Things that may surprise you after birth
Check out our previous post 'Surprising things about childbirth'
First postpartum poo
This does not have to be as scary as we think it will be. After birth, you need to be well hydrated (drink up to 3 litres of water a day) for a few reasons, making your urine diluted so it does not sting when you pee, making sure your stool is soft when it does come and also for breastfeeding as your body needs to make milk. It is entirely normal not to poo for a few days post birth because your body has cleared out prior to labor (and during birth generally) and your body is also moving it’s organs back into their usual space and concentrating on involuting your womb and so can take a little while to build up a stool to pass. The other thing you want to do is eat well, lots of veges, wholegrains and less meat and carbs to help make a stool that is easier to pass. Then you want to wait until you know you really need to go, go and sit on the toilet, if you have any sutures in your perineum, you can hold a clean maternity pad with gentle pressure where the sutures are. This is not because you will pop any sutures but because it can make you feel more comfortable and reassured. Next, you wait. Only do little pushes until your sphincter opens as then your stool will come with ease without straining.
Also, if you have any haemorrhoids try and deal with them in the first few days before your first poo so you don’t have to worry about that as it can be painful when you poo past haemorrhoids. A great natural remedy for haemorrhoids is weird but true...potato. Grate a clean and peeled potato, and soak it in witch hazel for at least an hour, then if the haemorrhoid is poking outside, you put the potato directly onto the haemorrhoid (kind of like in your crack), weird I know but you want good coverage and contact with the haemorrhoid. However, if the haemorrhoid is just on the inside of your anus, you will need use an apple corer to make a potato ‘tube’ to gently insert into your bottom - not too far and you may need to cut it in half to leave a centimetre or two poking out so you can grab it. You might be thinking, but what if I can’t grab it, let’s be honest, it will come out with your next stool, it ain’t staying in there!
That the feeling of emptiness in your womb when baby earthside can surprise you
After baby is born your belly still protrudes quite a bit but is wobbly and a bit like jelly while your womb is involuting and your organs are going back to their rightful homes and also, you may have gained extra weight during pregnancy. If you are breastfeeding, your body will generally ‘bounce back’ after a few weeks, although some women are days and some are months. Every woman and pregnancy is different. Seeing your baby belly disappear, not feeling the reassuring baby movements and the feeling of emptiness can be startling.
Baby birth recovery sleep
Generally speaking, if left undisturbed on your chest for the ‘golden hour’ after birth your baby will latch themselves usually around an hour old, have a good long feed (sometimes up to an hour) and then have what is called the ‘birth recovery sleep’ which can be around 4-5 hours. PLEASE ask that no one visits you in this time as YOU need to recover too! And once your baby wakes from this recovery sleep, they will want to feed a LOT so you NEED this sleep. I know it is hard to say no to visitors but in those first few weeks, you need to learn to prioritize your sleep over anything else apart from feeding yourself and baby. One thing you could do is make an agreement with your partner and or birth support team that they do not tell anyone the baby has been born yet (you know your family and whether they will respect your no) OR just say baby has been born but Mama and baby are recovering and please NO visitors until tomorrow morning (depending on time baby born) when you will be more than welcome to visit.
Breastfeeding can feel ‘weird’
If this is the first time you have breastfed before, it can feel strange having your baby suckle on your breast for the first time and so frequently. Some women have very sensitive nipples or an overactive letdown which can be really painful when you initially start breastfeeding. Yes, our bodies are made to nutrify our babies through pregnancy and breastfeeding but that does not mean it is a completely magical experience for everyone. Some women absolutely adore the bonding and beauty of breastfeeding and feel amazingly empowered being able to breastfeed and do it with no issues. However, some women really struggle with the feeling of breastfeeding and potentially from inappropriate or lack of support do not find it an empowering experience.
Newborn babies can feed almost constantly on their second night of life, sometimes earlier and sometimes two or three nights in a row depending on when your milk comes in
Believe me, when I say sleep whenever you can. As I said above, prioritize sleep over everything except feeding yourself and your baby. Initially, babies will generally sleep better during the day than the night and you need to teach them night and day. You can do this by having separate sleep spaces, in the morning you bring babies basket or bassinet into the lounge, it’s light, it’s noisy, they will still sleep but will get used to daily noises. Then at night usually at the start of when your baby starts their 2 hour cluster feed earlier in the evening - pretty much every baby will do this to stockpile on the sleepy hormone milk that is produced at this time before their first nighttime sleep, you take baby into the bedroom, it’s very dark, it’s quiet, you talk in whispers and engage less with your baby than you do during the day. This is to make it a marked difference for baby and for them to learn about the diurnal patterns we tend to live by, Also, babies tend to feed more during the night and sleep more in the day in the first while so once your milk is in the other thing you can do is try and get more calories into baby during the day, so wake them 2 to 3 hourly to feed to hopefully switch baby into feeding more during the day and less (4 to 5 hourly) at night. Although I will say that every baby is different and to a certain extent we have to surrender to their ‘routine’, not an imposed one that may just create more drama and stress.
When you breastfeed after birth, your womb involutes and can feel like contractions - these get more painful for each subsequent baby
Once your baby is born, your womb has to shrink from its current size housing your baby, fluid and placenta back to its pre-pregnancy size which is about the size of your fist. In order to do this, it involutes when you are feeding. This involuting can feel like labor contractions and for some women are incredibly painful. Some women don’t really feel them or aren’t phased by them but the more babies you have, the more painful they can be. Drinking postpartum tea can help this process by quicker and less painful. Taking the analgesia offered if this is painful for you can be a good idea too.
Feeling rage, sadness or anxiety when your milk is letting down is a thing
D-Mer or Dysmorphic Milk Ejection Reflex is something that is not well known by both women and care providers. It can elicit (sometimes intense) feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety or rage when your baby first latches onto the breast and your milk letdown is initiated. There is no treatment per se, more awareness that this is a thing and that it will pass quickly after the letdown initiation and that you are not crazy. D-Mer has been linked to inappropriate dopamine activity. Whilst there is no treatment specifically for D-Mer that has been identified, there are two possibilities. Our gut health is inextricably linked to our mental health so taking good quality and specific probiotics could help. There is some preliminary research being done using Milk Thistle in the treatment of Body Dysmorphic Disorder which is also linked to inappropriate dopamine activity so there may be some relief from taking Milk Thistle which could also help with your milk supply.
Babies losing weight in the first few days is normal
It is normal for babies to lose up to 5-7 % of their birth weight on average. Some babies may lose very little, some more than 7% and some not at all. Also, important to note at this point that babies who’s Mamas have had IV fluids in labor may lose more weight (10% +) and this is because the IV fluids Mama receives cross the placenta and the baby is born being heavier than they actually are (sometimes 100-200g) and then baby passes the fluid as urine in the first few days and ‘loses’ that weight. This can sometimes mean that the baby is put on to a complicated feeding plan causing a lot of stress and loss of sleep to the Mama and may mean baby is given formula unnecessarily.
Little girls getting a “mini” or “pseudo” period in the first few days is a thing
With the massive amount of hormones having a party in your body after birth, they can do the same with your newborn’s body, boys and girls can get swollen breast buds and girls can have a tiny little ‘period’, this is a few drops of blood sometimes with mucus that comes out of her vagina and is found in her nappy. This should only be a few drops over a couple of days, if more than half a teaspoon or longer than 5 days, talk to your care provider.
Research shows that babies get 4-15ml of colostrum in their first 24 hours of life
That could be less than a teaspoon, generally, a baby does not feed in the first few days because they are ‘hungry’, they feed because it is their instinct to feed and feed and feed to bring your milk in so that can be satiated. The main reasons we have colostrum is to further populate baby’s microbiome and to allow them to pass meconium (their first few stools) and not for hunger. Healthy term babies are born with a pad of brown fat on the back of their neck that is laid down in the third trimester which is what they ‘live on’ in the first few days while they are waiting for the milk to come in.
Breastfeeding babies get the milk volume they need over a 24 hour period - same with sleep
Sometimes baby will feed for 10 minutes and sometimes for an hour, baby will get different volumes of milk at each feed dependent on length and effectiveness of feed. Some babies can get 50 ml of milk out in 10 minutes and some take an hour to get the same. Try not to let your baby feed longer than an hour as the energy they expend extracting the milk will be more than the calories they receive from the milk. Obviously, cluster feeding is a different situation so I mean consistently feeding for an hour or longer.
It can take weeks to feel like you have nailed breastfeeding - don’t expect to nail it in the first few days
Breastfeeding is an individual journey that needs gentle, thoughtful, skilled support and some prior preparation. Although, antenatal expression of colostrum can help teach you about your body it is actually difficult to fully prepare yourself for the wild ride learning how to breastfeed is. And remember your baby is learning too. Successfully breastfeeding is one of the most amazing and accomplished feelings and with the right support and dedication, aside from any medical or mental reasons meaning you can’t breastfeed, you CAN DO IT! You have got this!
You can bleed for up to six weeks postpartum
Again, one of those things that are changeable for each woman, some may only bleed for a few days and some for 10 weeks but most around 4-6 weeks. If your bleeding (lochia) gets very heavy and you are changing and soaking a pad an hour or your lochia smells very bad/strong then you need to talk to your care provider straight away.
When your cycle returns, you ovulate FIRST then have your period 2 weeks later
This is Fertility 101 that not every woman knows but should. And this is how there are many ‘whoopsie’ babies with women getting pregnant very quickly after they have just had a baby. Exclusively breastfeeding offers some protection but is not foolproof especially if you have daily gaps of 6 hours between feeds. Many women can not tell when they are ovulating and so do not know they are ovulating when their cycle first arrives and with ovulation generally comes horniness so of course you may have sex and have a false sense of security because you are exclusively breastfeeding and you haven’t had your period yet and BOOM, hello baby.
That you do have to change your lifestyle, you can’t just expect that a baby will just insert into your life and it stays the same
I can’t say it enough, a baby will change your life irrevocably. It is both rewarding and challenging. If you are a career woman or a woman that likes to be in control of things or thinks they will keep up the same lifestyle as pre-baby and that baby will just insert into their lives, you need to absolutely need to stop and do a realistic check-in with yourself and your partner. Your baby is an equal member of your family and needs to have its own special place. They need secure attachment developed as babies to be able to grow into resilient, balanced, heart centered young people and adults. They need to have kindness and love in relationships modeled around them. They need patient, respectful and understanding care. When babies are born, they need you for EVERYTHING. They do not really become independent until their teens and even then still need you but for different reasons. Read about different child development stages, research things that you are not sure about, ask other parents about what they did but always do what feels comfortable and right for you and your family.
Sex after birth can be uncomfortable for a while or it can feel better than before!
Many women find sex after birth painful as breastfeeding can inhibit natural lubrication of the vagina. Some women find it less painful than before birth because of physiological reasons that are alleviated with a natural birth. Women who have had cesareans or bad perineal cuts or tears may want to wait longer than is usual. The key to postpartum sex is that you feel totally ready and healed, use lots of lube and take it slow. Your partner needs to be understanding of this as sex may not be the same for a little while postpartum, like if pre-pregnancy you liked vigorous sex, you may not be able to do that for a few months after birth. As with everything, keep those communication lines open and be open and honest and gentle with each other.
I hope you have enjoyed this little series on surprising things about pregnancy, birth and after birth and that you have learnt something you did not know to put you in a better space for your upcoming or subsequent childbirth journey. Stay tuned for our next post about ‘How to save your bottom in birth’.