your whole body after birth. I always enjoy nursing my new babes in the bath, and they love being in the water.
- Witch Hazel on Pads – Witch hazel extract is an astringent or hydrosol made from the witch hazel shrub and used to treat a variety of skin problems. After Ruby, I put it on my pads, put my pads in the freezer, and then used them like a normal pad.
- Repair Spray – This spray is full of natural healing oils and herbs and will help your nether regions to heal.
- Peri Bottle – Fill the bottle with warm water and spray on your vagina while you pee to relieve any stinging or burning.
- Bactine – This provides pain relief, cleans the area, and helps with healing. After Ruby’s birth, I sprayed on my vagina after peeing.
- Arnica Tablets – These are a natural way to deal with the pain of swelling and inflammation.
The first two nights of sleeping after birth will be crazy as you adjust to life with your tiny human being outside of your body rather than inside. The first night you’ll be flooded with endorphins and may feel too excited to sleep, but as soon as you settle in, you’ll crash and your baby will be so tired that you’ll probably get a nice chunk of rest. You’ll also sweat like crazy for the first two nights and for up to two weeks as your body gets rid of the extra water it was retaining. This always made me either really hot or really cold and I’ve enjoyed either sleeping with a robe or shrouded in extra blankets that I could remove. *In this article, I want the focus to be on the mamas, so if you want to see all of my sleep recommendations for babies, check out my favorite baby items blog.
- Salt Lamp – Keep this by your bedside or wherever you’ll be nursing in the night so that you can see what you’re doing without fully waking up or waking up your baby.
- Lots of Pillows – I like making a big tower of pillows to sleep on to support my back and arms for nursing in the night.
- Silkies – Not only do I love wrapping up my babies in my handmade silky blankets, but when I’m falling asleep while nursing and my arms are cold, these are great. If you don’t have any silkies, I highly recommend keeping a few small throw blankets like this nearby while you sleep.
- Robe – I love having a robe like this to sleep in during the nights when my top half is shivering, and I love wearing it around the house – especially for the big pockets!
- Sleeping Shorts – I love my mesh shorts with pockets for sleeping. They are super comfortable, and I like being able to carry my cell phone, baby monitor, etc. in my pockets.
I’ve heard many first time moms wonder if they need to do anything to “toughen up” their nipples, and I would say the answer to that is no. It may feel a little strange at first and there may even be a little bit of pain when your baby first latches on (for like 5-10 seconds), but it should subside after that. If it doesn’t, it’s an indication that something else is wrong (thrush, bad latch, etc.). By the time your baby is about two weeks old, your nipples should be used to nursing.
Your breasts will produce colostrum for the first few days, and then on day three or four, your milk will come in. You will feel engorged and beyond full, but I would recommend resisting the urge to pump to relieve the pressure and instead let your baby nurse as often as he or she needs otherwise you’ll be dealing with oversupply, engorged breasts, and possible mastitis. *See my blog about breastfeeding for more information about breastfeeding and my baby items blog for all of my favorite breastfeeding items.
- Nipple Cream – If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
- Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions.
- My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
- Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing on any rocking chair.
7. Nursing Clothes
I don’t know if this is a me thing or an everyone thing, but my nipples get really sensitive when I first start breastfeeding and having a loose fitting shirt that lightly brushes against them is enough to drive me mad! So I always like to wear things that give me a little pressure and bind them in. At night, I’m looking for clothing that can easily let me nurse while half asleep, and during the day, I’m looking for clothing that will prevent leaking and keep my nipples out of sight.
- Sleeping Bra – I love sleeping with this bra because it protects my nipples and is very easy to get boob access when half asleep.
- Tank Top – I love sleeping in a long tank top like this. I’ll either pull the top down or lift it up to nurse.
- Nursing Tank Top with Built in Bra – I am really in love with this tank top and wear it during the day instead of a bra. I love the padded cups that really cover my nipples and catch any leaks, I love how long it is and how it covers the belly when I lift up my shirt to nurse, and I love the spandex material and snug fit. You can also buy just the bra.
- Nursing Tank without the Padding – While this doesn’t cover the nipples as well, it’s still really comfortable and a great bra alternative for around the house.
- Nursing Hoodie – There aren’t many nursing shirts out there that I like, but this one looks really cool!
I cannot stress enough the importance of putting coffee aside when you are breastfeeding, especially in the first three months. Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed on to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby).
With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times. Here are my favorite alternatives to coffee plus my other favorite drinks.
- Teccino – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
- Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
- Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
- Glass Water Bottle – Of course drinking lots of water (especially while breastfeeding) is very important.
It takes about 4-6 months for a baby to hold its head up on its own, so having a special carrier around to keep your baby close to you and support his or head will be much appreciated. With a nice carrier, your baby can stay close to you while you get a few things done with both hands, and trust me, you’ll need this! The following carriers are specifically beneficial for newborns.
- Ring Sling – A friend of mine recently got this for me, and I love it! It’s easy to put on and carry a small infant around in. (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
- Moby Wrap – I have enjoyed using this with every one of our babies. I love the way it snugly hugs my babies into my chest and allows my hands to be free. (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
- Ergo with Infant Insert – This carrier provides the best back support of any carrier. It’s best used for older babies and toddlers, but the infant insert makes it a perfect fit for small babies too! (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
10. Postpartum Depression
The sudden drop in estrogen, progesterone, and endorphins after birth is a huge hormone crash that can lead to postpartum depression after birth. The surge of oxytocin (the love hormone) that comes after birth may be enough to counteract this, but if not, here are some things that can help to lift your mood. Postpartum depression can also hit long after birth as well…especially during weaning. *For more information about postpartum depression, check out my article here.
- Placenta Pills – By steaming, dehydrating, and pulverizing the placenta, you can take it in the form of a pill. Women who take them report balanced hormones, more energy (probably from the extra iron), feeling happier and more relaxed, increased milk production, less post natal bleeding, and better sleeping. You can make your own or find a midwife or doula to do it. I have really enjoyed doing this with my last three placentas.
- Baby Blues Mood Support – This powerful combination of herbs helps to balance hormones and improve a new mother’s mood after birth.
- St. Johns Wort – This is a natural way to reduce stress anxiety. It may be a good idea to wait until your baby is over two months old (if breastfeeding) before taking (Source).
- Motherwort Extract – A few drops in water will help with anxiety.
11. Belly Binding
After my second pregnancy, I got a really bad case of diastisis recti (where the stomach muscles separate) and never really figured out how to heal it until after my third pregnancy. Our midwife pointed out that it’s not really possible for the muscles to heal if they’re not touching, and I was like duh, how had I not known that before? After Elliot, I was doing all of these sit ups and such, and they were just making things worse, but after Ophelia, I used a girdle to bring the muscles together, did some appropriate exercises, and healed my diastisis recti within three months.
I did a lot of research about belly binding and have tried many different girdles. I’ll tell you right now that the cheap ones are a waste of money. These Bellefit girdles may seem expensive, but for how well they work, they are worth every penny! I like wearing mine as soon as possible after birth for as long as I can stand it (usually by day 3 or 4 postpartum). I generally start out a few hours a day, then work up to half a day, the entire day, and even at night if I’m feeling super motivated.
- Pull Up Girdle – I am a pretty average frame/build and the medium worked well for me. The pull up is the easiest and most comfortable, but the sides do dig in a bit so I wear mine with one of my nursing tank tops underneath.
- Corset Girdle – Once the pull up started not being very tight, I purchased a size small corset girdle. It takes a while to get everything hooked, but it can get much tighter than the pull up and is a good next step to healing. You can also get one with a side zipper, but I’ve never personally tried it, and it’s the most expensive one.
- Exercises – This video series is designed to specifically heal diastasis recti. It is easy to follow and really works.
Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the chiropractor until baby #5, but boy am I glad I did! With Jack being posterior, my hips and lower back were still killing me a week after birth. After one adjustment, my pain melted away. I just wish I had made an appointment before the birth (specifically with the Webster Technique), it probably would have helped Jack to get into a better position.
I also got an adjustment for Jack, and it was so wonderful! I highly recommend an adjustment for all newborns! Going through the birth canal can be rough on a little one’s alignment. Jack was having trouble nursing on the left side, but after his adjustment (which was very gentle by the way), he was even more calm and nursed beautifully on both sides.
- Chiropractic Care for Mom After Birth – This provides a good explanation of the benefits of post natal chiropractic care.
- Chiropractic Care for Baby After Birth – This article does a nice job of explaining the benefits of chiropractic care for a newborn.
I hope that this has been helpful in preparing you for your postpartum experience. It’s so easy to get hung up on just preparing for the birth, but by being just as prepared for this postpartum recovery time, it will help to ensure that it is as pleasant as possible. You only get one first chance to recover, so make it a good one!
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