Postpartum Realities

Experiences and expectations of the postpartum period can be completely different from one person to another. Because of this, new mothers can become confused when their experiences do not align with what their friends or family members described. The postpartum period vary greatly from the beginning, especially depending on the type of birth there was.     


The physical recovery needed can be a shock if you does not know what to expect. There are so many false ideas portrayed in movies, television shows, and social media today! Most of what is portrayed makes everything look easy. The new mother on Facebook looks gorgeous with her flawless hair and makeup, smiling with her new tiny babe. Or in a movie a woman walks proudly out of the hospital the next day, walking easily and with no sign of a residual baby bump. In reality, most mothers are exhausted after delivery. Just think, either they have just spent hours laboring and pushing out a small human, or they have just gone through major abdominal surgery. In either case, the body needs rest! Most new mothers probably won’t feel like sitting through a photo op right after the birth. So how do women feel when they wake up still looking six months pregnant the day after birth? For many women, the physical recovery is not all unicorns and flowers. What then should a new mother expect postpartum?


The body goes through many changes as it adapts to no longer being pregnant. One of the most obvious changes is in the new mother’s stomach. The uterus does not just disappear immediately after delivery; it took nine months to grow to the current size, and it takes more than a few hours to shrink back! The shrinking does proceed much more quickly than the growing, though, and it is often shrunk back down by six weeks after the birth. The stomach can feel loose or jello-y after delivery since the water and baby are no longer keeping the uterus inflated. It can be a good idea to wear some sort of support after the birth, such as a girdle or even trying Bengkung belly binding. If there was a Cesarean delivery, it is recommended to not use these supports as they can harm or cause infection in the healing incision. Another major change the body goes through after birth is weight change. Many women can lose around ten pounds immediately after birth. This is due to the loss of fluid and the baby born. For many women, they continue to lose some weight in the days and weeks after birth as they lose fluid they have been retaining.


The postpartum period is also full of emotional changes. Your body has been producing and circulating numerous hormones over the past several months in order to grow and support the pregnancy, then deliver the baby. Once the baby is born, the hormone levels suddenly drop as the hormones are no longer needed. Women can respond differently to this sudden drop. Some women notice little or no change. The majority of women may develop some level of the “baby blues.” This is a feeling of sadness or moodiness often seen in new mothers, and it is not as severe as true depression. Mood swings are common. Many women may find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless after the birth of a baby. They may experience a loss of appetite, and they might get to the point where they just feel nothing. These are signs that the mother may be experiencing Postpartum Depression, or PPD. PPD is actually very common, and it is nothing to be ashamed of! This is completely treatable, and it is not at all a sign that the woman will have lasting Depression later. Hormones can have strange or bizarre impacts in the postpartum period. If you do not feel like yourself after birth and are unexplainably sad or have these strong feelings, please do not be afraid to discuss them with your doctor.


Bonding with the new baby after birth can come easy, or it may take some time. If you do not feel an instant connection with the baby, know that that is not uncommon. Different aspects and experiences during the labor and delivery can lead to a disconnected feeling in some cases. This disconnect is not permanent, and there are ways to support bonding with the baby. Birth partners may take longer to develop a bond with the new baby as they did not physically birth the child, but these bonds can and do form.


Skin to skin is a great way to encourage bonding with the baby. This method is also very easy to accomplish; it just means lying topless or mostly topless with the naked (but generally diapered) baby on your chest. Many hospitals now practice skin to skin regularly, and hospital staff are able to check the baby’s vital signs and gather APGAR scores while the baby remains on the mother’s chest. Research supports giving new families at least an hour of uninterrupted skin to skin bonding time. Spending time skin to skin is not only good to promote bonding, but it also helps establish breastfeeding and stabilize the newborn physically. Skin to skin has been shown to help regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, respirations, and even blood sugar. It also can comfort the baby as the position puts the baby close enough to hear the mother’s heart beat that he has become so accustomed to hearing. It allows the baby to smell the mother’s milk, and it is amazing to see a newborn scoot himself towards a breast and begin feeding all on his own. The birth partner can do skin to skin as well! Skin to skin has no detrimental effects, only benefits, and it is a great way to begin bonding with a new baby.


Feeding a newborn is another aspect that new parents must adapt for in the postpartum. Even if you’ve heard things like “feed the baby every two hours,” it is a completely different experience to realize just how frequently that is. Some mothers have decided in advance how they want to feed their child, and some decide to figure out what works after birth. The two general food sources for a newborn are breast milk and formula. Breast milk is full of antibodies and nutrients from the mom, and Colostrum (the first milk) is often considered the baby’s first “vaccine.” However, breastfeeding is not desired or possible for some families. Formula is formulated to provide the nutrients and calories that a baby needs as well. There are also specialty formulas that are great for babies with allergies or other specific feeding difficulties. No matter which option you choose, for the majority of women breast milk fully comes in by around three days postpartum. The first day that the milk comes in can be an experience. You may wake up and not recognize your own breasts! The breasts may feel huge, round, and hard. This sensation is partially because the breast tissue becomes inflamed; they are not just full of milk. Thankfully, this inflammation does not last forever, and for many women it is gone or at least greatly lessened by the next day. Feeding a baby can be a stressful experience for new parents. Is the baby gaining enough weight? Is he getting too chunky? Weight gain is stressed by many pediatricians as blood sugars may drop if the baby is not eating enough. First, take a breath; it is okay! Every family adopts their own feeding schedule and practices, and not every suggestion works for every baby and family. If there are specific concerns, your pediatrician can provide advice and recommendations.


For those who choose not to or are not able to breastfeed, breast milk still does come in. There are ways to stop the milk flow, but these take time. Options to help stop milk from continuing include binding the breasts and herbal teas or supplements. Binding and compressing the breasts can help stop triggering the breasts from making more milk, but this can take a few days or weeks. There are herbal teas, but like any other type of supplement, it can be best to consult your doctor before trying them.


The postpartum period and adjusting to life with a new baby can be hard. This adjustment can be made easier by having a good support system in place. This system can take many forms, from having family stay over, to having a friend stop by, to asking your church for help, or hiring professional support. For many mothers, the easiest option might be having their own mother or mother in law stay over and help. This gives the grandmother an often desired chance to bond with the baby, and she can help around the house. There is also the option to hire a Postpartum Doula. A Postpartum Doula is a non-medical support person specifically trained to support families in the postpartum period. They can teach basic infant care, help with infant care, help give the new mother a chance to rest and heal, and many do basic meal preparation and house work. A Postpartum Doula is a great option to have for postpartum support as they are trained in up-to-date practices and care.


Overall, the postpartum period is full of adjustments and changes. It can be difficult, but by preparing and knowing in advance what can be expected, it can be a rewarding time.