Here, I wanted to catalogue the 10 major things I learned after giving birth. When I was pregnant, I made sure that I attempted to have the best pregnancy I could for my little guy sucking his thumb in-utero. I ate the right things (except for the occasional biscotti or a double chocolate muffin – no wonder Baby Mermy has such a sweet tooth!), aimed to exercise at least 4 times a week, and walked almost every day (the summer months made it particularly trying). Through it all, I also attempted to read up on what was going to happen once Baby Mermy made his grand entrance into this chaotic world. However, there are some things you just won’t know, understand, or accept until you go through it, regardless of how much you have read or researched.
These are some of the things that I learned after giving birth. Some I was aware of, but still unprepared for, and others I simply did not know. I hope that my experiences help you in your mama-journey even if your experiences are quite different from mine.
1. Looking puffy and pregnant
Once that little bundle of joy is expelled from your body, it would be nice if all the weight that was gained in getting him ready for this world would go too. Alas, that’s not how it works. I still looked about 4-6 months pregnant and was quite puffy EVERYWHERE! I knew that this was a possibility (a very real possibility), but I was intent on believing that it would not happen to me. It did. It was unfortunate that my driver’s licence expired then and I had to go in for new pictures. My puffy face is now out there for the world to see for the next five years.
There are numerous scientific reasons for this (which made it much easier for me to wrap my head around and accept): after giving birth, the uterus weighs approximately 2 pounds, which causes your belly to distend. About a week after, it will lose half its weight and by about four weeks, it should be at or near its pre-pregnancy weight; the belly will start to flatten out (or, in my case, get smaller but still jiggly). The stretching of the abdominal muscles also gives the appearance of a paunch, which will start to diminish with regular strength training and exercise of the core area. There is hope.
My recommendation: until receiving clearance from your doctor, usually around the six-week mark (unless your doctor deems otherwise), training the core is a no-no; however, showing your body love for the miracle it has just produced through walking, undertaking gentle full body massage (perhaps given by your partner), and practicing safe yoga moves will be tremendously soothing and helpful. Exercises such as these will also help in coping with the stress and exhaustion that come with being a mama. Remember, your body just produced a wonderful, living, breathing miracle; practicing the act of cherishing yourself is a wonderful way to thank yourself for your little darling.
2. Prolonged “period”
During pregnancy, the volume of blood in your body increases exponentially; after your delivery, your body will need to expel all this excess blood mixed with mucus, tissue from the uterus, and bacteria (known as lochia). As such, you will have something like a heavy to a very heavy period in the few days following labour. This will gradually start to decrease over the course of a couple of weeks and change in colour from bright red to pink to white or white-yellow until it eventually stops around the four to six-week mark. If you are curious to know more, you can find more information here and here.
Yes, it can feel extremely uncomfortable to have a heavy period so soon after delivery and to be on your period for a month(!) no matter what its consistency, colour, or heaviness. Many mommy bloggers birthing in a hospital have advised to other mamas to take as many of those mesh underwear and heavy-duty liner pads provided to you. Having given birth at home, that was not an option available to me. Yes, I had the mesh underwear, which I HATED (shock, I know), but I was only given what I needed for the first day or two. As part of my labour prep, I had bought heavy-duty pads (think incontinence pads-level) that were a big help. Investing in blooming underwear or “granny panties” was also a wise decision. This too shall pass.
3. Postpartum mood swings
Due to the hormonal influx in your body as it attempts to regularize itself post-baby, it’s very possible to experience some form of mood swings or a change in your moods in general. You can experience anything from exhaustion and stress-induced moods to the baby blues to the more concerning postpartum depression and anxiety. You may feel these emotions for a day or two or for a lot longer. Postpartum depression and anxiety are not to be confused with bad days. Please, don’t be afraid to talk to someone or seek help. We as mothers should not feel shame or embarrassment for feeling these emotions; emotional support during this time is crucial to not only our well-being but that of our baby’s as well. Seek help from family members to help care for the baby so that you can take care of yourself too. There are also multiple support groups that can be visited both online and in person. More information on symptoms and resources can be found here and here.
For me, it took a while before I started to feel some of the anxiety and anger that comes with the baby blues. I didn’t know what was causing it or why I was reacting so out of character. Papa Mermy had been subtly monitoring my moods since I gave birth to make sure that he was there for me whenever I needed him both emotionally, psychologically, and physically to do something. These emotions, however, reared their head around the 2.5-month mark and took us both a bit by surprise. I didn’t want to admit that it could be related to the baby blues and so I blamed it on everything but that (itself a symptom). Finally, I sat down with Papa Mermy and we talked it out, which helped me put a name to what I was feeling and finally accepting that I was going through something that I needed some help with. It was tough for me to ask for help, even from my husband because I thought I should be able to handle it. But talking about it helped more than I knew then. We both became a bit gentler in dealing with matters that were known stressors and we attempted to talk as much as we could so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed or lonely. About six months postpartum, I started to feel more like my old self, but I can honestly say that I needed that support from my husband during those tough few months.
4. Breastfeeding hurts
One of the most annoying lessons I learned after giving birth was that, contrary to the notion of how natural breastfeeding is, it hurts! It does not always come naturally and although babies know that they are to attain nourishment from nursing, sometimes they don’t go about it with the thought of how to prevent mama from feeling pain. And, as much as I want to claim that it was easy and glorious, in those early days, breastfeeding hurt so much that I would cry noiselessly (I didn’t want him to hear me upset) every time my little pumpkin nursed. But, I persevered and slowly, with my husband sometimes holding my hand as I nursed, it got easier. When Baby Mermy was about two weeks old, all of a sudden (almost magically), the pain started to dissipate: Baby Mermy’s latch improved. I am so glad that I stuck it out because, not counting the myriad of benefits associated with breastfeeding, it has been one of the most joyous and greatest bonding experiences of my life with my son.
A naturally heavy-feeling breast is normal once milk comes in, about 2-5 days after your little one makes his or her entrance. Breasts, however, can get engorged when either the baby isn’t nursing enough or having a full meal or you are separated from the baby, causing fluid to build up. This can be a rather painful experience, with the breasts getting hard lumps, the skin being pulled taut, veins protruding, and the breast feeling warm to the touch. The swelling can also spread to other areas with milk ducts, including the arm pits, which can be rather uncomfortable (to put it mildly). Because the breast is so swollen, the nipple doesn’t protrude as much, making it difficult for the baby to latch on. Some babies simply do not like to latch on to such a heavy breast either. In extreme situations, this situation can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis.
Relief can be had, however, by trying a few simple things. The first thing to try is nursing the baby. Nurse, nurse, nurse! Nurse as much and as often as you can to relieve the breast. Nurse in different positions as well: by either having your baby latch on while you are on all fours (which lets gravity do its thing) or switching up the nursing positions to allow your baby access to the clogged milk ducts (under your breast, on the left or right side, etc). If your baby isn’t keen or the breast is not draining fast enough, try pumping. It might take a while for the milk to flow as the pump has to stimulate any clogged ducts to release the milk but stay on it and hopefully, you will find relief. You can also try putting cabbage leaves on your breasts. I found that when my breasts were rather full and Baby Mermy wasn’t finishing feeds, putting cooled cabbage leaves on really helped with any discomfort, sometimes to the point of not progressing to engorgement. I’m not sure of the science behind this, but I can tell you that it works!
If you are struggling or nervous or have questions, please find your local La Leche League International chapter or a community breastfeeding support group. These women are here to help and the community is strong and comforting. They will guide you, help you, let you vent, and be your support system as you traverse the world of breastfeeding. If you can, hang in there; don’t give up hope. It does get better.
5. Hair will fall
This bugged me immensely! How dare my hair fall? During pregnancy, I had been fortunate to have an abundance of the hormone causing glorious hair: thick, luxurious, and growing like a weed! And then it all went down the drain. Literally. About three months postpartum, it started falling. Not just a few strands here and there but clumps. I just looked at the strands swirling in the shower or knotted around my hand and told myself that it would grow back once the hormones balanced out. A small part of me however, cried for the loss. It did not help that Baby Mermy LOVES to pull hair. So, I chopped it all off in the hopes that it would grow in thicker and that there wouldn’t be much for Baby Mermy to pull. Suffice to say that Baby Mermy got creative with how he would pull mama’s hair and the clumps are now in his hand rather than mine. At about six months, the hair fall decreased significantly and all is right with the hormonal world. I still haven’t managed to dissuade Baby Mermy from pulling my hair thought. It’s a work in progress.
A piece of advice to all the partners out there: do NOT point out the fallen hair in the bathroom, in the shower, clogging the drain. Pointing it out does not magically make the hair disappear. Picking it up, on the other hand, or quietly using Drano will be rewarded with a happy mama and that’s worth EVERYTHING! Just saying.
6. Babies do NOT sleep all the time
Don’t you find that everyone tells you that babies sleep all the time? Well, they don’t. Or, at least not when you want them to. Babies don’t know the difference between night and day and couldn’t care less when we want them to sleep; they sleep when they need to. Much literature has been published on baby sleep and so I will not delve into it here. I will say this: babies certainly do not sleep through the night like we do (if yours does, that’s wonderful – move on to the next point); a full night’s sleep for them is approximately five hours long. Now, some babies do defy these terms and sleep longer or shorter, and that puts across a very important message: all babies are unique. Rather than wishing for ours to be doing something like another, it’s much more worthwhile to accept the uniqueness of our baby and determine strategies to address some of their more challenging habits. They are babies for only a short duration; my thinking is to enjoy them and their individuality rather than waste time wishing for a baby who, for instance, sleeps at night. Eventually, they will start sleeping and so will we. This is not a forever thing.
I do not believe in sleep training; this is not to pass judgement on any who do engage in it, I simply don’t wish to. One of the ways we helped Baby Mermy nap during the day and sometimes sleep for a portion during the night was by wearing him (one of the tenets of attachment parenting). Baby Mermy would be lulled to slumber not only by being in close proximity with mama or papa, but also by the white noise provided by our heart beats, the coziness of being snuggled close to us, and the constant rocking motion. That was, and continues to be, an extremely sweet moment of time: it provides for a bonding experience that perhaps I may not have had any other way. When Baby Mermy was younger, we used both the Ergo Performance carrier with an infant insert and the Baby K’tan for naps/sleeps. Nowadays, if Baby Mermy needs to nap while we are out, I always turn to the Ergo because of its built-in hood that provides a dark environment for Baby Mermy to enjoy his nap. The K’tan is used if I need to give my back a rest when we are out and about because it’s a bit gentler on my back and makes carrying him both forward-facing and inward-facing much easier. However, our go-to carrier continues to be the Ergo.
7. Parenting does NOT take a break at nighttime
On that note, one of the most eye-opening things I learned post-baby is that parenting does not take a break at nighttime. I am a mama 24/7, and that means through the night when I would like to sleep but Baby Mermy would like to nurse/have his diaper changed/hugged/held, etc; it is my responsibility (along with his papa) to make sure that I’m (we are) there for him to fulfil his needs. You cannot spoil a child before the age of 1, so give them the cuddles, hugs, and love that they require in this time when they are going through so much (they go from being helpless babies to energetic toddlers in the span of 12 months – I know if I had to learn, develop, and experience as much as they do, I would be very stressed out!).
To make nighttime nursing easier, we practice co-sleeping in our household. It’s definitely not for everyone and you must adhere to the safety guidelines, but it makes it a lot easier for us to be there for Baby Mermy when he needs us to be during the night without disturbing our sleep so much. If I had to go to his room each time he needed me to, I know I would never sleep. This method works for us. There are great resources out there to help you decide if it works for you too.
8. You will develop mommy senses (especially hearing) incredibly fast, like within a matter of minutes of the child being born
This is true. The first night with Baby Mermy proved this to me. I was hyper aware of everything he did: every move he made, every sound he made. Honestly, I’m amazed I slept at all that night. And these senses continue to develop exponentially as you grow into your mommy-hood. I sometimes sit back and think, so that’s how my mom knew everything I did! You are forevermore attuned to your child; to me, that’s a beautiful thing.
9. You will either be extremely hungry, thirsty, itchy, hot or all of the above while nursing at some point
For me, this developed in stages. I went from being hot while nursing (bed covers would go flying even during the coldest of nights) to itchy (particularly on my legs, where I could not reach while nursing) to now being thirsty every time I nurse. It’s incredible: as soon as Baby Mermy starts to suckle, I feel as if I haven’t had water in days! I never experienced hunger while nursing, which I had been ready to expect, based on what everyone had been telling me. The thirst took me by surprise. Now, I’m never without a water bottle or a glass of water when nursing.
10. You will need to develop a thick skin because the life of hearing unsolicited advice/commentary regarding your kids, the way you parent, etc. is just beginning
To me, this is the most annoying thing I have learned/experienced after giving birth: having to put up with unsolicited advice. Sure, sometimes it’s good advice but the majority of the time it’s not. I’m the type of person who does her research and keeps as up to date as possible on new and emerging research on childcare, early childhood development, etc., so to be on the receiving end of bad and sometimes dangerous advice is rather irksome. I have to remind myself that people mean well (and if they don’t, for my sanity, I pretend that they do) and that I don’t have to follow what they say. I think more often than not, it’s the manner in which the advice is delivered that’s bothersome more so then what’s actually being said, although that’s bad too. If you are at the receiving end of such advice, just tell yourself that you do not have to adhere to or practice anything you don’t want to. Your child, your rules. Just smile, be polite, and where possible, hightail it out of there.
Whew! This has been a long post! But, I hope that what I have learned and experienced can be of benefit to you in your journey into mommy-hood (or papa-hood). After 8 months, although I have learned a lot, I know that there is a lot more learning to do and I happily look forward to it all.
I would like to add one more thing before I end: while I say how important it is to be there for your baby and meet his or her needs, remember to show yourself kindness too by taking the time you need to reenergize or even just take a breather. Parenting is not easy; you have to make sacrifices. Priorities shift and the carefree lifestyle of the pre-kids era will most likely come to a halt. Remember, this is not permanent. Eventually, you will be able to do the things you used to do, but in the interim, you will get creative and find joy in a different type of lifestyle with your babies that, who knows, may even trump the one you had before. Seek help when you need it. Take a moment to breathe and remember that parenting is one of life’s greatest joy and blessing. Enjoy it, revel in it, and give in to it. You will wake up a happier mama no matter how tired you are.
I would love to hear about the lessons you have learned as a Mama so far! Share them below!
United in diapering,