Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Most people know that the postpartum period will be a time of major adjustments, of falling in love with your baby, of sleepless nights and newborn cries and a wide range of emotions. You may imagine being swarmed by family and friends who want to help you, or you may imagine doing it all on your own. It is a time of physical recovery, emotional adjustment, bonding, support, and caring for your newborn.
Bonding and Emotional Adjustment
You will most likely spend a lot of time during pregnancy thinking about what it will be like once your baby is ’’earthside’’. Most people look forward to the moment when they meet their baby and feel that rush of oxytocin, that piece of destiny clicking into place, that part of you becoming whole. What people don’t often talk about is the fact that that feeling isn’t always instantaneous; and you know what? That’s OK! Most people look back on the moment that they first saw their baby and remember it as being as magical as they had always hoped it would be, but it might take some time to get there. It is common for people to think, ‘’is this really my baby?’’ typically by the time your baby is four months old you will have developed a routine, you will have had some time to get to know each other, and you will say ‘’Yes! This is my baby!’’
Bonding can take time, and that is normal. You can help yourself bond with your baby by holding them, rocking and swaying with them, singing or reading to them, feeding them, bathing them, getting to know their facial expressions and their cues. Many experts say that the first three months are actually the ‘’fourth trimester’’, and there are many benefits for you and your baby if you spend as much time holding them as possible. You also need to look after YOU, so don’t be afraid to take a break when you can!
This may be your first baby or your sixth, and either way your new family will go through a series of adjustments. There may be financial hurdles, and that can cause stress, whether you are a single parent or with a new or long term partner. This is also a time of change for you and your partner; you may not have as much time together or as much energy for each other. Remember that this will change with time, and try to make time for yourselves and to be together, even if its very brief.
Some people experience additional challenges such as a Postpartum Mood disorder, varying in severity from the common ‘’Baby Blues’’ (experiencing sadness for the first couple of weeks postpartum) to ‘’Postpartum Depression or Anxiety’’ or ‘’OCD’’ to ‘’Postpartum Psychosis’’ (1 in 1000 women experience hallucinations or delusions and need medical help right away.) The important thing is to seek help when you need it, from a trusted friend, Postpartum Doula, your care provider or a counselor. People who experience a Postpartum Mood disorder are not at fault and can be treated and return to a normal life with their baby. Remember that no parent is perfect, no baby is perfect (or, is every baby perfect?), no relationship is perfect, and that you are doing your best. The postpartum period will most likely come with many things that you didn’t expect.
I myself have attended a couple of births where the birthing person latter said, ‘’I wish I had known about the after pains of birth.’’ I had learned in my Doula training that the after pains were nothing compared to labour, and I got the impression that that was all I needed to tell my clients, so as not to ‘’scare them’’. After experiencing their disappointment at not knowing, I now see that people should be prepared. It may not compare to the intensity you felt during labour, but your body will most likely feel quite sore after bringing a new life into the world, and that is perfectly normal. There are many things you can take for pain relief if you feel the need, which could be herbal, medications (speak with your provider about your options) or sitz baths.
Some sources say it will take six weeks to recover after having a baby, but that is just an estimate. You may need more time to heal from bruising, swelling or sore muscles, or if you had stitches from a tear or episiotomy. If you had your baby by caesarean section, you may need as least twelve weeks to recover. You may also experience sore or engorged nipples and you will experience lochia, a heavy period-like discharge that tapers off after a few days into a lighter coloured discharge that you may experience for up to six weeks.
World renowned Midwives at the Farm, during a workshop I attended in 2017, say that after having a baby you should spend ‘’One week between the sheets, one week on top of the sheets, one week on the same floor, and one week going up and down stairs.’’ Meaning, no getting out of bed for a week, being able to sit up in bed for the second week, walking around but not going up or down stairs or leaving the house in the third week, and not leaving the house until after the fourth week. This may not be realistic or manageable for everyone, but it shows you how important recovery during the postpartum period is.
For some people feeding their baby is their favorite part of the postpartum period, for others it isn’t. Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, you may experience some challenges. You may have wanted to breastfeed but are having issues supplying enough milk. Your baby may be having a difficult time latching. You may have inverted nipples, sore nipples or mastitis, but most of these hurdles can be overcome with the right support, resources and persistence. Try to find what works for you and stick with it. If breastfeeding works for you but you aren’t producing enough milk, there are many things you can do to help increase your supply. If you are experiencing challenges with feeding your baby in any way, speaking with your care provider, Childbirth Educator, Lactation Consultant or Postpartum Doula can help lead you in the right direction.
Some people feel like they don’t enjoy having another person depend on their bodies so much, while other people love it and feel like it is special bonding time with their baby. Some people breastfeed for a month and then switch to bottle feeding, whether it is out of necessity to return to work or to feel more independent, while others breastfeed for three years or more. You may have feelings that you didn’t expect you would have, and they may change over time. You need to do what is best for you. You may also feel judged by other people for your choices, whether you are bottle feeding or breastfeeding and it may help you to seek support with other postpartum parents.
You may live somewhere where you don’t know many people and you may not have a lot of support. If you can, make arrangements for the postpartum period during pregnancy so that you know what to expect after the birth. Talk to your care provider, local childbirth educator or Doula to help put you in touch with support groups and other resources to help make things easier for you.
You may expect that you can do it all on our own, and you may be shocked at how much you have to do, especially if you are single or if your partner is working. Remember that it’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed.
You may be expecting to be surrounded by friends and family after the birth and that may be true. You might have a lot of people wanting to help, to bring you food, to help look after the baby while you rest, to do your laundry and your dishes and walk your dog. Take advantage! Create a list so that all of the eager visitors can be given a task when they pop in to see the baby. Have a friend schedule a food train, so that you have a meal coming every night for weeks or even months postpartum. They can leave the food by your door or another safe place near your house if you don’t want to be disturbed and most people will be happy to accommodate any food sensitivities or allergies. If that doesn’t seem right for you, you could freeze meals to be taken out at your leisure. The person organizing it can post it on some kind of neighbourhood network, where many people would enjoy helping a new family.
If you know a lot of people who want to be helpful after the birth, it is a good idea to make arrangements during late pregnancy. There may be people who want to help but don’t want to intrude or make you feel bombarded, so let people know ahead of time what arrangements you are planning for people who want to help.