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7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Having a Baby

7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Having a Baby

We recently welcomed our second son into the family (Yay Nate!).  Going through childbirth for the second time reminded me of all the funny changes that happen to your body after the baby is born.  Moms-to-be have access to tons of books, classes and advice from other moms regarding pregnancy, labor and baby care.   All of this information really helped me prepare for childbirth itself.  But for some reason they failed to mention all the funny quirks that mama experiences in the days and weeks after giving birth.  Here are 7 common surprises:

  1. Bleeding – Most women bleed for 4-6 weeks after giving birth.  I actually was informed about this one but I must have selective hearing because I was woefully unprepared for how long or how much… A month long period, seriously?!  I quickly became aware of my cluelessness a few hours after Luke was born.  I was feeling good and decided to use the bathroom.  I stood up for the first time since giving birth, took exactly two steps and a waterfall gushed onto the floor.  It was so startling I almost fell over!  For the next 3 days I used pads fit for a dinosaur before happily transitioning to the standard variety.  From then the bleeding got progressively lighter and ended after about a month.  My experience with Nate was a little different.  It lasted a similar amount of time but instead of a straight-line progression, it fluctuated widely between heavy and light days.  I also had more clots which can be a little freaky.  Finally I had to be careful towards the end because I could go a few days without bleeding only to find a leftover present on the day I decided not to wear a pad… ugg!
  2. Cramping – After giving birth, your uterus contracts in order to expel residual stuff and to get back into shape.  This feels like stomach cramps and can range from totally painless to pretty darn uncomfortable.  I had no pain at all with my first so I was surprised by the level of cramping I experienced with my second.  The nurses said this is common – the more pregnancies you’ve had, the harder your uterus has to work to get back into shape and therefore the more cramping.   My cramps were mainly isolated to breastfeeding, which is also common.  The instant Nate latched on, my stomach curled into a knot (it helped if I nursed on an empty bladder).  While this was rather unpleasant, I was assured that it’s normal and actually indicates that your body is making progress.  For me the cramps eased up within a couple days and were gone within the week.
  3. Boobs – Everyone knows that your boobs get bigger during pregnancy and nursing.   But understanding this in theory is different from understanding how it happens in reality.  You actually start producing colostrum when you’re around 4 months pregnant.  This thick, yellowish, immune boosting substance is what baby eats at first and it’s produced in relatively small quantities.  Somewhere around day 3 or 4 your “milk comes in” (this sometimes takes longer for moms with c-sections or difficult labors, shorter for second time moms).  And what exactly does this mean?  It means that your boobs blow up like giant, rock hard balloons that squirt wildly at the slightest bit of pressure!  Breast milk is a supply and demand system – the amount your baby eats determines the amount your body makes.  But when your milk first comes in, this level hasn’t been set yet so your boobs throw a milk party (and it happens even if you decide not to nurse!).  This painful overfilling is called engorgement and thankfully it goes away quickly.  Relief usually comes within a day or so for nursing moms and a little longer for those who don’t nurse because they don’t get the benefit of baby draining their breasts.  In the meantime, ice packs can help soothe swollen breasts (heat makes it worse) and it may help to pump a little before nursing so baby doesn’t get blasted by a fire hose stream of milk.   If you’re in a lot of pain or it’s affecting your ability to nurse, most hospitals staff a lactation consultant who is trained to help you nurse effectively and without pain!
  4. Belly – Naturally I didn’t expect to have washboard abs upon leaving the hospital, but I also didn’t expect to still look so pregnant!  Having the baby doesn’t shrink your stomach nearly as much as you’d think… Your uterus is still huge (it takes a full 6 weeks for it to return to normal size) and after giving birth most women still look around 6 months pregnant.  Remember this when packing your hospital bag – you’ll probably fit in your maternity clothes for weeks and even months after giving birth.
  5. Hair loss – During pregnancy many women have the best hair of their life thanks to pregnancy hormones that prevent hair loss.  Unfortunately this thick, shiny mane doesn’t last forever.  After giving birth your hormones level back out and that that beautiful hair literally goes down the drain.  Some days you’ll lose so much in the shower you’ll swear a small animal molted in your tub (sorry that’s a little gross)!  Don’t worry, it usually isn’t noticeable to anyone other than you and will go away on its own.  In my experience the shedding started around 2 months post pregnancy and lasted about a month or so.  And almost everyone goes back to normal within 6 months to a year.
  6. Bonding – Some lucky women experience an exhilarating bond with their babies the moment they are born.  But in reality there are a wide range of normal emotions at that moment and not everyone experiences love at first sight. When Luke was born I was overcome with an emotion that’s hard to describe.  It was part protectiveness, a dash of fear, a lot of exhaustion and not at all the joyous fireworks I’d expected.  I was quite alarmed by my reaction and secretly wondered if I was somehow deficient as a mother.  Fortunately a group of moms from our childbirth classes started an email chain to share our birth experiences.  One of the other moms explained that she didn’t experience that magic moment either – instead it was a gradual process that happened over the course of several weeks.  Since then I’ve spoken to many other moms who’ve had similar experiences and went on to have wonderful, loving relationships with their babies.  It was such a relief to know this was normal and the bonding I desperately wanted would occur at its own pace.
  7. Postpartum Depression – Approximately 80% of new moms experience the baby blues.  This is characterized by increased moodiness, anxiety, sadness and vulnerability.  It usually occurs within the first week after birth and lasts two weeks or less.  However, if these symptoms become overwhelming or last longer than 2 weeks, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.  An estimated 10-20% of mothers experience postpartum depression (or another mood disorder on that spectrum).  You’re at greater risk if:
    1. You’ve previously experienced depression
    2. If member(s) of your family have a history of depression
    3. If your baby is sick, premature or colicky
    4. Or if the birth coincides with other significant life stressors such as marital problems, limited social support, health issues, financial problems, etc.

    If you think you may have postpartum depression, please don’t suffer in silence!  Far too many generations ignored this issue to the great detriment of both mothers and babies.   Postpartum depression negatively affects the entire family.  It impairs bonding, reduces mom’s ability to care for herself and family, puts strain on marriages and feels downright terrible.    Thankfully today more and more women are finding the courage to talk openly about this very real issue and to get the help they deserve.  Postpartum depression is very treatable and the earlier you get help, the faster and more effective it is.  A healthy mama is a wonderful gift!

In closing I want to say that I’m not telling you all of this to scare you or to make it seem like early motherhood is no fun.  It’s wonderful in so many ways!  Knowing what to expect can eliminate a lot of unnecessary worrying and actually make things less scary.  I am so thankful for moms who honestly share their experiences – good and bad.   It’s comforting to know that imperfection is normal and these quirks are temporary – you have so much to look forward to!


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