I had a conversation yesterday with someone who is due around this time next month. She had just finished her breastfeeding class and a “home visit” by her birth center, Alma Midwifery. And she was kind of freaked out.
We made it through our pregnancy on a cloud of innocence. At no point did I worry about anything other than the health of my baby, but I admittedly worried about that a lot. A lot, a lot. I do, however, remember sitting in our labor & delivery class, looking over the chapter on postpartum recovery, and worrying way more about that than the actual labor itself. To me, labor sounded like a challenge. One I was ready to tackle. Postpartum sounded so painful and bloody. But I’m not one to dwell on what will be. I’m more of a here and now girl. So I poked it into a corner, in the back of my mind.
I also never gave any thought to what life with a newborn would be like. I led a very insular pregnancy, as some do. Adam and I hibernated throughout most of it, and the only advice I got was from Google, Dear Baby, and some other pregnancy blogs and websites. And my labor & delivery and breastfeeding classes through the hospital, which were pretty worthless.
So, when Bastian Wilde tore his colossal head into this world, there was a HUGE learning curve for Adam and I both. As I told this friend last night, it is absolute insane chaos. You’ve never experienced anything like it. You don’t sleep, you cry a lot, and it’s somehow the happiest time of your life. But leave all that for when s/he’s here.
What we did to survive was based on pure instinct alone, so I thought I’d share some of that here. I don’t think many of my (few) readers have any interest in this sort of thing (yet), but maybe someone like me (clueless) can happen upon it and feel a bit more at ease. So, here it is. My Top 5 Must Know/Must Have Postpartum List:
As a side note, I had a natural birth and have chosen to breastfeed for at least a year, so this list is pretty much limited to what that entailed.
You might be in a lot of pain. It might be nearly impossible for you to stand on your own two feet. That’s how it was for me.
I also know what a tough cookie I am, so when those nurses made me feel like it was weird that I couldn’t get myself to the bathroom directly after having pushed a nearly 9 pound baby from my body, and suffering a third degree tear, I said screw them and listened to my body. I laid myself out for over a day. I got a stupid catheter. I took my ibuprofen, and I had what must have been my very first panic attack in the early morning hours when I couldn’t move because my tailbone felt like it was broken in two and the tiny hospital room felt like it was caving in on me.
But I held in there. And when the “tough love” nurse came in the next day, and told me that she had c-section mothers up and ready to go before me, I took a shaky, nauseating walk around the wing. Not because she had guilted me into it, but because I was ready.
What I’m trying to say is listen to your body. Don’t give in, but listen and allow yourself what you need. You just made it through one of the top 5 most difficult things you will ever go through (depending on how many children you have); you deserve to feel your way through this. You are not any other mother who gave birth before you. You are you and you can take your time.
On that note, we visited Adam’s sister Sabrina the day she gave birth, naturally, and she was up and social and walking straight. I tried to tell myself, Bastian’s head was way bigger than Calvin’s and I’m a bit smaller, but really, who cares? I know how tough I was. I know what I needed. And that’s my birth story. And yours will be yours.
What I can recommend in regards to this is a squeezy bottle for toilet baths (if you’re like me, a shower may sound like instant death), an inflatable donut, natural stool softeners up the wah-zoo (not literally, but you catch my drift), a refill of that 600 mg ibuprofen, witch hazel pads, and LARGE pads. Oh, and steal as much of the hospital pads and little bicycle short underoos that you can fit into your bag. You’ll thank your lucky stars for all of these things.
Your milk will come in and it will be INSANE. Maybe they covered this in our breastfeeding class, but what did I care at the time? And perhaps my mother just forgot to mention that a day or so after we had our new baby home, my breasts would be 10 times their original size, hard as a rock, gushing milk, and intolerably aflame. I know the nurses definitely forgot this lovely little tidbit.
This was grueling and confusing and just one other thing to add to the list of painful, weird, maddening, exhilarating, incredible things I was already going through. If your experience is anything like mine, I highly recommend stocking your bedside table, and all other areas where you and your baby will by lying around, with piles and piles of really absorbent cloth diapers. We used thin T-shirt rags and with no washer/dryer, Adam was constantly hand washing the milk out of them and drying them along the railing of our loft bedroom. It was not pretty or efficient.
I also recommend not putting your new baby in clothes. He or she will get soaked on a regular basis, while the two of you are trying to figure these crazy shenanigans out. Crank the heat up and get down with some serious skin to skin action; it will make your life so much easier in those first few weeks.
Breastfeeding might hurt. It did for me. As one awesome Lactation Consultant named Randy put it, after I broke down and finally let Adam take me to her, “it’s like skinning your knee and then proceeding to rub it again and again on the pavement.”
I was finally convinced to go to the professionals after I got a crack – yes, a crack – in my left nipple. After reading countless articles on how I should just ignore it and keep nursing, matched with countless more articles on how cuts can lead to this terrible thing called mastitis, I needed help. She got my midwife to prescribe an incredible “all purpose nipple cream” that I used very, very sparingly. It has steroids in it – nothing you want to use any more than you absolutely have to. But it cleared up so flippin’ fast. Let this be a lesson to you, if you’re having trouble, make an appointment to see a lactation consultant in person, asap. You’ll be exhausted and getting dressed in real clothes will sound totally impossible, but do it. She will help you in so many ways and on so many levels. I cannot stress this enough.
Right now, while there’s still time, go get several button-down shirts. Make sure they’re smart, stylish, and oversized. You won’t have to think about what to wear and Mr. or Ms. baby cakes will have instant access to the good stuff. This really could be the difference between you staying home or actually leaving the house once or twice in that first month.
On this same note, the dreaded nursing bra. I account my one and only (fingers crossed, knock on wood) case of mastitis to the underwire nursing bra. Don’t do it. In fact, screw the nursing bra altogether unless you have one without underwire that actually feels good and won’t cost you over 50 bucks. I did finally find a super comfortable, cute-ish one at Target. Other than that, it’s been all about the easy access, tight camis and those cami/bra deals. I got a few at Forever 21, but I see them everywhere now; Free People, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters. Anything stretchy with a tiny spaghetti strap will be your best friend. And in those first few months, something with a little “control” around the tummy will do your transitioning, new mama bod some good.
On to the nursing pads. Oy vey. I tried every kind – Johnson & Johnson, Medela, organic cotton, Lily Padz. You name it, I tried it. And all I use now are Lansinoh. I buy them in bulk on Amazon. This is one of my few environmentally unsound splurges, but it is sooooo worth it.
This is another one of those necessary tidbits that no one told me about. And maybe it’s just a personal thing, but you will never catch me with milk on my shirt. More often than not, these things have saved me from just that – the dreaded let-down in a public place, and they come with a set of Lansinoh freezer bags, so there’s another plus.
Writing this list really made me realize just how much I have to share on the subject. So you can expect another Top 5 list just around the bend. Maybe something on the old hospital bag, or going back to work. We’ll just see. And if you aren’t pregnant and have gotten this far, you must be planning on it one day. Consider yourself unnecessarily prepared.