What to Expect the First 6 Weeks Postpartum
When you're pregnant, you don't always consider what to expect when the baby's born and you're smack-dab in the middle of postpartum.
As a nurse, doula and Lamaze teacher, I know how many things are going through your mind right now! So many questions about pregnancy:
Can I keep exercising? (umm, probably).
Can I drink coffee? (yup, but try to keep it to 2 cups a day).
When can I drink wine again? (after the baby is born!)
Let’s face it- when you're growing a human being inside of you, it’s all-consuming. Every move you make is affecting another person now, Mama. So it’s not surprising that you’re not really thinking about what to expect after that human slides through your body, amiright?
CHILDBIRTH: THE MOST INTENSE WORKOUT YOU'LL EVER EXPERIENCE.
Here’s the thing about childbirth: you can do it all-natural, rocking an epidural or having a c-section- but no matter how the baby comes out, it’s one of the hardest workouts your body will do in it’s lifetime. I don’t care if you do pilates every day, eat vegan, walk religiously or swim like a fish: your body will never do another workout as intense as birth.
So you know I like to keep it real without scaring the shiz out of you. I’ve had four kids- two by natural birth and two by c-section and I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing easy about recovering from birth. So if you've been scrolling those #bounceback moms on Instagram, it's time to read on for a dose of reality. There are exceptions to every rule, but in my personal and professional experience most women are a little surprised at how little they knew about what to expect in postpartum.
In a number of studies, women were asked about their postpartum experience. Here are ten things they wish they'd known to expect during their postpartum recovery:
WHAT TO EXPECT THE FIRST 6 WEEKS POSTPARTUM
1) You'll probably miss your doctor.
While you’re pregnant, you’re seeing your doctor or midwife every month and then every week. Sometimes, you see them more often than your best girls! You’re being monitored and measured and you have lots of opportunities to ask questions. After you’re discharged from the hospital and you go home, you don’t typically see a doctor for 6 weeks. Many women found this transition left them feeling very isolated and alone, especially when they had questions or concerns about their postpartum recovery.
PRO TIP: If you think this may be the case for you, make an appointment to see your doctor 2 or 3 weeks postpartum so you have an opportunity to straighten out any issues that come up.
RELATED: You should join the MamaSoup community to find some amazing health and wellness experts and other moms to connect with! Check it out- it's free and anonymous.
2) The exhaustion is next-level postpartum.
We hear it all the time: sleep deprivation is bad for our health. This is no different during postpartum! If you’re exhausted, reach out for help. Whether it’s someone to clean the house while you sleep during the day, help with pets or other kids, saying no to things so you can stay in and sleep or lowering your standards for a clean house do WHATEVER you can to sleep whenever possible. There is nothing more important for a new mama than sleep for her recovery. So when someone says they wanna come and visit, make sure you have a job for them that makes time for YOU to rest.
Here's the reality: people want to help you, they just don't know what to do. So get really clear where you'll need the extra support and start enlisting your friends and family.
PRO TIP: Download this postpartum planning guide before you have your baby to prepare. You may not know exactly what to expect in the first six weeks postpartum, but this guide can really help you!
3) There's a good chance you'll have sore, engorged breasts.
So many women have boob issues after birth! If you’re breastfeeding these can include: sore, cracked or bleeding nipples, breast tenderness and even engorgement. For women not breastfeeding, you’re still going to experience very sore, tender, leaking breasts. There’s just no way away around those hormones of birth.
If you're breastfeeding remember this: nothing cures sore, cracked or bleeding nipples better than having a great latch. Get as much help as possible from the nurses and lactation consultants before you leave the hospital.
PRO TIP: Download this free guide to latching your baby at the breast, hand-expressing breastmilk and safe storage guidelines.
4) There's also a good chance you'll have a sore back.
When it comes to what to expect the first six weeks postpartum, a lot of new moms are shocked that their backs hurt after childbirth. Pregnancy and birth are hard on a back!
There are several reasons for back pain:
- tenderness at the epidural site
- hours spent in labour
- a shift in weight after the baby is born
- larger breasts to carry
- a baby to carry around
- weak or separated abdominal muscles
- pelvic dysfunction
It’s important to know that not everyone will experience back pain, but if you do there are a lot of really good reasons why.
If your pain persists for more than a week, it's not a bad idea to contact a physiotherapist or pelvic floor physiotherapist.
5) Urinary retention and incontinence
Ok here’s some real talk: after pushing a baby out you may experience some temporary issues with peeing. Some women can’t feel themselves peeing and it just slips out. Don’t worry too much about this in the first few days, you’re wearing a big pad anyhow! You can really help strengthen your pelvic floor your by doing kegels while you’re pregnant.
Another thing a lot of women know about what to expect during postpartum is even more unpleasant: swollen labia (the lips around your vagina) that make it really hard to pee. Sometimes you may pee just a little tiny bit, and sometimes there’s nothing coming out at all. It’s super-uncomfortable because you can’t empty your bladder. All I can tell you is that it usually clears up within a couple of days but you may have to be catheterized until it does.
If you haven’t peed within 4-6 hours of your birth, you need to start telling your nurse or doctor to get a plan in place.
6) Bowel incontinence
We've all heard stories about how hard the first poop after birth can be, but has anyone told you that you can involuntarily poop yourself as well? Pushing is a lot of hard work and sometimes it can really weaken your pelvic floor. Another reason to do kegels while you’re pregnant!
Most of the time incontinence clears itself up as your pelvic floor regains strength, but it may be something that you have to deal with longer. Make sure you mention it to your doctor, especially if you're having it along with a sore back. Pelvic floor physiotherapy can really help too.
7) The physical changes to your body.
In a fairly recent study, a lot of new moms found that their care provider didn’t address their concerns about reaching a healthy weight or what to expect from their postpartum body. They had concerns about postpartum sexuality and they also weren’t discussed.
PRO TIP: If you think any of these issues will affect you (and who doesn’t it affect?) please write down your concerns and put the note in your birth bag so you can chat with a nurse or doctor about it before you leave the hospital.
Don't brush your concerns away- you deserve to feel like you have all the information that you need to feel great physically and emotionally after birth!
8) What birth control you should take
It’s not recommended for a woman to have sex in the first 6 weeks after birth. There are a lot of things coming out of your vagina and there’s a good chance you’ll be very thankful for a bit of celibacy. But some women don’t bleed as long, didn’t tear or have stitches and they may feel like getting down and dirty.
Either way, you need to talk to your care provider about whether or not it’s cool in your situation and what you can use to prevent a postpartum pregnancy. Ain’t nobody got time for that, so protect yourself!
And remember: it IS possible to get pregnant in the 6 weeks postpartum.
9) How to spot postpartum depression
With all of the information out there about women who suffer from PPD, you’d think that health professionals would be talking about it all. the. damn. time. But that’s just not the case.
So, if 19% of moms are going to experience it, that means you need to have it on your radar. Ask your doctor about what signs to look out for.
PRO TIP: Download the same test that your doctor uses and test yourself. It’s free and it comes with instructions!
10) How to safely smoke with a newborn
Here’s the thing: even people who smoke usually know that it’s not good for them. But it’s an addiction. Telling women just to simply quit smoking isn’t enough.
If you’re a smoking mama, you can do things to minimize the risks for your new baby:
- smoke outside
- never smoke in the car
- wash your hands after smoking
- wash your hands before you handle the baby
And if you’re a smoking mom who wants to breastfeed? You should DO IT! Check out this really popular post about smoking moms who want to breastfeed.
Now you know what to expect in the first six weeks postpartum. Pregnancy is a really special time for you, Mama. But after you give birth please, please take it easy on yourself and your body as you adjust to motherhood. You don’t need to “bounce back”. You need to gently unfold the layers of becoming a mom, one at a time. It just takes patience, love and a bit of understanding about what to expect.
Welcome to Motherhood.
My friend Hanna over at Babytalk has some advice about postpartum, too! Check it out: How to Have a Happy Postpartum
Joanne Ilaqua - CEO of MamaSoup
Hey there, I’m Joanne.
I’ve spent about 20 years serving women as a nurse, doula and Lamaze educator. I have 4 kids and I know firsthand how lonely and isolating motherhood can be, so I created MamaSoup. I'm mostly known for my love of red wine, spontaneously singing and my confidence in being my true self on social media. When I’m not busy building women up, you can catch me taking Instagram stories of my bulldog Ruby, watching The Handmaid’s Tale, playing MUber (Mom Uber) to my kids or vacationing in my favourite town: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
I love serving the world by providing a space for moms to connect and support each other. In my opinion, moms are the backbone of communities because they are (literally) raising the future!
As the founder and CEO of MamaSoup, I’ve been featured on CHEX TV Morning Show, KawarthaNOW, Economic Development- The City of Kawartha Lakes and MyKawartha.
Still with me? Join me over at MamaSoup to keep the conversation going!