There are several things I was not prepared for with my first baby when it came to giving birth and the postpartum recovery phase. On more than one occasion I thought why didn’t anyone tell me about this?! I am a planner and do much better when I know what to expect ahead of time and can prepare (if possible). I’m a nurse and took an OB course, but there were still several things I was unaware of, or underestimated how painful/uncomfortable it would be.
So, if you’re expecting and want to know what giving birth and recovery actually looks like, keep reading. If you scroll down you’ll also find my postpartum care kit – everything you’ll need to take care of your lady parts after childbirth.
*Warning – If you are a male, you probably want to stop reading now. If your wife is expecting, feel free to forward this to her. Or read on to be prepared for what your superwoman of a wife is about to go through. 😉
What no one tells you about giving birth + the 4th trimester
You’ll still look 6 months pregnant after you give birth
If you think you’re going to pop back to your pre-pregnancy size before leaving the hospital, think again. I thought I’d be leaving the hospital looking all cute like Kate Middleton, but boy was I mistaken. It’s common to puff up even more after birth due to all those extra fluids on board during pregnancy. Don’t be surprised if the swelling lasts a week or so.
You’ll bleed ALOT for the first several days and it could last up to 6 weeks
The bleeding will be like a very heavy period the first several days. It will taper off over the next few weeks, but don’t be surprised if you still have some light bleeding/spotting at 4-6 weeks.
I learned about uterine massage during nursing school, but had no idea how painful it would be. I can imagine it would be even more painful if you have a c-section. They do this to be sure that your uterus is contracting so that you don’t hemorrage.
Contractions don’t stop after you give birth
You will still experience contractions up to 10 days post partum. This is your uterus shrinking back down to size and pushing out all the extra tissue that’s left in there after birth. They feel like strong cramps at first but decrease in intensity as the days go on.
Breastfeeding/pumping stimulates contractions
When you breastfeed or pump, oxytocin is released which causes contractions. These can be painful at first, but after a few days they will dull to a light cramp
Pushing may cause hemorrhoids
Because of the bearing down mechanism used to push, don’t be surprised if you end up with hemorrhoids, especially if you have to push for a long time. These can be very painful, sometimes even more painful than a tear or episiotomy. Ask your nurse or doctor for hemorrhoid cream and apply with Tucks pads.
You may be very sore for a couple weeks. Don’t be too tough to take pain relievers.
Don’t try to tough it out to the point that you’re miserable or unable to function. For many women, even a small amount of prescription pain medication can take the edge off enough to move around comfortably, but not knock you out. For me, my doctor prescribed Norco or Percocet, and just 5mg of either was enough to relieve the pain, yet didn’t make me feel “high” or sleepy. This is different for every person though, so work with your doctor and nurses while you’re still in the hospital to find what works for you. As the days go on and the pain becomes less severe you can try over the counter pain medication and start tapering off the prescription meds
Pooping is difficult
Obviously, because of all the pain down there, whether from a tear, hemorrhoids, or both, your first poop is going to hurt. Epidurals and opioid pain medications don’t help because they slow your bowels. I’d recommend taking stool softeners or laxatives before baby is born and continue them after.
Going to the bathroom will take forever
Expect each trip to the bathroom to take about 10 minutes at first. It’s a whole ordeal. You’ll be bleeding a lot so you’ll probably have to change your pad each time, rinse with a squirt bottle (because wiping hurts), spray numbing spray, apply hemorrhoid cream and Tucks pads and an ice pack, then wash up before waddling back out into your hospital room. (See my postpartum care kit below for everything you’ll need.)
You won’t get a whole bunch of sleep in the hospital – don’t be afraid to ask if baby can go to the nursery
Nurses, techs, and doctors are in and out of your room all day and night. Don’t be afraid to ask if your baby can sleep in the nursery for a few hours so you can get some good sleep. I did this with all three of mine because I knew that the nurses in the nursery would keep a close eye on them. I know if they were in the room with me I would not be able to sleep as well, worried about if they stopped breathing or choked or something. Those few hours of uninterrupted sleep were a game changer.
Don’t be afraid to set visiting hours
Right now many hospitals are restricting visitors to one support person which, not gonna lie, I sort of loved. You don’t realize when you’re a first time mom how exhausted you’re going to be after birth and a constant stream of visitors is not conducive to resting. Once things are back to normal and visitors are allowed, it’s totally ok to set visiting times. Let family and friends know when you would like them to come and allow yourself some time to rest. Most people will understand and respect your wishes.
Breastfeeding is not always easy
In fact, I’d say more often than not it does not come completely naturally to moms and babies. It’s painful at first. Baby may have trouble latching. Your milk production may be low. I know it can be very frustrating. It’s totally ok if you need to pump or give baby formula. No matter what you decide, baby being fed is all that matters.
Night sweats + body odor
After giving birth, there will be a shift in hormones. While your hormones are regulating, you may have terrible night sweats and stink all the time. I’d wake up drenched in sweat every night for at least a month. Then I’d get up to pump or feed baby and I’d be freezing because I was soaked with sweat. Yes, it’s gross, but this too shall pass
Mood swings + random crying
You can attribute these to hormones regulating as well. It’s ok to cry for no good reason. However, keep an eye on your mood. If you feel as if you may have postpartum depression, talk with your doctor about it. There’s no shame in getting the help that you need.
Clogged ducts + mastitis
Clogged ducts are common especially early on while your milk is coming in and you’re getting into a breastfeeding/pumping routine. When you feel a clogged duct (it will feel like a hard knot in your breast, and a little painful), try to massage it out as you feed/pump or you can hand express to work it out. It helps to use a warm compress before massage.
If your ducts get clogged and are not expressed, it can sometimes turn into mastitis. Mastitis feels different than a regular clogged duct. It’s much more painful and it may be in an area where you don’t actually feel a knot. Your breast may be red and/or hot. You may also have a fever, chills, or feel like you have the flu. If this happens and you suspect mastitis, call the doctor immediately. The faster you can get on antibiotics, the better. I recently had mastitis back-to-back and went through two rounds of antibiotics. They help so much and you should feel better in a day or two.
*Side note – I know this contradicts what I just said, but sometimes cold helps with clogged ducts too. If it doesn’t seem like heat is working, try an ice pack. This can decrease the swelling in the breasts and allow the milk to flow more freely. Weirdly enough, this worked like a charm every time when I was exclusively pumping for Audrey, but this time around heat seems to work better. Why? Who knows…
Postpartum Care Kit
You will definitely want to create a postpartum care kit for when you come home from the hospital. Have these items handy right beside your toilet to make your frequent trips to the bathroom more efficient. I loved the FridaMom line of postpartum care items and I’ve linked several of them below.
I LOVED these disposable panties from Frida Mom. They were stretchy but snug enough to hold everything in place. They were surprisingly comfortable and so much better than the mesh panties they give you in the hospital. They also make some disposable underwear designed for women who have had c-sections.
Frida Mom Peri Bottle
I liked this peri bottle because the tip angles up and it’s easier to use than the one from the hospital.
You’ll bleed a lot at first, but after a couple weeks it starts to slow. I’d say a medium pack of large maxi pads would be enough. Stock up on some thinner ones as well to use once your bleeding isn’t as heavy.
This stuff is great. It’s a numbing spray that can help with the pain in your perineal area. Spray it on after you go to the bathroom each time.
Frida Mom Ice Maxi Pads
These ice packs are great because they’re actually absorbent. The ice packs in the hospital are not absorbent, they don’t get very cold, and they don’t stay cold for long. These Frida Mom ice packs got much colder and stayed cold for longer. I actually wished I had brought these to the hospital and that I had bought more.
Witch Hazel pad liners
Put a squirt of the Frida Mom perineal healing foam on these witch hazel pad liners and layer it on top of your pad or ice pack.
Perineal Healing Foam
This healing foam also has witch hazel in it, which is cooling, helps with pain relief and can help swelling. Spray on the Dermoplast then line your pad with the witch hazel pads and healing foam.
Tucks pads have witch hazel in them too. These are great for hemorrhoids. Put a dab of hemorrhoid cream on the Tuck’s pad and apply. You can use these for the perineal area as well if you don’t have the Frida pad liners.
You can get OTC hemorrhoid cream, but I would suggest asking your doctor for prescription strength before you leave the hospital.
Stick some nursing pads in your kit too in case you need to change them out while you’re in the bathroom or right after you get out of the shower. I love these washable nursing pads by Bamboobies.
You will definitely need good nipple butter/lanolin because your nipples will probably be very sore at first. I like the thinner kind like the Bamboobies organic nipple balm, Motherlove nipple cream, or Medela Tender Care lanolin. I don’t like thick lanolin because it hurts to apply.
Take this stool softener every day until you feel like everything is back to normal. Pain relievers slow your bowels so constipation may be an issue and having to strain at this time is the last thing you want to do.
Everything fit perfectly into a diaper caddy. I kept this kit right beside the toilet in the bathroom so I had everything handy. This postpartum recovery kit by Frida Mom is great too. It comes with a little caddy, but for me everything fit better into the diaper caddy.
I hope that these things can help you prepare for having a baby and bringing baby home. I also hope that this doesn’t scare you if you’re a first time mom! I can tell you that the pain and lack of sleep is 100% worth it when you have that precious baby in your arms.
If you’re a mom, what was most surprising to you when you had your first baby? Would you add anything to this list? If you’re expecting your first child, what are you most nervous about? What are you most excited about?