by Tiffany Moss & McKinzey Murphy
When it comes to talking about the postpartum period, there are a many questions that are asked, especially from first time parents. Most deal with feeding, sleep, and healing, as well as how life will change with the new baby’s arrival. The transition into parenthood is different for everyone and it is great to have a postpartum plan in place before the baby arrives. Here are the most common questions we get as both birth and postpartum doulas:
No matter how a family chooses to feed their baby, the matter is never very straightforward. If a baby is bottle fed with formula, questions usually center around the kind of nipple and the type of formula. The answer for these is usually a combination of baby’s preference and the dietary guidance of the pediatrician. Also making sure that parents know how to pace feed a bottle and understand the size a baby’s stomach is at different stages are the main pieces of the education we give. When it comes to breastfeeding, this subject becomes more simple yet more complicated at the same time. The baby will be consuming breast milk. But often breastfeeding does not come as easily as society leads us to believe. We often envision a mother sitting in a chair, staring lovingly into her baby’s eyes while it sips quietly at her breast.
The reality is that breastfeeding is the most difficult aspect of having a new baby for many families. It can take several weeks to find your groove. In the meantime you are working through milk any production issues, positioning, dietary changes, latching, pumping, engorgement, and any physiological issues for mom or baby. We feel that this is the area where families are the least prepared. Taking a good breastfeeding class before the baby comes will help you immensely. Also, it is important to have a list of resources ready that are specific to you. If you have a postpartum doula they often will be able to help you with many aspects of feeding and are familiar with some of the red flags that could point to any larger issues. They can help guide you to the next phase of support you may need. If you do not have that kind of support in the home, please reach out to a lactation support person near you that can come to the home and help. Join a breastfeeding group in your community where there are others with the expertise to guide and encourage you.
And lastly, remember that there is no failure in breastfeeding. Fed truly is best and whether a baby is fed directly from a breast, or fed formula from a bottle (or anything in between) the focus should be on the health of both the parent and the baby, and this will look different in every family. No matter what your feeding journey looks like, the key to “success” is support, both emotional and physical.
“How long will it take for me to heal and get my body back?” We hear this question with almost every birther. As with most of these questions, there is no quick answer to this. It really depends on your body and what your birth story entailed. Generally speaking, healing from a vaginal birth takes about 2-6 weeks and from a cesarean birth about 4-6 weeks (give or take). If you are experiencing soreness in your perineum, which can last 2-3 weeks or so, you can try taking some over the counter pain relievers (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) as well as using ice packs or padsicles (look these up if you don’t know what they are – basically a maxi pad soaked in witch hazel and kept in the freezer – they’re glorious for those first couple days postpartum). Cesarean birth takes a bit longer to heal from since it was a surgical procedure, so it’s important to follow your caregiver’s advice on how to properly take care of the incision and try not to lift much (other than your baby). “Getting your body back” will also vary from person to person. Just never forget – it took 9 months or so to grow your baby, it very well might take just as long for you to feel like you did before pregnancy. Or you might not ever feel or look exactly as you did pre-pregnancy, and that is okay too! Exercise is likely off limits for those first 6 weeks or so, depending on the advice from your care provider and the type of birth you had. It is also important to ease back into exercise, so you don’t overdo it and cause more damage to your overstretched muscles. One key indicator that you have pushed yourself too much in the first few weeks is heavier bleeding. You may be bleeding for about 6 weeks, but if you take a walk and notice the flow getting heavier, then it is time to stop and rest. Walking however is a good starting point once you are cleared to begin exercising and there are also several great postpartum workout tips online. Focus on rest, nourishment, and your baby while you give yourself grace and time as your body heals.
Ask More Questions:
Believe it or not, most parents don’t usually ask many questions about what to expect postpartum. I’m usually met with something like “oh we’ll just see how it goes and figure it out from there.” Not to say that is not a good mindset to have (we are told so much to go with the flow when it comes to birth), but as a doula I am all about education and preparation. During my prenatal visits with birth clients, I always make sure to discuss some sort of postpartum plan. How will you feed the baby? Who will get up with the baby during the night? Who will be doing the necessary chores and cooking in the house? Have you ever experienced lack of sleep? Will you have help and if so who and for how long and what hours during the day or night? Will one or both parents be going back to work and if so, when? What do you think your parenting style will be like and will it match your partner’s? I could go on, but the important thing is when it comes to postpartum is to discuss it with your partner and/or support people. It also doesn’t hurt to have a list handy of people you can call for support – put one on the fridge with their contact info so you can reach out in the midst of any potential issues.
Although this list does not include absolutely every question we hear, these topics are the ones that come up most often. As cliché as it sounds, it really does take a village to raise a child, and if you can find your village before baby arrives all the better! There are so many questions and decisions in parenting and it is important to feel supported, so find those people in your life who make you feel safe and encouraged when making them. Ask questions not only to your partner, doula, friends, and family but also start a conversation with your care provider about postpartum if they have not already brought it up. No question is too small and it is important to start the conversation as early as possible. It is also ok to seek advice from many sources. If you get an answer from someone that doesn’t feel good to you, get a second opinion from a trained and reliable source.