Ready for some refreshing, if brutal, honesty? Here are some of the biggest postpartum challenges coming your way once baby arrives.
It was a gruelling labour (when isn’t labour gruelling, to be fair?). It was the last stage of pushing and things were, shall we say, at ‘that’ burning point. Then BAM! Sweet release. Bub was born into the world, bundled into my arms and all those “I’m going to die” feelings were immediately shushed. It was over.
Or so I thought.
No-one prepped me for what comes after the birth. Yes, we touched on the cute, ‘having a baby to look after’ part, but what about what happens to you? If you think you’re done with all this trimester and baby business as soon as the bub’s exited your birth canal, think again. Because there’s a thing called the fourth trimester, ladies. And let me tell you, it’s a little bitch. Here, we list out six of the biggest – but completely natural and normal – postpartum challenges.
What happens in the fourth trimester
Challenge #1: Contractions, round two
Oh uterus, you blessed thing. You nurtured life, you contracted it out of me. But GIVE IT A REST ALREADY. Yep, once your labour contractions are done and dusted, there’s a little something to look forward to called afterbirth pains, or afterpains. This is basically your uterus contracting as it starts returning back to its pre-bub size and it happens at the start of the fourth trimester. You can usually expect the cramps to be at their most intense for those first couple of days before they start easing. Breastfeeding your baby? That’ll a) bring them on and b) make them more intense – it’s all thanks to the oxytocin, apparently.
How to get through it: Pain meds – ibuprofen should do the trick. Try peeing often as a full bladder will hinder your uterus’s handiwork, or a nice hot water bottle on your lower tummy area. If the pain becomes unbearable or your cramps haven’t eased up after a couple of days, it’s time to speak to a medical professional.
Challenge #2: Breastfeeding. Nuff said.
Breastfeeding can be so hard to get the hang of – and it’s different with every baby. Not to mention the toll being a 24/7 dairy queen feeding machine takes on your sanity. From nailing the perfect latch and finding the perfect position to worrying about your supply and the fear of mastitis (and cluster feeds… shudder), it can be stressful part of the fourth trimester. Don’t even get us started on those 2am feeds when you’re struggling to stay awake and hubster is snoring away beside you… (men and their useless nipples, hey?!)
How to get through it: One word: support. If things don’t feel right – ongoing pain, or bub isn’t putting on weight or filling those nappies up – be sure to speak to a lactation consultant. I was in an absolute tizz and beating myself up during those early weeks. My (unsupportive) inner dialogue convinced me I wasn’t cut out for breastfeeding and I was failing my baby. But when you speak to someone who isn’t out of their mind through lack of sleep and who can cut through your exhaustion with rational facts, it’s a game-changer.
Challenge #3: Bleeding/cracked/sore nipples
Which leads me on to this postpartum challenges corker. Chances are, unless you’re into the kinky stuff, you haven’t used your nip-oleon dynamites for anything bar the odd tweak/clamp/temperature gauge. That means you’re in for a rude awakening if and when you enter the world of breastfeeding. A famished little human in the throes of feeding frenzies around the clock is guaranteed to chafe these most-sensitive lady lumps.
How to get through it: Cooling gel pads were an absolute saviour until my nips ‘toughened up’ and got used to it. (Trust me, once your technique is nailed, your nipples will be as tough as old boots. Metaphorically speaking, of course.) So much so, that these are the first thing I gift all my pregnant mates. Yes, it’s not as sexy as a Sophie the Giraffe. Yes, you might scoff when I warn you about chapped and cracked nipples. But MY GOD you will kiss the very earth I walk upon when you slap one of these bad boys on your burger nips come post-feed time. Pop in the fridge for even more blissful relief.
Challenge #4: Bleeding, bleeding, everywhere
First off, this is a natural process, so don’t get squeamish on me now. That post-birth shower maaaaaay draw comparisons to Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene (ok, I exaggerate) but it is completely normal. Known as lochia, it’s a delightful combination of mucous, tissue and blood that your womb sheds while it gets busy replacing its lining. Typically, it lasts around six weeks, easing up as the time progresses. Word of warning: don’t keep quiet about blood clots. If you’re passing a LOT of blood or lots of large blood clots, get thee a medical opinion in case there’s anything serious going on.
How to get through it: Stock up on ‘surfboards’, as my husband delightfully referred to my extra-thick, extra-long maternity pads. And don’t wear white. It feels like the mother of all periods, but it will end.
Challenge #5: EXHAUSTION
Oh lordy, the tiredness. The positive side of being up every few hours around the clock is you will become a black belt in napping and horizontal parenting. As soon as your head touches a pillow (heck, any surface will do; we ain’t picky), you’ll be out like a light in 0.06 seconds. But all joking aside, looking after a newborn is crazy challenging and draining. Throw in minimal sleep (or god forbid, a hangover) and it’s even harder. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
How to get through it: You’ve heard it enough times; now you need to actually DO it – sleep when they sleep! Also, ask your partner for support. You can take turns with bottle feeds, or they can run you a nice bath and cook you your favourite pasta. Ask the grandparents to babysit too while you get some zzzs! The fourth trimester is soooo tiring, but it does and will get better. Trust.
Challenge #6: You’ll be on an emotional rollercoaster
Sad, moody, teary, elated, guilty, trapped… you’ll be feeling all the feels when entering the fourth trimester. Hormones are a lot to blame for your very normal ‘baby blues’, but how do you know if you’re suffering from postpartum depression instead? If you’ve been feeling helpless, deflated, aren’t getting enjoyment from things you normal would and have no interest in your baby, you could be suffering. And that is NOTHING to be ashamed of. Postpartum rage is also a thing – find out more here.
How to get through it: The most effective thing you can do is visit your doctor. They can assess, diagnose and offer support in whatever form works best for you. Keep talking to your support networks, take time to rest, try some gentle exercise, eat good food, and know that this is treatable. You are not alone.
Everyone is different, so our experiences are all as unique as we are. But the big takeaway is to never be afraid to ask for support when needed. That could come in the form of either professional support, medication or even just a good homecooked meal – whatever you need. Yes, you’re going through huge physical and emotional changes during the fourth trimester, but try and focus on what’s most important: caring for yourself and your adorable new baby.
You’ve got this.
Top image: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash