I was going to wait until February to start posting again, but knowing several of you are getting close to your due dates, I wanted to share the things I didn’t expect (or people were too shy to tell me) about dealing with labor and life after giving birth outside of the whole “buy lots of diapers, diaper wipes, and nursing pads!”
Keep in mind, I had an easy birth; I didn’t tear, and though I had 68 hours of prodromal labor, my active labor was very short, as was the pushing period. Plus, Asa latched well, nurses well, and sleeps pretty dang good for a nine-day-old baby. So if you have it harder than me, you’ll want to pay even more attention to these things!
I had a completely natural and drug-free labor. I’m not going to lie: it hurt. Obviously. But nobody can tell you how much labor is going to hurt; you just have to do it yourself and find out, unfortunately! However, keep these things in mind, and labor will be much, much easier for you!
- Up until you go into actual labor, rest as much as possible. As mentioned, I had 68 hours of prodromal labor that, in three days, only progressed me to barely 2cm dilated. If this happens to you, listen to your body first. Everyone told me to walk around and speed things up, but my prodromal labor was not the type that stopped when I moved. It got worse when I moved, to where I was in tears and couldn’t even take a step for the pain. For three days. And my midwife told me to rest, so I rested.
- Learn how to breathe. Pre-labor, I did this yoga video on YouTube, and it helped SO much with knowing how I was going to need to breathe during labor. We didn’t take any Lamaze classes at all, or anything to help us know what labor would be like… and personally I didn’t feel like I needed to. But knowing how to breathe through contractions is so essential to keeping calm and getting through each one!
- Have a focus point. Throughout labor, the one thing I did that helped — other than the breathing — was squeezing my husband’s hand. I tested other things, such as making noise through the contractions or tapping my other hand on the side of the tub, but those things just made me more aware of how much pain I was in. Keeping quiet, breathing slowly and rhythmically, and squeezing Mr. Owl’s hand kept me feeling calm, in control, and as though I could get through the contractions one at a time.
- Do what makes you feel better, and remember that these pains are good. Some people get through contractions by walking. Others, by making noise. Others, by resting. Personally, I was in the tub the entire time I was in active labor, and I kept as still as possible. But if moving around makes you feel more in control, do that! And with every contraction, especially as they get stronger, remember: your body is moving that baby down and out into the world, and soon you will see a beautiful new life! I remember thinking, as the contractions got more intense — “He’s moving down. He’s moving down. This is good.”
- Don’t be afraid of pushing. You guys, believe me. Pushing feels awesome, because your body knows that’s what you’re supposed to be doing when the time comes. Labor is so much more painful than pushing. (And a few tips my midwife told me about pushing: hold your breath, don’t allow ANY sound to come out, have people push on your feet, relax your legs, and push as hard and as long as you possibly can. It’s hard work, but the more you do those things, the quicker it will be over!)
- And lastly… just don’t be afraid. Labor hurts. It is intensely painful, and I cannot lie to you about that. But being afraid will only make things worse. Your body was made for this. You were designed with birthing in mind, and unless complications arise, you will get through it. You can. Because your body was made to do it.
On to the next part, which is longer!
- For the first three days after giving birth, have someone support-walk you everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. No matter how close it is, no matter how awkward it might be (but trust me, after having a baby, things aren’t as awkward as they were) don’t try to do it by yourself. I don’t care if it’s your mom, your best friend, your husband, your sister… whoever it is, don’t try walking by yourself. I literally had my husband holding onto my waist as I went up and down our stairs, and seating me on the toilet for the first two days. Your stomach muscles will be so shot from being stretched for nine months that it’ll be hard to breathe, much less stand up and sit down by yourself!
- Immediately after giving birth, once they finally let you stand up, you might faint. Or get lightheaded, anyway. My midwife had me stand up about two hours after I had Asa, and we got all the way to the toilet and had me draining off some blood (TMI? Sorry) when suddenly everyone sounded far away and the midwife was hurriedly getting me off the toilet and back to the bed. Apparently, I hadn’t stood up in so long that all the blood went straight to my feet, and I probably would have blacked out if she hadn’t acted so quickly. It happens. Don’t worry about it.
- For the first week — or two weeks–, don’t do anything. I felt pretty good on the second day, so I acquiesced to doing a few things that mostly required sitting once we got there … and regretted it the next day. And then again on the fourth day, I felt good enough I decided we should go to Target and I’d take it really slow — it took us an hour to walk through the store for what would normally be a 15 minute trip — and the next day I paid for it! So sit, rest, enjoy your baby, and leave everything you can up to whomever you can get to come over to help. Or let your husband do it, if he can.
- If you have to ride in the car, bring a pillow! Two days after Asa’s birth, we had to go to the midwife to check him out and make sure he was all good. It’s an hour ride there. And then, we went to my in-laws and a few other places where I just sat in the car. Car rides are easy, right? But car seats… at least ours… are not comfortable when you’ve just given birth, and by the time we got home my rear end was so sore, and I had chafed parts that were supposed to be healing. It killed. Bring the softest pillow you have, because you will really need the padding.
- Make these. Lots of them. I actually only made mine with witch hazel and aloe vera, but the jojoba oil would probably be helpful too. And they’re incredibly soothing if you have tender spots below. Plus, they’ll keep things disinfected. Also, buy yourself a pack of size 4 diapers to wear for the first few days and at night, to prevent leaking. I set the pads in the diapers until I no longer had heavy bleeding. (Note: the bleeding is normal, because your uterus needs to clean itself out. But if you soak more than 4 pads in an hour, notify your doctor or midwife, because that could be bad.)
- If it stings to pee, drink more water. Drink so much water you’re still getting up to pee every time you feed the baby, if not more. I thought I was drinking a good amount of water, and for the first two days I figured the stinging while peeing was just a result of my needing to heal. But then it started to get worse and worse, and I made the mistake of thinking “I don’t want to pee, so I’m going to drink as little as possible.”
Not only does that lower your milk supply and generally make you less hydrated, but it also makes your pee sting even worse. More water = watered down pee. And the more watery your pee is, the less it will hurt coming out. So drink a ton!
- Take lots of naps. This is a common bit of advice, but I have more to add: if you are lucky enough to have someone come help you, let them take the baby after you feed it, and nap without the baby in the room. I try to sleep with Asa in the late mornings after I’ve fed him, but I’m not quite used to his noises yet so I don’t get much rest. But don’t try to stay awake and be brave. You need sleep too!
- Let your husband sleep next to the bassinet (if you use one). You won’t be able to get the baby out or check it in the middle of the night anyway. Let him hand you the baby, unwrap the baby, tuck the baby in, change the diapers (if he’s brave enough)… just make him the new baby-carrier for a while. He didn’t get to bond with this kid for nine months and you did. It’s his turn!
- Eat lots of (healthy) food. Your body needs healthy fats, protein, and calories especially to replenish, heal, and produce nutrients for that baby you are now going to feed… from your body. Plus, the healthier you eat, the less chance there is that something you’re eating is going to affect your baby (Asa is definitely affected by the same foods I am, so I have to be careful of dairy and legumes especially!) As well, eat lots of veggies with fiber and fruits, because you don’t want to get constipated later. So… eat. And don’t worry about trying to lose weight, because:
This is what happens in one week of breastfeeding. Amazing, huh?
- Be prepared for more contractions. Of a different kind. Your uterus needs to contract back down to its proper place, and this will happen when you breastfeed especially. However, it’s more like period cramps than labor, and sometimes you might not even feel it. But if you do, feel assured that it’s just your body working properly!
Bonus fact: You will also have a lot of gas as your innards move back into place. It’s so fun. (Not.)
- Take proper care of your… um… tender parts. I don’t know a tactful way to talk about this, you guys, so we’ll just put it out there: you’ve been stretched, possibly torn, and you’re bleeding from a delicate place, and it needs a lot of care. Like I mentioned in point four, make some padsicles to help with swelling and healing. Use diaper wipes for the first few days to dab (no wiping!) away as much as you can (I used Huggies Natural Care baby wipes), and then once the diaper wipes start feeling worse rather than better — after day four or so, the cold and the astringent of the diaper wipes I was using just hurt more than helped — start using warm water on (very soft) toilet paper. But keep using the witch hazel and aloe vera to help everything heal up! I actually dab aloe vera directly on the stinging bits before getting up, and it seems to have helped a ton. And remember, drinking lots of water is also part of taking care of everything!
- Just in case, get some cranberry juice or cranberry pills. It’s possible you could get a urinary tract infection while you’re healing up, especially if you don’t drink enough fluids. I took cranberry pills at the first feeling of a possible infection, and so far I’ve been safe. Azo is a good brand of natural care pills.
- Learn how to get your baby to latch properly. Ask if they don’t tell you! Asa latched and nurses just fine, and breastfeeding so far has been painless. But if you don’t know how to get your baby to latch– and sometimes that means you’ll have to hold the baby in an odd position — breastfeeding will be very painful. Also, keep some lanolin on hand in case of dryness. I tend to be a moisturizer freak, so I haven’t had cracking or dryness, but I know many people who do, and they swear by lanolin! I’ve heard Medela has the best brand.
- Your baby is going to peel. It’s normal. After being in the womb for nine months, this world is quite a bit less hydrated, and skin is eventually going to start peeling off. But don’t worry! Just put some lotion on it (I use coconut oil), resist picking, and let it flake off by itself. Usually when I put lotion on the peeling, it rubs off as I’m hydrating his skin.
- Get a belly band, and some high-waisted yoga pants. You might feel dorky, but at least your stomach will have more support (and it’ll boost your confidence, if you don’t already feel skinnier without a baby in your stomach.)
- Rest, rest, and rest some more. I know I said this already, but it’s something I have to remind myself to do daily now that it’s been nine days and my body feels like I could be normal again. Your below parts will take a lot longer than the rest of you to bounce back, and walking around will chafe no matter what. So rest as much as humanly possible. Get people to come over and cook and clean for you so that you don’t feel compelled to get up and do it yourself. Tie yourself to a chair if you have to. And for goodness sake, don’t even think about trying to work out OR diet yet. You just had a baby. That’s basically like climbing a mountain, only harder.
- And of course: never be afraid to ask for help if anything happens that feels wrong to you.
Edit: You may get a postpartum PUPPs rash on your belly — as I have just gotten in the last two days– or other places. This, apparently, is normal, and the only way to get rid of it is with consistent moisturizing and… waiting. You can also use anti-itch creams to help alleviate the itching whether you’re pregnant or not. My midwife suggested Sarne, Eucerin, or Benadryl cream but none of these worked for me. The lotion that helped me the most was Aveeno Anti-Itch lotion with calamine in it. You can find this in the first-aid area of your grocery store.
Anything to add? Any questions to ask? Please, please feel free to pipe in with any advice or questions, no matter how awkward. I have no qualms sharing any sort of experiences I have had so far that I can help other people avoid or make easier, so don’t be afraid to ask me personal questions! If you like, you can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org with the more delicate questions. Also, check out the post on Facebook for more comments and advice!
I hope all of you first-time expectant moms out there are having wonderful pregnancies! Don’t stress if your baby is a few days late– Asa was born six days after his projected due date (well, just after midnight on the sixth morning), and that turned out to be the perfect time for him to be born.