Thursday, March 10, 2011

Week One Post-Partum Advice

I hope these little snippets of advice don't seem like I'm trying to proclaim myself some sort of expert.


I'm just trying my very best and jotting down my thoughts about it, in case it's helpful to any of you out there.

I've been at this motherhood thing a little over a week now. I was taken off-guard by some things and well-prepared for other things.

Here are some of my thoughts about how to have the best possible first week at home with your infant (of course all of our babies are different in many ways, so take my advice for what it's worth!):
  1. Plan to Stay as Horizontal as Possible: I was shocked by how much pain I was in after the delivery. Maybe my pain was more severe because a) my baby was 9 pounds, 4 ounces and 23 inches b) my labor was 45 hours c) I had a small vaginal tear that required stitches and the local anesthesia they use causes swelling or d) all of the above. Or maybe my pain was similar to others' pain, but people just don't talk about it a lot. I'm not sure. All I know is that my perineum and vagina were incredibly sore. It hurt like nobody's business just to get out of bed. Seriously, I would waste five solid minutes trying to come up with a strategy for how to get to the bathroom in the least painful way possible. To promote healing, it's important to stay in bed, as horizontal as possible, according to my midwife. In those early days, the uterus is still pretty heavy, and every time you're vertical, it puts more pressure on your sore parts and leads to more swelling and a longer recovery time.
  2. Figure Out the Support You'll Need to Prioritize Your Own Healing: Because I tried to limit my movement between the bedroom and the bathroom, it was so, so helpful to have my mom and brother here to help that first week. Matt also needed to rest after such a long labor and his own sickness (by the way, he had to drive himself to the emergency room last Thursday during the middle of the night because he was feeling so awful). When I asked my mom to come stay with us after the birth, I explained that I really, really wanted her to take care of Matt and me, so that we could take care of the baby. I tried to convey that it wouldn't be very much fun at all. She agreed to come and spent the week preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us, doing dishes, running the dishwasher, emptying the dishwasher, preparing my herbal baths, holding Henry when we needed a break, watching movies with me, etc. It was super-helpful. Matt felt overwhelmed by how much he already had to do to take care of me. It helped that my mom and brother were able to bear a lot of the burden.
  3. Learn How to Breastfeed Lying Down: If you're going to breastfeed, it's important to learn how to breastfeed on your side as quickly as possible. If you have to sit up every time you breastfeed, you're again putting too much pressure on your perineum.
  4. Meet with a Lactation Consultant and Apply Lanolin Religiously: Again, this one only applies if you're going to breastfeed. I had done a ton of work to prepare for breastfeeding, but meeting with a lactation consultant on the second day was still very, very helpful. She was able to watch my baby feeding on my breast and make suggestions. It's so important to get the latch right from day one. I was able to avoid severe nipple pain, cracking, etc. I feel so fortunate! I really think it's helped to apply lanolin after every feeding. Also, I followed my midwife's advice to breastfeed early and often. After the first "sleepy baby" day (during which she said I didn't have to wake Henry to breastfeed him), she told me to breastfeed him whenever he wants it. She said he's trying to communicate to my body how much milk to produce. Luckily, it totally worked for me. Henry doesn't really fuss at all (unless I can't get my nipple into his mouth fast enough). His primary need right now is to eat, and when we satisfy that need for him, he is a very happy baby. Following my midwife's advice seems to have led my body to produce the right amount of milk. Henry is peeing all the time, and he's already gained eight ounces of his weight back after the initial drop when he was only eating colostrum. Of course I am knocking on all the wood I can get my hands on because I realize that I could still run into problems at any moment.
  5. Take Herbal Baths with Your Baby: Both my midwife and the back-up physician recommend that I take a Sitz herbal bath every day. My midwife recommends that I take them twice a day, with our baby. The herbal bath promotes healing in the mother and helps heal the baby's umbilical cord (contrary to the advice that you should never get the stump wet). Henry is completely soothed by the bath, and I love that skin-to-skin time with him. I also think it helped his cord fall off within the first week.
  6. Regulate Visitors: This issue has been a major source of stress for me. I really wanted my family to be here right after the birth because I figured we would need someone who was willing to do whatever we needed. Also, I pretty much spent the entire first week naked (must air-out those nipples!) and they are the only people I feel comfortable enough around to do that. However, Matt also wanted his family to fly into town for that first week. Although I absolutely adore and love Matt's family, I really think hosting two families would have been too stressful for me. In addition to family, there are also friends who want to visit. Don't get me wrong: Our friends have been a godsend! We've had two different sets of friends come over for dinner and conversation (in our bedroom, with me still flat on my back!). But it has had to be on our terms (which sounds so selfish, I know!). We've had to be honest with people and say, "I know you're trying to do something really nice for us, but that day just isn't good for us."
  7. Eliminate All Obligations: I have a surprising amount of time on my hands as I lie around and heal, breastfeed, sleep, and eat. However, I am still so, so thankful that there's nothing I have to do. I don't have to check my e-mail unless I want to and feel up to it. I don't have to write a blog post unless I'm inspired to say something. Clearing my plate of all obligations has really helped me stay as relaxed and stress-free as possible during this transition period.
  8. Stay Hydrated: Our bodies need a ton of water to perform optimally. At the beginning of the day, Matt fills up two, 40-ounce water bottles for me. We pour them into a cup with a straw all day long. My goal is to drink all 80 ounces each day.
  9. Get as Much Sleep as Possible: Matt and I try to go to bed at 9pm every night and stay in bed until 9am every morning. We're not perfect at adhering to the schedule, but it does work for us when we do (at least for now!). Henry breastfeeds on and off all night long, but I'm still able to accumulate a decent amount of sleep during that 12-hour period. Also, I try to force myself to take at least one nap while the baby is napping during the day.
  10. Try to Have Everything You Need in Advance: Having almost everything we need has been so helpful at reducing our stress level. We have our cloth diapers (which had to be pre-washed 5-7 times before use), disposable diapers in case we run out of cloth, cloth wipes (which I also use to wipe the lanolin off my hands), baby outfits, baby hats, extra food, lots of maxi-pads, extra sheets, a plastic fitted sheet to protect our mattress from bleeding, a comfortable cushion to sit on when I take baths, a thermometer, an Ergo carrier, extra thank you cards, etc. The one thing I didn't think to get was a thermometer for the bathtub.
  11. Make Adjustments as Necessary: Matt and I had two different plans for co-sleeping, one which involved a small infant bed on our bed, and another than involved an infant bed next to our bed. We definitely realized we prefer having our baby in the bed with us, but we quickly ditched the little infant bed because it takes too much room while I'm breastfeeding. Now we just let Henry sleep directly on our mattress, cradled safely between my body and my arm.
  12. Have Confidence: As a new parent, there's a lot to learn and experiment with. We just have to do our best and have confidence in the fact that our best is good enough. Being nervous about making a mistake is only going to detract from the experience.
  13. Focus on the Positive: I had one really down day when Henry breastfed for something like ten hours, and Matt was itching to get out of the bedroom so I was alone a lot. He was getting tired of my incessant needs, and I was frustrated that I couldn't take care of any of my own needs. I cried a lot. I decided, though, that after I let myself feel what I was feeling, I was then going to focus on the positive and be grateful for everything I have in my life. Yes, being a mother is hard but it's also an amazing opportunity--one for which I am eternally grateful. This particular time in our lives is very fleeting, and I should appreciate it while I have it.

Man, oh man. Every time I start making one of these lists, I start to realize that I can't possibly make it exhaustive because my own perspective is so limited. Then I start to question whether I should publish the list at all. Oy vey!

Please add your own ideas in the comments section. I would greatly appreciate your help with making this list more comprehensive. Thank you!

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Anonymous said...

Never had a bath myself but gave my baby a bath next day out of hospital. We went home in the day of the birth. And he was fine. I used to let all 4 of my kids when they were babies sleep with me and breastfeed whenever they wanted. Ps at least you got stitches. Congratulations xxx

Anonymous said...

I think your advice is spot on!

We spent a wonderful first week holed up in our bedroom, with nearly everything we needed within arm's reach. It was our little nest, and we kept baby in bed with us from the start. I have very warm memories of this time.

The issues you mentioned in number 13 are very normal and it may not be the last time you feel that way. My little meltdown happened at two weeks post partum, but just allowing myself to cry and talking about my feelings and worries with my husband made me feel 10x better.

I think the hardest part (actually much like after the death of a close loved one) is after the initial outpouring of love and support. When everyone else's lives are back to normal and you are feeling the full weight of what it's like on your own. It can be very challenging, but it is so rewarding when you realize you can do it.

Randa said...

It's so great that your first week of motherhood has been so positive and stress-free for you! I do think you have a nice list for those who are anticipating birth. I am so glad that you added your day of sadness - it's actually very common for mothers to get "baby blues" in the first week or two of birth but I don't think a lot of up-and-coming mothers know that it happens. I know that when my sister had her baby, once the euphoria of having her little guy died down, she got sad for a day or two and was worried that something was wrong with her. Not the case! Completely normal to have a small period of sadness after birth.

Even though you're coming from just your perspective, I think these lists are really helpful. At least, they are to me! Hope you and the little family are still doing well!

fresh365 said...

Thank you Sara- for both this and your birth story! I am 11 weeks out right now and am trying to prepare in every way possible. I will be re reading this again and again and sharing with my husband. Enjoy the time with your guys. xo

svl said...

This is so helpful! Thank you, Sara! I'm not pregnant, nor are my partner and I even planning on having kids for a while, but, like you, I like to read up on everything while I can and know as much as I can, so I can be most informed. Thank you so much for bringing up the after-labor pain. I assumed there would be some, but no one really talks about it. There's only been one other blogger that I read that has mentioned that she was in a lot of pain that first week, but she only mentioned it in passing. I would have never thought that I'd need to be horizontal, or to plan for my own healing (even though that makes a lot of sense!), so thank you for being so open and honest with us!!

Hope Matt is feeling better, and I hope you're all doing well, too! :)

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing! As a reader, I don't expect your thoughts or comments to be exhaustive, but simply a reflection of your experience. We readers can decide how many and whose perspectives we find useful. So please continue to share and don't worry if what's true for you doesn't apply to everyone--we don't expect it to! It's extremely valuable to get your perspective on this difficult, special, and seldom-discussed experience (days immediately post-birth). Thanks!

Maureen said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Sara, I'm adding to my list of stuff to get right now. I start my birthing class tonight, so your birth story post and this one are coming at the perfect time for me!

About the herbal bath - what kinds of herbs do you use and in what form are they? (whole, ground, etc.) How much do you use?


Anonymous said...

I just want you to know how much I appreciate the fact that you are taking time to write about these moments while they are fresh. I know there is phenomenal value in reflective writing--it's a different level of processing altogether--but as a pregnant lady who only has 10 weeks (or so) to go, I am soaking these entries up like a sponge. Thank you for making this experience tangible for me!

WilderMiss said...

Thanks for this post Sara! I find it so interesting. Also, I think you're blog readers are a lovely and enlightened bunch who realize that everyone's experience is different, meaning that everyone's advice is valuable and worth considering (especially when it's as well thought out as yours always is!).

I really appreciate that you're taking the time to talk about this things real time. I sometimes wonder if we don't hear much about the pain and challenge of recovery because women wait along time to journal about them, and by that point the discomfort is "in perspective." (Like the pointalism picture you were talking about in your birth story post.)

I would be super facinated to continue to hear about your healing week by week as it happens, personally.

Thanks for taking the time to write Sara! And congratulations!

redfrizzz said...

Very helpful. :)

*Soaking postpartum pads in witch hazel and letting them chill in the freezer before putting them in your underwear can greatly reduce swelling and help your vulva heal faster and thus help you feel better.

Henry is a doll!

Therese T. said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Sara! It is a lot to process and type, but thank you, it is a good memory to see later on, and good advice to give. <3

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I really enjoy the honest description of your life right now. I'm not pregnant but hope to be one day and I find your writing and thoughts so informative and just nice to read!

Perhaps Matt's sickness was a strong psychosomatic response to the stress of labor and really dealing with the baby coming into the world? I'm surprised (and you are lucky!) that they even let him into the delivery room being so sick! I do hope he is able to be there for you in this very important time. Sometimes the men really freak out--I know friends and family whose men did so!

I look forward to hearing more from you so please write when you want and feel up to it. I admire your strength! Take care!

Ellen said...

Henry is sooooooooooooooo adorable. I'm going to send your blog to my pregnant friend who really needs more info! Congratulations and thank you!

Carrie said...

So good to read this, Sara. I'm also taking it all in as I prepare for my own first week at home in 6 weeks. Last time I didn't really have the true "first week" experience because my baby was in the NICU for 5 days, starting on day 2, so we brought him home a week old, and breastfeeding had gotten all screwed up by that time (low blood sugar, had an IV so he didn't want to eat, was in NICU with nowhere for me to sleep, etc.). This time we'll hopefully be just 2.5 days in the hospital(another c section), and hopefully there will be no issues so we can get off on the right foot with breast feeding. Perhaps setting myself up in our bedroom rather than the living room is a good idea--will have to think on that one. Oh, and with the "sore bits" even those of us that labored and ended up with a c section had those--ouch! Note that some 5+ months down the line you may be going to the bathroom and feel "that pressure" all over again--although strange, totally normal. You're doing a great job!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Maureen: My midwife gives me the Sitz bath herbs. I brew 3/4 of a cup in 4-8 quarts of water. Then we strain it and dump the tea into the bathtub. I did a quick online search and only found this product:

I think it would probably be better to go to an herbal store and see what you can get your hands on.

Amy Delamaide said...

Hi, Sara. Just wanted to thank you for posting your experience. As someone who hasn't had any pregnancies or births, I don't know anything about it! I really appreciate hearing what surprises you and what is hard about it. Thank you for sharing!

Rachel said...

I enjoyed reading your perspective about your first-week-postpartum experience (and your birth story). I am so glad to hear that breastfeeding is going well for you. And you've already mastered the lying down nursing, wow! For some reason, this always takes me months to "get" (even w/ my third baby!). I think that the amount of pain in the first week varies from person to person, birth to birth. My first birth was probably the hardest to recover from but my second and third were much easier on my body. And yes, be gentle to yourself...those sad feelings definitely happen, and as a previous poster mentioned, may very likely happen again. There is just so much to adjust to, physically and mentally. It's very common. It's so wonderful that you have lots of help and are limiting visitors (something I wish I'd realized w/ my first - I was so exhausted by visitors). And so wonderful to get all that sleep! Soak that up! Definitely easier when it's your first born (to get all that sleep when baby sleeps). I love that you already ditched the little co-sleeper thingie...I thought you might find you'd enjoy sleeping w/ your little one. (I had that same thing w/ my firstborn and quickly ditched it as well). Enjoy that darling baby!!! Can you even believe how sweet and amazing he is??!!

jes [a mountain bride] said...

I am status post two days delivering our little girl and reading your #1 is EXACTLY how I feel. Yesterday I just couldn't stop crying...I was not expecting this pain...I thought for sure I would be able to jump up and feed takes me roughly 5 minutes just to sit myself down into bed! I still haven't had a bowel movement(too much information?) in 3 days now and I am TERRIFIED.

I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one with a perineum full of stitches...(my doc didn't let mine tear naturally...very unexpected and not at all something she does regularly.) I never heard/read about the pain of afterbirth in this way.

I apply TUKS every hour!!

Hope we have super speedy recoveries.

Anonymous said...

Your honesty is refreshing! And, don't worry -- all your pains (and meltdown moments!) are completely normal. I have been through it all & can just say that these moments are like waves: ride them out and they will be gone so soon, just leaving behind the little gems that are hard to noticed during those moments when you feel like you're drowning! Anyway, Matt feeling overwhelmed is perfectly normal, too. My husband when through that & later reflected that a large part of his feelings came from feeling like he was helpless to make me feel better (couldn't take away the pain or tiredness) or the baby (b/c baby usually wanted to nurse when she was crying). In just a few short weeks, he had figured out a way of holding our daughter "football-style" (my husband is a huge man, so this was perfectly secure for baby!) that she LOVED and wanted whenever she had gas. So they got their little niche going and it just blossomed from there! :)

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