15 Sep The First Few Months After Birth
Author: Sofia Fournier
Postpartum or after birth is a stage of life that is often ignored, just simply swept under the rug. We don’t think about what is going to happen to us after giving birth, and we don’t ask too many questions. During pregnancy we are mainly focused on the here and now, and the furthest we think into the future is of the day we’ll be giving birth. But ladies, postpartum exists, postpartum is hard but it’s beautiful too, though at times it can be much less idyllic than we imagined it to be. In this post I’m going to try to give you an overview of the after birth, including physical and emotional changes and my advice on both a professional level as well as a personal level in my experience as a mother.
To do that, we’ll keep in mind two clearly defined stages in postpartum: first the ‘quarantine’ or first postpartum month and second the subsequent months up to six months postpartum.
First month after birth or ‘Quarantine’
Alright, let’s begin with the first month postpartum, a stage filled with many changes and emotions:
- Emotional changes: Normally during the first two or three days you have uncontrollable crying spells and you can’t really explain why. It is what is known as the “baby-blues.” It will pass, so don’t worry too much about it as long as it doesn’t last more than a week. Any tricks to try to minimize it? Sleep, sleep and rest. It’s very important that during your first few days at home visits are from people close to you and that you’re able, if you’ve had a bad night (which is likely), to sleep during the day. Remember that for as many times as the baby has woken up during the night, at some point during the day s/he will sleep, and that’s also your time to rest! Another thing that worked well for me was to take a walk without the baby, for an hour or so, the day after arriving home.
- Changes in your body: You’ll feel strange in your own body, with a round, squishy belly (mummy-tummy) pains in the area of the episiotomy (the cut that is made on the perineum during birth when the tissues don’t stretch enough, to avoid tearing) or from the cesarean scar, breast pain, etc. Advice: Don’t panic, little by little will go back in place. Pain from the stitches lasts a week at most and after that will be the time to care for your scar and repair elasticity to the area to avoid future pelvic floor problems. As for the breasts, with which you and your baby will share the experience of cracking and pain, will get better. If not, you can always go to a lactation specialist. And as for the belly: I am not in favor of postpartum girdles, especially when you are just spending time at home with your baby. If you are going to leave to take a long walk it might help you feel a little more put together, but it’s up to you. I didn’t use it after either one of my two pregnancies. Wear the girdle all the time, it won’t allow the muscles of the abdomen to start toning up. The important thing is not to obsess about it, after a month your belly will be almost back in place, though it will be much less toned than before giving birth. Apply a good skin tightening cream two times a day. And think about how, in order to look great, as if you haven’t given birth, it will take a year and you have to do your part: being active, hypopressive exercises, a healthy diet, etc.
- Spotting It is normal to have spotting similar to the normal flow of your period that lasts the whole month. It is also normal for your spotting to be irregular, so be sure to carry pads in your purse along with patience and understanding. There shouldn’t be pain associated with it like your normal period, so it’s easier to tolerate. Using tampons in this first month postpartum is not recommended, neither is bathing (in the ocean, in a pool or in the bathtub) or having sex.
- Care for your pelvic floor! Though I don’t recommend starting exercise or physical therapy until you’ve made it past the first month, during these first few weeks you can start forming good habits that your pelvic floor will thank you for: Don’t lift heavy objects or take part in any strenuous activities, and don’t work out (yes, I’m telling you not to work out!!!) It’s just during this first month, to give your body time to readjust and remember to urinate every 3 hours and do your best to keep from becoming constipated. When you have your one month postpartum visit with your gynecologist, that will be the time to assess the state of your pelvic floor and which exercises will benefit you most.
- Diet: You should maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It is not the right time to start a low-calorie diet if you want to lose some weight. In the first month postpartum it is common to have slight anemia, so you should be sure to eat healthy. And if you are breast feeding, it’s recommended that you drink a lot of water and take multivitamins with calcium.
- Lastly, it is very important that if you have a fever during the first weeks postpartum, you check with your gynecologist to be able to rule out any causes related to giving birth or breastfeeding.
The weeks following the first month (the new normal)
We’ll continue with the weeks following that first month. These are the weeks of after giving birth in which you slowly integrate the baby in your daily routine:
- Rest: You’ve got the hang of not sleeping through the night, you can handle it better each day and now you know your baby better. Little by little you’ll see a sleeping pattern come together. It’s common in the first few months to take a nap in the morning, one before eating, one after eating and one before showering. Then, one by one, you’ll take out one of these short naps and, what normally happens is that you end up taking just one nap in the morning and one in the afternoon.
- Rehabilitating your pelvic floor: this is the time to focus on your pelvic floor and try physical therapy and hypopressive exercises. At this stage you will have begun to notice changes in your pelvic floor, whether you have a little bit of urine leakage, a heavy feeling in your vagina, hemorrhoids or pain during sex. You’ll feel better physically and you might be on maternity leave, and have more free time than you will when you return to work. So now is the time, and I consider it absolutely imperative to be rehabilitating your pelvic floor. My advice? First, look for a physical therapy center with professionals that specialize in rehabilitating the pelvic floor. Be realistic, it should be somewhere close to home, because the idea will be for you to go for a minimum of 5 to 6 sessions. Later, at home, you can continue to do the exercises that you’ve learned.
- And how can you continue at home with what we’ve learned in therapy? With a little persistence, a little self-discipline and a lot of outside help. Now there are fantastic apps like Bwom that, based on your initial health status, offer you an entire set of pelvic floor exercises that you can do in the comfort of your own home. It’s very practical, offering 10-minute sessions with audio exercises, and it’s focused on really working your pelvic floor. After my pregnancies this app didn’t exist, so I had to opt for doing hypopressive exercises alone at home, and then I discovered a great ally, that I still use once in a while: pelvic one! It’s a silicone ball that you place in your vagina and the goal is to hold it in and not let it fall. We do it reflexively and it’s a really good way to strengthen your pelvic floor without even realizing it. The best part? Using it a few hours per day from 2 or 3 months after giving birth up until the baby is 6-8 months and then, as a maintenance plan, one or two times per week for as long as you’d like. My youngest daughter is now 4 years old and I use it approximately once per week! If you have symptoms like urine leakage, pain during sex or a heavy feeling in your vagina, it’s a good idea to consult with a specialist before using the pelvic floor toning balls, since their causes are not always a lack of muscle tone.
- The belly: Another big topic during these months: your belly! Yes, it continues to be loose and foreign, we see ourselves in the mirror and we don’t like what we see. We look out of shape, our breasts are different and our belly won’t go away. My advice? Patience, patience and staying calm. Also, exercise, a healthy diet, hypopressive exercises and physical therapy. Bwom can also be your ally in this, with our hypopressive exercises. The good part about this kind of exercise is that, in addition to toning the abdomen, it also tones the pelvic floor and helps to ‘readjust’ the pelvic organs back in place, for what is a perfect postpartum recovery method. You have to be consistent and realistic, you won’t be back to feeling ‘decent’ until 6-9 months after birth, and it will be a year after before you’ll feel practically the same as before. From personal experience, treatments at beauty centers for tightening, cryolipolysis, etc., don’t do any good. We either put in a little hard work or we won’t see any changes. Miracles don’t exist!
- Set aside time for yourself: Finally, as a last recommendation, that might seem a little silly to you but for me it isn’t at all: don’t forget about yourself during these months! It’s true that the baby will occupy most of our time, but honestly, it is essential that you find time for other things like:
- Waxing, pedicures, manicures, etc. Feeling beautiful on the outside helps relieve exhaustion and lift anyone spirits and during those postpartum months there will be exhaustion-I assure you!
- Your partner: You need to find time alone, look for moments you had before the baby. It’s good to sometimes disconnect a little from being a mom and go back to planning “dates”
- A hobby: Luckily the baby takes naps and sometimes it will be dad that is in charge of the baby. Take advantage of those time to do something that you really like, something just for you that bring you joy. For me it was knitting with my second daughter, haha, and going out with my friends and all the babies where everyone was chatting about their lives while the little ones napped.
- Think about how you want to handle your professional life from now on, start to consider whether or not the hours are convenient for you, if you want to reduce them, a leave of absence, or if you’d like to return to the same schedule as before, or if you want to be self-employed. Maternity leave can be a bit of a turning point- take advantage of it!
- And exercise, what happens with that? Alright, once you’ve passed the six week mark you can gradually incorporate time to working out. I recommend an aerobic exercise without significant impact on the pelvic floor such as bike riding, swimming, walking or the elliptical machine. Six months after birth (or one year), once your body has more or less returned to its pre-baby form, you can start running, doing aerobics, stairs, tennis or whatever you want. Remember, wait those first six month. Your pelvic floor will thank you for it!