There is a TON of advise and guidance on what to expect when you are pregnant. Theres even more about how to handle every little cough, hiccup, and milestone that your baby goes through. But theres something in between thats severly lacking in conversation and warning. Postpartum life. Im not talking about how tired you will be or how your house will turn into a toy store. I mean the little things that will likely take you by surprise unless a well meaning friend shares it with you. Because for some reason, we as a society dont talk about the post partum mom, except for breasfeeding, baby weight, and stretch marks. But let me tell you, there is a whole lot more than that.
Well, as the over-sharer that I am, allow me to prepare you for the things that never get spoken about, and might surprise you about life after pregnancy.
Here are some of the things I had to learn on my own, and that I wish someone told me about so I was more prepared.
WARNING: I’m gonna get personal and gross right from the get-go. Buckle up.
You will sweat…profusely
Seriously. My first night after giving birth, I was so sweaty. But I passed it off as just part of recovery. I mean, I did just spend 3 days pushing a human out of my body, I’m understandably sweaty. But then the next night, same thing. And the following night, too. For weeks and weeks it continued. I would wake up at night to feed my baby and be soaked, almost like I had the flu! I felt disgusting, and was constantly changing clothes. But the more I questioned other moms (online and in mom groups) the more I realized we all were experiencing this to some degree….we just wen’t talking about it. I mean, sure. It’s a bit embarrassing, especially if you aren’t a person who sweats very much under normal circumstances. But it woulda saved us all a lot of embarrassment if it was something we were told was par for the course! No need to worry, soggy momma. You are normal.
You will smell
This goes hand in hand with being sweaty. But it’s so much more than that. I was constantly getting whiffs of my own body odour…and boy was it bad. And it wasn’t the typical B.O. smell I’d get if I’d done some cardio and wasn’t able to shower straight away. This was a whole other beast. I kept trying to compensate for smelling horrible by saying it out loud and apologizing. But my mom and my husband kept reassuring me that they couldn’t smell a thing. But how couldn’t they?! I was so rank. Im telling you, it was so bad that I would shower, and sniff my pitts after soaping up while SILL IN THE SHOWER and I could still smell myself. Seriously. No amount of soap or scrubbing was making this go away.
But heres the thing. No one around me could smell it (or at least they wouldn’t tell me so) except my baby. You see, this is a special function of a breastfeeding mom. You take on a unique signature scent that helps your young baby identify you. And as they grow and their senses develop, the stench (or strength of it) fades away.
If i had known this before it happened, maybe I wouldn’t have cried in the shower after scrubbing my armpits raw.
Postpartum insomnia is a thing
We all know that new parents have a hard time sleeping. But I always thought it was because
A) The baby keeps you awake with its very loud singing, practicing for auditions on The Voice,
B) The baby being asleep makes you freak out that its too still to be breathing , or
C) You cant stop watching this adorable little chubby mini-me peacefully sleeping
So, it really surprised me when my baby started sleeping through the night, but I did not. I didn’t feel anxious. I wasn’t plagued of thoughts about my baby’s safety. And even though I loved watching him sleep, I was cool with rolling over and enjoying my much needed rest. But, no matter how tired I was, the sleep wouldn’t come. I would lay awake, utterly exhausted. I would just nodd off and the baby would wake. Every 5 nights or so, I would sleep. Yes, you read that right. I would only sleep after about 4 full sleepless nights. Those 4 to 5 days were torturous cat naps only.
After about a month of this, I went to my Dr because I thought something was seriously wrong. She knowingly chuckled when I explained what was going on. “Postpartum insomnia” she said. Apparently, it’s a hormone thing. Not every woman experiences it, but it’s not uncommon. “it will go away when you are done breastfeeding, most likely.”
Oh. My. God.
Are you kidding me? My kid is finally sleeping for more than 30 minutes at a time, and now I cant, and wont, until i’m done breastfeeding? (I plan to breastfeed for at least a year) Mother nature, your jokes aren’t that funny.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Exactly the same as postpartum insomnia, some women get carpal tunnel that wont go away till breastfeeding is over. Its not unusual for women to get it while they are pregnant, but even if you didn’t have it then, you could still get it once your baby has left the flesh-building. According to my doc, hormones mixed with weight-bearing hand positions (breastfeeding again, yay!) is the perfect recipe for some inflammation of the nerves in your forearms and hands. My hands didn’t hurt much during the day but at night they would drive me crazy. Think pins and needles to the nth degree. That shit is going to keep you awake #postpartuminsomnia
Breastfeeding + binge eating
breastfeeding burns a LOT of calories. You think you were eating for two while you were pregnant? Thats not nothing on breastfeeding. That baby keps getting bigger and hungrier. Get ready to smash some food.
Breastfeeding + thirst
Breastmilk is surprisingly watery. Baby drinks breast milk, your fluids deplete, the body needs more to make more milk. The process is not surprising. What might surprise you is that you get thirsty IMMEDIATELY after your baby has triggered the let-down (aka within minutes of him/her latching on) Keep a bottle of water handy for every nursing session. You are gonna need it.
I think its fairly well established in the way we discuss postpartum that your period may not come back for a while. But what they DON’T tell you, is that you will still get similar pains fairly often. In the beginning, your uterus needs to go back to its regular size, so cramping/contractions will take place for a few weeks after giving birth to contract that uterus back to its old self. Thats right. You will still have contractions for WEEKS. Yay!
If you are breastfeeding, the cramping will happen DURING nursing. Its kinda cool, although pretty uncomfortable. You might notice the postpartum bloat go down in unison with those sessions of cramping. its different for all women, but for me, that intense cramping only lasted about 3-4 weeks. But here’s where people stop talking about it. But guess what? you will still get cramps! Pretty much once a month, I get a day of mild cramping. Its nothing like what it used to be (although my experience may be biased since I’m an endometriosis gal) but it’s still noticeable, and identifiable.
You are still ovulating
Carrying right on from getting those period cramps comes the obvious but often misunderstood fact that you are still ovulating. Many people are lead to believe that if they are breastfeeding and did not get their periods back yet, that they can not get pregnant.
This is FALSE INFORMATION #fakenews
So many woman end up pregnant again because they are not practicing safe sex under the assumption that no period means no ovulation. Sorry to say, your body goes right back on makin’ them eggs. Life, uh…finds a way #jurassicpark
Hormone imbalances continue (acne, sweats, cravings, mood swings)
Again, no secret to anyone that pregnant women are on a rollercoaster ride of hormones that are challenging at best, and downright unfair at worst. But whats most unfair is that you dont get to just be done with all that after your sweet little bundle arrives. Oh no. no no no. The rollercoaster gets more intense, if you can believe it.
Many people will be familiar with the term Post Partum Depression, which is common and no joke. If you suspect that you or someone you care about might be suffering from PPD, please access help. Start by talking to a doctor. There is LOTS of help available.
But, outside of PPD, it seems a disservice to me that no one explains that mood swings, food cravings, exhaustion, acne, hair loss/hair gain, sweating and the like are almost guaranteed to happen.
I don’t mind speaking out about PPD and saying that I suffered, and I still do suffer from regressive episodes from time to time. But for a while, I wondered if all my other symptoms were PPD. My amazing midwife explained that those things are not indicative of PPD but a normal part of your body settling into its new role as a food truck (breastfeeding, again! argh!)
So if you are experiencing things that make you feel like a teenager again, you are not alone. It’s par for the course. But please talk to a Dr to get screened for post partum depression just to be sure.
So I heard of this before. But I seriously was not prepared. I thought it was a unicorn thing that only happened to the rare woman who’s a breastmilk goddess with an oversupply. So i’m going to do you ladies a service and let you know the real deal here. Even if you think this wont happen to you, it probably might.
You don’t need to have an oversupply, your baby doesn’t need to suddenly sleep through the night. (although both of those things make it even more likely) Your breasts will spontaneously leak; maybe when your baby sleeps through the night the first time and your supply was hoping for a night feed. Maybe when your baby cries because it’s hungry and you don’t immediately get to them. Maybe when a srangers’ baby cries because it’s hungry. Maybe when you are looking at them on the baby monitor or watching them do something especially cute. Or maybe when you are having an intimate moment with your partner (YUP). MAKE PEACE WITH THIS. It will happen, and continue to happen, when you least expect it. You’r boobs now have a mind of their own.
Oh and just when you think that phase is over, it will happen again. #oops
Speedy hair and nail growth
This may be a pleasant surpriuse to some (or a major inconvenience depending on your maintenance level). Your hair and nail growth might speed up. Not sure why that one happens, but wow I feel like i cut my nails every week now. And I am getting 2x more haircuts, too.
Another common thing that happens is the texture of your hair changing. Many women go from luscious curls to straight locks or vice versa after pregnancy. Your body grew, sustained, and continues to sustain life. Those are MAJOR changes, so… Anything is possible!
Dry vaj (masquerading as injuries)
Oh yes. Im going there. If you made it this far, lets just assume you’re cool with how gross I can be at times. okay? Great. :)
OKay, You are a mom. You might have pushed at baby out of your body. Or maybe you had someone surgically remove it. In both cases, your muscle structure gets significantly compromised. Under good health care, we are told to limit our activity for 6 weeks while the body heals. I dont know a single mom, c-section or vaginal delivery, who felt like their body was actually ready to get back in the game. It takes MONTHS to heal, and my midwife (did I mention shes awesome?) laid it out for me honestly. She said things are not gonna feel anywhere near normal for the better part of a year. I’m currently 8.5 months postpartum, and yo she was right. My core is weak, my diastases is still present, and I was in some serious pelvic pain for a long while.
So, on the advise of many a Dr and friend, I decided to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist in hopes that she can help guide me into a life where it doesn’t feel like I’m going to lose my uterus every time i squat down.
It was an embarassing and humbling experience. This Dr literally tests out your muscle control from within. Its like the most revealing pap you’ve ever had. But seriously, it was worth it. What i learned was even though i was expierencing pain, my muscle structure was NOT compromised. Where did the pain com from you might ask? Dryness.
Yeah I know. It’s not ladylike to talk about that. No one wants to admit its an issue either. But remember how breastfeeding affects almost every topic covered above? Well this one too. Surprise! Your body’s natural fluids are depleted in a big way when your kid drinks sometimes 200ml 6-10 times a day. (Go measure that our if you’r not familiar with it. Its a lot.) If you are not super hydrated, and extremely well nourished, your body will totally ditch its other systems to provide for your child instead. Its admirable, but dang if your not careful it really translates in so some serious discomfort.
Turns out that some topical moisturizers (coconut oil did it for me, but some people need something more substantial with estrogen in it) and maintaining my body’s hydration brought me back to 80%. Couple that with learning how to do diaphragmatic breathing and activating your transverse abdominus during kegel exercises (okay can we just not cover that? I’ve said enough gross stuff) and you’re well on your way to recovery.
Growing and serving up a baby does a number on your body, but it continues after the birth. It takes work, healthy choices and a lot of knowledge to stay on top of whats happening to your body once your baby is here. Breastfeeding, no matter how long you decide to do it, is a lot harder than people give credit for. It goes far beyond latch and weight peoblems, and not enough people talk about that. Be prepared for your body to continue to go through changes as your baby changes with you. Be kind to yourself, eat well, drink as much water as you can every day, and TALK TO OTHER MOMS about what the heck is going on. You’ll be surprised to know you are not alone. <3