Updated: May 1
I know I’m sounding a little dramatic and depressing, haha. Don’t get me wrong, being able to carry my baby in my arms makes EVERYTHING worth it. Everything. The pain, the lack of sleep, the discomfort and uncertainty. All worth it :’) But just thought I’d share some things about postpartum which you might not have known about, just so that you can have some mental preparation! Things that people don’t talk much about, unless you have friends who went through it who would share it with you. But I do hope it helps to know what to expect, and perhaps, it might not even as bad if you’re mentally prepared before it!
If you had a natural delivery and especially if it’s your first baby, it’s highly likely that there will be a tear at the perineum (the space between the anus & vagina) as a result of baby being squeezed out. Also for Asians, the tendency to tear is pretty high. I opted not to have an episiotomy and tear naturally, but regardless, the wound is pretty similar.
After baby was born, my gynaecologist stitched me up and told me that the stitches will dissolve naturally on their own in a few weeks, and that I just had to use the feminine wash that she’d prescribed to clean the area. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to take painkillers unnecessarily if I can tolerate the discomfort, and so other than the first shot that my gynae gave me in the delivery ward, I did not take any painkillers for the rest of my hospital stay and after I went home.
Boy, it was awful. I didn’t realise how uncomfortable it could feel! I literally could not find any comfortable position to sit in, and standing was equally uncomfortable, if not more tiring. The only position that wouldn’t put pressure on the wound was lying down, but latching and pumping meant that I did have to spend a large part of my day upright. Sitting on a chair right on top of the wound hurt. I thought a donut cushion would work, but no!!! I felt more downward pressure on the wound and I was so worried that it would tear. For the whole first week, the pain felt like it increased in fact, because I was sitting so much.
One thing that really helped was soaking in epsom salts! I highly recommend that you buy this beforehand and get a sitz bath, which would make it more comfortable to sit in. I didn’t. And so I had to settle for sitting in a shallow pail on a stool, which took a bit of trial and error but eventually it worked out. I started this on probably day 5? And slowly things started to improve. Up to that point, I could only sit upright on my dining chair, which had a cushion but was still extremely uncomfortable when I sat for long hours (which I had to, because of breastfeeding). I felt like I had to tiptoe to take some pressure off the wound, yet lifting my feet up too high on a stool didn’t work either! Tough. What my postnatal masseuse suggested (which I think did help quite a bit too!) was to place a folded towel under one side of the hip to elevate the bum, so that you’re sitting on one side, rather than the wound directly. Remember to switch sides of course.
Probably thanks to the epsom salt soak and new way of sitting, my wound started to feel much better around day 9-10, finally! It was a pretty drastic change! I felt like my mobility improved so much, and I could finally lift my legs. Which opened up many more areas for me to breastfeed – on my sofa and on my bed because I could finally sit cross-legged! It was so much more comfortable.
One final thing – because of the wound and birth, you might have trouble going to the toilet for pee and poop. In the hospital, I was required to pee within a certain number of hours after birth and it was so stressful. Especially because the nurse refused to allow me to shut the door, and so I just couldn’t pee and ended up having to insert a catheter for 24hours which was awful. Thankfully I finally managed to pee the next day. I used the bidet spray to wash the area at the same time to reduce the stinging, though I realised pretty soon within the next couple of days that I didn’t experience much of the sting. Poop though, was another scary thing because my wound was pretty near the back, even though that was more of a skin-level superficial wound. But what really helped me was prune juice! I love it. My doctor had prescribed stool softeners, but once again I didn’t want to take the medication (I know, I’m a little weird that way). Prune juice was my natural remedy to help soften the stools, so that it was easier to poop. And my gynae also recommended to use the bidet spray to wash after that, rather than using toilet paper to wipe to prevent aggravating the wound.
So yup! The wound does take awhile to heal. I’m not sure what’s the usual, but I felt that the discomfort only fully went away after 2.5 weeks.
This is the bleeding experienced post-birth. After enjoying 9 months of no period, this comes back in a similar fashion for up to 6 weeks after delivery as the body purges whatever was in your uterus during pregnancy. It’s usually heavy only for the 1st week or two though, at least that was my case and what I understand from most people. I noticed that it also increased when I breastfed and after my post-natal massage sessions. Coupled with the perineal wound, it was pretty darn awful down there for the first couple of weeks.
Thankfully by around the 3rd week, the flow had gone down significantly that I could just wear a normal pad, slowly going from overnight pads to regular day pads and finally to just pantyliners at the end of week 4.
I hired a confinement nanny for my first month of postpartum. Whether you choose to do this or not, I do believe that the first 4-6 weeks after you give birth is a very important window for you to rest and recuperate. My nanny was an amazing cook, and she whipped up many nourishing dishes for us, with sesame oil and ginger aplenty.
If that’s the food that you’re eating too, you will sweat, a lot. Gosh. I honestly never felt so dirty & smelly in my life haha (apparently I’m not the only mama who feels that way). I’m a little OCD – I always shower right before bedtime so that I will be clean when I go to bed and the bed is like a sterile sanctuary, somewhat. During confinement, that went right out of the window. It’s actually not supposed to be good to bathe at night based on Chinese beliefs because it’s colder at night, especially during confinement, and so I’d usually take my shower in the earlier part of the day with a hot herbal bath. Just imagine. I’m so thankful that my confinement was during January when the weather was actually pretty cooling and rainy, but even then, I’d start sweating the moment I stepped out of the shower. I was also not encouraged to be under the direct draft of a fan or wind, and wore pants all the time (something that I rarely do otherwise). Right after each meal, I’d be sweating buckets, and I changed clothes so many times a day – I never had so much laundry to do, ever!
Also, the food is supposed to help in expelling gas, so be prepared for that too haha!! All part of being a cow (if you know what I mean :p). It’s a good thing to be able to do that though. I heard of a mama who couldn’t get the gas out and felt so bloated and uncomfortable for days. So just eat up, and let it go!
If you thought your boobs got bigger during pregnancy, wait till you start breastfeeding 😮 Once the milk flow started coming in, the boobs really get bigger especially when they’re full of milk. I also could never tell whether they’re clogged or not
What really shocked me though was the change in the nipple. If this is TMI you can skip this section haha. But ohmygosh. If you read my first breastfeeding post, I mentioned that I had to buy a new flange because the original one that came with the pump was too big. After using it for maybe 2-3 days, I noticed that my nipple had started rubbing against the neck of the flange!! It had become bigger from the pumping and latching! And I actually ended up being able to fit into the bigger size. Gosh, I hope it doesn’t increase in size further haha.
In terms of milk supply, the flow starts with drips, especially when it’s colostrum. Then it’ll start squirting after a few days when more pores open. Once my supply started to get a bit more established somewhere around week 2, waking up in the middle of the night became automatic. I guess I was partly “trained” during pregnancy as well, because I already wasn’t sleeping well since then. But now every night I’m woken up pretty on time between 2-3am by my full boobs and bladder so I definitely need to get up and pump because of the discomfort. Often I wake up leaking milk and I’ve been living in milk-stained clothes. Also, I’ve been “marking my territory” all over the house with milk on the furniture and floor as well >< Hubs has given up up on getting annoyed about it (I hope). The Haakaa has been a lifesaver though – so much so that I bought 2 of them to just collect the milk if I’m leaking, while I go about getting ready my pump, or baby for the feed.
I had a bit of a rough start when it came to pumping. I hadn’t had much intention to pump because I was hoping to do more direct latching initially, and so I didn’t really try out my pump beforehand. The first 2 times I pumped, hardly anything came out at all! I thought my pump was spoilt -.- But turns out that it was because of the flange size as I mentioned above. So that’s something that is important to get right! Either too big or too small wouldn’t work – and be prepared that you might have to up/downsize along the way.
I also found breast pumps really poorly designed!!! I seriously don’t understand why this is the case, and when I asked other mummies, I found that it was the same issue regardless of the brand. You’ll find that you can’t quite sit upright when pumping because the flange tilts downward towards the boob instead of the other way to flow into the bottle!!! Which means that if you’re sitting upright, all the milk that is coming out will be pooled at the nipple and will end up flowing out (and who wants to waste a precious drop of breastmilk?!). Instead, you have to lean forward for the milk to flow into the bottle -.- Really stupid design, and I got a back & neck ache after 3 days of pumping. Ugh. Just gotta stretch more after each pump.
What was super helpful though, was a hands-free pumping bra. Some people just pump a single side at each time so that the other hand is free to do other things. But that means x2 of the pumping duration. So I use a double pump with a hands-free bra which allows me to write this post right now as I’m pumping. Otherwise you literally have to keep your hands glued on the flanges for the entire duration, or do some balancing act with one hand and risk milk leakages because of the flange design (happened many times to me). Just remember to get a bra that is tight enough otherwise the flange doesn’t hold there and when the suction is lost, the milk will not flow.
Also using the Haakaa to collect letdown on the other boob. This sometimes yields even more volume for me than pumping!
Extra hands are amazing
Lastly, accept all the help that is offered to you once baby is here. You will need it. In my first few days, with hubs & the nanny both at home, it was so helpful to have the extra 2 pairs of hands to help me get things as I was glued to my chair either pumping or latching baby.
At the same time, don’t become too dependent on it. I know it sounds contradicting, haha. But speaking from experience, when hubs went back to work after the first few days, I felt so helpless with 1 less pair of hands! Imagine when the nanny left too, omg >< Nonetheless, the first month transition in terms of learning to breastfeed and pump is really not easy, plus the decreased mobility with the perineal wound, so all help offered is much appreciated! Also super thankful to my parents who offered to drive us to all of baby’s appointments so that we haven’t had to struggle with getting our car seat into a cab yet, or bring baby on public transport.
Even if you don’t hire a confinement nanny, I feel that it would be super useful to arrange for food in that first month. That’s something that I really don’t know how I’ll handle when the nanny leaves! Housework is manageable I think, because we really don’t have that much to physically clean in our house (thanks to all our machines hehe). But I really wonder how I’m gonna find time to cook when I’m home alone with baby. *scratch head*
Anyway, this rounds up my postpartum experience! Hope it was helpful to give you an idea of what to expect, but remember that everyone’s experience is different too 🙂 If you have something that you went through that you’d like to share, feel free to comment below! I’d love to hear from you.