Postpartum self care
My daughter has just turned three weeks old. In other words, I am three weeks postpartum.
Surprisingly, I already feel like I'm coming out of the fog. My pain is significantly less, I'm much more physically able, and we're starting to fall into a routine that allows me to at least have a pretty good idea of when I'll be fitting in my next bite to eat, or if its a really good day, a hot shower!
And while I'm delighted the fog is lifting, it also reminded me that I really need to write down what these last three weeks have looked like for me, including the things that have made the biggest difference in supporting and speeding up my recovery. I'm very aware of how many of my readers are anxious about what it means to be postpartum, and it's for them that I want to share what has made a positive impact for me.
So to all of the women who are nervous about postpartum care, let me tell you the good news: you are already one step ahead of the game! The first time I was postpartum, back in 2014, I hadn't given much thought at all to what life after baby meant for me physically. It didn't matter that I had read the books and even attended a three week course on the weekends ... beyond the fact that I would be tired, no one had warned me what being postpartum really meant for the Mom.
I had no idea about the non-stop bleeding that can last up to six weeks. I knew that I could tear, but I didn't realize how debilitating the recovery of that could be, nor the products that could help, and the steps I could have taken before baby was born to make it easier and speed up recovery time. I didn't know that breastfeeding could be so painful - both the nipple pain from baby latching so frequently (or for many not latching), and the insane pain of engorgement when milk comes in.
They say nothing can prepare you for life after birth, but I think "they" are wrong. You can absolutely prepare for postpartum care, and while you may not know exactly what that will mean for you (vaginal vs cesarian birth, problems with breastfeeding etc.), I hope my tips below will at least ease some of the pain and anxiety that tends to cloud those early postpartum days, so that you can spend them marvelling in the wonder that is your new baby, rather than the physical discomfort you are in.
Take Care 'Down There'
Recovery 'down there' from my first birth was 10x worse than it has been for my second or third. I think that's pretty typical as you tend not to tear as badly the second and third time around (though that being said, if you tear once apparently the chances are very good you will again as scar tissue is pretty fragile. That's been true for me). But it probably also didn't help that my firstborn was 9.8lbs, nor that I was wholly unprepared for the postpartum recovery of my lady bits.
This time however, I made sure I had everything ready for recovery before I even went into labour. Here are the products I used (there are various options out there - this is just what I used!), and the steps I took ahead of time.
Gosh did this feel good. Basically, if you have stitches on your perineal you cannot touch the area - including wiping with toilet paper. So, the hospital should give you what is essentially a squirt bottle (called a peri bottle) for you to spray warm water down there after you use the bathroom. To follow, I then used Earth Mama's Herbal Perineal Spray to cool, soothe, and freshen up. Not only did it feel and smell great, but more importantly it has witch hazel, lavender and peppermint to ease swelling and help heal the area.
Some of you will remember me making these in the days leading up to baby's arrival. A quick Google will show you a couple of ways to make these, but this is how I did it!
Take multiple extra long, extra thick pads and pour witch hazel and aloe vera gel along the length of the pad. Fold back up and put multiple pads into a large ziplock freezer bag, seal, and pop into your freezer.
For the first week or so I would put on a 'padsicle' after every time I used the washroom and sprayed the perineal mist. As you can imagine, its very cooling and soothes the area. Once again, the witch hazel and aloe vera contribute to healing too.
Generally speaking I would also just ensure you have plenty of very thick pads to hand, in padsicle form or not, for the first few weeks of recovery. At the hospital and the immediate days to follow I actually used adult diapers - the Depend Silhouette kind - and even added a padsicle to that, before switching to comfy underwear with the padsicle, or just a thick pad, on its own.
It also doesn't hurt to pick up an inflatable 'donut' cushion to sit on for the first few days too. I borrowed one from a friend and found it helpful around the house!
And lastly, don't be a hero when it comes to pain medication. You'll want to make sure you have extra strength Tylenol and Advil available (i.e. paracetamol and ibuprofen) and expect that you'll be taking it regularly. I'm still taking mine every six hours or so, and I tend to notice the difference when it starts to wear off.
Secrets for the breastfeeding mamas
I think this is another thing new mamas aren’t necessarily prepared for - all the pain that can come with breastfeeding. We know that it can hurt, and we’ve heard it can be really difficult for some, but I'm talking about the very specific pain it can cause in those first few days of feeding baby. Here are some of the things that helped me cope!
I dedicated a whole post to these miracle workers, which you can read here. They have absolutely saved my nipples, and beyond taking them off to feed Daphne, shower, and briefly wash them with some warm soapy water, they haven’t left my nipples in the last three weeks. I personally think they are a MUST HAVE for breast feeding mamas.
Frozen Green Cabbage Leaves
You read that right. I unfortunately didn't have these prepared as I don't recall the pain of my milk coming in being quite so bad the last two times it happened. But this time it was rough. It tends to happen on day four or five and it can be excruciatingly painful. Mine really filled up in the middle of the night, and I felt like there was a twenty pound weight on my chest. My breasts were also on FIRE. Like so, so hot. Daphne wasn't waking for a feed and even if she had, its extremely painful to feed a baby with a tiny little mouth when your breasts are super engorged. So I gave in and went downstairs to grab two ice packs which spent the rest of the night on my chest and offered a little relief.
I'd heard that green cabbage leaves can soothe engorged breasts and pull some of the heat from your skin. I tried them the next day (just cold from the fridge) and they absolutely helped. Freezing them was even better. Truthfully, it's such a short period of time that this pain occurs, but it's also a super intense pain. So in my opinion the green cabbage leaves are the perfect solution - cheap and easy to prepare ahead of time.
Pumping to relieve some of the engorgement ahead of breast feeding is also helpful. I used both a manual Hakka and an electric Medela. Both are great for different reasons and I'll definitely get more into that in another post to come.
Invest in yourself, too Despite the fact that this is my third time being postpartum, I did not give enough consideration to the clothes I would be putting on my body after baby arrived. I assumed I had everything already and had pulled out old nursing bras and tanks thinking I was all set. I know it doesn't seem like it would be a big deal, but here's the thing: your body is in such a fragile and sensitive state after giving birth; the very least you can do is ensure you have some nice fabric to put on it after all its been through! My 3-5 year old postpartum wear was physically painful to put on, so yeah, it immediately came off. I was very lucky to be approached by a brand called Kindred Bravely in the weeks leading up to my daughter's birth, and we agreed on a number of postpartum/nursing items they would send me to try when the time came. I was even more lucky that the delivery was waiting for me when I returned from the hospital with a baby in my arms. It was nothing short of heavenly to be able to slip into brand new, crazy soft underwear, bra and pajamas for that first night's sleep at home. And it was so helpful that my softest new clothing pieces were also entirely functional and perfect for nursing.
I've tried to narrow down my favourite items for you, but this is sincerely the best I can do as I literally wear every one of these pieces every day (rotating between the nursing bra and tank with built-in bra).
French Terry Racerback Nursing & Sleep Bra : I've worn this to bed every night since receiving. It's perfect for both sleeping and nursing in.
The Simply Sublime Nursing & Maternity Bra: Hands down the most comfortable nursing bra I've ever worn. And it's cute too! You've definitely seen this on my Instagram feed.
The Simply Sublime Nursing Tank: Basically the bra in tank form. Ideal for wearing under top or sweaters for easy nursing and all the comfort.
High Waist Postpartum Underwear & C-Section Recovery Panties: Luckily I got a set of three because I've been wearing them on repeat! In the first few days you will not want to wear anything that is the least bit tight or constricting. Comfort is key!
Davy Nursing & Maternity Pajamas: Silky smooth, functional for nursing, and flattering in design. Need I say more?
If you decide to purchase a Kindred Bravely item, which I can't recommend enough, use my discount code KATIE20 for 20% off via this link.
I feel like I could go on and on, but these are the main, practical things I would suggest you do to prepare for the physical recovery of giving birth, vaginally at least! I've never had a c-section so I can't comment on the best tips and products for that kind of recovery, but if you have any specific questions leave them here and I can happily source an answer for you from an experienced Mom.
In the meantime, if you are an experienced Mom and there's something else you want to add for all the mamas-to-be, please feel free to leave a comment below! We're all in this 'hood together :)