When I transitioned from pregnancy to motherhood I placed a laser-like focus onto my fresh new human, mostly ignoring my own body’s needs for the sake of my child’s. (“I’ll feed you right after I pee, baby.” *newborn whimpers* “Never mind, come to my breast; I will clench forever.”) My first child was born via Caesarean section and the second was a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean), and I was lucky to emerge from both with few complications. But had I known how my body was repairing itself, I could have saved a few tears in the days and months that followed. Here’s what I know about postpartum recovery and what you need to know before the delivery day.
1. There will be blood (lots of it!), even if you have a C-section
Even after being told to expect bleeding post C-section, it just didn’t compute for me (everything came out with my guts, right?) This was yet another bodily fluid to manage on top of my newborn’s messes, and it was also scary to check that no clot was larger than a quarter, which could be a sign of postpartum hemorrhage. Luckily, the heavy bleeding only lasted about a week post C-section and VBAC, then the bleeding trickled like a leaky pipe for three weeks afterwards. For some women, this can last up to six weeks, so stock up on your favourite pads (tampons risk infection at this stage).
2. That first poo doesn’t have to be awful
I remember the nurses sweetly asking if I’d had a bowel movement after my C-section. Hell no! I wasn’t about to push anything out of me with a sliced-open abdomen. So they encouraged a stool softener to help things along, which it did, no pushing required. And after my VBAC? “Hell no!” I actually said out loud. With perineal tearing, I had a lot of anxiety about cleanup. Again, softeners to the rescue, and I propped my feet on a box to minimize straining. It was another easy passage, and I was relieved in every sense. The takeaway: don’t panic, avoid straining and don’t be afraid of a softener if your healthcare provider suggests one.
3. Afterpains are surprisingly painful
I mean, they are called “afterpains,” but given the acute pain level of labour and surgery, I didn’t expect uterine contractions to be so bad. But they came on like a force during breastfeeding, which is quite common. This was especially torturous for me as nursing both my newborns felt like pneumatic nail guns on my nipples. Oh, how I cried those first two weeks when my babies latched and my uterus roared in response. I clenched teeth and fists and doggedly told myself it wouldn’t be like this forever (and it wasn’t). Fortunately, regular ibuprofen works to take the edge off. The trick was remembering to medicate about 20 minutes before feeding.
4. You may not be period-free for long
When I said I was breastfeeding at both six-week checkups, my OBs practically cheered: “You won’t get your period for six months!” But both times, around the eight-week mark, there it was, along with every familiar ache, pain and premenstrual ennui. This time, it was made worse by sleep deprivation and postpartum recovery. I sent my husband for more pads (and chocolate), and he overcompensated with the thickest, largest overnight brand he could find (but also good chocolate). And note—a cycle returned early brings ovulation, another thing to prepare for.
5. Expect your hair to change (and avoid changing it)
While hair behaves differently for everyone, mine fell out at three months postpartum, leaving noticeable baldness at my temples (don’t be alarmed, this is normal after giving birth as your hormones level out). After my second child, I thought I’d outsmart my thinning hair and get a pixie ’do right before mom-and-baby photo day. Bad move. Not only did it fail to hide anything, it made me feel even more globular and ugly than I already did. I worked hard to fight back tears during that photoshoot, which seems trite looking back, but my soul was just as tender as my post-baby body. Now, at 10 months postpartum, I love my short hair, but it’s also filled in and back to normal (this usually happens about six months postpartum).
6. Your bladder may have a mind of its own
This happened after my vaginal delivery: I would walk into the house in late afternoon with the baby and toddler in tow and feel a sudden dropping sensation and an eye-popping urge to urinate. I’d squeeze everything I could, abandon the children and scuttle up the stairs before near-peeing all over the bathroom. If you guessed a weakened pelvic floor, you would be right, and I saw a physiotherapist to repair this internal muscle. But she also told me the brain can activate the bladder to escape a situation—such as dealing with two tired children at the end of the day (well played, brain). Now, when I walk in the door and think I might pee my pants, I take a minute to assess whether I have a full bladder or just a weary mind, and often the urge will dissipate.
Nearly a year after giving birth to my second child, I still feel like I’m recovering—I’m forever worried my pelvic floor will fail me, and I’m not sure I’ll ever adjust to heavier periods and larger breasts. But I make a point to listen to my body more, and I’m a much happier and healthier mom for doing so.