Monday, 26 August 2013

Recovering from birth: 6 things I know now.

So you've made it through pregnancy, all the way through (early labour and) labour, and look at that! You've won a baby!

This is me with the little girl, moments after she
was born.  I was still being stitched up, hence
the awkward feeding position.  I did wonder about
sharing this pic, as it gives a little more
information than I'd normally want to share, but
hey!  We're not being delicate here are we?
We'll talk about the baby later. For now, let's talk about you. Whether you've pushed a baby out, or had major abdominal surgery, your body has had quite a bumpy ride, and now you've got the joys of lactation, sleep deprivation, more hormones than you could shake a stick at, and massive responsibility to cope with. Add to that that most women will have some sort of wound to deal with, and we can see it's definitely worth talking about you for a minute, right? So here goes.

6 things I know now about recovering from birth

1 - stock up on towels, you're about to have the mother of all periods

You can't use tampons - it's just not safe right now, so for a little while you're going to have to use brick-like pads akin to those you may have come across as a teenager.  The bad news is they won't be sufficient.  The good news is, things will settle down.  Do make sure you don't need to change pads when you're about to breastfeed, as breastfeeding causes your womb to contract (it's brilliant at getting it back down to fist size), and that will help keep the blood flowing.  After a few days you can switch to an ultra pad - I'd go for the night time one.  The good news is that if you keep breastfeeding you'll be able to avoid having another period for a while.  Result.

2 - a caesarian is major abdominal surgery

If you've had a section you've got a big wound, probably on your bikini line (which is a nightmare place to have it, but better than the alternative).  That wound is going to take time to recover, and there's no point in pretending it won't. Hoovering, driving, and carrying too much is a really bad idea. It's six weeks, it's boring, and you feel you ought to be doing more, but giving yourself time to recover is not just good sense, it'll also give you a chance to build a bondwith your baby. Rest when you need to. If you get so you're feeling heavy, rest. Ask for help.  I do know people who've had to go back in to hospital to get sewn up again, and that my friends is just bobbins.

3 - episiotomies and tears can be a real pain in the nethers

Some tears are tiny, and don't cause much of a problem. Others, and certainly episiotomies, can be very sore. Back when you were born nearly everyone had an episiotomy, and they were much more clued up on looking after them.  Your Mum (or her Mum if you're young) is a good person to ask.  But here's what my Mum (and also one of my midwifes) told me.  It's a good idea to take a shallow lukewarm bath a couple of times a day for the first couple of weeks or so. Dissolve some salt in it, and some people like to crush up some garlic in there too. I don't know if the garlic does anything, but the salt helps keep the wound clean to give it a better chance of recovery. If your baby doesn't like you to let go of them, either find someone else who can take them for a walk, or you can fold a towel beside the bath, lie baby on it (with another towel on top to keep warm), and then pick baby up to feed while you're in the bath. You might need more water to keep baby warm.

My episiotomy took ages to get better. As with a section, if you feel heavy, rest. The NCT do great cushions to help you sit. It will get better, but do keep your midwife/health visitor/doctor informed if it's taking a long time. My scar hurt when I had sex for two years after (until I had another baby). I should have gone to the doctor about that!

Talking of nethers, a word about your bum.  Some people get piles, either from pregnancy, or from the birth.  Get a special cushion if you need one, and use Preparation H or similar to get better.  It will get better.  Also, if you're anaemic, you might be on iron tablets.  Some iron tablets are better than others, but they'll all cause some degree of constipation, talk to your doctor about it, and try to eat well so you don't get an anal tear.  Bleurgh.  Always take iron tablets with orange juice - the Vitamin C helps get them into your system, and the juice helps keep things moving.

4 - around day three, you're going to turn into Dolly Parton

You probably know that your milk comes in around day three.  Try to avoid getting engorged by feeding your baby as often as you can.  But I'm not just talking boobs here.  It is around this time that a massive shift in hormone levels, a lack of sleep, and the humongous responsibility of parenthood will all come crashing down upon your shoulders and render you both Country and Western.  Ladies, sometimes it's hard to be a woman.  For some people the 'baby blues' is just a little wobble.  Other people have to be talked out of the toilet by a nurse called Senga (thanks Senga). 

5 - sleep is for the weak

When you were pregnant and couldn't sleep people told you you were in training for when you had the baby, but nothing prepared you for the incredible exhaustion that is life with a small baby.  You will get more sleep if you bottle feed, but it is way better for you and the baby (and for the baby when they are grown up) to breastfeed on demand.  For me, I found that the only way to do that and sleep was to co-sleep.  It is OK to co-sleep if you don't smoke, or drink, or take any drugs (and check with your doctor if you're prescribed something), and if you make sure your baby won't go under a cover they could suffocate under.  It is better to decide to co-sleep, and get your bed set up (I found a muslin under me and the baby, in case of milk dribbles really useful) with suitable blankets for baby, than to try to feed the baby on a chair in the night when you're dog tired, and end up falling asleep on the chair.  Whatever you do, you'll get woken up a lot, and might feel a bit of a zombie.  You might be able to get your baby to lie down without you in a moses basket or something, in which case WELL DONE!  However, your baby will then proceed to pretend to stop breathing every so often to ensure you are paying attention.  It's terrifying!  Babies also make some very weird noises when they're asleep.  Of course, if they ever do sleep peacefully, you'll have to watch them, just to marvel at the wonder of a tiny little person.  Here's a song about it, just to make you cry.

6 - you will find a way

Before I had a baby I didn't think my life was going to change all that huge amount.  I've met plenty of other women who felt the same.  Then they had a baby, and their life changed completely.  They stopped mapping their town in terms of pubs and cafe's, and started mapping in terms of parks and nappy changing facilities.  In the early days it is a real accomplishment to get dressed (and then get dressed again because you're covered in sick).  Baby might not want to be put down ever, and this is understandable, because they've been cuddled for nine months and would you want to stop?  That's OK.  Baby can go in a sling, so you can do other things.  You will also learn how to eat while breastfeeding (handy hint - put a muslin over baby, so they don't get covered in pasta), and some people even manage to go shopping while breastfeeding.  Baby is likely to be especially grumpy in the evenings, but it's OK to go with the flow and just let the baby snack.  It won't last forever.  

Things won't go back to how they were, but you will find a way to do what's important to you.  It might not happen immediately.  But it will happen.  Parenthood is a massive learning curve, but wow, look at this tiny person you made.  Keep at it.

What have I forgotten?  How did you get on after birth?  I'm planning on doing more on breastfeeding next time.  What else do you think I should cover?