Having a baby: what I wish friends would have told me

After recently having my first baby, I often look back at my labor, delivery and those first months postpartum and am amazed at how much girlfriends don’t talk to each other about how things really are.  The dirty truths.  (And maybe some of the not-so-dirty ones.)  But I will. Some of these seem pretty obvious but really didn’t sink in until baby was here. Here’s my list of things I wish friends would have told me:
LABOR & DELIVERY
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  • You might get really bad shakes during labor.  This is normal but can be very unnerving if you’re not expecting it.
  • You need to be your biggest advocate. No one knows your body like you do- trust it!  Listen to your gut, and speak up about what you want or don’t want.  Do not be afraid to ask questions through the process.
  • Nurses and doctors may resent you having a birth plan, but screw it. Like I previously said, you need to be your own biggest advocate. Just don’t be so narrow in your wishes that you aren’t flexible.  Every labor is so unique and different- they just don’t go accordingly to plan. And let that sink in – no matter how much you plan or prepare it will never be exactly as you have in your mind.
  • The stitching up afterward was shockingly painful (this is more of a concern if you go natural). And I just went through natural childbirth so that’s saying something! If I hadn’t had my new little nugget on my chest I would have been yelling.  I wish I would have known that beforehand, because in a weird way it tarnished that special moment.
  • Take home everything from the hospital. (Mesh undies, pads, pumping equipment if they brought it, belly band).
  • The nurse’s stitch (aka the “husband stitch”). I can’t tell if this one is fact or fiction, but I had a friend recommend that I talk to my OB about this if I was interested in an extra stitch after delivery to make things, ahem… tighter. This was on her list of things she wished she would have known about before she delivered, so I am adding it here!
CARING FOR YOURSELF
  • You might be really, really out of it afterward. Physically and mentally. This might seem obvious… clearly you’d expect that, right?  But this simple fact is often forgotten when we see beautiful pictures of families with their newborns at the hospital. For some people it takes over a year to get to a place where they physically seem back on track, in a variety of ways. For me, it felt like my diaphragm wasn’t supported without my belly being filled up anymore, and it made it really hard to even breathe. In fact, your heart is pumping A LOT more blood than it usually does and you basically just ran a marathon without any training. Doctors may find a heart murmur or irregular heartbeat. This really freaked me out, but I learned it was normal and just needed to be monitored.  As the extra blood levels out over the following few weeks it fixes the issue, and in general you’ll have a lot more energy.  How scary when you just gave birth, feel awful and then you hear that!  Be honest with your doctors about how you’re feeling every step of the way.
  • Make freezer meals ahead of time. You’ll be out of it and this can be a lifesaver. Tons on Pinterest!
  • You could get clingy. Many of us assume that we’ll only have eyes for our baby, but you might have a serious need to cling to another adult or support person and without them you’ll go insane. I felt like if I didn’t have enough time with my husband, or didn’t have him in the house, I was going to lose it. Like- REALLY lose it.
  • You should make padsicles in advance to help your nether regions heal if you delivery vaginally.  One of my favorites that someone did tell me right before I had my baby, and I am so glad. Take extra thick maxi pads and slather them with non alcoholic witch hazel, some alcohol free aloe vera gel, and top it off with a few drops of lavender essential oil.  Roll it back up and freeze. This DIY ice pad with all of these healing goodies will make recovery so much easier. I also recommend buying some mesh undies to help hold them in (don’t forget to take as much as you can from the hospital, too).
  • If you don’t take a peri bottle from the hospital, have one at home.  With stretching and stitches, it will be virtually impossible to wipe (or even urinate) without pain when you go to the bathroom.  This bottle can be filled with warm water and sprayed as you go to minimize the need to wipe and ease any stinging. (They’re cheap, put one in each bathroom!)
  • Take your stool softener. They gave me Colace at the hospital and I had purchased some prior to delivery so it would be on hand when I got home. After labor the thought of having a bowel movement is terrifying.  Without the stool softener, I believe it probably would have been.  Talk to your OB to see what’s safe. Luckily my BMs were just fine because of this- whew!
  • You will bleed – and probably a LOT. I never realized that clots the size of golf balls are normal and acceptable (of course talk to your doc about what is normal). You will likely bleed up to 6 weeks after delivery. And it might taper off, then get bad again, usually in response to how hard you’re pushing your body.  How much I bled was a great indicator to let me know if I needed to go easier on myself.
  • Get a belly band.  Ask for one at the hospital and take it home with you, but consider investing in one on your own.  You might feel like your insides are falling out without a baby inside you.  I couldn’t manage to stay upright in those first days without wearing one. A belly band can also help tighten up your core muscles and skin to get your midsection back on track.
  • Your vagina/labia could stretch out.  Or they might shrink up. (Yes- shrink!)   And you might have horrible scar tissue caused by an episiotomy or just from stretching during labor.  Or you may have rectal tearing.  The point is, you can’t predict it, but knowing that a serious change will likely happen and proactively being in tune with your body will ensure that you talk to your doctor about it no matter the result. Pay attention to your vagina!  You don’t want to be 8 months postpartum with so much scar tissue you didn’t know had formed that you are physically unable to have sex or insert a tampon.
  • You may or may not have any desire to have sex soon after delivery.  I expected this, so I was surprised when I was mentally ready to go within a week or two.  Imagine my disappointment when I got the green light from my doctor at my 6 week check up, only to find out I had so much scar tissue from stretching (my perineum didn’t tear), it wouldn’t be possible without months of treatment and therapy. And I’ve heard worse stories from my friends. Even without that particular scar tissue issue, for most people sex after baby will probably be uncomfortable.  For some it might be excruciating, or even impossible.  But you’ll likely be very dry and require a ton of lube, foreplay and a gentle, patient partner. Don’t let this freak you out – even in the worst cases people still manage to continue to procreate… so the sex has to be there eventually!
  • Take advantage of an at-home visit from a nurse if your hospital offers it. It can be a comfort to have a professional come check on you and the baby a week or two after you deliver.
  • People will definitely want to help you…to a fault.  If you’re honest with folks about hard times, some People will want to fix everything for you and provide solutions to things you might not think are serious problems. Help often comes on their terms and on their time, which actually might hinder more than help.  This is tough, because these are people that you love, and who have the best intentions. At the end of the day, you decide what help you do and don’t want or need- and don’t be afraid to say it. Or have your partner say it. You decide what advice and “fixes” work for you and your family, and if it becomes too much coming at you, speak up. As much as we all want our family and friends to be a part of this magical life event with us, it’s really all about the new mom, dad and baby.
  • Mom guilt will probably hit you like a ton of bricks. All the time. It’s constant, and sometimes all consuming. Things that I never thought I’d be sensitive to before being a mom break my heart now.  Am I a good mother?  Why isn’t my baby smiling at me? I am a horrible mother for leaving my baby with grandma so we can go to dinner.  I feel terrible going back to work. Just remember this is normal and you gotta do what you gotta do to survive this thing.  From what I’ve found, the mom guilt doesn’t go away, it just changes.  (So does the all encompassing worry for your child, but I totally expected that to be the case).
  • You’ll find a new tribe.  I never knew how much my relationships would change. Like most other things on the list, it’s something you think you know but really have no idea until it happens.  Friends without kids have the best intentions, but most just can’t relate.  Some friends just won’t fit into the new normal and will fall by the wayside.  Friends that are parents will be new personal icons you’ll put on a pedestal with respect and admiration. You’ll be amazed how people you never expected to care will reach out with excitement and support, while some of those closest to you won’t seem to care nearly as much as you’d want or expect. A whole new group of friends (most likely other moms) will emerge that will bring you support and sanity to keep you going through the hard times.
BREASTFEEDING
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  • Breastfeeding (BF) is harder than you can ever imagine. You may have heard it’s hard, but it’s so difficult that it’s impossible to wrap your mind around it until it happens. Or rather, when it doesn’t happen. Definitely take the prep class that your hospital offers, but please realize it doesn’t really prepare you at all.  If you want to breastfeed, get your mind right and commit to it mentally now.  Unfortunately, the majority of my other mom friends agree with me on this point. I think I know only two people who BF’d without any issues.
  • Breastfeeding is just as much of a mental game as it is a physical one. As much as you can, really consider that for 24/7 – AND I MEAN 24/7 – you’ll be feeding a newborn every 1.5-2 hours.  Did you know that a feeding takes upwards of forty minutes, sometimes longer?  If you’re doing the math, that doesn’t leave a lot of time in between feedings to do anything.  AND, that is if you don’t have any other issues to make the whole thing harder, more time consuming and leaving even less time to think or breathe.  Really try to impress upon yourself the time commitment that it puts on you. That is why moms are sleep deprived.  Even with a good sleeper there isn’t any time to actual get a good stretch of sleep in the early days, let alone be productive in any other capacity. This is why moms say they’re happy to take a shower or eat a full meal most days.
  • Cluster feeding is literally the worst. I didn’t realize what this truly meant until my baby cluster fed for 2.5 weeks straight.  The gist is, a baby feeds more frequently than normal…like every hour.  This could be because he or she is going through a growth spurt, might not be getting enough milk, etc. For me it was a big red flag my daughter wasn’t getting enough. Now wrap your mind around this so you’re prepared when these bouts inevitably come, even in the healthiest of babies: You’ll be nursing a baby every hour on the hour 24/7 for days on end (any more, meet with a lactation consultant).  That means you’re sitting there nursing a baby for 40-50 minutes and only have 10-20 minutes before it starts all over.  It can make a woman literally go crazy.
  • It might be more painful than you’d expect.  Many women complain of sore nipples (let’s face it- raw nipples) that bleed, crack or sometimes are hanging on by a thread.  This is where Lanolin is a Godsend and other nipple gel pads. But here’s the thing, if you’re hurting like that, something is wrong.  It could be the baby’s latch (most everyone struggles with this in the beginning), or indicative of a more serious issue.  This is where many women forgo breastfeeding. But if it’s something you’re interested in and you know what to expect, you can seek help sooner than later to potentially keep you on a breastfeeding journey.
  • “I can’t produce enough milk” is a common myth.  True, a very small percentage of women don’t make enough to feed their babies, but most of us certainly can. And if something has caused a low supply, some women can amp it up in a few days, but for others it can take a week or two!  Mine usually took two, which required a lot of patience and hard work.
  • You will not win without support.  I literally do not know one person who has without it. Looking back, I wish I would have set up appointments with a lactation consultant (most hospitals have them through their own lactation programs), joined Facebook support groups and known when my local support group met up BEFORE I had the baby. Unfortunately by the time I was having problems I didn’t have a lot of time (remember cluster feeding?) to spend figuring out where and who to go to for help. I can’t tell you how much a good lactation consultant will do for you and your baby, your sanity and increase the likelihood of you continuing to breastfeed.  Most importantly in my case, if it wasn’t for my lactation consultant, I wouldn’t have realized our issues were caused by my baby’s lip and tongue ties.
    • Without going into too much detail about what those are, they make breastfeeding nearly impossible and can cause a lot more eating, swallowing and speaking issues whether you breastfeed or not. They are easily diagnosed, but yet doctors (hospital and pediatricians) rarely check.  ASK THEM AT THE HOSPITAL TO CHECK FOR THESE so if you choose to have it corrected you have the option to do it sooner before the results of a tie rears its ugly head. And if your baby has one, or both types, immediately join a Facebook group for support and information.
  • People will want you to quit.  It’s very hard for people that love you to see you or your baby in pain,or struggling, or overwhelmed.  They will be the first to tell you that it’s OK to switch to formula, it’s ok to give yourself some sanity and time back, etc.  (PS, it is!  A baby being fed is the most important thing).  But if you’re committed to breastfeeding, or at least committed to trying everything in your power before making the switch, this is the most detrimental thing that can happen to you.  You’ll need positive support and people that help you through it, not a band of folks telling you to give it up. I got to the point where I started telling people that I knew they were trying to help, but it was making it worse.  I needed support, not people telling me to quit.  Oh- and here’s a fun fact: most pediatricians only get a few hours of breastfeeding education so most are not experts or even very knowledgeable. Even your ped will likely be quick to tell you to switch to formula. (Rely on your lactation consultant.)
  • YOU CAN DO IT – If breastfeeding is something you’re interested in and committed to, you need to know that you CAN do it.  You can.  It might be really hard.  You might have to do a lot of work and it might be the only thing you accomplish on maternity leave, but you can do it.
BABY
  • Buy the essential baby meds to have on hand before baby arrives. Infant tylenol is the biggest one, but tummy drops and gripe water were life savers in our house. Ask your pediatrician for some recommendations.  Note – don’t bother with the OTC cold stuff.
  • Some of baby’s biggest growth spurts or developmental leaps may have you thinking something is wrong.  I highly recommend buying a copy of the “Wonder Weeks” book that outlines when some of these major milestones hit and how they affect baby (and you!). Knowing what’s going on has saved us a ton of worry and we’re more suited to help our little one through the leap.
  • If you have the money and space, buy two changing pads to put at convenient places so you don’t have to lug the baby to the one location to change a diaper (especially right after labor!). And for each changing pad, buy two pad liners and two pad covers so that when a blowout happens (and they will) you have an extra set.  This also goes for any sheets, swaddles, etc.
  • Pacifiers, bottles and diapers are all unique to baby.  Don’t stock up on too much of one kind before he or she gets here, because each baby has a different preference or set of needs. Although I do wish I knew that bottles labeled as “slow flow” to mimic a breast aren’t necessarily slow at all. I would have saved a lot of money. (If you’re interested in a good slow flow that makes the baby work for it, give Dr. Brown’s Natural Flow Nipples and bottles– they’re the best we’ve found).
  • Many babies choke on something (even if it’s just milk or formula) that can quickly turn into a scary situation. Friends never talked about it until I would share we had two scary emergency trips where the baby aspirated and wasn’t breathing. Then folks came out of the woodwork to tell me it happened to them.  Hello? Thanks for the info, sheesh!  My point is – generally have a plan in place if shit were to hit the medical fan. When in doubt obviously always call 911, but mentally think about where the hospital is, vs. your pediatrician.
  • Paralysis by analysis. You’ll have so much information at your fingertips, books and advice constantly flying your way that it can be hard to wade through it all to find what works for you. It’s overwhelming and often conflicting. Listen to your gut and that’s usually the best advice you can follow!

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