I faithfully attended birthing classes every week during the third trimester of my first pregnancy. I learned about breathing, relaxation techniques, labor positions, pain-relief options, possible delivery complications and medical interventions. What I didn’t learn was how to deal with the aftermath of childbirth. Some might think it’s a good thing that the excruciating pain, embarrassing toilet problems and weird physical side effects of having a baby aren’t widely discussed during birthing class. But I’d have appreciated a heads up because knowledge is power, moms.
I’d really rather not revisit these postpartum recovery side effects, but I’m willing to cringe, squirm and wince my way through it to shed some light on what you probably won’t learn in birthing class.
1. Having to pee in the bath, because stitches
Take the sting of a paper cut and multiply it by 17 million and you’ll have a reasonable idea of what it’s like to pee after having perineal tears, then stitches. I seriously had to sit in a few inches of bath water every time I peed (which was a lot due to the amount of water I was drinking to try to combat postpartum constipation and night sweats — see below.) Mayo Clinic also suggests pouring warm water from a squeeze bottle over your vulva while you’re sitting on the toilet. I found it helpful to repeat the mantra “This too shall pass,” over and over until it was, well, over. Clenched teeth optional.
2. Postpartum constipation resulting in what can only be described as giving birth all over again
While we’re talking all things toilet, we might as well address postpartum constipation. There are no words. Nor, in my case, was there anything I could do apart from wait. For weeks. Gallons of water, high-fiber meals, stool softeners and osmotic laxatives didn’t work for me, but they might for you. According to BabyCentre, at least 20 percent of women are constipated after giving birth. It may be caused by high levels of the hormone progesterone in the body during pregnancy, pain-relief drugs such as pethidine or diamorphine during labor or simply because the digestive system tends to slow down dramatically during labor.
3. Uncontrollable crying (not the baby)
The tears started the second he was placed in my arms. Overwhelmed, relieved, joyful tears. On the way home from the hospital, they continued. Anxious, exhausted, throbbing-breasted (but still joyful) tears. Helpguide.org assures us that the postpartum “emotional roller coaster” is perfectly normal, and that the so-called “baby blues” — tearfulness, irritability, impatience, anxiety and restlessness — should taper off by the end of the second week postpartum. Postpartum depression wasn’t mentioned in my birthing class, but it absolutely should be. The symptoms are similar to the baby blues, but more severe and long-lasting. I didn’t ask for help with my mental health until my son was 4 months old. Don’t wait that long.
4. Night(mare) sweats
I gave birth in December. In Scotland. Night sweats should not have been part of my new-mom experience. Apparently, it’s one of the ways the body eliminates the extra water retained during pregnancy, and hormonal and metabolic changes linked to breastfeeding may also play a part. Yep, gotta love those hormones. Drinking lots of water speeds up the process of eliminating extra water. Beyond that, I slept naked and waited it out.
5. Skin like sandpaper
It’s not unusual for new moms to experience seriously dry skin a few weeks after giving birth. It passes, but you can give it a helping hand by keeping your skin nourished from the inside (loads of water and omega-3 fatty acids) and out (find your fave body lotion and apply it liberally.) Hopefully, everyone will be too focused on your baby’s beautifully soft skin to notice that you have arms like pumice stones.
6. Shedding hair like a German shepherd
Don’t worry — it isn’t the stress of being a mom that’s making your hair fall out. It’s likely that during pregnancy you lost far less hair than normal due to those hormones being in overdrive. As your body returns to its pre-pregnancy state, you’re likely to notice extra hair loss for up to six months. Your body is making up for lost time and you just have to put up with it. Hats are good.
7. Restless leg syndrome that made me want to rip my lower limbs off
I had a fairly easy pregnancy apart from the restless leg syndrome that drove me bat shit crazy for the entire second and third trimesters. I was counting on it disappearing after my baby was born, but it stuck around for another few weeks. The American Sleep Association describes restless leg syndrome as “a sensory disorder causing an almost irresistible urge to move the legs.” Your legs itching to move when you’re completely and utterly outta gas is the last thing you need when sleep is in short supply, but the best way to manage it is to haul yourself out of bed and move around. Massaging or applying an ice or heat pack to the restless leg, stretching or taking a hot or cold bath are other ways to ease the discomfort.
Postpartum recovery is no joke. But we can console ourselves with the fact that it is but a fleeting moment in the parenting long haul.