I thought I had prepared myself well for what to expect after the birth of my baby, but it turned out that even my “realistic” vision was a wee bit rose-colored. I was ready to still look a little pregnant. I knew there would be some unpleasant discharge going on for a while. Heck, I even bought the necessary supplies to treat hemorrhoids, just in case. And then came delivery day …
I didn’t still look “a little” pregnant. I looked really pregnant. If I’d headed out without the baby, I’m sure someone would have asked me when I was due and split my soul in two. “Discharge” was not a word strong enough to describe what was happening downstairs. The clots, y’all … it’s gruesome. And, by some miraculous twist of fate, I didn’t even need those hemorrhoid supplies. Which was lucky, since there was plenty going on elsewhere to keep me perturbed. Here are a few things I just wasn’t ready for.
1. Hello, ladies.
Since I was never particularly well-endowed in the chest department, I kind of loved my pregnancy boobs. They were perky and pretty, and a full cup size larger than I’d been pre-pregnancy. Two days after the baby arrived, my milk showed up—and my boobs almost exploded. (I’m mostly kidding.) They were HUGE. Even my cotton stretchy bra (that was already a larger size than before) was stretched to capacity, and I had to unhook it a few times just to breathe comfortably.
These new boobs were not perky and pretty. They were veiny, painful and hard as a rock. It took several days of nursing for them to find a happy place to settle. And, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the girls are going to swell like this whether you breastfeed or not. If you’re not nursing, you’ll just need to tough it out, and the milk will dry up when it realizes it isn’t needed. (It shouldn’t take more than a few days.) If you are nursing, feeding baby often will help your body figure out what kind of supply you’ll need, and it will adjust its production accordingly. Hang in there!
2. Cry me a river.
In the days following my baby’s birth, I cried at the drop of a hat. But here’s what was weird: I wasn’t really sad. I was elated! I’d just powered through labor and delivered a truly perfect human being. Life was good. But for whatever reason I just could not stop crying.
In hindsight, I see the reason: Hormones, man. They kick your butt from conception to … well, forever, I think. The baby blues are normal during the first couple of weeks postpartum, and crying for no reason is a common symptom. (Albeit a mild one; I’m lucky—and grateful—that I didn’t suffer from anything worse.) Moms might also feel impatient, irritable, restless or sad. Normally, the blues only occur for a few minutes to hours a day, and they fade completely within two weeks. If you’re feeling more severe symptoms (see sidebar for details), suffering negative emotions around the clock, or still feeling down after the 14-day mark, call your doctor. You could be suffering from postpartum depression, which can be serious and requires medical treatment.
3. Mark-it value.
I knew stretch marks were a possibility, but I thought I was one of the lucky ones. As stretched out as my stomach had been on day 265 when I waddled into the hospital to give birth, there wasn’t a single spot in sight. The lotion had worked! Victory was mine! Until the baby arrived, my stomach began deflating … and I realized I’d been mistaken. Not only did I have a few stretch marks on my stomach, but my rear, thighs and hips were marked as well.
Weeks later, as my breasts swelled and deflated on the daily, I found stretch marks there, too. Lesson learned: Just because you don’t see stretch marks while expecting doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. For the most part, if your mama had stretch marks, you’re pretty likely to have them, too. (Don’t tell that baby girl in your arms that she’ll probably also deal with them one day far, far down the road.) Heredity is the main factor at play. However, those lotions and potions on the market can help ease the marks, both before and after pregnancy, so go ahead and rub them on. If nothing else, your skin will be supple, smooth and fabulous—even if you are sporting a few tiger stripes.
4. Hairy situation ahead.
Remember how your hair was luxuriously thick and dazzling during pregnancy? Yeah, that’s going to change. Most women experience a fair degree of hair loss during the postpartum period. You won’t go bald or anything drastic, but don’t be surprised when you see a wad of hair in the drain after your shower for some time (or if you come away from a ponytail fix with a handful of loose locks).
Many seasoned moms also swear that hair texture changes after kids. Some women find that their hair is thinner after their bout of postpartum hair loss, but for many the new hair that grows in leads to thicker, wavier hair than they had before. Some curly gals go straight. It could really be anything. But one thing is almost certain: You’ll see a change in your hair one way or another once baby’s in your arms instead of your belly.
5. Well, that just happened.
Let’s talk about incontinence, shall we? All the muscles in your midsection are going to need some time to recover from childbirth, so “holding it” can be more challenging in the initial days after baby’s debut. (It’s often more pronounced for moms who delivered vaginally.) But even beyond that, you might find that a sneeze, cough or jump causes a little unfortunate leak. It can last for up to a year, or even beyond. The good news on this one: You can do something to help.
Regularly practicing Kegel exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor and minimize leaking. If you aren’t quite sure how to properly do a Kegel, ask your doctor to help you out before you leave the hospital; she can assist you in finding the right muscles to work to get the job done. There are also devices out there designed for the task (just Google “pelvic muscle trainer”). And, until you’ve regained your strength, wear a panty liner to catch any moisture that works its way out down below.
Although having a baby changes your whole body from the inside out, it’s so worth the overhaul that you won’t even mind the new gal gazing back at you from the mirror. She might be looking a little worse for the wear in the first few weeks of motherhood, but she’s on track for life’s biggest, most exhilarating adventure—and there’s nothing in the world better than that.