What I Wish Someone Would've Told Me About Postpartum...
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
I prepped hard for my first birth in 2014. Ben and I took a 12 hour birth class. We read all the books. Did all the exercises. Signed up at a birth center. Even with all that prep, I ended up with a traumatic birth (another story for another day), and after I was released to go home, I realized I had NO idea what to expect next. My birth plans had been shattered, and I had no plans or expectations for postpartum. I was on my own.
Postpartum was the hardest part of my entire birth & baby experience, and I think it was hard in part because I didn't know what was normal, what was "fixable" and what I needed to just roll with (and just survive).
To be honest, my second postpartum was even harder than my first. I had a surprise c-section and my daughter had breastfeeding issues/reflux. But good news! My third postpartum was GREAT and so smooth, even with three kids under 4 years old. I'd like to share with you the things I learned:
1. Ask for help
This is one of the hardest ones for moms to accept. I can even hear some of you mumbling under your breath things like:
"I don't have family nearby."
"I tried to ask but no one took me up on it."
"I asked but my family did things that weren't actually helpful."
Am I right?! 😉
Here's the deal: you're not going to get the help you want unless you ask specifically for what you want from the right people.
I know we all wish that someone would just jump in, see needs and meet them. More often than not, though, we have someone who wants to help but doesn't know how. We get frustrated or insecure with constantly asking for things. We feel like a bother. We feel needy. We feel controlling.
Let's push past those feelings and ask specifically for what we need. Here are some examples:
"I'm looking forward to seeing you, and thank you for your offer of help. I am still learning how to breastfeed, so I actually don't need help with the baby. What I would love is a home-cooked dinner & some social time. Could you bring dinner when you come over?"
"I would love to tell you about my birth story, but I am exhausted. I would love it if you'd come over and watch the baby/run a load of laundry while I sleep. Maybe we can catch up another day?"
Talking to husband: "In this season, I really need you to take over the cooking. I just don't have the mental space to plan, shop and cook the meals. Would you like me to tell you how to do it, or do you just want to go for it?"
A side note on this - you should have these conversations with your spouse while you're still pregnant. We have a section in our online birth class that provides you questions to consider as you plan for postpartum. Click the link to sign up for our class and be READY!
If you don't have family nearby or you don't have close friends that you feel comfortable asking for help from, you may consider hiring a postpartum doula. Their job is literally to help you during postpartum. Many doulas offer this service or may know someone who does, so they're great people to ask.
I'll also add that there's no time like the present to get connected to a local group of people. Whether that's at a church or a mom play group... it's always worth the effort. We aren't meant to raise our children alone. We NEED help. It truly takes a village.
2. Tap Into Your Intuition
I have a love-hate relationship with Google. While it can be an invaluable resource of information, I've personally experienced its negative effects: INFORMATION OVERLOAD.
I'm sure you've experienced this before: you Google a topic. You find an article that says one thing. Next, you read an article that says the exact opposite of what the first article said! Add raging postpartum hormones and a fussy baby, and you've got a formula for anxiety.
With the advent and ease of Googling, I think many moms have forgotten that they have a very powerful tool in their tool belt: mom intuition. You don't need to know everything to know what your baby needs.
Here's what I suggest you do when you have something you're not sure about or a problem you're trying to solve:
1) What does your "mom gut" say? Is this a major or minor thing?
I'll give an example:
Baby has usually been sleeping 3-4 hour stretches at night. One night, baby wakes up every 1-2 hours. Exhausted, you wonder - is there something wrong? You remember this blog, and decide to check in with your mom gut.
You ask - is this a major or minor thing? Is baby sick? Is baby wanting to breastfeed more? (which from taking our Breastfeeding class, you know is a common sign of a growth spurt.)
You notice that baby is wanting to breastfeed more, and your gut says that it's probably a growth spurt. You decide to not Google and to just follow baby's cues. You make sure you're taking care of yourself and communicating your needs to those around you. You end up feeling a lot of peace (even though you're SUPER TIRED) and in a week, baby goes back to sleeping 3-4 hour stretches.
2) If you truly don't know what's going on, you can do a few things:
Ask a trusted friend who has had babies before
Buy books or programs from individuals that you feel align with your values
Google, but do so with caution and set a limit on yourself. Even better, find a resource online (blog or professional) that you trust, and go to them and only them for information.
Call the nurse line at your pediatrician's office. It's what they're there for - to answer questions. No question is too stupid, pinky promise.
I really don't recommend finding all your information on social media. See, influencers don't know you. They don't know your baby. There are even some that have a point of view or use research to shame moms into buying their products. (Yep, I SAID IT. IT'S TRUE).
If you've been around here for long enough, you know that Ben and I are NOT like that. In fact, I'm super careful about what advice I give because I never want to make moms feel shameful or like there's only one option. I try my hardest to be as unbiased as possible.
But even still - I don't actually, IRL know y'all. So please, with anything I say, run it past your mom-gut. Does it settle with you? Does it bring peace? Does it make you feel anxious?
In all things - follow the peace.
3. Embrace the Hard
I was going to title this section "Don't Try to Fix Everything" but, in truth, the reason why we try to fix things (baby's sleep, baby's schedule, baby's feeding) is because all of those things are HARD.
I'll add a caveat - there are some things that you should try to fix. For example, if baby isn't latching well or gaining weight well, then obviously seeing a LC and doctor is very necessary! And of course, if you ever sense that there's something more going on, a trip to the doctor's office is ALWAYS a good idea. Again, trust your gut.
But what this section is addressing are the lesser important things, one specifically being baby sleep. I'm going to say something that may be hard for you to hear, but here it is:
Don't try to fix what's not broken. Your baby wakes up frequently in the first few months of life because they need to be fed & have their diaper changed. This is normal. Can you try to get baby to sleep longer stretches? Yes, I am sure you can try. And it may work for a week. But guess what... the next week, everything may change. I've seen many moms obsess over baby sleep, trying so hard to get babies to sleep long stretches or nap longer than 45 minutes. They end up wearing themselves out.
For the first three months of your baby's life (or for however long you want to), I give you permission to just roll with it. Do what you need to do. Contact nap baby. Nurse baby to sleep. Hold baby. Use a swing. Use a carrier. Follow baby's cues.
You'll find that around three months old, babies naturally fall into a rhythm. I wouldn't call it a schedule because there's still the 4-month sleep regression and many more developmental leaps to contend with. But they'll wake up and want to sleep in fairly predictable rhythms. This is a great time to begin more consciously getting baby to sleep (I recommend Baby Sleep Answers for all your sleep questions).
But until then, let go.
If you're finding yourself feeling really off for longer than a week or two, PLEASE reach out to your provider. Postpartum Depression/Anxiety is very real, and it is not your fault! It's not something to just muscle through - it's something to talk about with a professional.
Here's a great website that gives you more information on PPD/A and can help you locate a local professional to help.
Be kind to yourself. The transition into motherhood can be really hard. Many of us have never had someone need us so desperately, all. the time. Give yourself lots of grace & let go of your expectations. I'm sending lots of love and peace as you navigate postpartum & motherhood.