Bringing home your baby for the first time is one of the unexpected joys of motherhood. Introducing him to the dogs, the bed, the couch, the bouncy seat: it is fun to start doing all of those “firsts” with the baby! The comfort of being able to snuggle and nurse my boys in my own bed while watching Star Trek and drinking my tea (yes I’m a super Trekkie) was probably the best time for me. I spent days in bed just taking in every little bit of them while enjoying integrating them into my life and introducing them to the things I loved. Eventually though, you start to get back into your usual responsibilities and if you are anything like me, you may find yourself doing all sorts of crazy housework. If you have other children who are home, this “back to reality” may come even quicker. I had the luxury of my mother taking my oldest for a week after I delivered my second so that I could recover and not be quite so tired and sore while trying to handle two little ones. It was a huge help, but of course, I also missed my oldest and it was great to have him back home.
There are many things about postpartum recovery that you may hear, and many things you won’t. You’ll probably hear a lot about other women’s accounts of their levels of pain and soreness after coming home. The key to remember is that there is no way to predict how your body will handle the return home. Being in the hospital afforded me the opportunity to sit around and do nothing if I so chose. But once I returned home, the dishes, laundry, and dogs were staring at me wondering why I was being so lazy and after a few days, the guilt got to me and I started getting “back to work.” Here’s where you want to accept any and all help you can get; if someone wants to come see the baby, ask them if they can throw in the laundry for you, take out the garbage, or watch the baby while you take a shower. We often don’t ask for help, even when we need it, so here’s your opportunity to ask for it without feeling like you are imposing. Your activity level will be dictated by how you are feeling physically and emotionally, so try to take it easy on yourself on both accounts. I realized I was doing too much physical activity when on my 4th day home, I began bleeding much heavier than I had since I had returned home. When I called my OB, she told me that it was my body’s way of telling me to slow back down. This wasn’t something anyone had warned me about, but it was nice to know that my body was trying to send me a message and trying to “push through the pain” (I had a 3rd degree tear so I was incredibly sore and in a lot of pain) was actually doing more harm than good. My OB instructed me to slow down and continue to rest with ice packs between my legs to help relieve some of the discomfort. Within a day of moderating my activity and tuning back into my body, I was feeling much better.
You Will Likely Be Exhausted.
I always tell people that even though I was never a big party person as a young adult, my late nights of socialization and nights where I got nearly no sleep, got up and went to work just to come home and go socialize again were NOTHING compared to the “tired” I felt as a new mom. This too shall pass though. Again, your body just did an amazing thing by giving birth; your body feeling tired is its way of telling you to take it easy so it can regenerate and recover. Nap when the baby naps, (this is how I became a huge proponent of safe co-sleeping) and don’t go on a spree of doing chores. Break it up into small tasks and do them every so often. Don’t unload the dishwasher, re-load it, clean the counters, take out the trash, sweep and mop the floor, sort and start laundry. Unload the dishwasher after breakfast and don’t worry about putting the dirty ones in until after lunch. Sort the laundry and let the next person who comes to visit you and the baby carry the basket and throw the load in.
Taking it easy is going to allow your body and mind to recover, as well as facilitate bonding and the nursing relationship (if you are breastfeeding). The more time you spend with the baby, (even if it’s just sitting next to him reading a book while he sleeps next to you - or in my case on my chest) is beneficial. Babies who are breastfeed and have ample opportunities for attachment and bonding their moms are at an advantage. Babies who do not get these things as often are at greater risk for attachment issues, social interaction difficulties, intellectual challenges, and many more.
If You Are Physically Able, Wear Your Baby!
Oh I can’t tell you how much easier it was to get stuff done when I wasn’t running back and forth between wherever I was doing something and where the baby was sleeping. I had a video monitor and I still had to check on #1 every few minutes because I was just beside myself with joy and worry (the worry eventually subsided a little bit once I got used to being a mom.) I had a Moby wrap, a generic sling, and a Baby Bjorn, all of which got a ton of use. Plus, if my son was a bit fussy, he usually calmed down pretty quick by the motion of being carried around while being able to rest his head on my chest. Here is a great article on babywear.
Use That Peri-Bottle (And Put Witch Hazel In It)!
I still have mine, and I STILL use them occasionally! Especially if you have stitches, you’ll love the relief of being able to rinse yourself with the peri-bottle both after using the toilet, as well as when you’re in the shower. I didn’t want anything to do with putting pressure much less touching myself below the waist after I gave birth, so it was nice to have a clean alternative to relying on wiping to clean up. Of course a little pat dry was necessary, but much less terrifying than the thought of wiping anything.
Try to make some time for yourself, and for your partner. Especially if you are nursing, you are going to be literally attached to that baby for the next few months (at least). It’s easy to get wrapped up in the love and responsibility of motherhood, but don’t lose yourself in it. Ask your partner or another support person to watch the baby so you can take a long shower or bath, or go to the store to grab milk. Even as little ten minutes to yourself each day where you aren’t responsible for running to the baby if he wakes up will help you retain some sense of your individuality. Also, remember that your partner may be feeling a bit sidelined now that the baby is here. It’s okay that you are paying so much attention to the baby, and it’s okay that your partner feels a bit left out; this is all part of trying to figure out and adjust to the dramatic change that your lives and relationship have just gone through. Trying to make a point to spend some time together each day will allow you to retain (or potentially restore) your intimacy and relationship so that nobody feels left out.
Here’s where I’m going to get on my soap box...
You can find my full article on Postpartum Depression here, so I won’t get too in depth here since this is about general recovery. It is imperative that you keep your eyes and ears open to your mind and body; if you are not beginning to feel as though you are getting back to normal, talk to your practitioner. Bringing a baby into this world is full of wonderful and challenging events. There are a number of symptoms of PPD, but not all are required for an official diagnosis. It is normal to feel tired and overwhelmed, but if you are feeling significantly exhausted and down for more than a few weeks, it may be in both you and your baby’s best interest to seek the help of a licensed mental health counselor. As a counselor in training, a mother who had PPD, and as a student who just completed a major research project on PPD, I can’t stress enough that it is not something you need to suffer through alone. If your practitioner just wants to put you on medicine, consider asking for a referral for a counselor in addition to meds (and ask if you can try counseling without using the medicine first.) We often feel alone (even when we are surrounded by support) and sometimes just having someone to vent to that won’t judge you or feel hurt by your feelings can make a world of difference. One of the most shocking things about the postpartum period for me was that it put a lot of strain on my relationship with my husband. Luckily, we managed to get through, but it wasn’t easy. PPD can also affect your baby’s development; if you are having a difficult time bonding or caring for the baby, the baby’s physiological and psychological development is potentially at risk. Of course, not every woman will get PPD, and their babies are not necessarily at a huge risk of being damaged; but there are ways to help yourself feel a bit better which will only benefit your baby even if you aren’t suffering from PPD, but still feel a little overwhelmed and isolated.
Everything may be wonderful and stay that way once you arrive home. If it isn’t though, that’s okay too. Having a baby is a life changing event in ways you can’t truly understand until it happens for the first time. Postpartum time is your time to reevaluate and adjust your life. This may take a while, and that’s okay too. Just like your EDD was estimated your recovery time is not set in stone so take the time you want and need to ensure that you can enjoy this journey of motherhood as you should-the best way that is right for you!
Go back to: Step #8: Initiating & Maintaining Breastfeeding
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