Congratulations!! You just gave birth to your little bundle of joy!

You didn’t think this day would ever come. From the moment you first found out you were pregnant, to the cravings, to the sore and swollen feet, the exhaustion, and the first signs of labor . . . your baby has finally arrived. It was worth it, wasn’t it?

Now you are ready to leave the hospital. It is time to go home. You are loaded with all kinds of wonderful things: those awesome mesh undies, some peri-aides (gotta love that Dermaplast) to help with the swelling . . . err . . . ahem . . . down there. Of course, there are items for baby too, like diapers, Vaseline and wipes. There is a cute diaper bag to take it home in. You pack up everything and secure Baby in the car seat, which actually doesn’t go as easy as you assumed, but that’s OK. Finally, you get to the car, pile everything and everyone in, and home you go.

You were lucky enough to get some time off after baby — anywhere from 1 month to 3 months — and you are looking forward to spending all this quality time with your new little human. Your spouse only got a few weeks off, maybe 3 or 4. You are grateful for the help while they’re here. And then they go back to work, and now it is just you and Baby. The days go by, and slowly, you realize: this isn’t quite what you were expecting.

Thoughts race through your mind: What have I done? How am I going to survive? You wish that someone had told you about all these things that have happened postpartum, but no one did. Well, I am here to inform you. There are some things that happen postpartum; nobody ever even mentions it, they just figure you will get through it after you find out yourself. I am here to save you the struggle! Let me guide you through the first few weeks of post-baby.

Let’s get started. . . .

1. Breastfeeding is not glamorous or easy by any means.

It is hard work. It’s getting up at 2 am and 5 am when Baby is sleeping to pump the milk that is sitting in your breasts so they don’t become engorged. This is also important to do so your milk supply doesn’t dwindle. It is feeding on demand, which is whenever Baby is hungry — which means it could be 3 pm or 3 am when Baby is crying for food. It is sitting for 15–20 minutes, 8 times a day (don’t forget overnight), pumping milk in between feedings and then cleaning all the pump parts thoroughly so they are ready to go for the next round. (Buying an extra set is a necessity; running on one pump set is nearly impossible and extremely time consuming, more so than if you had 2 sets of pump supplies.)

Breastfeeding is sore nipples, heavy breasts and having a human attached to you 95% of the day. It’s figuring out where to feed your baby when you are out and about — hopefully wherever you go has a breastfeeding station; if not, then in public on a bench, or your car, or the bathroom it is. Bras that are stained with leaky breast milk and those handy Boppy pillows are in your foreseeable future.

Overall, breastfeeding is hard, hard work. But in the end, it is worth all the time and effort knowing that your baby is getting all the nutritional values she can get from your breast milk.

2. Both formula and breastfeeding are options.

Sometimes, things happen that make breastfeeding not an option. For me, I had a breast reduction 12 years ago and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. I was able to produce milk, but not a substantial amount. On top of that, my baby had a lip AND a tongue tie. Simply put, she couldn’t latch correctly without getting that fixed. Well, we got it corrected and we spent about a week trying to relearn breastfeeding. Unfortunately though, it ended up being too frustrating for both my baby and me.

So I ended up strictly pumping, and bottle feeding my pumped milk along with supplementing with some formula. So, my breastfeeding journey ended early. With that said, not everyone wants to breastfeed, and that too is all right.

A fed baby is a happy baby. There is no “wrong” or “right” way to feed your baby. I know there is a huge push for breastfeeding because “breast is best.” Yes, breast milk does have some qualities that formula doesn’t have (e.g. antibodies, hormones and white blood cells, to name a few), but that also doesn’t mean that you should feel ashamed if you feed your baby formula too. It is OK. As I said, a fed baby is a happy baby! (And a happy baby makes a happy mommy.)

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) ran a study of moms and babies and their feeding routine. They found that 72.4% breastfed, whereas 59.3% fed their newborn formula. By 2 months of age, the study shows, the data shifts to 63.9% breastfed and 60.3% formula fed. Eventually the number of formula feeding mothers evens out while the number of breastfeeding mothers steadily decreases.*

And you know what? Knowing your baby is getting what she needs for her growth and development is what matters in the end. Formula is not a cop-out, nor is it a sign of being a failure as a Mom. You are not a failure — remember that.

3. Recovery for your body is going to take time.

Your body just gave birth to a human. Whether you had your baby naturally or by C-section, it is not going to be a recovery overnight. Your body needs to heal — and it isn’t gonna be easy. All those muscles you used to push your baby out, or all the skin and fat and tissue they cut through to deliver your baby isn’t gonna heal itself instantly.

The bleeding will be less with a C-section, but no matter how you gave birth, it will increase when you exert energy. Don’t be surprised when you take the stairs or start to exercise again to experience moderate bleeding for a little while. You can expect it to last up to 6 weeks. Take it one day at a time, don’t overdo it. Rest when you can. Take care of yourself too. If you are having pain, address it, don’t ignore it. In time (it might be a matter of weeks or months) your body will bounce back.

4. Feeling physically drained, overwhelmed, and emotional is the norm.

While your body is busy getting back to normal, you’ll experience hormonal fluctuation as well as physical. There are a bunch of things that will happen after Baby is born: for example, most women get the shakes, literally shivering like they’re freezing. (In fact I got this on the 4th and 5th days postpartum.) This is essentially all your hormones trying to get themselves back in sync. It’s a perfectly normal part of your body’s recovery.

Your body is now realizing the monumental thing that happened and the stress of what it went through. As for your emotions? They are still gonna be all over the place — happy, sad, angry . . . you’re gonna feel them all. Feeling overwhelmed is gonna happen too, but don’t let it take over. Ask for help around the house, with baby, with shopping, etc. It’s OK to ask for a friend or family member to watch Baby while you get some things done and de-stress.

5. Baby Blues . . . or is it Postpartum Depression?

Even during your hospital stay, you won’t really hear much about it. You filled out that EPDS (Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Screening) at the hospital and there weren’t any red flags. You know you have the “baby blues” though, frequently feeling sad and lethargic. But what if it’s more?

You’re not engaging with your new baby. In fact, incredible as it may seem, you don’t really feel anything for your baby. Despite having the help of a small army of friends and family to take care of you and baby, you still feel depressed and overwhelmed.

You also start to have this rage, this anger that builds and builds. You try so hard to not take it out on baby, even though her crying and screaming just won’t stop. . . . So your spouse gets the brunt of it instead — the anger just boils over and you can’t control it. Then you feel ashamed and hopeless.

You know you need to take care of Baby, but it just seems like too much. You get so overwhelmed at the thought of having to do it all over again tomorrow. Just keeping Baby alive, fed, and changed is almost too much to handle. The house? Hah, forget that. As everything piles up — laundry, dishes, the messes in the living room — the feelings of anxiety and overwhelming weight start to creep in again, to the point of just wanting to sleep all day, or do absolutely nothing at all. The exhaustion is all-consuming. No amount of naps or coffee can make it go away.

Your sadness keeps you detached from what should be the happy, joyful occasion of raising a newborn. You might not cry all the time, but the emptiness slowly grows. You try to muster up some happiness, some form of joy, but you . . .

Just.

Can’t.

Do.

It.

The strength of will that it takes to summon all your energy to take care of baby, let alone take care of yourself too in some way or form, is all you can manage.

Sound all too familiar? Postpartum depression (PPD) is common. According to a study by the Women’s Health College, up to 20% of mothers may experience it. Even 10% of fathers suffer from their own form of PPD.**

If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, please seek help. You don’t have to suffer alone. You don’t have to keep going like this. Raising a baby is a challenge, and suffering from PPD just makes everything a million times harder. Don’t feel ashamed of asking for help. In the end, it is for the betterment of you and your baby both.

Whether you’re a new mom or a mom-to-be, hopefully you have found this information useful. Being a new mom is an incredible experience, not to mention an emotional roller coaster. Every day a new challenge arises for you and Baby to face, be it the first blowout (oh boy, just you wait!), the first tooth, or Baby’s first steps (cue the happy tears!). It is all a learning process for you and for Baby. Don’t be so hard on yourself; you’re both learning.

Expect the unexpected. Whether this is your first baby or not, being a mom is not all rainbows and roses. It is only for a time that you will feel the aftereffects of giving birth to a newborn. If you still find yourself struggling emotionally weeks or months after the fact, talk to your doctor or OB and they will give you all the help you need. Motherhood is hard work, dedication, tears, and laughter. But above all, motherhood is love. Don’t forget to love yourself too.

My name is Sara Kipp. I have been married for 6 years to my loving husband, Josh. He is my biggest cheerleader. We have an adorable 1 year old daughter, who is the essence of spunk and sass. She has Mommy and Daddy wrapped around her finger. In my spare time, I love to spend time with my family, enjoy a glass of Moscato, and learn about all things Japanese - especially food, culture and anime.

Sources:

*https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/ifps/data/ifps2_tables_ch3.pdf

**https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03803189

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