The things they don't tell you about the 4th trimester..
I am now currently almost 6 months postpartum with my second baby. We welcomed our little girl June, this past July. Now, I always heard that each pregnancy is different, which was true in my case to some extent. I had normal, pretty easy pregnancies. With my second I suffered from symphysis pubic dysfunction (SPD) from about 20 weeks on. I was staying fit, exercising, and weight lifting and all of a sudden one day I couldn’t walk. I thought I might have tweaked something using the leg press the day prior. This may have been true, but things were not the same after that day. I can’t even quite explain the feeling of SPD, but I know some call it “lightning crotch". Enough said, right? I was teaching and on my feet the majority of the day and would get this shooting nerve pain that would take my breath away. Basically lifting my legs was difficult for several weeks. Things started to improve in the third trimester and I started running and lifting weights again by the end of my pregnancy. I digress. The point here is that it is true that every pregnancy is different. And I’m here to tell you that, in my case, each postpartum period is different too.
I’m going to preface all of this by saying that I used to be a labor & delivery and postpartum nurse. So my knowledge base is much higher than someone with no experience. However, it is always different when it is happening to yourself. So, I knew what to expect physically.
I will start with my postpartum journey with my first, as that was certainly more difficult. I had an easy & uneventful delivery and postpartum stay with my son. I was on top of the world, sore, but on top of the world.
You hobble out of the hospital, then BAM you’re home, and everything changes:
Swelling/Hemorrhoids- holy hemorrhoids! You are going to be very sore and it will be difficult to use the restroom. I lived on stool softeners, ice packs, and Dermaplast the first couple of weeks. You will be very sore for quite sometime. That’s why you have to wait 6 weeks for anything to go in again. And frankly, maybe even longer than that. And let me tell you, things will never be the same in the back end ever again if you are one of those lucky ones.
Blood-I knew that I was going to bleed, but it really does last a few weeks. Just beware. Buy pads and use them with stretchy grandma panties. Yoga pants are your friend for both #1 and #2 on this list.
Engorgement- For me, I was only in the hospital 2 nights when I had my first, and 1 night with my second. Breastfeeding came pretty easy for me and my son. However, your milk doesn’t come in for a few days and that’s when engorgement sets in. O-M-G It looks and feels like you got breast implants. All I can say is nurse, nurse, nurse that baby. My daughter’s latch was a little more difficult on one side at first, but it all sorted itself out.
Leaking Milk- For me, this happened within a couple of days postpartum and still happened occasionally for the entire YEAR I was breastfeeding. I have to have breast pads for the duration of my breastfeeding journey. I might not use them all the time, but beware you might have a let-down and leak all over your shirt!
Sleep- or lack thereof. I mean you expect this when you are pregnant, but you don’t really know what sleep deprivation feels like until you are in the thick of it. I think this is the biggest adjustment into parenthood. Jack was a terrible sleeper. I’m talking up every hour for months. I was lucky to get a three hour stretch even at 3 months out. With my first, I responded to every little sound and did not set up good sleep habits, like trying to let him settle on his own. Do your research and choose what sleep training method you want to use. I thought I knew, but that changed the more sleep deprived I became. I was literally a zombie. I am so thankful that I did not have to work during the first year of his life, because NOPE. That would have been awful! And more power to you if you went through this or are going through it! There is light at the end of the tunnel (but it maybe a long tunnel like mine was!)
Sweating- Totally normal, but man I did not expect it! I think it was definitely worse with my son than with my daughter the second time around. I remember waking up in puddles of sweat in the middle of the night. The shift in hormones after delivery causes this AMAZING thing! (haha) It improved in a matter of a few weeks for me both times.
Emotions- I know for a fact I had baby blues with my first. I cried ALL THE TIME. The littlest thing would set me off. And looking back, with how bad #5 on this list was, I probably had some mild postpartum depression. I was never treated and I chalked it up to sleep deprivation and changes in my hormones. Get help if you need it! Also, I found being a new mom was very lonely. I was obsessing over sleep and nap schedules. You feel bound to the house in order for your baby to get those precious zzz’s. I joined a few mommy groups to force myself out of the house and talk to other adults.
Body- It took almost 10 months to grow a baby, so give yourself some grace in the postpartum body department. I don’t remember exactly how much weight I gained, but it was a normal weight gain. Sure, some people start working out at 6 weeks postpartum. That surely didn’t happen with my first. I don’t think I started working out until he was a year old. I was not sleeping. How was I to have energy to work out? So the combination of #5 and #6, there was no working out, and I most certainly did not want to reach for a salad! Sure, I guess there are all those women that lose all their weight by just breastfeeding, but that was not me. I lost some initially, but lack of sleep and hunger while breastfeeding led me to hold onto the weight. I am still trying to get weight off from my first pregnancy. I think I managed just one or two small stretch marks, but the “mom pooch” remains. High waisted everything are essential after having a baby!
Hair loss- Pregnancy glow no longer! If you aren’t pulling your hair out from lack of sleep, you surely will lose it some other way. All the luscious hair you gained during pregnancy starts falling out in clumps. It did around 3 or 4 months for me. Your hair brush will be full of hair and when you wash your hair, clumps will come out. This goes away over time, and is nothing to worry about.
Time- Having a baby somehow warps time. We start off in labor which feels like time is standing still because of the pain. Then the baby comes out, and you time stops for just a few minutes. There is nothing else that matters in the world during those moments. It is indescribable. Once all that adrenaline is released and you start to settle in, time changes again. Sleepless nights and a baby that needs the comfort of their mommy, makes time do funny things. Some nights seem never ending. Five minutes of crying feels like an eternity. But those baby naps, they sure fly by! After having a baby it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day and that there are too many hours simultaneously. There is not enough hours in the day to get the laundry done, feed the baby, cook dinner, clean the house, shower, or even get dressed. It feels like too many hours due to exhaustion. I would go to bed at 7 or 8 some nights just to get the most amount of sleep as possible. You have to make time for your husband now. I’m terrible at this, because sleep ranks so high on my hierarchy of needs. Is that bad? I’d rather a quiet, restful night then go out!
I was inspired to write this post because of something I read from a pretty famous influencer on Instagram. She was talking about body positivity during the postpartum period. She had heard a lot of “negative” talk about postpartum bodies. I guess meaning that women complain about it? I’m all for body positivity, and I do think a woman’s body is just amazing. However, I do think women should be informed.
I apologize if this comes off as negative. I most certainly am not trying to be negative, just trying to be real. I like to be prepared, so if this can help one mom-to-be navigate the 4th trimester, then I’m happy! I’m also not trying to be negative about the postpartum body, but rather, realistic. The body that you have known for all those years prior to having children morphs. Sure, there are a few unicorn women that bounce back without even a sign that a baby popped out of them like 24 hours ago (or 5 hours in Kate Middleton’s case). It doesn’t necessarily mean it is a negative experience, just a different one.
I should also add, that when I started working out about a year after I had Jack, I started having pain at my belly button. I, of course, brushed it off, and modified some exercises. After a month or two, I decided it was time to go to the doctor. I ended up having a small umbilical hernia that needed to be repaired. So I had three 1/2 inch scars added to my postpartum body from the surgery.
Good news, my second postpartum journey, the one I’m going through now, has been much smoother. Maybe I just knew what to expect, and I’ve lived it already, but it was much easier. Also, maybe it’s just that I had a 4 year old to care for as well, so you are kind of forced quickly into your new “normal.” There were new things to navigate, like transitioning from one to two kids. Jack had a bit of transition to not being the only child anymore. It took about 2 months, and now that June isn’t constantly eating and needing a nap, he feels more involved. When you aren’t sleeping at night, you don’t have the energy to play with your preschooler. I’m happy to say that I’ve not had quite the emotional roller coaster or instability that I had with my first. And I am totally convinced that it is because she is a much better sleeper than my son. (He still gets up a couple times a night). I truly believe that we are born to be a good sleeper or not, but it’s important to lay the foundation for sleep habits early if that concerns you (and that’s a whole different story in itself).
I look at these pictures and see the difference in two postpartum journeys. The first picture is of my son and I in the first couple weeks after birth. I see exhaustion, and a fussy baby that would only sleep on me. Stained clothes, nursing bras, full of emotions. My life had changed instantly. In the second picture, we are out having margaritas and mexican food three weeks after June was born. I’m not sure if it is more that you are forced to get back to “normal” sooner or if I just felt a million times better, but I see a different person here. Just like every baby is different, every postpartum journey is different! What makes your postpartum journey unique?
If you want to read more about the first few weeks specifically and some baby essentials that we love check out this post!