There is no amount of information that can possibly prepare you for all that happens during the postpartum period. On the other side of things now, I’m not sure how many nitty-gritty details I truly wish I would have known. Each woman’s experience is different, of course, but I wanted to share some of the big things I wish I’d known about postpartum life in the hope that these words will make a struggling new mom feel less alone, or prepare a soon-to-be-mom for what’s on the horizon.
1. Taking care of a new human may not be the hardest part of postpartum life.
I spent so much mental space wondering how on earth I’d be able to care for Selah, and I anticipated that this would be the most difficult part of postpartum life. As it turns out, everyone who told me “You just figure it out!” was right. I took all the classes, read all the books, and then I ended up relying on mom friends, Google, and breastfeeding Facebook groups to figure everything out as I went along. And that mom instinct thing? It’s totally real. You won’t always know what to do right away, but you will be able to figure it out.
2. Taking care of yourself might be the hardest part of postpartum life.
The biggest surprise for me was that taking care of my recovering body would be so much harder than taking care of Selah. She was pretty simple: eat, poop, snuggle, sleep (sometimes), repeat. But me? Every trip to the bathroom took 10 minutes by the time I waddled there, did my thing, rinsed off (who knew you couldn’t use toilet paper right away?), applied the Tucks and the ointments and the ice pack, and then waddled back to the couch. Breastfeeding caused cracked nipples, clogged ducts, and aching muscles (especially my back — apparently when the milk comes in, it drags down your whole center of gravity). Caring for yourself while experiencing the learning curve of caring for a child will be a serious test of your emotional and physical stamina — and you’ll come out of it feeling like a superhero.
3. Breastfeeding hurts, even if you’re doing it right — and it will (most likely) get better.
All the breastfeeding books out there say that if your baby is latching correctly, breastfeeding doesn’t hurt. Cue tears of frustration as I writhed in pain every time Selah latched correctly. It turns out, breastfeeding just hurts for the first few weeks because a tiny human is pulling on your nipples, which is trauma those parts have never been through before. That said, it is entirely possible that the baby is latching wrong or has a tongue tie, but if the lactation consultant says she’s latching fine, it’s just a matter of waiting it out.
For me, a good chunk of the pain subsided when my mature milk came in (the baby has to work so hard to get the colostrum), and then totally went away a week after that. Hang in there, momma. (But sometimes, the pain doesn’t go away and problems continue to arise. There’s absolutely no shame in switching to formula. You gotta do what you gotta do keep that baby and yourself happy and healthy.)
4. It will probably take longer than 6 weeks to feel “normal” again.
Most women don’t go back to their OB for a check-up until 6 weeks postpartum, when the doctor takes a quick peek and says, “Okay, you’re back to normal!” At 6 weeks, I was still dealing with major aches and pains, I couldn’t quite sit down properly, and I definitely could not button my pre-pregnancy pants. But yes, let’s call this normal. Honestly, I’m 3 months postpartum now and still dealing with some recovery issues — and it turns out many other moms had the same experience. I keep waiting for the day when I feel like my old self again, and I’m realizing that may not happen. My hips may always be a little wider, my abs may always be a little poochier, and my boobs may always be a little droopier. I’m getting used to it.
5. The newborn days are cozy, but the best is yet to come.
I loved the first few weeks with my sweet girl — there’s nothing quite like a sweet-smelling newborn snuggled on your chest. My heart broke as she started to outgrow her newborn clothes and lose her squishiness. But as she emerged from her newborn slumber, she really came alive. She started smiling and then giggling (a long-awaited reward for all the sleepless nights), she found her hands, and she learned to roll over. She coos and gurgles and giggles and squeals. I can see it in her eyes when she discovers something new, and it’s my biggest delight to watch it happen. Every new stage is my favorite, and I’ve heard the same from so many other moms. It just keeps getting better.
Want more pregnancy and postpartum reflections?
My book Expecting Wonder explores the spiritual transformation that happens through pregnancy and equips women with hope as they become mothers. You can preorder the book from your favorite retailer.