One week ago today one of my closest friends gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. Visiting her in the hospital and seeing that tiny newborn brought back a flood of memories from when Jamesie was first born - how his head was cone shaped and his face was all puffy, how he hardly opened his eyes and slept all day (I could go one forever). It is such a special and short lived time, especially with the first child. I could see clearly the memory of myself and newborn Jamesie in the maternity ward of that hospital. The more time that goes by the more that memory fade, until one day when it will be just a memory of a memory.
While visiting my friend Cassandra in the hospital I was able to observe and in someways re-live the careful rituals of new parenthood - the strangeness of nursing for the first-time, the science of the 'perfect' swaddle, the meticulous attention to everything from a hiccup to the twitch of a foot. There is such a stark difference between a newborn baby and a 9-month old, and this unfamiliar ground can be tricky to navigate for first-time parents. Also a new mother has concerns about herself and her body - she may even morn her pre-pregnancy self. The important thing to remember is that the female body has a miraculous way of bouncing back from the difficult toll of pregnancy. Now being a somewhat seasoned mother, I thought I'd create a list of the stuff no one ever told me about newborns and my postpartum body.
Jamesie a few days after he came home from the hospital - sleeping cozy in his Moses basket by the window.
1. Several days to a few weeks after your baby is born they will most likely develop 'Baby acne,' which are small rash-like bumps on their face and head. They are completely normal, and are a result of the hormones in your breast milk.
2. Newborn babies are really small. You forget just how small and delicate they are until you are holding one in your lap, being extra careful to support their head.
3. The left over piece of umbilical cord attached to the baby's belly button will fall off on its own in a few weeks.
4. It's completely normal to be terrified and paranoid when you first bring your little one home.
5. The age old advice of "sleep while the baby sleeps" is true... but you also have to eat, shower and catch up with family and friends during those brief moments of solitude.
6. Speaking of sleep, newborns do a lot of that (up to be 23 hours a day) - it is not unusual to have to wake your baby up to feed (this is especially important if you are breastfeeding, because nursing increases your milk supply and allows your newborn to gain weight)
7. Newborns go through a lot of diapers. It's completely normal to go through 12 or more diapers in a day.
This is me exactly 4-weeks postpartum. I have come a long way since then with diet and exercise. Although my body has changed, I am thinner and feel healthier now than before I became pregnant.
1. After the baby is born you will still look pregnant for awhile. Give your body some time to adjust (breastfeeding actually helps your uterus contract and burns calories!)
2. Postpartum hormones are real. Expect your emotions to go a little crazy, and expect yourself to even act a little crazy (patience boys). Breastfeeding can actually help with postpartum mood swings because it produces happy hormones! However, if your feelings get worse and last longer than a few weeks, say something.
3. Hormones... those pregnancy cravings might linger as well, but allow some indulgence those first few weeks postpartum - it can be comforting and just what you need.
4. If you are breastfeeding, expect to be ridiculously thirsty all of the time. And for that matter, hungry too.
5. It's normal for your breasts to 'harden' - that's your milk coming in. Don't worry, the hardness goes away quickly. Use those icepacks.
6. Your body will not be the same - you might have stretch marks (damn you if you don't) and your linea nigra might linger (I never really had one?) - accept it and love it and don't fret, the stretch marks fade!
7. Your balance might be a little different because the shape of your pelvis has changed, which has in turn altered your center of gravity.
8. Expect to feel some pains while your body heals, but if the pain increases make sure to tell your doctor - postpartum you will be extremely susceptible to infection. It can take up to 6 weeks before you stop feeling pain, and if you had an episiotomy, it can take up to a year or longer to heal completely. Take care of yourself.
9. Don't push yourself when you work out for the first time after birth. It is going to be overwhelming and feel amazing to be doing something, but remember that you just had a baby and you need to be careful.
10. You will feel weak and tired for many weeks, but you will also feel protective and invincible - que mama bear.
There you have it - all the stuff (that I could think of) you didn't know about newborns and your postpartum self. There are probably more, and remember that every pregnancy, birth and recovery experience are different. Just listen to your body and your instincts, they will rarely lead you astray.
One last thing - you will love your child more than you ever thought possible. It is the greatest kind of love.