We talk about all the beauty and the precious moments in the fourth trimester - the first few months following birth...but as a society we fail to share and prepare new parents for the hardship. Is it because the topics are a bit uncomfortable or “inappropriate”? Is it because by admitting that this phase of life is challenging when nobody else does, we feel alone in these feelings - like failures? Is it because we see our friends and families happiness in their pregnancy and we don’t want to alarm them or bring them down?
The hormonal shifts. The physical changes. The lochia. The nurturing of a newborn. The lack of sleep. The breastfeeding obstacles. They are all things that this birth and postpartum doula struggled with hard. My birth was beautiful. I prepared myself for that. Others prepared me for that. But then a baby was placed on my chest and other than the very basics of breastfeeding and postpartum care - I was a fish out of water. I quickly realized how little I had prepared myself for this phase and how little others had talked about this very joyful, yet very challenging phase. I could have used a lactation consultant and a postpartum doula both prenatally and during those early weeks/months following my birth but like most, I was unfortunately blindsided by the reality of postpartum and too overwhelmed and exhausted to realize there were professionals who could help me.
So let me talk about it a little bit here and now and remind those new parents that THIS IS A PHASE and IT WILL NOT BE LIKE THIS FOREVER.
The deflated balloon that is your belly. Such a strange sensation, I know. This will slowly subside in time (like a few months time) but you can support and encourage it along by binding your belly or using a post-pregnancy support band and doing certain exercises. We highly suggest reaching out to Carrie Koziol at Pilates by Carrie for her postpartum education and exercise class! She will not disappoint!
Lochia. You will bleed 4-6 weeks on average following your birth. When my midwife nonchalantly mentioned as long as the clots are no larger than an egg - A chicken egg - and there is no foul odors or colors - all is likely fine, I was a little surprised to say the least. Lochia - it’s just not very fun.
Newborn care. I had this perfect little picture in my mind. My daughter would sleep in her little bassinet as my husband and I admired her and rested ourselves. But the reality is that every baby is different and ours was pretty fussy and needed constant holding. Quite literally. My arms, neck and back were very sore. This is why as a postpartum doula I offer massage if and when there is time as well as education on healthy positioning and techniques that take a load off these specific muscles. All the little nuances of a newborn were just a bit overwhelming. How do we position her? What does she find calming? How do we effectively change her poop-splosion without making an absolute mess? How can I get my hands free to get anything - ANYTHING - done? I once made a full blown taco dinner one handed while nursing her...this was before I realized baby wearing was my best friend. It’s just a lot on top of healing and finding time to rest myself. Postpartum doulas can help with all the above. They can advise on ways to expedite healing, they can ensure rest by being an extra set of hands around the house, in the kitchen and with the baby or older siblings, and they (just like labor/birth doulas) are a calm presence in the turmoil that can be the postpartum period. Do not hesitate to reach out!
Lack of sleep. I purchased an Arms Reach Cosleeper which quickly became a second nightstand for all my junk. I tried. I really did. But I hated the barrier between my daughter and I and having to physically sit up for every feeding. We became a bedsharing family after I read up on the research presented by Dr. James McKenna at Notre Dame. I also attribute this to just wanting everyone to get the maximum amount of sleep. Insert king-sized bed. Every family will find their own way and their own rhythm. Do what works for you and your baby and don't allow anyone to make you feel bad about that choice. An overnight postpartum doula can be critical for many families, even when breastfeeding is a priority.
Breastfeeding Obstacles. Again, this will depend on baby and circumstances. With my first-born, I quickly realized why the US has a deplorable average weaning time of 3 months. This was by far my hardest challenge in life. But I was determined. We went through engorgement, oversupply and overactive letdown, breast refusal, reflux and strange baby poop - hello dairy allergy!, lip tie, thrush, clogged ducts, mastitis, leaking for 2 full years, etc. We recommend Heather Dvorak, an IBCLC independently servicing the Chicagoland area. She comes to your home or the hospital and assesses issues while providing solutions. Her services have saved many of breastfeeding relationships and our clients are so thankful.
In those first few months there was so much joy and so much hardship. There were smiles and many many tears. I remember thinking, what in the world have I gotten myself into...and why didn’t anyone tell me?
You will get through. Seek help when it’s needed or desired! Family and friends but also professionals. Build your tribe before the baby arrives to ease the transition. A mistake I made and I hope to help other women avoid. So here I am -- telling you!