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At Nurtured, we see a surprising number of new moms who come through our doors within a few days of giving birth - some even stop in before they've gone home for the first time with their bundle of joy! They’ve gotten through what they thought would be the hardest part - birth- but realize that the recovery can actually be surprisingly difficult. And no wonder! Your body has just gone from pregnant to not-pregnant in a matter of a few hours and there’s a LOT of adjusting that you have to do, and now you're responsible for a brand new person on top of everything else!
It's easy to think of things to pack in your hospital bag or to have on hand at the time of birth, but often the aftercare is also an afterthought. At Nurtured, we pride ourselves in offering products that help you during your pregnancy, and give you the essentials for the first few years of life, but we also have a large number of items that can make the post-partum experience easier, and more comfortable. Recovering from birth, whether caesarian or vaginal, can be a painful and long process for a lot of women, and we have some tools to help.
Of course I did all the reading, I had the books that told me what was happening in fetal development week by week, common aches and pains of pregnancy, and had a section on breastfeeding, infant care, all very generalized.
Oh how I wish I had just put down that book and spent some time reading about breastfeeding, post-partum recovery, or adjusting to life as a new parent. When BananaMuffin was born in June 2005, I was still nearly six weeks from my due date and thought I still had lots of time. When I had a preemie that wouldn't breastfeed, I had no idea where to turn and found myself spending a lot of time in a small room at the IWK pumping, alone, with nothing but fashion magazines to read, which only made me feel worse.
I didn't know:
1) That when you are pumping, your nipple SHOULD NOT rub against the edges of the collection flange. If they are, your flange is too small. Rubbing will lead to soreness, cracking, and decreased milk supply over time. Since 2009, the IWK has changed all of their pumps to Ameda brand, the ONLY brand, to my knowledge, that manufacture flanges in smaller and larger diameters than "standard" to accomodate a wide range of women. I happen to be a woman who would have required a larger flange, and instead ended up with cracked, bleeding nipples.
2) Dr. Jack Newman. I had never heard of Dr. Jack Newman, his work, his books. I learned about him from my public health nurse, who was instrumental in saving my breastfeeding relationship. I had his all purpose nipple cream, which can be compounded in any pharmacy. I wish I had read his book before my baby was born. I wish I had also visited breastfeeding support groups during my pregnancy: no one in my family had breastfed and I had never seen it before. Having gone to a support group would have gone a LONG way to answering questions I didn't even know I would have!
3) That giving birth would leave me feeling isolated, house-bound, and alone. Because I had a C-section for breech presentation, I was stiff, sore, and unable to drive for 6 weeks for insurance purposes. Add to that a round-the-clock pumping schedule, a baby in the NICU, all I did was gobble up medical jargon for three weeks and then try to figure out how to take care of a baby who was still learning to breastfeed on my own. My parents came to visit for a day here and there, but otherwise they remained aloof, figuring my independent nature would keep me going. I used to boil eggs a dozen at a time and pop them in to my mouth - that was the most nutritious meal I could muster. I would highly recommend making meals and freezing them ahead of time, or bring a meal to a neighbour or friend who has just had a baby, I guarantee they will really, really appreciate it, and it helps to foster a sense of community. I happened to drop in to the offices of ABL, my former employer, one day to introduce them to my new baby. One of the partners asked how things were going and I told him we were still struggling with breastfeeding. He wrote his wife's cell phone number on the back of a business card and told me to call her. Living in our neighbourhood, she walked up that evening, and did her best to help. It's those little things that made all the difference.
4) Going out of the house seems like the most daunting task you've ever taken on. When BananaMuffin was five weeks old, my best friend was driving from her home in Ottawa to catch the ferry for Newfoundland and we were going to meet in Truro for lunch, which meant we had to leave the house at 11 am. I started preparing at 8 am! I was unsure about breastfeeding in public at that point, I was still very reliant on my breastfeeding pillow, BananaMuffin had JUST started breastfeeding and latching required me to have no shirt on and a completely undressed baby to keep her awake long enough to nurse, and I was panicked about pulling it all off! I wasn't sure how I would change her in a public bathroom, what if she cried during lunch? Everything felt impossible. I even called my mom for help, she reassured me that it would all be okay. And it was, but that first time out was harrowing for me.
5) Surrender. Sleep when the baby sleeps, don't worry that the house is messy, that you haven't done laundry in a week, that you haven't showered. As long as you get some rest and healthy food, the rest can wait. This is easier said than done when you have a type A personality. If you really can't stand the messy house, ask someone to help you with cleaning. Don't try to read a novel, don't try to work on projects. Rest. Our society is conditioned to go, go, go, but try to surrender to your baby's needs. This, too, shall pass.
6) Your body will take some time to figure out how much milk to make, when. This means you will leak, and you will need breast pads to keep you dry. I usually recommend 8 pairs, which is always met with raised eyebrows, but believe me, you will need them, especially at night! Make sure you have a good, underwire-free breastfeeding bra that you can wear all day and all night, or invest in a breastfeeding tank top that you can wear to bed, or underneath a warmer pajama top if the weather is cooler. If your breasts are tender in the weeks prior to giving birth, and in the post-partum period, gel-free compresses either heated or cooled, can help with the discomfort. If you are using them prior to giving birth, be sure to AVOID nipple stimulation, as this can induce labour.
7) Dairy allergy/intolerance among infants is far more common than is ever discussed. BananaMuffin started passing blood in her stool at around 11 weeks, and I panicked! Our pediatrician calmly asked if I ate much dairy, I said no (upon further reflection, I realized my other favourite on-the-go snack was cheese). I was afraid of allergies worsening, particularly where she was a preemie, so I called a Naturopath for help, which is where my relationship with Dr. Jennifer Salib-Huber began. She instructed me to go off all dairy, and about a month later, BananaMuffin was clear of blood and there were significant improvements in her skin as well. When Spunky was born 21 months later, he showed no digestive signs of dairy allergy, but his 'colic' was probably a missed indicator, as at the age of 2, he was formally diagnosed with both dairy and gluten allergy. The symptoms can manifest themselves in many ways, and despite how scary it sounds, giving up dairy is not that difficult. I found alternatives to absolutely everything - even cheese as goat milk did not cause the same symptoms.
8) Going from one child to two was FAR more difficult than going from zero to one. This isn't the case for everyone, but in my circumstance, I had a VERY active 21 month old and a high needs infant. If you have some child care available, keep it. If you have family near by, ask for their help in the early weeks. The increase in activity is not two-fold, but exponential.
9) Birth professionals, including doulas, midwives, and other supporters have such a valuable impact on your birth experience. To date I have had two C-sections, the first for breech presentation, the second an unsuccessful VBAC attempt. I fully maintain that if I had had a doula with me the second time, I would have been successful. If I have a third child, regardless of the fact I have no choice but to have a C-section, I will hire a doula. Their objective opinions are very valuable, and they will help you stick to your birth plan, while remaining flexible, far more easily than a partner who is far more emotionally invested in you and your comfort.
10) How important a baby carrier would be. I see so many families who spend an entire month's worth of income on a fancy stroller, and yes, strollers do have their place, but when your infant is breastfeeding 20 out of 24 hours a day and you still want to get out for a walk, make a snack or meal, throw in a load of laundry, or tend to an older child, a sling (my personal favourite is a ring sling such as the Maya Wrap) is worth its weight in gold. Babies NEED to be close to their moms, it keeps them calm, it makes them happy, it makes life easier. Yes, there will be a learning curve just as there is with every new skill, but believe me, it's one thing you shouldn't be without. And if you need help, there's a little store around the corner with staff who are always willing to help: whether you bought the carrier from us or not.
A little backstory: I was like April- and probably like most women out there- I did my research before giving birth. Actually, I did a LOT of research. Before having my son, I was in the IT field, and the job I had "allowed" me to spend seven hours a day reading- and that's what I did. I read every single thing I could about being pregnant and giving birth. Every book, website and online forum that I could get my hands on, I absorbed. I absolutely loved reading about it, and so for eight months- no word of a lie- I read about being pregnant.
What I didn't read much about was what to expect post-partum. I blame it on the fact that there isn't a lot out there about it. It doesn't makes sense! Our bodies go through the most major change it can in a very short period of time- the transition from going from pregnant to not pregnant and that's enormous!
Forget the birth, you're warned that it's probably going to be the hardest thing you'll ever go through, and it IS hard for most of us, it's the next couple of weeks- or months sometimes- that can really effect you as a person.
I had a 35-hour labour with 2.5 hours of pushing and a successful vaginal birth with no episiotomy or forceps or other intervention. I did have an epidural after 22 hours, which wore off before my son was born, and I turned down all the other pain medication they offered me.
Here's what I wish I would have known:
1) How brutal my recovery was going to be. Along with a long labour, my son was posterior, and although he flipped just before exiting my body, he sprained something in my tail bone area and I was unable to walk for about six weeks because of the extreme amount of pain that even just standing caused me.
The swelling that comes along with a vaginal birth was something I was unprepared for. I remember my doctor commenting on it when she was stitching up my small tears, and the nurses recoiling at the sight of me when they would come in to check on the size of my uterus and the condition of my vagina after I gave birth (which they will do to you, too). The swelling only lasted about a week, but everything was unrecognizable and uncomfortable. I remember taking a mirror out on day four and was horrified- and the swelling had decreased a lot at that point! I was terrified that things were not ever going to look the same again.
2) That you can bleed for six weeks straight. Oh, how I wish that I would have had cloth pads for my recovery time. No tampons, no Diva Cup, you're committed to wearing a pad 24/7 for your entire post partum bleeding. The thread from my stitches would get stuck to the weave in the plastic pads, and would pull and darn near kill me. (I only use the cloth pads and diva cup for my period now, and I will never, ever go back to plastic and tampons! April and I joke that the cloth pads are like "sitting on a cloud!")
3) How much babies need to sleep. For the first two months my husband and I KEPT our son AWAKE until at least 10pm, hoping that he'd sleep the entire night. HAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA is what I have to say to that. He was MISERABLE from about 6:30 onward, constantly crying, nothing would soothe him, and what would we do? Keep him awake longer! Of course! Sometimes I'd even give him gripe water (I'm slapping my forehead right now)! I'd heard about the "witching hour" before and thought that it was normal. Until one day, when he was about seven weeks old, I thought, "what's the worst that can happen? Yet another bad night's sleep?" I put him to bed when he started getting cranky- around 7pm, and LO AND BEHOLD, he slept. And he still woke up at the same time the next morning- but he'd had an additional three or four hours of sleep! And no crying! And I had time to myself! (No, he was not "sleeping through the night" - he still isn't and he's 2.5 years old, but he was still sleeping for 2-4 hour stretches regardless of when he went to bed.) From then on, his bedtime remained at 7pm sharp, and it still is, over two years later.
Another thing that went along with this was that I had no idea how much babies needed to nap. I finally clued into my son's cues around the same time and as soon as he started getting cranky- easily crying etc- I'd nurse him down to sleep. It worked like a charm. From then on, until he was seven months old- like clockwork- he'd sleep every 1.5 hours for 45 minutes. As he grew in age, the time between naps and the nap length grew, but I followed his cues and it worked like a charm. No more cranky baby!
Case in point: keeping baby awake at night does not equal sleeping through the night.
Also, one small point, co-sleeping made my nights far easier than having him in his own bed. It was great for our nursing relationship, for allowing my husband to sleep soundly and both myself and my son to only rouse, rather than fully wake up in the middle of the night. If he stirred, I'd move closer and quickly nurse him back to sleep rather than have to get out of bed and tend to him as he became more and more conscious. I understand that co-sleeping is not for everyone, but it was one of my greatest tools in getting the most amount of quality sleep in the segments that come along with a new baby.
4) How hungry I'd be. Are you in your first trimester and eating everything? Or do you remember the constant hunger that your pea-sized baby caused you to have? It's NOTHING compared to breastfeeding hunger. I was never full, I was constantly stuffing my face, only to be finished a full meal and be starving all over again. Feeding that little baby gives you a good guilt-free reason to eat whatever you want to. Cherish it!
5) Do you know why you're going to be constantly hungry? Because that baby WILL ALSO BE CONSTANTLY HUNGRY. I hear it time and time again at Nurtured- moms coming in, thinking that they're doing something wrong, that their milk isn't working, that there has to be something more they can do to make that baby eat less often. Honey, I feel for you, because just like yours- and everyone else's- babies eat ALL THE TIME. Nursing every half hour for an hour and a half? Normal! Especially during growth spurts (the most desperate moms I see are the ones around the 10-14 day mark, which was also my lowest point. Day 10 was the worst day I've ever had as a parent, because I literally nursed from 9pm-6am non-stop).
6) I'd never see the world the same way again. I was lucky and didn't suffer from an ounce of post-partum depression. Instead, I saw everything through rose coloured glasses. I was high for days, weeks, heck, I KNOW I don't see the world like I used to. My child, my beautiful child. Everything he did and does is magnificent. And you will probably feel the same way too. However, there are devastating lows. That day 10 I was talking about? I was throwing pillows at the wall, yelling, swearing, because I just.wanted.to.go.to.sleep. When it's good, it's great, and when it's bad, it's bad. Hormones rushing, sleep deprivation like you've never experienced in your life, and someone else- who is a mere eight pounds- is suddenly your boss... I'm telling you now, you're going to be up and down, down and down. Love like you never though possible, and stress like you've never experienced in your life. If you feel out of control, go and seek help, immediately. Please.
The biggest thing that helped me was just "surrendering." It's something I've always practiced once I realized that it was the easiest thing to do. If my son wanted to be awake in the middle of the night and he was just NOT falling asleep and I was getting more and more irritated, I would surrender and just get up with him. Giving in to what he wanted- even if I didn't want to or see the sense in it- that was my answer. If he didn't want to stop nursing for three hours, and I spent the first two hours gritting my teeth and muttering under my breath to just be DONE ALREADY, I'd surrender and spend my last hour giving in. It took lots of reminding myself- but they are never trying to inconvenience you, they are never trying to manipulate you- their wants are their needs. Period. Let them tell you when they need to eat or sleep, don't try to control them, because it's just going to be more of a headache.
7) You're going to be invisible. Pregnant women are complimented and stared at and spoken to and asked questions and worshiped. YOU WILL NOT EXIST when that baby is born. If you're lucky like I was and had a mother who made it a point to greet me before the child, who nurtured me before anyone else, then it will be a little more bearable. Find those people and spend as much time with them, because everyone else will see the baby and you will be forgotten. Strangers will ask you the same questions over and over, "boy or girl, how old are they, what's their name" instead of your usual "when are you due, do you know the sex" etc etc.
I got so used to being invisible in fact, that when I went back to work after 18 months I felt totally NAKED when I walked down the street without my kid. It took me weeks to get over it, because I was so used to being ignored and having everyone past me, and at my child. They finally saw ME as a person, not just as someone's mom.
8) How quickly they change. I would get so annoyed at strangers who would tell me, "Cherish this time" because I really felt like I was, but I really didn't know how fast it would all go. They tell you that, too, but it's true. One of the best things I ever did was write my son a very detailed monthly newsletter with pictures and stories and details about that month's achievements. I love to look back and have a record of his development, otherwise I would have forgotten so many of the small details.
9) Happiest Baby on the Block is my very favorite book to recommend to pregnant women and new parents. It saved my butt. (There's even a DVD!) It's got methods to decrease the crying (and therefore stress) in the first three months in plain and simple language. It lets you know key tricks (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing sounds, swinging, sucking) that seem like common sense, but in that sleep deprivation haze may not be clear. It was one of the very best parenting books I've ever read.
10) Don't get too comfortable. If you have a great night of sleep, it doesn't mean the next night is going to be the same. My son is 28 months old and has slept through the night six times. SIX. I found myself thinking after each night that he'd sleep through that things were going to stay that way. Lo and behold, the next night wouldn't be the same as the night before, so I stopped setting myself up for disappointment and I just rolled with it. I took every night, good or bad, for what it was, and never tried to predict what the next night was going to be.
You're going to be great!! You're already great! Way to go!
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