The postpartum period is a challenging time no matter how you slice it. You’ve just gone through a huge physical ordeal and an equally huge emotional transformation. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to learn. Unfortunately, this can also be a time of unmet expectations. Why? Some of it might have to do with how little we talk about the postpartum period. Some of it might have to do with the beautiful, social media infused bubble we live in where all the newborns are happy and sleepy. Whatever the reason, it can be highly beneficial for parents to prepare for the postpartum period and having realistic expectations can help.
Expectation: You’ll bleed for a couple weeks, apply a few ice packs on your bottom, you’ll “sleep when the baby sleeps” (everyone and their uncle has told you to do this, so…).
Reality: Recovery varies widely and depends on many factors. The events of birth have a huge impact on recovery; unanticipated cesarean deliveries are the most obvious example but other things such as perineal tearing and extra long labours can take a little longer to come back from. And sleeping when the baby sleeps? It’s not always possible when you need to eat, pee and poop! On top of everything, you have a constant stream of visitors.
How to cope: Be gentle with yourself. Expect to need recovery time. Don’t make a lot of commitments; it really doesn’t matter much in the long run if your relatives visit when the baby is 2 or 20 days old. Prepare for a total lack of grocery shopping and cooking time by loading your freezer with large dinners like lasagnas and casseroles or even splurging on a few weeks of meal delivery.
Expectation: Happiness! Joy! Bliss! All those beautiful things you saw on Instagram.
Reality: Postpartum is often more like a roller coaster of emotions. Unexplained sadness and feeling overwhelmed and/or disappointed can be totally normal parts of the journey. You might not feel immediately head over heels in love with your newborn. Friends and family members who you thought you could depend on for support are so excited about the baby, you and your partner might get left behind. Although most fluctuations in emotional state are temporary, perinatal mood disorders (depression, anxiety, panic, OCD) are more common than you might think.
How to cope: Again, be gentle with yourself. You’re not disappointing anyone by not feeling blissed out 100% of the time or feeling immediately bonded to the baby. It really helps to have an experienced mother, perhaps a relative or a friend, with whom you can share your true feelings. Chances are they’ve been there too. Speak with your care provider if you have signs of perinatal mood disorders such as feelings of hopelessness, emptiness or anger or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Expectations: Breastfeeding is natural! You read some articles, you’ll get some help in the hospital, you don’t anticipate any problems.
Reality: Breastfeeding requires skills that must be learned by both you and your baby. You have to learn how to position yourselves, how to latch effectively, and how to pick up your cell phone with your toes (!), all while recovering from birth. You might need help to learn and master these skills. Your milk will take a few days to come in and in the meantime you will constantly fret about whether or not your baby is getting enough to eat. Whether you’re feeding your baby with breastmilk or formula, newborns take a long time to eat and need to be fed more frequently than you might have expected.
How to cope: Learn about newborn feeding during your pregnancy (ask your care provider or your doula for resources!). Take a prenatal or breastfeeding class. After baby arrives, take advantage of resources available to you such as the lactation consultant on staff at the hospital where you delivered. Hire a postpartum doula or a lactation expert if you need extra help.
Still, You Are Enough.
This sounds like a lot to handle, and it is. Having a baby is a big deal. Still, you are enough. You are everything your baby needs. You are strong and powerful and you can ask for help when you’re struggling because we all struggle. Don’t let anyone’s Instagram feed tell you otherwise!
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