Surviving the Early Days

Insight to relish the first month of motherhood.

From getting pregnant to enduring pregnancy, you accomplished what may have felt like the impossible. Now comes the easy part, enjoying your baby. Only, the books on expecting failed to forecast how you’d be faring upon returning home from the hospital, likely exhilarated...as well as exhausted, bloated, bleeding and overwhelmed.

Unconditional love and happiness abound when baby surfaces. But in the weeks that follow delivery, you might be wondering: Can I handle motherhood, and is all this blood normal?! No need to cower pregnant women in waiting. Here’s a primer on what to expect after expecting.

Recovering from Childbirth

Out has come baby and with the miracle of life comes a barrage of physical and emotional side effects. “You’re supposed to be happy and you are, but you’re also tired and possibly sad,” says Dr. Sidney Wu, M.D., an Ob/Gyn with New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center. “It’s the beginning of learning to deal with this little creature who you love while learning to fit this person in your life.” Baby blues and postpartum depression aside, a new mom’s emotions and hormones are in flux as she grapples with cramps, or after pains, from the rapidly shrinking uterus. The new mom may also be bloated and have swelling in her ankles while her body purges the excess fluids that went to her body and the baby during gestation.

Though cramping generally diminishes by the week’s end, women might not be able to regulate their body temperature for weeks postpartum, according to Wu. It’s a hormonal response to have night sweats or feel chilled. Also normal are swelling and tingling sensations for up to a couple of months along with on and off bleeding for six to eight weeks. Women can pass clots and have an unpleasant discharge while bleeding persists.

“I was not prepared for the bleeding and how long that would last,” says Patrice Meagher, mother of two. Many moms actually favor disposable underwear during the postpartum period. If you’d rather not stock up on pairs during pregnancy or snatch them from the hospital, you can get disposable underwear shipped to you overnight from Diapers.com. Bookmark the site. You’ll be frequenting it for everything from diapering and feeding essentials to baby’s clothes and toys. As for curbing pain from an episiotomy or tears during birth, a hospital nurse taught me to freeze sanitary napkins soaked with witch hazel. Put one of those hospital-grade bad boys in your disposable underwear and you might feel like you’re wearing a diaper, but you’ll feel relief. Pain spray also soothes.

For women intending to breastfeed, be aware the act can spur cramping. This helps the uterus return to it’s smaller pre-pregnancy size. And you thought it only burned calories to nourish your little peanut. While using breast cream alleviates some tenderness, there’s no surefire way to prep for how you or your child will take to nursing. “Breastfeeding was great for me, but I know so many other moms that it didn’t work well for and they really struggled those first few weeks emotionally about giving it up,” Meagher adds. “More women should be emotionally prepared if it doesn’t work.”

Adjusting to a Lack of Sleep

Ignore the well wishers who suggest getting sleep in pregnancy while women can. Instead, be easy on yourself if you need to relinquish household chores or a night feed as a new mom.

Before childbirth, however, get schooled on things like how nursing less might affect milk supply. This way you’re informed without the nagging feeling you need to know more. Also network with new moms online and in person for sage advice or a listening ear. Just consider the doctor the authority and yourself a darn good alternative. “Ask for and read up on as much or as little as you feel comfortable, but be able to filter all advice to suit your baby’s needs,” says mom Elizabeth Keating, who also recommends doling out chores to assist with the newborn’s care. “Not only does it give people like dad an important role, it alleviates some of the tasks the mom is responsible for.” Dr. Wu adamantly agrees.

Meagher adds that saying no to visitors can be a savior in the sleep department, starting with in the hospital.

Hand in hand with getting sleep is caring for yourself along with your baby because if you’re tired, stressed or otherwise unhappy, you’re not going to be the best mom. “Happy mommy, happy family,” counsels Keating. “Take time for yourself whether it be a manicure or a quick walk sans baby. If you as a mom are happy first and foremost, everything else falls into place.”