Postpartum Survival Guide
by natalie fitzgerald
One of the best things about motherhood is chartering the unknown, finding a way to parent that works with your personality and lifestyle, and building confidence to do things the way you feel is best for your family. It can be challenging and uncomfortable at times, and it’s constantly evolving and changing, but having a good support system and knowledge can be your best allies. I’ve put together my best tips for a postpartum survival guide to help with some of the unknowns that come along with new motherhood, addressing some of the “I wish someone would have told me that” topics that so many mommies can relate to!
We spend months preparing for our little buddle of joy to arrive – from product research to nursery prep, and everything in between. But what we don’t always anticipate is the greater reality that comes with life postpartum– the part that goes beyond the multi-functioning stroller and the chic diaper bag. We’re talking breastfeeding challenges, mother’s recovery, hemorrhoids, SLEEP! That’s why I’ve put together a postpartum survival guide for all the mamas out there who want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of postpartum – and how to prepare for it all!
Everyone has a different recovery depending on how things go down. Either way, most new moms will feel contractions even after birth (especially while breastfeeding), and with each consecutive birth these contractions tend to come on stronger each time. Your uterus goes from the size of a watermelon to the size of a grapefruit in a few short days, and contractions are this organ’s way of getting back to its original size. Grin and bear it, or there are some medications that can help with the pain, and know that these can last up to two weeks postpartum!
While we’re talking birth and recovery, I’m totally going there – hemorrhoids! Postpartum hemorrhoids aren’t pleasant but can be common, especially if you have a long labor or push period. Make sure you’re eating lots of high fiber foods after giving birth. You can also ask your doctor about using a stool softener, creams or essential oils that can help with stubborn hemorrhoids if they persist.
It happens! It can come out gradually over time through the postpartum period, or even in clumps. It’s common, and it isn’t fun, especially for those with fine or thin hair. Consult with your doctor on options if you’re experiencing hair loss post-baby.
First Period Postpartum
Your first period after having a baby can come at any time. Most women will get it after they are finished breastfeeding, but this is not always the case! Be prepared for a heavy flow, possibly more cramping than usual, and hormonal changes that can affect you physically, but also emotionally as well.
Newborns (0-6 weeks) sleep. A lot. A newborn can sleep 17-20 hours per day. While they sleep a lot, their sleep patterns can be unpredictable and erratic for the first couple of months. However, you can aim to feed your baby “full feedings” so that his tummy is full, and that will set him up for a successful stretch of sleep so he doesn’t wake up hungry after a short nap. As your baby gets older, his tummy will grow so he is able to hold more Eventually if you feed your baby enough throughout the day, he will start to sleep longer stretches at night. This is a good way to avoid sleep training if you are trying to instill healthy sleep habits early on. Try to keep your newborn awake while eating – it’s hard! Tickle his toes, strip him down, and try to stay engaged with him while he’s eating to keep him focused.
As a sleep consultant, I often encourage my clients to incorporate rituals and routines before sleep time with their babies, even with newborns. The sooner your little one learns what he can expect when it comes to sleep, the easier sleep will come. One ritual I love is the bath. I often suggest doing this before bedtime. It can be relaxing for baby, bring down their body temperature, and help them wind down during witching hours when they’re fussy or unsettled.
Most importantly, take good care of yourself so you can take good care of your baby. I know that is so much easier said than done, but it is essential. You can’t take care of others before first taking care of yourself. You’ve got this, mama!
The First Days
The first days with your baby can be challenging. Giving birth and being birthed is depleting for both mom and baby! Be gentle with yourself: move slowly, accept help, drink fluids, eat fiber, and rest or sleep as much as you can. You also might not feel the instant “love at first sight” feeling some moms talk about when their babies are born, and that’s ok! Give yourself some time to bond with your baby and get to know him. You might expect your baby to peacefully sleep in your arms, only to discover you’re unable to soothe your fussy newborn at 3am. Some newborns have fussy periods throughout the day or at night when they just need to be held or rocked and close to a warm body. Loud shush-ing near their face can be a soothing sound for newborns too, since it’s similar to the sound they hear en utero.
Many think breastfeeding should “come naturally” for new moms, however the majority of the time it does not. Breastfeeding can be a new mom’s greatest challenge. During the first couple of days get help if you feel like your baby might not be getting enough, or if you feel pain or blistering. Some discomfort is normal, and it can be hard to distinguish what’s normal from what isn’t if you’ve never done it before. Lactation consultants can be great resources to help you and your baby get comfortable with breastfeeding if that’s how you choose to feed your baby. The sooner you are able to pinpoint any breastfeeding issues, the sooner you’ll be able to correct them, which can help make getting into a good feeding rhythm with your baby a lot easier in the early weeks.
Natalie Fitzgerald is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Postpartum Doula.
Natalie’s approach to sleep training is tailored to each family she works with, meeting them exactly where they are and developing a customized plan to help them reach their sleep goals, based on their unique baby’s needs and their parenting style. Natalie walks alongside families during the time they need the most support, encouraging parents and helping them find a rhythm that works best with their baby and lifestyle.
Natalie is also a member of the Postpartum Health Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders.
She lives in San Diego with her little ones: Connor (7yrs), Kate (4yrs), and Makenna (1.5yrs).
You can follow Natalie or reach out to her with questions on Instagram and Facebook.