For nine months, you’ve had that “glow” … that little inner smile that something really miraculous was going to happen that grew into a giant beachball … that was covered by a shirt you grew to hate.
But now, that baby is sweetly swaddled and intermittently snoozing and wailing right next to you. You sigh and think, “On with the show!”
Not so fast, mom. You’ve got some changes coming at you for which you may or may not be prepared. Because doing something that miraculous is probably going to take a little toll on your body. Like the TV PSAs say, “The more you know …” So, read on.
The Hormones. (Or as Aunt Tula in “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” called them, “The Hormonies”) You know you’ve been a raging ball of hormones during pregnancy. Consequently, following birth, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop which can result in mood swings, anxiety, sadness or irritability. Typically, you even out in a week or so but if not, it can become post-partum depression.
Oxytocin, aka the mommy’s friend, is the awesome hormone that provides the “mothering” instinct. It can also make you anxious, like you’re on alert for every bad thing on the horizon (like subconscious thoughts into the teenage years). Meanwhile, thyroid hormones that regulate body temperature, metabolism and organ function can be affected by giving birth, as well leading to insomnia, anxiety, rapid heart rate, fatigue, weight loss and irritability (one to four months after birth) or fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin and depression (four to eight months after birth).
Finally, did you even know you produce a hormone called “relaxin”? Seriously, just thought that’s what I wanted to do on the weekends. Nope. It’s the hormone that makes your joints looser to allow that baby to exit into the world. It can also make your feet slightly bigger and arches a bit flatter (and that may be permanent). It can take up to five months for joints to return to early stability. After about six months, it’s good to do some strength training to re-strengthen the muscles that hold those joints in place.
Hello Vitamins and Minerals! For starters, don’t discount the fact that you have lost some blood during delivery. That can lead to low iron levels and shakiness. Concentrate on eating iron-rich foods (red meat, leafy greens, beans and lentils). In addition, keep on taking your prenatal multivitamin with iron for as long as you are breastfeeding. Concentrate on eating a well-balanced, healthy diet.
I’ve Got Big Boobs and I Cannot Lie. Yup. Those are huge. Who knew? After buying bras in digits you didn’t know existed, you realize there’s not much more excruciating pain than engorged breasts and a hungry baby. Some things that may help: Applying warm packs before breastfeeding and cold packs afterwards, as well as taking a mild anti-inflammatory (such as ibuprofen, which is safe during breastfeeding), expressing a bit of milk in the shower or tucking a clean, slightly crushed cabbage leaf against your breast all help. (We know, it sounds weird, but it works.) If your breast becomes warm, red and/or more painful than usual, contact your doctor immediately; it may be mastitis, and you don’t want that to go untreated.
Down There: What are You and What Have You Done With My Lady Parts? Giving birth is rough business; you’re going to be sore no matter how that baby comes out. Make amends with rest and some painkillers … soothe your sore and stitched perineum (the area between your vulva and anus) with a sitz bath or by tucking a frozen maxi-pad sprayed with witch hazel into your undies. (Just for kicks, offer one to the baby daddy.)
You will continue to have “afterpains” — contractions that help your uterus start to shrink to its pre-baby state. Some women find that “belly binding” is helpful in providing additional support to your healing body during this time. You will have a bloody discharge (lochia) for up to six weeks after delivery. If you are not breastfeeding, your period will likely return … also the ability to get pregnant again. Safety first. And, with low estrogen, you made need a little help from some water-based lube when you have sex.
Our sisters in Europe have a standing postpartum appointment with a pelvic floor therapist. It’s preventative for later-in-life issues like prolapse, incontinence and even joint pain. And don’t forget the Kegels.
Self Care. We make light of some things, but seriously, you have got to take care of you. It is not selfish to hand off the baby to a family member or friends and take a breath. Go for a walk. Meditate. Do nothing. Check in with yourself. The old saying, “Ain’t no one happy if mama ain’t happy” bears much truth. Give yourself permission for these “mental health minutes” to ensure healthy, happy motherhood.