Everything You'll Need for a Successful Postpartum Recovery

Everything You’ll Need for a Successful Postpartum Recovery

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.

2. Bleeding

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.

3. Pooping

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.

5. Sleeping

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.

6. Breastfeeding

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!

8. Drinks

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.

9. Babywearing

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.

12. Chiropractor

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.

In Conclusion

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!

If you’re reading this before you give birth and plan on having a baby shower, consider adding your favorite items to your baby registry (Create an Amazon Baby Registry). If you’re not an Amazon Prime member already, check out Amazon Family where you can get things like 20% of diapers (Join Amazon Family 30-Day Free Trial). You can also give someone the gift of Amazon Prime (Give the Gift of Amazon Prime).*I get commissions on each of these promotions, so if you choose to take advantage of these offers, thank you for supporting me!

How I Survived Postpartum Depression

Let’s be honest. Being a mom is hard. Being a person is hard. Sometimes it’s hard just to “be”. Period.

I am not perfect. I am not happy all of the time. Sometimes I even totally lose my shit…but you might not know that about me because I have a tendency to mostly share just the positive…because that’s what we do. We celebrate what we’re proud of, and we sweep the rest under the rug.

I was at a MOPS meeting the other day and felt such a profound connection with all of the women there as we started sharing stories of postpartum depression. To be honest, I was completely floored when I heard story after story that kept sounding like my story, and as I looked around the room, I noticed not just a room full of tears, but a room full of love and support. It made me realize that none of us really have the answers, but by sharing our stories, we feel connected, we feel like we’re not alone, and it made me feel, well…ok, almost normal even.

The bottom line is that it made me want to share my story. I have tried to write this blog for a long time, but I could never find the right words, and then I realized, there are no right words. There are just words – words that come together to form a story, and that’s what I’m going to do now; I’m going to share my story. Just know that yes, I’m happy now, and I’ll share that part of the journey too, but first I want to take you to some of the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

Postpartum Depression Round #2

About 9 months ago (when Julian was 13 months old, Ophelia was 2, Elliot was 4, and Ruby was 6), I started writing a blog called, “I’m Choosing to be Happy Today”, as way to work through some of the depression that I was feeling. But while everything I was writing was completely real, raw, and full of emotion, there was no happy ending, and so I had to put it aside until things weren’t so bleak.

Now that I’ve been able to crawl out of the depths of postpartum depression (for the second time), I think I’m finally ready to share my story.

It was the middle of winter and yet another cold and flu season was upon us when I noticed a little bit of spotting, and then a bit more, and pretty soon, I was experiencing the first period I’ve had since…gosh, I don’t even know how long! (4 births in 6 years…hello!) My mom warned me about fluctuating hormones, but I brushed her warning away thinking,

“I’m too tough to get emotional. I’ll be okay.”

At the same time as I got my period, it seemed like my milk was drying up. Julian was up to feed in the night just about every hour, and he would get really rough, pulling on my nipple, hitting me with his arms, and flailing his legs. (On a side note, I think this is what led to my nursing aversion.) When he woke up with a practically dry diaper after an all night nursing marathon, I knew that it was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

This made me so sad – desperately sad. The only way he would go to sleep was with me nursing him, and even though he ate food with us at every meal, I never really had to worry about how much he ate because he would just nurse him all. the. time. (In hindsight, I wish I would have started this bedtime routine with him a little sooner.)

The thought of not being able to breastfeed Julian anymore, the ongoing lack of sleep, the constant busyness and business of our daily lives, feeling overwhelmed and constantly behind, and now these hormonal changes with the onset of my period absolutely turned my head upside down. It was a gradual change for sure, but one day, it felt like a switch had been flipped. Everything that used to make me happy was suddenly driving me bat-shit crazy.

The way that everyone needed me every single moment of every single day made me want to run and hide. I felt like a failure, a loser, and a fraud. I started fantasizing about going back to work and putting them all in day care. I just didn’t feel like I could handle it for one minute more…and then I remembered feeling this same way when Elliot started to wean. I tried hard to pinpoint why I was feeling this way. Was having two little ones 2 and under just too much for me to handle? Did I need to work on creating more of a balance in my life? Did I need more things just for me? I just couldn’t figure it out.

Usually, I’m pretty good about seeing what I’m doing well and planning new areas of growth for my future, but with everything going on…

My self-doubt started to outweigh my self-worth.

I started feeling like I was failing everyone. I started feeling like I was doing everything wrong. I started feeling like I wanted to quit being a mother. I started feeling like I wanted to find someone more capable to take care of my kids and just get a job where I knew I would be able to succeed (as if that would be so much easier).

Whenever I would hear the little voice of self-doubt in my head, the one that said, “You’re not good enough. You are a fat, frumpy, disheveled mess. You are a failure.”

I would scream, “NO!” and I would try to quiet that little voice and instead look at my sweet little darlings, and I would choose to be happy.

I felt like I was at the edge of a precipice and could go either way. With one more little negative event or thought, I knew that I would tumble into the abyss of sadness, but with every conscious choice placing me into the world of “happy”, I saved myself from that doomed path.

Then one day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and noticed a giant zit on my chin. That was it. It was the zit that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Everything came crashing down around me, and all of those little walls of happiness that I had worked so hard to build suddenly came crashing down.

I tried to choose to be happy again like I did before, but I just couldn’t. Every little thing was making me cry, and I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Usually, I have a long list of things that make me happy – things like making a healthy meal from scratch, cleaning out and organizing a drawer or cupboard, designing a new learning activity, cuddling up and reading with one of the kids, getting the house clean and organized, writing, or researching a new blog topic,- but no matter how many times I went through the motions, NONE of these things were making me happy.

And then I couldn’t even go through the motions.

I would find myself just sitting there on the floor, looking out the window with a blank stare while the kids played around me, feeling like I was in a fog, and like I could just start bawling at any second.

When my husband came home for lunch one day and didn’t say the right thing, I snapped. I got angry and told him to LEAVE. We fought via texts until he came home hours later, and I just bawled about all of the things that were making me sad.

He was very kind and supportive, but he said,

“It doesn’t make any sense. None of these things were making you depressed a few weeks ago. Where else could this be coming from?”

Those words really struck me because he was right. I didn’t have a reason to be depressed. My life was good, and I was surrounded by things that should make me happy. Why couldn’t I see that? Why couldn’t I feel that? And of course…that just made me even more depressed.

But I kept thinking over and over again about choosing to be happy. And even as the tendrils of depression tried to reach out and pull me into oblivion, I kept thinking, “NO! YOU’RE NOT TAKING ME!!!”

I tried thinking about all of the things that were spiraling me into depression in a positive way, and so instead of thinking, “When will Julian ever sleep through the night?” I started thinking about his sweet little smile, the feel of his body tucked into mine, and how I was the only one who could comfort him at night.

That evening, I cracked a beer, slipped into a warm bath, and just thought about all that was good in my life. Then I pulled my daughter Ophelia into the bath with me. She was so happy to pour water and to “swim” in our sitting Jacuzzi tub. I looked at her face, really looked, and noticed how she was happier than ever just by being with me. She didn’t need any special activities or toys, she just needed me.

The more I started to think about how I was enough, how just the mere existence of me was enough to nourish and sustain all of my children, I could feel the veil of sadness begin to lift.

Where before every thought had been in a muddled in a fog of sadness, suddenly everything started to look so clear, so simple, so…attainable. And just like that, I felt my breasts fill up with milk. I almost wept with tears of joy! It was almost like all of my worry, self-doubt, and depression had inhibited my milk supply. I was overjoyed to feel my milk let down as Julian nursed hungrily. In the times of nursing him after that, I noticed that if I wasn’t present in the moment, I couldn’t make any milk, but as I became aware of his warm body, his sweet eyes looking up at me, and my love for him, I could feel that old familiar fullness of milk.

And that was that. It wasn’t a long list of things that helped me to lift my head up, it was a moment. I forgot about my insecurities, my fears, the future, and my past, and just really and truly tried living in that moment. Noticing the smells, the sounds, the textures, the sensations…just being in the moment…it was my life preserver.

Now, it wasn’t a completely magical fix after that. I still felt like I was at the bottom of a deep dark well, but it was like the sun finally came out and illuminated a step that I never noticed before. Every day, I worked hard to see the sunshine at the top of the well and the light that illuminated the way, and brick by brick, I found a way to climb out.

Postpartum Depression Round #1

Now, before I delve more into what helped me come out of my postpartum depression for good, I want to step back in time to my first experience with postpartum depression because this was truly my darkest time, and I never even thought that this could be connected to postpartum depression until my experience after Julian.

Before we had children, I loved being a teacher, and I mean LOVED it. After I got my Master’s degree in Linguistics, we were blessed with our first child, and the year after that I landed my dream job as an ESL coach working with teachers to help make input more comprehensible for English language learners. Little did I know, however, that I was pregnant again. After only one year on the job, I knew that I just couldn’t leave my sweet babes in daycare anymore, and so I quit my job to be a stay at home mom. (Read more about that story here.) We decided to move back to our home state, lived with my parents for 8 months, and then finally moved into a rented house in the city (which we would later come to find out was a pretty rough neighborhood) while my husband worked over an hour away.

Instead of feeling like we had made it, I felt completely lost. Who was I? How would I fill my days? And what was there to stimulate me besides poopy diapers and preschool activities???

I mean sure, I was loving being home with my little ones and really enjoyed challenging them with creative learning opportunities, but I started to get depressed…and I mean REALLY depressed. I thought that by moving “back home” we would be surrounded by the positive support of friends and family, but what they had to give just wasn’t enough to fill the deep whole in my heart. I longed for adult interaction and the need to be challenged intellectually, I wanted to own a house in the country, I wanted a good friend group, I wished my husband worked closer to us, I felt like I was missing so many parts of me…and then, just like with Julian, my period returned, my milk started drying up, and I started slipping into a really really deep and dark state of depression.

Because it was so long after giving birth, I never thought of it as “postpartum depression” or even “depression”. (I think technically it’s called postpartum distress syndrome.) All I know is that I would cry…a lot. I would check the mail ten times a day hoping for something exciting to happen. I felt listless, restless, lost, and worst of all…empty. I hated that I couldn’t lose the last 10 pounds of belly fat, and I hated how I looked in the mirror. I used to have all of these dreams and aspirations, but then, I felt like I had nothing, and then I would feel so GUILTY! I mean, I was able to be home with my two golden treasures, wasn’t that enough? I got to cuddle them, read to them, take them to play groups, build forts with them, go to the library for story hour, put them down for naps, feed them healthy food, and just BE with them.

But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel whole, or complete, or even like me really.

Then one night, my husband and I got into a HUGE fight that ended up with him driving away. I wasn’t sure if he would come ever back because he’s usually never the one to leave. I was so relieved when several hours later he came back. We were finally able to talk without screaming, and we decided that we didn’t want to end our marriage. I also knew that I wanted to find happiness as a stay at home mom, and so that’s what we set out to do. It wasn’t always easy, but we just took things one day at a time.

After that conversation, I started discovering the new me. I read Nourishing Traditions like it was my Bible, got really into feeding my family healthy food, I started working out and eating a better diet, we found out we were pregnant again, we moved one mile away from my husband’s work to a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood where he could come home for lunch every day, and I started my blog about embracing the new me…embracing motherhood. After Ophelia was born, I was prepared. I encapsulated my placenta into pills and started taking them after she was born. Whenever I felt the first signs of depression, I would take a pill, and I would immediately start to feel better.

Now, as you know, postpartum depression did find me again after our fourth child, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time, and somehow, I found my way out of it once again.

What is Postpartum Depression?

After going through all of this, I started to realize that it was more than just a choice of being happy or not. Yes, that was a battle going on in my mind, and yes all of the chaos of my life made me more susceptible to depression, but there was something going on with my hormones that made it the perfect storm.

When you’re pregnant, your body produces extraordinary amounts of estrogen and progesterone to help you grow your new baby. The moment the placenta leaves your body, however, estrogen and progesterone return to pre-pregnancy levels. This hormone crash is why up to 80% of women feel the “baby blues” in the first few weeks after pregnancy. About 10% of women will suffer from a more severe form of the “baby blues” in the first year, and this is what is known as postpartum depression (PPD). After the baby is a year old, postpartum depression is actually called postpartum distress syndrome (PPDS), but is still primarily related to fluctuating hormones. A more serious form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis (PPP) in which the mother may suffer hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, and thoughts of harming the baby. This is more related to a bi-polar disorder and should be treated immediately.

The reason why postpartum depression can affect mothers so long after birth is because many of the hormones present during pregnancy still remain afterwards. Relaxin, for example, takes about 5 months to leave, which is why you are more prone to sprains at that time, and prolactin, that hormone that produces milk, will stay present during the entire phase of nursing. Proloctin is also what suppresses the production of the fertility hormones estrogen and progesterone (which prevents ovulation and menstruation). Once the baby starts to nurse less, estrogen and progesterone levels will increase, ovulation will resume, and the menstrual cycle will return. If there is an imbalance with these hormones and there is too much progesterone, anxiety can occur, and if there is too much estrogen, depression can occur.

The bottom line here is that after you have a baby and when your period returns, your hormones can get out of whack and make you feel crazy, especially if you already have a history of depression.

Tips for Overcoming Postpartum Depression

These are the tips that have helped me to completely pull away from postpartum depression, or postpartum distress syndrome, or just plain old depression, or whatever the heck you want to call it.

  1. Find happiness in the moments. At first, you just have to find the happy moments…the moments that make life worth living, the moments that make you smile, and the moments that make you see that being on this earth is where you need to be. After awhile, you can find the happy days, and then the happy weeks, and eventually they will lead to happy years and a happy lifetime, but you have to start small. Baby steps. Find the happy moments first.
  2. Build a support system. Talking with other women who have experienced the same thing is so valuable, and something I simply can’t even express enough. Now, if you talk to someone about what you’re going through, and instead of listening to you, they try to “fix” you and tell you all of the things that you “should be doing”, RUN! You need to find someone, anyone, who can just listen to you and let you talk about every feeling you have, every thought, and every idea without judgement, and without trying to fix you. All they need to do is listen. Sometimes, the best option might be to speak to a therapist or psychiatrist about what you’re going through.
  3. Know that the cause of (and the solution to) your depression lies within. Does it seem like your husband, your kids, your job, your appearance, etc. are all contributing to your depression? If you fall into this trap of thinking, it can make you think that if you leave these things, then your depression will simply end, but it’s not that simple. The way you perceive the world and interact with the world is controlled by you and only you.
  4. Have open and honest communication with your significant other. My husband has been there with me through the good times and the bad, and through it all, I have learned that he cannot read my mind, he cannot always pick up on subtle clues to figure out what I am thinking and feeling, and that I need to share my feelings openly and honestly on a regular basis. If I bottle things up, they will eventually explode, but when I share my feelings often, it helps me to figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and that’s what open communication is all about.
  5. Feed your intellectual adult brain. Yes, being a stay at home mom is a very rewarding, thrilling, and amazing experience, but I needed something to stimulate my adult brain too. By creating a reading system for young children and blogging, I feel like I have an outlet, a voice, and a form of expression. It continuously motivates me to research, learn, stretch myself, and grow.
  6. Accomplish something. Sometimes you need to see something checked off a list that isn’t part of your daily routine. For example, once I found my niche of blogging and creating a reading program for young children, I have continuously needed to see myself making progress in order to be happy. Sometimes, I need to complete something as small as making a list of blog ideas in One Note, collecting some research based articles online, drafting an outline for a blog, or perfecting the rough draft of a flashcard sketch. But whatever it is, I need to feel like I’m moving forward.
  7. Know that sometimes you might need a life preserver. Have you ever physically felt what it’s like to drown before? I have. When we lived in Colorado, we stupidly went tubing down a river that was full of spring rain with no life jackets and cheap little inner tubes. As I went over a mini rapid, my tubed slipped out from underneath me, and I was immediately pushed to the bottom of the river by the very powerful pressure of the rapid. I tried desperately to reach for the surface, but it was so so hard, and I thought, “This is it”. I could feel myself slipping, ready to let go. I could literally see my life flashing before my eyes, and suddenly I thought, “NO!!! I’M NOT READY TO DIE!!!” With every last bit of strength, I reached for the surface, and as if by some miracle, my hand latched onto something. It was a kayaker, my guardian angel, there to save me. As my head exploded to the surface, arms flailing and mouth gasping for breath, he yelled at me to STOP panicking, to hold on, and to kick my legs. When he brought me to shore and then disappeared down the river as if he were some sort of apparition, I felt as though I had been given a second chance at life. That story is pretty much the best analogy I can think of to describe depression. When you’re in the depths of depression, it literally feels like you’re drowning, and sometimes you just need a life preserver, something to rescue you so that you can tread water again. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa, maybe it’s making a big change in your life or many small ones, maybe it’s seeing a therapist and/or taking some medication, but the important thing is that you need to grab ahold of something so that you can tread water again.
  8. Don’t be afraid to facilitate change. If it bothers you that your house is continuously messy, find a way to keep it clean! Get rid of the clutter, get your kids and spouse to pitch in more, or hire some cleaning help. If you hate your body, find a way to work out, cut out the sugar, or count calories. If you’re upset that you haven’t accomplished anything, find something to accomplish! Try a new recipe, sign up for an online class, or do a paint by number. If you’re mad at your husband because he won’t help out enough, TELL HIM!!! How else is he supposed to know? If you are frustrated that your kids don’t help out enough, TEACH THEM HOW! How else are they supposed to learn? Anyways, you get the point. 😉
  9. Create healthy habits. This may sound simple, but it is so so important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and plenty of sunshine, eat a healthy and well balanced diet, make time for mediation/yoga/reflection, and find something to be thankful for every day. Before you can take care of everyone else, you have to take care of yourself.
  10. Take placenta pills. I didn’t learn about encapsulating my placenta into pills until my third pregnancy, and boy what a difference that made! Whenever I would start to feel a little depressed, I would pop a couple of placenta pills and feel like a completely different person. Now I just to remember to save some to see if they’ll help when my period comes back.
  11. Know that sometimes, it’s just hormones. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, it’s just hormones. After Julian, when I realized that it was actually the hormones making me sad and not my entire life, it was a lot easier to mentally switch gears.

In Conclusion

I have been very hesitant about sharing my experiences with postpartum depression because I don’t want people to judge me or feel sorry for me. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m weak, and most of all, I don’t want people to look at me with pity and say things like, “Are you really okay,” while touching my arm in a consoling but also slightly condescending way. I’m tough, I’m strong, and I’m capable, but I’m not stronger than postpartum depression, and I think I’m finally okay with that.

I’m glad to share my story because I think that we all need to share our stories. It’s the only way we can feel – it’s the only way we can know – that we’re not alone. So, if you have a story that you’d like to share, share it. Share with your loved ones, share it with your girlfriends, or share it here. If you’d like to submit a guest post about your experience(s) with postpartum depression, that would be awesome! You can even post it anonymously if you want. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, you’re not a failure because you’re depressed, and there is a way out, you just have to find it.

Additional Resources

  • Click here to see a map of the United States to find someone to talk to about what you are going through.
  • Tools for Mom – Here you’ll find checklists, questionnaires, support groups, and more.
  • Postpartum Support International – This is a great portal to learn more and to find many additional resources.
Best Advice About Having a Peaceful Postpartum Recovery

Best Advice About Having a Peaceful Postpartum Recovery

Giving birth is an amazing, spectacular, and tremendous journey. You’ve waited nine months to meet your precious angel and during that time, you’ve probably thought nonstop about what the birthing experience would be like. Then it comes and goes, and you’re sort of left in shock. It feels completely surreal to physically hold your baby earthside and it takes awhile to get used to not being pregnant anymore. This time after giving birth is a very special time. Here are a few things I’ve learned after having four babies in the last five years about postpartum recovery.

1. You Only Get One Chance to Recover

If you don’t recover correctly the first time, you’ll end up having to re-recover and it doesn’t get any easier the second, third, or fourth time around. Your body has been through A LOT! You just grew a human life inside of your body, then you worked tremendously hard for a really long time to push that baby out of your vagina (or went through abdominal surgery to get it out), and now you are going to be taking care of this tiny human by making it food from your breasts. It is very important to view this postpartum recovery time as sacred, important, and necessary.

2. Have a Babymoon

I know that there’s an extreme excitement after you give birth, and you want to share your new bundle of joy with the world, but the world can wait. This time is sacred and it is for you, your partner, and any other children that you have. Before you invite over everyone under the sun to come and meet the new addition to your family, give yourselves some time to adjust.

No matter how much you read about it or talk about what it will be like, nothing can fully prepare you for how your lives will change until you experience it. If you allow yourselves a few days to a week to figure things out, it will give you a tremendous amount of confidence as you enter life with this new little person. We really adhered to a week long babymoon with our first two, but with number three and four, it was nice to have some help with the older kids while my husband and I rested.

3. Have a Support System in Place

You will need someone to take care of you after you give birth, so make plans for this, and let it happen! As women and as mothers, sometimes we tend to take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves, but if you do this now, you will pay for it later. You will first and foremost want to rely on your husband. You honor him by allowing him to take care of you during this time. Make sure he knows how to run the house beforehand, and speak up about what you need. My husband has always been fortunate enough to be able to take a week off from work (a month with our first child) after I gave birth. After he went back to work, I arranged to have help from other family members.

4. Be Prepared for Things to Run on Autopilot

Before you give birth, I’m sure you will do plenty of nesting, just know that this is a very important phase! You’ll want to have everything set up for the baby, of course, but you’ll also really appreciate it if your house can kind of run itself while you recover. The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure there’s enough food stocked in the house. You might want to get some help from family and friends to have some freezer meals ready to go. In the last few weeks before birth, when I’m making something like meatloaf, I’ll make extra and freeze it to use later. Some people like doing sign up sheets for meals to be delivered after birth too.

If you have other children, think about arranging your house so that they have plenty to do on their own and with your husband or other helpers while you recover. I always like to get the other kids a gift for after the baby is born. With the new baby getting so much attention, this makes them feel special and it gives them something to do. Play-doh has been a real hit with our kids, but you could also do some kind of arts and crafts or game gift. Really, anything that will occupy them for awhile.

5. Be Prepared to Let Things Go

You might have a really high standard of cleanliness around your house (like me), but after your baby is born, you will need to let that go (Phew!). Get used to the idea of dishes piled up in the sink, toys on the floor, and unvacuumed floors, and know that you’ll get things back to things being neat and orderly soon enough. If you ferment food like sourdough and kombucha, be prepared to set all of that aside for a bit. Also know that if you have other kids, it won’t kill them to eat mac n’ cheese and hotdogs for awhile while you recover. If you homeschool, plan on taking a month off. Your kids will be just fine if you watch a bunch of educational videos for a while (or so I’ve heard).

6. Getting Sleep

You and your baby have just been through a lot, and you both need to sleep and recover. In my experience, however, during the first two nights, my babies have slept great, but not me! I am always so full of adrenaline and excitement. That in addition to the fact that I just can’t stop looking at my new little one and checking constantly to make sure they are still breathing. But even though I have found it hard to sleep, I always try. Just do your best to stay in bed as much as possible for the first few days.

7. Drink Plenty of Fluids

You’ll need to drink plenty of fluids as your body prepares to make milk. You will start out making colostrum at first to give your baby marble sized amounts of food at first, and then after a few days your milk will come in. It’s best to drink filtered water out of a glass container. If you drink out of plastic, you risk passing phthalates on to your baby and baby boys are especially susceptible to their negative effects. Phthalates can also cross the placenta, so it’s good to get in the habit of drinking out of glass while you’re pregnant too.

8. Eat Good Nourishing Food

As you are recovering, it is so important to fuel your body with healthy nourishing meals and snacks. Make some plans to have good food stocked in your house, frozen meals in your freezer, meals delivered from friends and family, and a few take out menus nearby “just in case”. After birth, I enjoy recovering by drinking plenty of raw milk, pastured eggs with lots of butter, grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, wild caught salmon, organic soaked rolled oats, and lots of fresh organic vegetables. Check out my recipes section for more food ideas.

9. Stay in Bed

Try to stay in bed and rest as much as possible during the first few days. Then, try to continue resting like crazy for the first week. If you can stay off your feet as much as possible during the first 4-6 weeks, and then ease back into things gradually gradually after that, you will be much better off in the long run.

10. Watch Your Blood

Use your bleeding as a guide to see if you’re taking it easy enough. You will probably bleed pretty regularly for the first two weeks, but after that you will see the blood lessen and darken in color. If you notice an increase in blood and it’s bright red, know that you’re pushing it too much. When your placenta detached from your uterus, it left a big gaping wound. This wound needs to heal and it heals best when you don’t move too much.

11. Enjoy It

This is not a time to “get through”, it is a time to soak in and enjoy. You are finally getting to meet your new little person, and this is a time for the two of you to really bond, get to know each other, and fall in love. I just love staring at my babies, stroking their soft skin, and cooing sweet nothings to them while they look at me with their quizzical expressions. I recommend writing down your birth story, taking lots of pictures and videos, and jotting down your feelings during this magical time. You will enjoy remembering and  sharing these moments with your children when they are older.

In Conclusion

You only get one chance to have postpartum recovery, so make it a good one. The sooner you take care of yourself and allow yourself to recover, the sooner you will be back in action and ready to face the world again.