As a nurse, you would think I would know what to expect after having a baby. Wrong! I was just as surprised as the next lady, and I had even worked in the postpartum unit! After having a baby, your body goes through very large physical, emotional, and hormonal changes that can be difficult to manage if you do not know what to expect. Let me share some tips I wish I would have known about the time directly after having a baby.
Having a baby is a very large change on multiple levels. Being kind to yourself ensures that you are the best mother for your baby during a difficult time.
First of all, be kind to yourself. Both you and your little one have just ran the equivalent of a marathon together and are completely exhausted. It can be very easy to be hard on yourself, but give yourself grace as you learn about your drastically changed body and new baby.
- Must have products to pack in your hospital bag:
- Breastfeeding pillow for bottle feeding or breastfeeding- useful if you are breastfeeding, or if you plan on bottle feeding. Helps decrease the strain on your arms and back and provide you with support while feeding your new baby. These are also wonderful for protecting your incision after a C-section.
Having a nursing pillow will help decrease strain on your back whether you plan to breastfeed or bottle feed.
- Ear plugs and sleep mask- the hospital is a loud and bright place most of the time. Having ear plugs and a sleep mask to block out all the extra noise and light will help you get your much-needed rest.
- Super long maxi pads – you are going to need these whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section. After birth, your body gets rid of all the extra blood stored in the uterus during pregnancy. You will bleed fairly heavily for the first couple of weeks after birth.
- Hemorrhoid pads- very helpful for decreasing pain, swelling and burning after birth. Simply place a couple in your underwear and wear until your next pad change.
- Disposable nursing pads – whether you plan to breastfeed or not, your breasts will leak after birth. These will save you from staining your shirts and bras.
- Extra underwear- you will bleed pretty heavily for the first days after giving birth, so come prepared with extra pairs of “granny panties”, just in case you get a stain on one pair.
- A large water bottle- useful for both before and after birth. You will be incredibly thirsty, especially if you are breastfeeding. Drinking plenty of water is the first step in creating a healthy milk supply for your little one.
- Eye drops- hospital air is incredibly dry, and you honestly won’t be getting much sleep. Bring moistening eye drops to keep your eyes from drying out and causing discomfort.
- Snacks- bring lots of easy to eat and healthy snacks. You will be hungry due to basically running a marathon. Snacking often is important in helping your body to recover from birth and helps your milk supply to get established.
- Makeup and makeup remover– many pictures will be taken both before, during and after the birth of your little one. Many hospitals offer newborn and parent photo sessions the day after birth. Having makeup ready will help you not to look as exhausted as you are.
- You can ask for extra products from the nurses! Create a mini stockpile to take home so that you don’t have to go shopping so soon after coming home. Ask for extras of the following items:
- Pads- Now, I’m going to warn you, these pads look like giant diapers. But you are going to be very glad you wore them when your underwear is saved from unwanted stains. Ask for extras of these. They come in handy, especially during the first couple of weeks when your bleeding is the heaviest.
Stocking up on pads is very important for the postpartum period. Pads with wings are especially helpful in preventing stains on your underwear.
- Hemorrhoid pads- the nurses should be able to give you extra of these to help with the burning, pain and swelling down below. Putting them in the fridge at home also helps with a cooling sensation and will also help to decrease swelling further.
- Numbing ointment- your doctor or midwife may prescribe you a numbing ointment like xylocaine or lidocaine. Ask for an extra tube of this to take home. It is seriously a life saver, and helps to relieve pain significantly by numbing the area.
- Lanolin or other nursing nipple ointment- make sure you are applying nipple ointment after every feeding. This will prevent chapped and irritated nipples, which can make breastfeeding much more difficult.
- If you do not rest properly, your bleeding will increase. – Rest is important for your body to be able to recover properly. Push it too hard, too early, and you will notice your bleeding will increase. Take this as a cue to sit back and relax as much as possible.
- Talk to a lactation consultant – Breastfeeding is usually difficult. You and your little one are both trying to learn a new skill after being through the wringer. Ask for a lactation consultant to help you as often as you need. They are experts, and their one and only job is to help you and your baby learn to feed effectively. As a first time mom, give you and your little one some grace to learn this complicated skill together.
Speaking to a lactation consultant can ensure that your little one is latching on properly. This is important to prevent chapped, irritated, painful nipples (which can make feeding difficult).
- You will be exhausted. – Expect this to happen. Don’t feel bad about limiting visitors, or asking people to leave so that you can take a nap. Take care of your body and don’t expect too much from yourself the first couple of weeks after birth.
- You may lose control of your bladder temporarily- This is much more common following vaginal births. Don’t worry, this is completely normal, temporary and doing exercises like Kegels can help regain control. In the meantime, empty your bladder often, and wear a pad to prevent leaking.
- Take your pain medication before you feel you need to. By taking your pain pills around the clock for the first couple of days (every 4 to 6 hours), you will have a decreased pain level. I thought I might tough it out for an hour and see how I did. Boy did I regret that decision. Not only does toughing it out do absolutely no good, having a high pain level can increase your stress as well as increase your healing time.
Rest is a very important part of the healing process. Sleeping in the hospital can be difficult in an unfamiliar environment with cords, beeping machines, and a hospital bed to sleep on. Bringing earplugs and a sleeping mask can help.
- Frozen pads- you heard me right. This was the most amazing thing one postpartum nurse showed me. She would soak a literal diaper or pad in witch hazel, freeze it for an hour and then have you sit on it. It decreases swelling, decreases pain, and also feels great to sit on.
- The uterine “massage” the nurses give you is more painful than I initially thought it would be. Again, take your pain medication when it is due. This uterine massage is done to help decrease your bleeding, firm up your uterus, and prevent problems down the line.
- Your whole body will be sore the days after birth. I expected the pain down below, the tenderness, the inability to sit in a normal position. I did not expect my back, neck, legs and arms to all be sore. In all honesty, I felt like I had been hit by a bus. After thinking back to the 2 hours of pushing I went through to meet my daughter, it all made a little more sense. Again, take your pain medication.
Taking pain medication when ordered is very important. Pain that is not well controlled will increase stress and prevent your body from healing properly.
- You will continue to cramp for weeks after birth. This will also happen after you nurse or pump. As your uterus shrinks back down to its normal size, you will feel some cramping. This continues for the next 6 to 8 weeks along with your bleeding. Many doctors and midwives prescribe Naproxen, a type of pain medication that is very effective with treating cramping-type pain.
- “Rooming In” is strongly encouraged. Many hospitals are transitioning to not having a nursery at all. Sleeping in the same room as your baby is very strongly encouraged by the nurses, physicians, midwives and basically everyone else there. Sleeping in the same room as your baby is supposed to help you bond with your baby and is supposed to make breastfeeding easier. Although I understand the reasoning behind this, I did get a lot of resistance to wanting my child in the nursery for 4 hours one night. I was completely exhausted, sore, and just wanted to sleep without getting woken up by my child’s slight changes in breathing. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to ask the nurses for what you truly need. You are your own advocate.
Sleeping in the same room as your new infant will be strongly encouraged. Wheeling their crib up to the side of your bed will make late-night feedings much easier.
- There will be a lot of paperwork. This was one thing I wish I would have known about. Trying to fill out hospital paperwork, insurance applications, and Social Security card applications is difficult. Not to mention you will be bleary-eyed and sleep deprived. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand how to fill out the documents. There are also many how-to’s online including one from the Social Security Administration.
- You will bleed for around 6 to 8 weeks. Each person is different, but expect to bleed lightly for the next few weeks. Stock up on pads!
- Tampons are not allowed. On a similar note, Tampons and anything else are not allowed in the vagina for the first 8 to 12 weeks after birth. This allows for proper healing and prevents any infection to the newly open tissues.
- You will most likely lose some hair. After birth, there are large drops in many of your hormones. The result of this is often hair loss. Don’t panic! It will pass, but it can be quite alarming at first. Getting hair cut short, limiting how frequently you wash your hair, and brushing it sparingly can help to decrease the large amount of shedding to a manageable amount.
- The first bowel movement after delivery is not very much fun. Unfortunately those pain medications you have been taking can cause constipation, so make sure you are drinking plenty of water, walking enough, taking probiotics and taking stool softeners offered to you by your nurses. The hemorrhoids, tears, and swelling down below will all make the first bowel movement a little rough at first, but it does get easier every time.
The first few trips to the bathroom after having a baby can be difficult. Using a peri bottle to spray water into the stream of urine can help urinating go much smoother.
- Pumping in the first few weeks will most likely cause engorgement. I was all gung-ho about pumping to establish my milk supply and have a surplus I could freeze for when I returned to work full-time. Now in all fairness, my lactation consultant warned me this would happen, but I didn’t believe her. Looking back, this was so incredibly silly, considering this is the one thing she does for a living. My breasts turned against me, requiring to be pumped every 2 hours or I would risk extreme discomfort.
- On that same note, cabbage leaves can help decrease engorgement and decrease milk supply. Simply apply cabbage leaves to your breasts inside of your bra for up to 20 minutes between feedings.
- Tea can help with nipple redness and irritation. Simply place 2 black tea teabags into warm water, let it sit for about a minute, and place the tea pads on your nipples. Let them sit for a few minutes and remove them.
Getting your significant other involved early can help the two most important people in your life bond. Often times fathers and boyfriends are excluded from having an opinion while in the hospital. Include them in care, feeding to help them bond with their new little one.
Above all, remember to be kind to yourself. These are very large changes happening to your body, mind and spirit during this stressful and wonderful time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, get your significant other involved, and take a nap when needed. Hopefully this article has helped to prepare you for what you will face after the exciting birth of your little one.