As my first pregnancy neared 40 weeks, all I could think about was how ready I was to not be pregnant anymore. I knew, of course, that the newborn phase was no walk in the park, but in my experience neither was pregnancy. I was ready to trade one kind of challenge for another—and to meet my baby.
Like many first-time moms, I put a lot of thought into preparing my home for a new baby, my birth plan, and what I imagined labor and delivery to be like. I did not, however, think much about the postpartum phase, or what many call “the fourth trimester.” Perhaps I was naïve or perhaps it was my brain and body’s way of keeping me from complete overwhelm, but I simply did not spend much time considering the mental and physical changes motherhood would bring.
I was surprised by a number of things after becoming a mom—after all, reading about it and living it are two very different things.
Sure, I read about newborn sleep and prepared for sleepless nights, and yes, I had postpartum care supplies on hand at home (though not nearly enough). I was surprised by a number of things after becoming a mom—after all, reading about it and living it are two very different things—among them how difficult breastfeeding was initially, how sore and achy I still felt weeks after delivery, how the night sweats meant I changed pajamas at least once in the middle of the night, and a number of other mostly physical attributes of the fourth trimester.
While there is only so much you can prepare for, the fourth trimester deserves thoughtful time and attention before you’re living in it. But the truth is: no matter how much you read, how many classes you take or podcasts you listen to, the only thing that can truly prepare you is going through it. So today, our editors are sharing what they wish someone had told them about the postpartum phase before they became moms.
My advice to all new and expecting moms? Take advice with a grain of salt.
Your baby, your family, and your individual needs will be different from every other person’s, so heed advice knowing it could very well not apply to you or work for your baby. And that is OK. Focus on doing what works for you and your baby and your mental and physical health. I know it is impossible to not compare to what you see other postpartum moms doing, living, feeding, eating, wearing, etc. But everyone’s pregnancy, birthing experience, postpartum experience, and physical needs are so vastly different. You’ll never know someone else’s whole picture.
For example, I thought breastfeeding would be a breeze because my first son took immediately at the hospital (my second did not at all), but as soon as we were home, and I realized increasing breast milk was a full-time job on top of the full-time job of healing and caring for a newborn, the physical exhaustion and mental stress proved too much; I struggled with just quitting breastfeeding entirely because I somehow thought it’s what I needed to do for my kid. I made it to four weeks before stopping, and it was like an immediate weight off. When I had my second son, we went straight to formula, and it was the best decision ever for my own mental health. So do what works for YOU and your baby. Not some pre-baby notion of what you thought it should or needed to be.
I wish I knew how slow the recovery from childbirth can be and also that everyone’s experience is totally unique. I felt like my recovery was taking forever and that I’d never feel OK again. The good news is, eventually I did feel better and each day got a little easier. Even so, I spent a lot of time wondering why I was feeling the way I was, thinking something was wrong because I didn’t feel better faster.
I kept comparing myself to other new moms who appeared to be out on long walks and doing things days after giving birth. Even a few weeks after birth I found it uncomfortable to sit and to go for walks longer than a couple of blocks. And this is actually normal and quite common, though not many women talk about it. I’ve been really open about my experience because I want other women to feel less alone during this strange recovery time. Your body goes through a lot and you shouldn’t feel pressured to rush recovery (in the end, this can make recovery take even longer!). It takes time, but it does get better.
Like many first-time moms-to-be, I put a lot of thought into the labor and delivery process but very little thought into the recovery process for myself. Looking back, I was most definitely naive about what to expect after I brought the baby home. While I’m glad I did not hear horror stories of worst-case scenario deliveries and recoveries, I do wish someone had urged me to put a little more thought into my postpartum care… and perhaps cautioned me from trying to do too much too soon.
Your body has just gone through an insanely intense and amazing thing during childbirth. You are going to be sore, you are going to be bleeding, you are going to feel achy, you will need a peri bottle when you pee, ice packs will become your best friend—that’s all normal, and you need to have the right supplies on hand so your husband isn’t running out to get them when you need them most. The first few weeks are a crazy mix of adrenaline and exhaustion, but letting your body rest the way it needs to will help you so much in the end.
After a trip to my OBGYN at three weeks postpartum for concerns about the pain I was still experiencing, she examined me, confirmed I did not have an infection and gave me a serious talk about giving my body the rest it deserves and needs. When your doctor orders you to “put the laundry down, and lay on the couch,” you do it.
I wish someone told me how important it would be to ask for help when I needed it, especially with my partner. At times I felt like all the child care needs were my responsibility because I was the stay-at-home parent, and it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child that I realized that my husband’s help was vital—not just to make things easier for me, but to help him form a strong bond with our children.
All in all, I wish someone told me that it was okay to get takeout, use paper plates, and stick to dry shampoo as often as I needed to in the first few weeks after having my baby. By letting myself “get away” with these things, it helped give me enough time to heal and adjust to life with a baby.
I wish someone would have told me to let go of all expectations of how you thought things would be. My first baby arrived weeks ahead of schedule and being thrust into motherhood before I felt mentally prepared, I dwelled on so many “shoulds” in the first few weeks of her life. Breastfeeding should be easier (I should try harder), I should feel an instant connection to her, I should be savoring every moment, I should be doing more on my maternity leave. Every mother and baby’s journeys are so different and those “shoulds” took away a lot of my joy in those early weeks.
I wish someone had just told me, it’s OK to quit breastfeeding, it’s OK not to feel an instant connection, it’s OK to take the time to rest and heal your body, it’s even OK to want some time and space away from the baby.
I wish that I had set more realistic expectations for myself and been kinder about what my postpartum body would look like. After my first son was born, I remember being shocked at the deflated belly and loose skin I saw in the mirror in our hospital room when I went to take my first shower. I had a really hard time with the “jelly belly” feeling those first few days, but I quickly purchased some compression underwear and leggings, as well as a belly band, which really helped my mobility and comfort those first two weeks.
Around the one-month postpartum mark, I began to get increasingly frustrated with the lack of change since my initial post-delivery weight loss. Before my first son was born, all I had heard was how the weight would fall off and that breastfeeding would just burn all of those calories. I was angry at myself that it wasn’t happening for me the way others had said that it would. Instead, I was unable to lose any weight while breastfeeding (which is very common according to my OBGYN) and felt uncomfortable in my own skin.
With slow and steady exercise, crucial core rehab (I had diastasis recti), and time, I did start to see positive changes to a stronger and happier me. The body comparison game took the heaviest toll on my mental health, and I wish I had known it would be much harder than my preconceived notions from Instagram and celebrities and given myself more grace.