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Everything you need to know about the postpartum period

Postpartum moms, let’s just clear a few things up:

  1. No, you’re not losing your mind. 
  2. Yes, it’s normal to feel like you’re losing your mind. 
  3. We know – people don’t talk enough about how hard this is!
  4. You’re going to be okay. Promise.
  5. We’re here for you. (Seriously. Hit up your mama community for rants/stories/tips on Mumli.)

Okay, with that little disclaimer off our chest, we can move on to the finer details of the postpartum period and what to expect. 

If you’ve just had your first baby, go YOU! You did a thing! You should be so proud of yourself. But we totally understand that you may be in a world of shock right now too. Just when you thought that the birth and delivery would be the hardest part (not to mention the nine months of pregnancy) the postpartum period slaps you in the face harder than you smacked your partner during the toughest point of labor.

The days and weeks after you give birth are actually ridiculous. You’re truly thrown in the deep end and left to navigate your own recovery while juggling feeding schedules, your baby’s frustratingly irregular sleep patterns, and the desperate desire to appear like you know what you’re doing. (By the way, no one does.)

Consider this your end-to-end postpartum guide. 

We’ve written this to share the brutal/beautiful realities of this sh*tshow of a time, answer the most common questions women have (like what’s up with your hair?) and assure you that you ARE up to the task of motherhood. You’ve got this

 

Firstly, what do we mean by ‘postpartum’?

The ‘initial’ or ‘acute’ postpartum period refers to the 24 to 48 hours after delivery. It often encompasses the time you stay in hospital, if that’s where you deliver. During this stage, you might be stitched back up, introduced to breastfeeding, skin-to-skinning, and generally freaking out about the fact a human just came out of you. 

The ‘delayed’ postpartum period starts when the acute postpartum ends. Usually you’ll be back at home, physically and emotionally recovering, and sending immense gratitude to whoever invented the washing machine. This part usually refers to the first 12 weeks postpartum.

We think that ‘postpartum’ can be applied more broadly – even six months after giving birth, by which time your baby may be eating solids, could be sleeping through the night (if you’re a lucky one), and you might be back at work or planning your return. But even after that, too. If you’re diagnosed with depression in the 12 months after giving birth, doctors will usually call it ‘postpartum depression’. 

If you ask us, once you give birth to a child you’re postpartum for life!

For the sake of clarity, in this guide we’ll be talking about postpartum as the period after you’ve been checked out of hospital, right up to the first time you think to yourself ‘hey, I can do this!’. 

 

What to expect in your postpartum period

Postpartum recovery

Right after giving birth you may feel like you’ve run a marathon, done 12 back-to-back F45 classes, been punched in the uterus by Mike Tyson, and then stayed out clubbing til 5am. You might feel exhausted, overwhelmed, joyous, emotional… Really, any range of emotions and physical complaints are acceptable here.

Your immediate post-birth activities might involve:

  • Being stitched up or receiving other kinds of postpartum care treatment.
  • Learning to breastfeed (or bottle feed if you prefer).
  • Cuddling the tiny human you just made.
  • Debating baby names with your partner.
  • Filling out paperwork.
  • Trying to get some well-earned rest.

 

In general, you might stay in hospital for 24 hours or so if you had a straightforward vaginal birth, or three to four days for a c-section birth. However, your postpartum recovery will last beyond discharge.

Your doctors will give you the lowdown on your postpartum care requirements. The specifics will depend on how your birth happened, whether it was vaginal or c-section, if you were considered “high risk”, and if there were any complications. You may be given a list of pain relief medications, and advice on how to eat well and treat any wounds or injuries. And yes, they’ll discuss how the f*ck you’re meant to poop.

Things to expect as you recover include the following.

Postpartum bleeding

It’s normal to experience vaginal bleeding (known as ‘lochia’) for a few weeks after giving birth, no matter what sort of delivery you had. You’ll want to have plenty of maternity pads on hand for this. Postpartum bleeding may start out like a heavy period and will slowly decline over the next few weeks. 

Let’s cover some common q’s about postpartum bleeding:

  • How long does postpartum bleeding last? – It may last two to six weeks after birth.
  • How do you make it stop? – Some women wonder how to stop postpartum bleeding faster. There’s no real way to do this. Treat your wounds carefully, take it easy and eat lots of iron-rich foods to replenish yourself. In the case of postpartum hemorrhage (abnormally heavy bleeding) your doctor may prescribe medication or perform a procedure.
  • When should you be concerned about it? – If something feels wrong, call your doctor straight away. Look out for rushes of heavy bleeding from the vagina that won’t stop, lots of large clots, dizziness or chills.

 

Afterpains

If you’re chilling at home with your newborn in the days after birth and suddenly feel like labor has cruelly returned, this is probably afterpains. It’s your uterus contracting and going back to its normal size, which can honestly feel as intense as labor pains and make you panic that another baby is coming out. 

Pain relief medication should help to ease the pain, but breastfeeding, walking and keeping your bladder empty can help alleviate it too.

 

Wild emotions

After your placenta is delivered and your pregnancy is officially over, your progesterone levels will drop off. This is the hormone that regulates prolactin production, so that will start increasing (a key reason you start producing milk!), and this could affect your dopamine levels too. 

In short, your hormones are instantly f*cked. So don’t be surprised to find your emotions all over the place as you recover from birth. 

Postpartum mental health

Not only are hormones fluctuating madly throughout your body after you give birth, you’re also often dealing with sleep deprivation, learning to feed, physical recovery and the vaguely terrifying realization that your life has changed forever. 

The early postpartum weeks mark a huge shift in your life. Give yourself space to feel any new feelings, and watch out for signs that you might need help with managing the emotional repercussions of this. 

Here are some of the mental health conditions that new moms could be up against.

 

What is ‘the baby blues’?

Three to five days after giving birth, you might find yourself a blubbering mess not knowing what the hell is going on with you. Know that this is entirely normal. It’s called the ‘baby blues’, and it may occur because of your body’s massive shift in hormones, as mentioned above.

It’s not easy and it’s not nice, so be sure to surround yourself with support, particularly as you’re recovering from birth and in need of rest.

 

What is postpartum depression?

This asshole can crop up anywhere during your postpartum. It doesn’t look the same for everyone, so there’s no one solution for how to treat postpartum depression. The main thing is being aware of what’s going on and getting help.

Postpartum depression symptoms can include:

  • Excessive crying.
  • Mood swings.
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Intense anger or irritability.
  • Changes to your appetite.
  • Changes to your sleeping patterns (that can’t be explained by a hangry baby persistently waking you up every three hours).
  • Feelings of worthlessness or that you’re not a good mother.
  • Thoughts about self-harm or suicide.

 

If you’re experiencing any of the above, or just not feeling right, your best bet is to bring it up with your doctor. Or at least chat to some other moms for perspective. Of course life with a newborn is hard as hell, but that doesn’t mean you just have to feel like sh*t forever now. It’s worth thinking about ways to get help.

When it comes to how to deal with postpartum depression, the answer will be unique to you. Some moms may just need more support from friends and family so they can catch up on sleep and self-care. Others may need to talk to a therapist or take medication to help them cope. 

Don’t feel embarrassed. This. Is. So. Common. About one in seven new moms in the US experience postpartum depression.

 

What is postpartum anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with postpartum depression. It can be characterized by symptoms like:

  • Feeling panicky or on-edge all the time.
  • Worrying about the health and safety of your baby (maybe to the point that you can never leave them).
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts about terrible things happening to your baby.
  • Changes to your sleep or appetite.
  • Being unable to sleep, even when the baby is sleeping.

 

You may not realize that you’re experiencing anxiety, especially because mothering is riddled with anxiety as it is! Perhaps it even started during pregnancy. Obsessively googling ‘solutions’ to every issue you face, or refusing to leave your baby can be a signal that something’s not quite right.

Postpartum anxiety is a problem when it gets in the way of your happiness and enjoying your baby, so it’s important to hash it out with a doctor and discuss ways to cope.

 

What is postpartum psychosis?

This is a rare but intense form of postpartum depression that can lead to dangerous thoughts and behaviors. It may include:

  • Hallucinations.
  • Paranoia.
  • Obsessive thoughts.
  • Excessive energy and agitation.
  • Attempts to harm yourself or your baby.

 

It only occurs in around 0.1% of new moms, but it’s good to be aware of the risks of postpartum psychosis and word up your support crew on what to look out for. 

If you’re ever worried that you or your baby are in danger of harm, call 911 straight away, mama. 

Your postpartum body

Your pregnant body may have endured some weird AF symptoms, but postpartum is a strange time for a woman’s body too. You may feel out of sorts about your body image at this time, trying to reassess your fluctuating bra size and decide if you’re still comfortable with your two-piece swimsuit revealing your c-section scar.

Take your time to get used to this beautiful new bod’. While you can appreciate what your incredible body has achieved to bring your baby into the world, you may feel differently about some of the new physical changes – and that is completely normal. Whatever feelings you have about your postpartum body are 100 per cent valid.

Here are some questions you might have about your body during this strange, confusing postpartum period.

 

When will I stop looking pregnant?

Given that your body has been expanding for nine months straight, it won’t bounce back overnight. Come to think of it, ‘bounce back’ is a stupid term. (Everything seems to ‘bounce’ now.)

Every woman’s body will transform differently after childbirth. It will, however, take around six to eight weeks for your uterus to contract back to its normal size. Expect a few months to go by before your abdominal muscles start to recover from being stretched apart. You might not ever look or feel exactly the same as before pregnancy, but that’s ok. You’re a new you!

 

Will stretch marks go away?

It’s entirely normal to get stretch marks during pregnancy. Applying creams or body oils may help reduce the appearance of your stretch marks, and you may find that they’re barely noticeable after a few months. It’s important to note though that stretch marks are a result of your skin being torn and damaged (for a good cause!), and that these marks may never fully go away.

 

Why is all my hair falling out?

Okay, let’s talk about postpartum hair loss. It can start early in your postpartum, and you’ll notice it when loose strands start coming away when you shower or brush your hair. You can blame it on the drop in estrogen levels that occurs around the time of birth.

How long does postpartum hair loss last? Fear not, new mom. It will only last around six months postpartum, and luscious new locks will grow in its place. Consider rocking a new hairstyle while these fuzzy bits of new hair sprout.

Life with a newborn baby

CHAOS. UTTER CHAOS.

Ha! Sorry. That’s a bit dramatic. And not entirely true. Yes, there may be moments of utter chaos as you learn to feed while timing naps, getting dinner ready and keeping the dog away from the baby’s soft toys (yes I’m looking at you, Harvey you literal son of a canine b*tch), but there will be beautiful moments too, like:

 

At times it’ll be boring. Like, utterly, mind-numbing boredom as you repeat the same routine over and over all day long (change nappy, feed, settle, clean kitchen, do laundry, make cup of tea, abandon tea as baby has just woken up). 

Just don’t get sucked into believing this is your life now. Things will change, and very soon you’ll have a toddler on your hands who will keep life VERY interesting… Maybe a little too much actually.

 

Adjusting to the mindf*ck of motherhood 

Becoming a parent is a shock. It’s all-encompassing. And you, as the mom, might feel like you need to do it ALL in these early days. If you’re breastfeeding, it can be so hard to leave your baby alone for even an hour or two, while your asshole of a partner can probably just up and walk out of the house whenever they choose. (That is, after they’ve helped you with everything they CAN help you with and brought you copious amounts of snacks, thank you very much.)

The best thing you can do as you adjust to life as a mom is to get vulnerable and ask for help. Intentionally seek out opportunities for self care, prioritize nutrition and postpartum recovery for yourself, and generally surround yourself with positive vibes (not nosy aunties who expect you to be a delightful host to them).

You might start to think about working again during your postpartum adjustment period. Take your time to consider what you want and get the support you need to make it happen. Whether you take a few years to focus on full-time parenting, or go back to work at six weeks postpartum; whether you work full-time or part-time – there’s no ‘right’ way to do it. 

Explore what you need, and what makes you YOU.

Dealing with sleep deprivation

New moms report losing about three hours of sleep each night for the first year of their babies’ lives. The multiple night wakings can drive you (just about literally) insane, but sadly this is normal newborn behaviour that we can’t be too upset about.

Except that we can, and are, upset about loss of sleep. Because it’s the worst.

Sleep deprivation not only makes you constantly cranky and comprises your immune health, it’s closely tied to legit mental health issues. Sleep deprived moms are 3.34 times more likely to develop postpartum depression, y’all. So in conclusion, you can (should) ask your partner, friends and family members for help so you can get sleep. 

If you’re a bit suss that your baby is waking too often, talk to your pediatrician about whether something else might be going on.

Navigating your new relationship dynamic

With a very demanding but very cute baby in your life, you and your partner probably won’t have as much time for each other. Especially when you’re in the postpartum stage. 

But not only will your relationship dynamic change, it’s not uncommon for you to absolutely hate their guts for a while. New moms can experience burnout and postnatal depletion due to a bulk of the responsibility falling on us (the ones with boobs), and this can lead to feelings of resentment.

Again, remember that this period isn’t forever. It’s a blip in the grand scheme of things. Don’t start rethinking your whole relationship just now. Instead, try extra hard to communicate your needs and prioritize time together. 

Sex? You will have it again eventually. Doctors usually advise waiting at least six weeks after birth to go for it, but once your postpartum body (and mind) are ready for it again it’s great to reignite your intimacy.

But sex aside, remember there are other ways to be intimate too. Touch each other, kiss, make eye contact and have actual adult conversations where possible (about things other than the gorgeous child you made together). Try to spend time together just being yourselves, not parents, if only for a few minutes. 

All this essentially summates to is that postpartum is a wild, emotional, physically challenging, confusing, incredible time in your life. At times you may feel like you’re losing the plot, but at others you might feel overwhelmed with gratitude that your pregnancy and birth is done and your beautiful baby is earthside.

Mama, you’ve got this. Stay strong and know that there are millions of other new moms around the world experiencing exactly what you’re going through right now too. Learn more about postpartum and motherhood from other moms by downloading Mumli.

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