(Well, maybe you’ve heard of a few of these, but some were certainly shocks for me!)
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So you finally get through a long, grueling 9 (but really kind of 10?) months of pregnancy. Maybe you were sick a lot, maybe you were some magical fairy who felt great the whole time, or maybe you were like me, where you had a little bit of everything — nausea, food aversions, intense swelling (I mean like, “where’d my ankles go?” kind of swelling) and more…
You finally get to the long-awaited birth, the one which you’ve been focusing all your energy, meditations and motivation towards this whole pregnancy. You survive the hardest and most intense day of your life and BAM, just like that, you’re a mom. Even though your baby is no longer on the inside, she still requires just as much of you, but your body also just went through some INTENSE trauma and you need to heal. As you begin to navigate this new postpartum phase, you should know about some things that I didn’t (plus some I was even warned about but have come to see in a whole new light having gone through it myself!)….
1. It’s going to hurt to pee (and to go #2)
While you’ve maybe heard this one, I’m just here to say “Yep! It’s true!” While you’re in the hospital, make sure to stock up on as much mesh underwear, massive pads and dermoplast as you possibly can. (That stuff is pure gold!). I had bought a fridet, which I used, but I also used the heck out of the spray bottle that I got from the hospital, too – warm water after every single bathroom use. I kept everything in a little basket near the toilet so I could always have it within reach.
I didn’t make those DIY witch hazel & aloe “padsicles” that you can find all over pinterest, but if I were to do this again, I probably would try to make some to stash in my freezer beforehand. I did, however, use a perineal ice pack that I bought before labor which was DEFINITELY worth it.
2. You’re not going to heal (down there) overnight
I know some women stop bleeding or lose their stitches before 6 weeks, but that just wasn’t the case for me. After about 8 weeks the stitches from my second-degree tear had finally fallen out, but even then it took quite a bit longer for me to feel remotely “back to myself” down there. 8 months in now it still feels different and I can feel some scar tissue from my tear. Your body went through a lot, give it time and space to heal.
(p.s. Don’t let talk of stitches scare you! There’s some incredible amnesia or something that sets in after birth and the early postpartum period, because I would somehow put myself through this all again without even questioning it).
3. Lochia smells godawful and seems like it will never end
Lochia is the regular (bloody) discharge that comes from your uterus after childbirth. I read somewhere that it shouldn’t smell, but everyone I talked to seemed to have a similar experience to me. It got so bad for about two weeks that I could smell it ALL. THE. TIME. I was certain that everyone could smell me, too. Maybe they could and were just being polite? I still don’t know. One thing I learned in all my research was to keep down there as waxed/clean shaven or trimmed as possible, as the smell can linger on hair.
I’m sharing because I was truly not prepared for this. I remember late night google searching to see if something was terribly wrong with me because how can one person SMELL SO BAD!? But apparently I was not alone. One woman likened the smell to a cross between old roadkill and a bloody slab of meat. Just thinking of the smell gives me anxiety and makes me want to go jump in the shower.
4. It’ll hurt to sit (and cough, sneeze or even laugh…)
Yep, it will literally hurt to sit. I mean, it makes sense — you just pushed a baby out down there. Be gentle and give yourself lots of soft surfaces (pillows, blankets, ice packs & heating pads) to sit on to stay comfortable. Donut pillows can come in super handy, too!
5. Postpartum gas is very real.
Think about it: all of your internal organs were just squeezed up into your ribs and back to make room for your baby. As your stomach and intestines find their way back to where they belong, there’s going to be some discomfort along the way. It wasn’t only that it was frequent, but since I was still healing down there anytime I passed gas it all honestly just felt (and smelled) weird and different.
6. Your breasts are about to change even more
You’ve already watched them change these last few months. They’re more plump, your nipples are larger and darker than before. (seriously, where did they come from!?) They already don’t look like the breasts you know, but yep, they still aren’t done changing. Around day 3 or so your milk will come in, and all of a sudden you’ll be hit with majorly engorged breasts — I’m talking like full blown porn star boobies. As you and your baby navigate your breastfeeding journey, your breasts and milk supply will start to regulate, but those first few weeks I remember feeling painfully engorged on more than one occasion.
7. Night sweats. And chills. And more sweats and chills.
The first two weeks postpartum I could not believe how intensely my body would both sweat and/or go into total teeth-chattering, full body-shaking chills. I would shake so badly from the chills that I could barely even walk or stand in those moments. I had to get to the nearest parka, comforter, or heating pad and throw about 10 more layers on me. Hormones, and specifically hormone drops like this are NO JOKE. The chills started while I was still in the delivery room and would hit at random times, day and night (though especially right after sweating a lot in bed at night).
I read that within about 3 days of giving birth your hormone levels drop from the equivalent of taking 100 birth control pills a day, back to nothing — just as if you were never even pregnant. 3 days! The postpartum hormone drop is considered the single largest sudden hormone change in the shortest amount of time for any human being, at any point of their life.
A note on sweating… I’m 8 months postpartum today and still sweating more than I ever did pre-pregnancy. And the other side of that is body odor. No one tells you that even though the lochia smell may disappear, that you’ll still smell like a stinky hippy with all your new postpartum BO.
8. Baby Blues
This one also ties into the hormone drop mentioned above. It’s very common for women to feel the “baby blues” in those early days as your hormones are taking a sharp nosedive. I remember being 6 days postpartum on Thanksgiving day, surrounded by family who wanted to hold and look at my baby, and all I wanted to do was take her into a back room by myself to hold her and cry (and sleep? and eat?). I felt such an intense urge to have her near my body as I was feeling so raw and emotional.
Also, just a friendly reminder that your baby was JUST INSIDE OF YOU. Up until now, you had a special bond, just you two. You didn’t have to share her with anyone. You could protect her, keep her warm, and provide everything she possibly needed. It’s such an insane shock, both physically and emotionally, to have that suddenly change. Obviously you are still the key provider for your baby at this stage, but you also have to share them, and that can get feel emotional and vulnerable and just plain icky sometimes.
It’s important to note that just because you might feel extra emotional in those first few weeks of postpartum it does not necessarily mean you have postpartum depression. Though if you find your thoughts venturing to a place that feels unsafe or if feeling sad or full of despair after the initial postpartum hormone drop settles, definitely make an appointment to check with your doctor. I’ve learned that postpartum depression and anxiety can hit or be re-trirggered at any time, not only in the first few months after delivery. It’s important to seek help and support if you’re having any intense PPA or PPD symptoms.
9. More contractions?!
Yep, you read that right. Contractions don’t just end when the baby comes out. You’ll notice that you actually have sometimes painful cramps and contractions (especially while breastfeeding as it stimulates a hormonal response from the uterus). These cramps or contractions are actually a sign that your uterus is working its way from it’s watermelon size across your whole abdomen back down to the size of a pear in your pelvic area. Even if you don’t nurse, you will feel your uterus contracting, but it’s definitely stimulated and felt by breastfeeding too.
10. Everything is soft
From breasts (when not engorged) to arms, legs and of course belly, I found that my skin just felt doughier and softer overall postpartum.
11. You will be STARVING
I was not prepared for how incredibly HUNGRY I would be ALL THE TIME while breastfeeding. It was definitely more hungry than I ever felt while pregnant. In those early days I would always sit with 2-3 granola bars or a bag of trail mix or nuts within arms reach, because I knew as soon as I started breastfeeding I would need to be actively eating and drinking water immediately, too. I was constantly making myself oatmeal (great for breastmilk supply!), or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to munch on at all hours of the day and night. I have never felt such intense cravings for CARBS too. Just make sure to drink a TON of water and you’ll be ok.
11. Your body may not “bounce back”
It took 9 months to put the weight on, it can take at least that long to come off. While some people drop the baby weight as soon as they’re heading home from the hospital, I did not find that to be the case for me. I lost about 20 lbs in the first week from childbirth and finally losing all that damn water weight that was making me so swollen, but I had about 35 more pounds to go to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. At 8 months pregnant, I’ve only lost about 7 of those. I’m the first to admit that I enjoyed some indulgences while pregnant. I personally found that all my personal food intolerances and sensitivities were somehow no longer issues while I was pregnant. Couple that with food aversions to literally anything I should have been eating (especially cooked veggies & lean protein), and it left me enjoying some cheesy/bready things – and they were delicious! Everyone says that breastfeeding will help you lose the weight so fast. You know what else breastfeeding makes you do? Eat. Sometimes everything in sight. As I said, I was more hungry while breastfeeding than I was pregnant. So maybe some people’s bodies can lose weight while eating to sustain breastfeeding, but I feel like between the extra carbs and my body storing fat for breastfeeding, that these last 25/30 lbs may just hang on until I finish my breastfeeding journey. As long as I’m keeping my baby girl well fed and happy, that’s ok by me.
While many women find they’re more susceptible to yeast infections while pregnant, some women (myself included) will see that actually happen more postpartum. I personally didn’t have a yeast infection my whole pregnancy, or first 7 months postpartum, but as soon as my period returned and my pregnancy/postpartum hormones stated to shift more, I saw a return of my yeast issues. Only this time, instead of vaginal yeast infections, I began to see yeast skin rashes (a completely new thing for me). For me personally, it also related to that extra sweat and BO, as I started to get yeast rashes in my armpits. I also almost immediately got a cold once my period returned, too.
It’s important to remember that while nutrition isn’t the only factor in yeast overgrowth management, it is a big one. I personally had a very different diet while pregnant and nursing those first postpartum months (due to food aversions and generally just starving all the time), and once my period returned, the diet changes seemed to have caught up with me in the form of yeast overgrowth, inflammation and a weakened immune system. It’s important to keep a healthy diet, to take your pre/postnatal vitamins and to keep your immune system as strong as possible throughout even your postpartum time. Once you add the fact that you’re getting very little sleep to the mix, it can leave you even more vulnerable to illness and infection.
14. You may feel over-touched
This is one I didn’t fully understand until I had experienced it. I’ve found that many times (especially in those early days when your baby is basically attached to you all day), you may not feel like being too intimate because your body has been so over touched and used for others all day. This is especially true if you’re nursing. some areas felt totally “off limits” to me personally and it was hard to feel “sexy” or ready to be intimate when I was feeling this way. It does start to change over time, especially as you aren’t breastfeeding as much, but it may take longer than you think.
15. Mom Brain
“Mom Brain” is very, very real, y’all. If you thought your sleep-deprived pregnancy brain was bad, just wait until you’ve been up every 2 hours nursing a crying baby who just won’t sleep.
I’m extremely forgetful these days, absent-minded, and unfocused. I find recalling names or specific words to be sooo much harder than it used to be. A mom friend of mine misplaced and lost her car keys in her fridge. I seem to be misplacing my wallet or credit card all the time and can literally never find where I set my phone down last. I have somehow missed multiple Dr appointments and seem to really struggle now with keeping my calendar updated. I have some friends with older children who said it literally took years for them to start to feel more “normal” again.
Hormones? Fatigue? I think we’re operating in such an intense survival mode those first few months/years, focused on keeping our babies alive, understanding their cries, trying to get everyone to eat and sleep, etc., that details like where they keys are, or new names of people we’ve met, literally just do not make it into our memory. In fact, recent research suggests that a woman’s brain actually changes after she gives birth for the first time, in ways that might help to promote caring for her child. Fun fact: I read that there is also research that shows that father’s brains can become changed as well over time with the more time they spent caring for their infants.
I should add #16….You’ve never felt love like this before
It’s true. The rush of adrenaline and oxytocin, mixed with a cute little button nose, big eyes looking up at you and baby soft skin you just can’t stop touching will just make your heart melt into little pieces. The immediate connection and continued bond that I’ve felt my daughter is like no other feeling I’ve ever experienced, and it honestly makes every single one of the things on this list totally and completely worth it.
If you’re about to have a baby, what else are you curious about?
Are you a postpartum mom? What would you add to this list?