Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide

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Ah, those postpartum days.  With both of my children, I felt like I was living in a bleary new universe studded with bright, unforgettable moments.  At the beginning, what I remember most is gazing at this precious little creature and thinking:

  • I know I am supposed to love you, but I just don’t know you.  I should know you, I suppose, because you’ve been inside me for 9 months and I have felt every move you’ve made, but… well, this relationship is going to take a little time to blossom into know and love.  In the meantime, I praise God that you’re here and that you’re whole and healthy.  We have prayed for you since before you existed!  Welcome to the rest of our lives.
  • You are a miracle.  There is just no way you came from inside me.  You may be tiny compared to the rest of the world, but compared to me… you are huge.  Also you are so detailed!  How did my body know how to help you make your tiny wisps of hair, the intricacies of your blue eyes, and the perfect little nails on your fingers and toes?

And so began my life as a mother of one, and then mother of two.  With consternation, wonder, and tentative love.

Those first few weeks of motherhood are different for every mother.  The personality of each baby and each mother also ensures that each postpartum period is totally different, or at least that’s how it was for me with Lena and then Gil.

With Lena, I floated on an emotional high that lasted for weeks.  I remember those days as a golden season in our lives.  Elliott was in the middle of a yearlong assignment with the Army in the desert of Egypt, so he was only home for a few weeks.  Lena was born in the middle of his time at home, and I know it was his exclusive devotion and our mutual ecstatic joy – we had such a beautiful baby girl and we were all together!!! – that helped me bounce back so quickly after childbirth and embrace my new role.   Breastfeeding clicked, as did our new sleep schedule with our baby.  At the hospital, a lactation consultant walked into our room and saw us snuggled in bed together as I laid beside Lena and nursed her.  The consultant said, “Well, I can see you don’t need my help!”  Encouragement like that gave me wings.

After Elliott left, though, life took on a new edge.   I was alone with a 3-week-old baby, living in a tiny studio apartment in D.C., and I knew I needed help.  After dropping Elliott off at the airport, I drove (and sobbed) my way to my parents’ house to stay for a few days.  A few days turned into a few weeks, and in the end I spent most of the three months until Elliott’s return living at their house in the suburbs.  One night when Lena was screaming inconsolably and I was alone in my D.C. studio, I felt the cold fingers of postpartum depression wrapping themselves around my mind and heart, and they terrified me.  I fled to places where I would be surrounded by help, activity, and love.  With the help of so much family, those early months with my first baby slipped by peacefully and joyously.

Needless to say, my postpartum period with Gil was completely different.  We lived in Sicily with no family nearby.  We also had Lena, and so now Elliott had an almost full-time job keeping Lena occupied for the entirety of his paternity leave (almost two weeks, with weekends).  It was January and our house was cold, so Gil spent most of his time in our bedroom with the heater running, and thus our world became incredibly small and incredibly focused on that one bedroom.  I felt confident as his mother, but also pulled in so many more directions than I had been with just one baby. I took longer to heal, longer to bounce back.

And then one-week-old Gil descended into the dark, black hole of “colic.”  By “colic” I mean he cried a lot, inconsolably, and was impossibly hard to soothe… maybe not enough to medically qualify him as a colicky baby, but enough that the term describes the misery that we dealt with for months.  Every evening from 5pm-11pm was a nightmare.  Elliott and I descended into depression.  Family came, helped, and left.  Friends brought meals, hugs, and left.  Elliott often slept in the guest room while I walked and walked and walked around the warm bedroom with our screaming son, gritting my teeth and praying and then swearing and then crying and then eventually falling to sleep beside Gil before the whole process began again an hour or two later.

The sun began to break through the clouds when Gil was about 2.5 months old.  He began to sleep in his own room (the weather was warmer) and began to fall asleep with minimal soothing.  Slowly, he began to smile, which was later than most babies.  By about 5 months he turned onto his stomach on his own, and that was life changing.  He now napped on his stomach for more than 30 minutes at a time.  By 6 months, Gil was napping twice a day for two hours each, going to bed at 6pm, nursing a few times throughout the night, and waking up full of smiles about 13 hours later.  We were finally—finally—in a peaceful new normal.  That was the end of what I hope was longest and darkest postpartum period of my life.

Anyway, this was not how I intended this blog post to turn out, but some of it had to be said if I wanted to honestly give postpartum advice.  Every baby combined with every stage of life makes every postpartum period entirely unique and entirely different.  Postpartum depression is real, but many women (like me with Lena) don’t experience it, and many others (like our whole family with Gil) suffer for months on a roller coaster of emotions, stress, and misery.

Looking back on both of my postpartum periods, here are a few things that made life more manageable:

1)    Nutella!  OK, high-energy snacks is what I really mean.  When your body is learning to make breast milk and trying to recover from childbirth, you need delicious, quick sources of nutrition.  While I would recommend granola bars, fruit, and nuts (at the bedside!) first, I have to say… sometimes a spoonful of Nutella right out of the jar just helps the world go ‘round.

2)    Burp cloths.  New babies spit up a lot, and Gil continued to spit up after every feeding until he was 6 months old.  (It was awful.)  Forget about using those cute fabric burp cloths; get something really absorbent.  For me, nothing worked better than these loosely woven prefolds.  So cheap on Amazon.  Worth their weight in gold.

3)    Something to read.  I love nursing while lying down, and that always meant I could put my baby in between a book and me and just… relax.  Nursing works so much better when you’re relaxed! I read this bookduring my first week home with Gil and, while it wasn’t good literature, it was an engrossing and easy read.

4)    Nursing tank tops from Target I think I have six of these now (thanks, Mom!) and love them all.  They’re so well made, make breastfeeding easy, and cost half as much as any other brand I’ve found.  Layer them under sweaters or v-neck dresses, or wear them on their own.  Live in them (and yoga pants) for the first few months.

5)    Mattress pad.  I heard someone say that the post-partum period is a very “wet” time and laughed out loud.  So true!  Both your baby and yourself are figuring out how to make your bodies work; there are a lot of spills in the process.  Put a waterproof mattress padon your bed and be prepared to change the sheets a lot.  It’s all good.

6)    Water cup.  I am perpetually dehydrated (this is how I know) and never remember to carry a cup or water bottle around the house.  Right after Gil was born, I bought this 24 oz plastic cupon Amazon for $8.  It even has a lid so the kids can’t spill it and the cat can’t drink out of it!  Also, I always fill it up before I get in the car so I have something to sip on while driving.

7)   Nursing pads.  These are my favoritesbecause they are individually wrapped (throw a few in your diaper bag!) and have adhesive strips so they don’t slip around inside your clothes (see #4).  I’ve tried reusable organic cotton pads — which are too small to keep track of and too lumpy under my shirt — and several other brands, and I recommend Lansinoh over any others.

Finally, for a collection of great postpartum survival advice, check out this Pinterest board.  So many good resources in one place!

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Now I want to hear your stories!  What would you tell a new mama about postpartum survival?

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11 Responses to Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide

  1. Anne September 9, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Such great advice! (especially the Nutella!) One thing that I would say, especially for moms of two or more kids, is REST. Rest, rest, REST. Let someone else make (or call in) dinner. Don’t worry if the laundry piles up (as long as you have clean underwear!). Rest in bed and nurse and snuggle with your baby. Let the other kids get up on the bed, too, and you can read to them or let them snuggle the baby or whatever. And if they watch a few more DVDs than normal, that’s OK. Your body is healing from giving birth and if you get up and run around trying to be supermom/wife, your body is going to fight back. I learned this the hard way after my third was born when, about three days after giving birth, I passed a HUUUUUUUGE clot. I was trying to do way too much and I paid for it.

    I also LOVE Always Infinity pads after the major bleeding dies down. I grab the big bulky pads from the hospital, but Always Infinitys are nice and thin and soft so you don’t feel like you have a mattress between your legs!

    • Becca September 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

      Good advice on resting. I bled much longer after this pregnancy and still am not sure why; I think it was called involution and it happened later than it should have. Frustrating and a bit worrisome. I should have rested longer!

      And I will be SO glad when DVDs amuse my kids. Right now movies can only hold Lena’s attention for a few minutes at a time. Even though we barely watch any TV at all, it will be a blessing to have that to resort to one day, I know.

  2. Tiffany September 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Unless I write a way-too-lengthy comment, I would mostly echo what you said!

    I was thinking just this week that Lansinoh pads can’t be beat (after trying–and being disappointed with–another brand I had a coupon for).

    My babies are/were both big-time spitters, too, so with this second one, we invested in more things like burp cloths and changing pads since we knew what to expect.

    On another note, I’m no longer receiving the posts via email (had missed your blog, so I popped over to find several posts!), but I’m subscribed now through Bloglovin. Should be good to go. :)

    • Becca September 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

      Thank you for this info, Tiffany! I switched servers in late August and realized last week that my emails weren’t going out anymore. I think that’s fixed now!

  3. Erin September 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Becca, thank you for this. I’m four weeks out from number two joining us, and I am starting to get a little nervous about the whole thing. I must say your post made me feel a lot better. My two boys will be 19 months apart (close to the difference between Lena and Gil I think), so watching your journey becoming the mom of two has been both educational and inspirational. Thank you for sharing yourself and your family.

    On a side note, having not seen Elliott since high school, it is pretty cool seeing the dad he’s become. You all have a lovely family.

    • Becca September 20, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      Thanks so much for this encouraging comment, Erin! Transition is never easy, but now — 7 months into the two kids thing — I am so grateful we did it… and that they are close together! There’s a time limit on pretty much everything.

  4. Abi September 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Burp cloths- definitely! We registered for one pack of three and assumed that would be enough…Wrong! :P I bought a bag of clothes off Craig’s List that had some receiving blankets in it, so I cut those up and voila- 12 extra burp cloths that were big enough to cover Jorge’s shoulder and were pretty absorbent too. I learned quickly that I should never feed Lucie without one within arm’s reach.
    I didn’t know I would be bleeding for so long (6 weeks) after the birth, so I agree, it’s important to be prepared with some absorbent pads for that.
    My only other piece of advice would be to listen to your body. You listen to it so intensely while you’re pregnant, so don’t forget that it continues to give you important cues once the baby has evacuated :) Take it easy, get plenty of rest, and snuggle as much as possible.

    PS I also didn’t receive an email to alert me to your new posts and had assumed you hadn’t written anything since you got back to the US. Maybe there’s a glitch?

    • Becca September 20, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      Thanks for this head’s up, Ab! I think the issue is fixed now with the emails. Let me know if not!

  5. Bethany October 4, 2013 at 12:00 am #

    I wish I would have read something like this when we had Hannah. Our nights with her were so so similar to your nights with Gil, and as first time parents we thought for sure it was just our incompetence and on top of that, it seemed like all my other friends with new babies weren’t having the same experience. I didn’t know about colic, so needless to say, we had some very dark nights. But we made it through by the grace of God! I’m sure this post will be very encouraging to some mama who needs to hear this. :) Thanks for sharing.

    • Becca October 5, 2013 at 5:14 am #

      Your welcome, Bethany! Probably no matter what you read, a hard postpartum period hits like a kick in the gut… or something like that except that it goes on for weeks and months! It’s just such a VULNERABLE time. Glad it’s over for both of us for now!

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