I had my first baby on November 1, and despite reading all the books, nobody prepared me for some of the less glamorous aspects of childbirth.
Postpartum self-care and wellness extends beyond making time for a shower and maybe a swipe of mascara--there are some things I wish women were more open about regarding postpartum recovery. Although I am an extremely modest person IRL (for example, I insisted on being draped for my entire delivery), I think it’s important to be pretty transparent about what to expect when you’re done expecting and ready to recover from a vaginal childbirth.
1. You're going to be VERY dehydrated.
Between IV fluids, additional medication, and the sheer physical exertion of labor, you will be completely dehydrated. A day after giving birth my lips went from normal to the most crustiest and cracked I’ve ever seen them. Get a ginormous water bottle--my hospital gave me a 28 ounce one--fill it, drink it, then repeat, over and over. If you are planning on nursing, it is especially important to stay hydrated when establishing and maintaining your milk supply, because the fluids coming in have to keep up with the fluids going out.
2. Being too tired to eat is not an option.
I ate a pint of vanilla ice cream the day I gave birth because it’s all I wanted. Some ladies go for booze, sushi, deli meat, or anything else they couldn’t have while pregnant. The point is to get some food in you, and keep it coming as you recover. If you plan to breastfeed, your body requires a decent balance of protein, fats, and carbs. This is not the time to crash diet or go low carb. Even if you are not nursing, your body still needs quality fuel to heal.
3. You'll need a squirt bottle to go to the bathroom.
Whether or not you tear down there during delivery, you can count on that entire region being really frickin’ sore for a while. Thankfully, most hospitals hook you up with a squirt bottle which you can fill with hot water and aim at whilst peeing to cut the burning sensation and use to clean off after you’re done eliminating. And ladies, dab--don’t wipe!--with the toilet paper when finishing up.
4. Dermoplast will be your vagina's new BFF.
This is the Holy Grail of postpartum wellness products. I want to dedicate a song to it or write it a really long, emotional letter. Dermoplast is this brilliant little aerosol pain relieving spray that acts as a cooling and numbing agent for your downstairs region. After using your squirt bottle and dabbing yourself dry, shoot yourself with a steady stream of Dermoplast and enjoy the relief. While some women put actual ice packs in adult diapers, this works just as well to keep your undercarriage from hurting too much while you’re recovering.
5. Your bum is going to need special care, too.
Facts of life, people--giving birth is akin to having the most massive bowel movement of your life. And unless you’re some kind of magical unicorn, there’s going to be some straining. Which means, unfortunately, you might end up with a souvenir hemorrhoid or five. In addition to good old Prep-H, you can also treat the affected area with witch hazel pads, medicated wipes to help with the burning and itching, as well as a sitz bath, a shallow basin to soak your behind in warm water. (Note: you are not supposed to take full baths immediately postpartum, so don’t substitute one for a sitz.)
6. Fear of pooping.
Look, meds back up your digestive system. On top of that, you have some serious swelling and possible stitches down below. So I don’t blame you for being afraid of going to the bathroom. But here’s the deal--the longer you hold it, the bigger it’s going to get. So try to chill, take the prescribed stool softeners the hospital sends you home with, and remain calm when you feel the urge to go. I promise you won’t, like, explode down there when you are finally able to eliminate.
7. You'll need to stock up on ginormous maxi pads and generously-sized undies.
As if you aren’t feeling fabulous enough, now is the time to break out the granny panties and hoard the industrial-sized maxi pads hospitals issue new moms. Their wingspan on a short lady like me is practically belly button to butt crack, but, hey, you’re going to be bleeding a lot initially. After birth, your body releases lochia, a normal stream of discharge that basically rivals the longest and heaviest period of your life. Check in with your doctor if you pass any blood clumps larger than a golf ball, but otherwise, just keep changing those pads and reminding yourself you had nine-plus months period-free, so your body is just making up for lost time.
8. Your boobs can get a little mangled.
If you choose to nurse (and that is so your personal choice, so please don’t feel pressured one way or another by hospital staff, your family, or random strangers who are strangely militant about breastfeeding), brace yourself for some sore nipples. The baby and you both are learning, and in the process, your boobs can get a little mangled. Any lanolin cream will work to soothe them, and most creams don’t require you to wipe it off before nursing. And if you’re one of the many lucky ladies who finds she leaks milk in between feedings, stuff some nursing pads in your bra to prevent potentially embarrassing and messy wet spots from appearing on your shirt.
Now that I’ve exposed some of the less beautiful aspects of the miracle of life, I’d love to hear from you. And here's my new arrival, Olivia Grace.
- Moms: what was your recovery experience (especially if you had a C-section, which I can’t speak to)?
- Prospective and expecting moms: what are your concerns and questions? Let’s help each other out!
Cover image by Tatiana VDB via