The big day came and went; the baby is here, the announcement has been made, and visitors are clamoring to get their first look at the new addition. But there is a key element missing in all of this: the mama. See, all throughout your pregnancy people love to tell horror stories of labor and sleepless newborn nights (don’t fret, all my labors and early newborn days have been pretty awesome) but few give their tips, tricks, and what to expect for mom’s self-care after delivery. So here’s the down and dirty on what to expect and how to make healing a bit less daunting postpartum.
When I gave birth for the first time, I had absolutely no idea what to expect as far as healing and self-care. I understand it’s not a glamorous topic and everyone prefers to focus on the adorable new squish instead of the raw, stitched up genitals; but I would have loved someone to give some insight… so I figured I’d pass along what I know.
Due to the fact that I have only ever delivered vaginally, that is how I will focus on healing. Unfortunately, I have no experience with cesarean delivery so I can’t offer any solid healing advice for that.
Before D-day, I suggest doing your postpartum shopping trip and making your homemade padsicles.
For your shopping list:
- Long Overnight Pad with Wings
- Witch Hazel
- Tucks Pads
- Dermoplast Spray
- Mesh Underwear (found on Amazon)
- Dulcolax/Dulcoease Stool Softener
- Ziploc Sandwich Bags
Now that you have some of your necessities, you can make a few padsicles in preparation. Padsicles are pretty much what they sound like, it’s a frozen pad to act as an ice pack to help with swelling and tenderness. Grab a few pads, the bottle of witch hazel, and ziploc bags to whip some up. Unfold the pad (while leaving it still adhered to the wrapper backing) and spread the wings to the sides so the full face of the pad is open. Take the witch hazel and spray some onto the pad- it’s best to do this over the sink. Now bring both ends together, making a sort of triangle, then put it into a ziploc bag and place in the freezer. It’s that simple! I make about three of these in advance and showed my husband how to make them so that if I need more postpartum he can always whip up some more.
When you head to the hospital, don’t worry about bringing any of your self-care items. The hospital provides all you need there, it’s also kind of like a Texas mentality- everything is bigger! The pads are huge and the pain relievers are stronger.
Directly after being stitched up-if needed- the nurses will break open one of their ice pack pads (pictured top left) and put it on you along with a pair of mesh underwear. If you have an epidural you won’t feel the ice pack at all but it will help with the swelling in the long run.
If you had an epidural, they’ll have you stay in bed for at least an hour before trying to get up. Once the effects wear off, nurses will help you to the bathroom. I’ve always been able to walk pretty normally after delivery, but some are a bit wobbly still so the nurses are there to catch you if need be.
Once in the bathroom you’ll find the hospital’s healing kit waiting for you. You will use the peri bottle (pictured bottom center) filled with warm water as a sort of handheld bidet. Obviously wiping with toilet paper isn’t a good idea at this point, so the peri bottle helps for easy and painless clean up. Now you’ll use the mega pad that the hospital provides in the mesh underwear. For pain relief you’ll slightly overlap three tucks pads down the center of the pad. If there was a lot of tearing or you’re feeling especially uncomfortable you can ask your doctor to prescribe epifoam- it is fantastic for instant numbing relief. Go ahead and put a line of the epifoam right down the center over the tucks pads, as a sort of pad-sandwich, and put it directly onto yourself with the mesh underwear holding everything in place. After you get yourself situated, you’ll come back out to the nurses making up your bed with fresh linen and a bed pad to help protect said linen from the blood and clots. There will be a few times during your stay that nurses and doctors will come in to press on your uterus, this will result in a lot of bleeding and clots so be prepared for that. It’s only slightly uncomfortable.
Pro-Tip: Due to the uterine massages- which brings on quite a bit of bleeding- as well as other tests and observations (prepare to roll over and have the OB look for hemorrhoids) I like to just wear the hospital gown during my stay. I know many like to get into their own clothes to feel back to normal but why worry about leaking blood, more laundry, uncomforatble iv lines, and having to strip back down for more tests? But as a bonus, don’t worry about delivery automatically meaning hemorrhoids- I’ve been able to avoid them all three times! …the things motherhood makes you proud of…
The hospital will give 800 mg ibuprofen as needed for additional aid. They will also give dulcolax/dulcoease stool softeners as a preventive measure. Everything is pretty tender down there and feeling like you need to push also gives the sensation that your insides are going to fall out…so trust the nurses when they tell you to take the stool softeners so you don’t have to go through what some women call “a second birth”.
Also, in the hospital, make sure you take some time to take a few baths to soak any stitches. Not with soap or anything- just plain warm water. Trust me on this! The nurses told me to take about 3 baths a day for the first few days postpartum after I delivered Vi. I’m more of a shower person, so I arrogantly ignored their advice and I paid dearly for it when my stitches dried out. Cue a few days in bed involuntarily tearing up anytime I slightly moved.
You finished out your stay at the hospital and are now heading home; more likely than not the hospital will send you home with some extra supplies and wish you well. I like to order a box of additional mesh underwear from Amazon for the week or so postpartum. Some women say they wash the hospital ones but that isn’t a great idea as they already fray easily as it is. Use the padsicles from your freezer when needed those first few days at home. Mainly stick with the pad-layering for relief as padsicles aren’t absorbent so they are very temporary. Like in the hospital, overlap the tucks down the center. Spray the dermoplast directly onto yourself after cleaning up with the peri bottle. My hospital sends me home with a pack of bedpads to protect my sheets the first few days at home, but if yours doesn’t, a dark color towel would do just fine as well. The bleeding after delivery also isn’t consistent so remember to wear pads for the first 4-5 weeks after. It’s pretty normal to go days without bleeding only to be surprised by it returning.
Take ibuprofen if needed and keep up with the stool softeners those first few weeks. Don’t worry if you’re breastfeeding- all three of mine were and I’ve been assured each time that it’s perfectly safe for nursing mothers.
On average, you’ll be feeling a lot better physically after the first week. With Marshall I was back to myself in pretty much no time, for Vi it took longer due to where I tore and not listening to the nurses about multiple daily baths, and with Franki things went slower than Marshall’s but smoother than Vi’s. Remember, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed with taking care of yourself and your new baby- but it’s also temporary.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the hormonal drop that occurs after delivery. Everyone has heard of postpartum depression at this point thanks to wonderful awareness efforts, but still the more common hormonal drop is quietly set aside. Not as serious as postpartum depression but still painful, confusing, or overwhelming is the drop off of hormones as your body tries to adjust from pregnancy to an unoccupied uterus. Now add in the fact that you will be waking up every 2-3 hours, producing breast milk, and wholly responsible for a tiny human and it’s not hard to fathom why a good portion of moms end up in tears a few times in those first few weeks.
Back when I was pregnant with Marshall, Brad and I took a birthing class together that was taught by a doula and a NICU nurse. They lovingly warned about the hormonal shift; telling the husbands/support person to be understanding. Painting a picture of the future they said that at least once the new mother will become overwhelmed with emotion and maybe even a little confused. Maybe you’ll cry and not know why you’re crying, maybe you will have some mood swings, maybe you’ll become lethargic and withdrawn. It’s important to be kind to yourself as the mother and remember that it’s all temporary. For the support person, they suggested drawing a bath up with soft music and candles and telling mama to take a second for herself to recharge. Take the baby and give mom a second to breath.
No one likes to talk about it because this is supposed to be the happiest time in your life. And it is. But this is a very physical reaction; your shifting hormones is no measure of the love you have for your baby. Be kind to yourself.
With each delivery, I have ended up in tears and confused at least once. Vi brought about some gnarly mood swings and Marshall I ended up locked in my bathroom crying while Brad gently tried to sooth me through the door. And I am not alone, I have several close friends that have shared similar stories- a few even calling me while locked in their bathroom or closet in tears. Prepare yourself (and your support person) ahead of time. If at any point your thoughts start turning dark or you are feeling completely overwhelmed for long periods of time make sure to call your OB. There is no shame in your hormones needing some help working themselves out.
Unless you run into complications- physical or emotional- you won’t see your doctor again until your six week postpartum checkup. At the check up you’ll go through some questions regarding your physical and emotional healing and then have an internal exam to make sure that everything is healing as it should. This appointment is the time to be honest about how everything is going and ask the questions you think of- no question is off limits- as this will be your last visit until your next pap smear.
It may seem all very overwhelming now, but when you take one step at a time it isn’t bad at all. Knowing what to expect ahead of time is half the battle in itself and now you’re all caught up! The best piece of advice I can give you is that the secret of parenting is that none of us quite know what we are doing-we are all pretty much making it up as we go and this postpartum period is your crash course in that.
…but seriously, padsicles help.
Have you delivered before- vaginally or cesearean? What’s your favorite piece of healing advice? Drop me a line!