As a first-time mother, I considered myself well-prepared for pregnancy and birth. During the pregnancy, I also went ahead and read a bit about childcare and upbringing. Only later did I realize though that there was one crucial piece missing in my preparation: the post-partum period and breastfeeding.
In the Netherlands, we are lucky to be entitled to post-partum care for a whole week after birth. This was a support I would not like to have missed. Our post-partum nurse taught us about the basics of baby care and breastfeeding, and she took excellent care of the household. For me personally though, the hardest part of the post-partum period was the emotional and physical adjustment which turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Only after experiencing it myself did I realize that this part of new motherhood was a subject barely talked about among friends. Yes, when you went for a new born visit, the new parents told you often that the post-partum weeks were difficult. They always mentioned their crying baby and their sleepless nights. But after having my own child, I realized that these stories revealed only a part of what the post-partum weeks entailed. The rest, I learned myself.
What you’ll read is based on my personal experience of the post-partum weeks, so while reading this, please remember above all that:
You are perfect as you are and as you do as a mother.
Only you know what the best is for you and your child.
So what were the big lessons I learned as a new mother and what would I differently now?
1-Labor is hard work
I had a home birth with minimal medical interventions. Somehow I thought that I would just get up the next day and feel totally fine after a good night’s sleep. Yet, it ached in the most impossible places; I had to take care of my stitches; and to top it all, I had a nasty cold. As a result, I was totally dependent on my husband and post-partum nurse for the first few days. After the nurse left, my mother joined us to help. I cannot imagine how it would have been if I had to go through this period alone.
So ladies, even if you are used to handling things on your own and usually find it difficult to ask for help, start practicing it during your pregnancy – it is a useful skill for your life as a mother. You need to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of your baby. Remember the airline announcement: In case of emergency, put your own oxygen mask first!
Do yourself a favor though - if possible choose people you can offer you non-judgmental support and help, instead of unsolicited advice. Trust me, you really do not need any comments or criticism during this super emotional and vulnerable period.
2-Breastfeeding can be challenging
I was naïve to think that one need not or cannot prepare for breastfeeding. On the one hand, I trusted that my baby and I would just naturally know what to do. On the other hand, I thought if there was anything to learn, that this should be learned in practice, with a real baby on your breasts.
What I was not aware of was that breastfeeding would be painful in the beginning, or that breastfeeding would be basically all I would be doing the first weeks. It would have really helped if I had some idea on what to expect and what to watch out for if I ran into problems. It took a lot of perseverance on my part and a lot of support from my husband’s part to keep on breastfeeding. I can now totally understand why any mother would despair and give up. Before you despair, I would suggest to get the help of a good lactation consultant or seek help online, e.g. on your local La Leche League website or breastfeeding fora.
Breastfeeding is not for the light-hearted – it takes lots of patience and commitment. But once it’s on track it’s sweet and easy! All you need is you, your baby, and lots of water.
3-Snuggle, snuggle, snuggle
Cuddling with your new born is the best thing you can do to enjoy the post-partum weeks. I must admit that I did it much less of it than I thought I would when I was pregnant for my baby. Initially, I was physically recovering from the birth. Then the breastfeeding felt already so intensive that I also felt the need to move around without the baby and do my own stuff while my baby was sleeping. Thankfully, we were almost exclusively babywearing when we went outside with the baby the first 5 months and did not use a stroller. Looking back, I am really glad we did it this way because size wise the first half year is the time when you can comfortably carry your baby around. This is also the time when s/he enjoys discovering the world close to you.
Those sweet days when your baby prefers to stick to you as a koala bear are gone sooner than you’d like. Don’t worry: You will have time later on to do your own stuff! So in those new born months of your baby, just surrender to snuggling up with your sweet little one! The more skin-to-skin time, the better for you and your baby.
4-It will pass
The thing that struck me the most during the post-partum period was the experience of time. It is an intense period, especially if you are a first-time mother. Everything is new. You have a tiny baby in your arms. And at that point in time, you think these days will last forever. At times when your baby is having crying spells, and nothing you do seems to help, you think this will never end. Sometimes it is very hard and very dark. Then it is warm and sweet, warmer and sweeter than you ever thought it could be. At times when your baby is peacefully sleeping on your breasts, you think you will melt in this bliss till eternity.
But no… As everything in life, post-partum life is temporary. It passes by, and before you know you have an energetic little one who is crawling then walking around in your house. Gone are the days your nipple hurt like hell – she is happily drinking her water from her own cup. Gone are the days he fell asleep on your lap with his tiny body – he stands up and points to his bedroom when he is tired.
And then, time and again, you sit and realize how fast your baby grew. Your heart ticks when you hold a feather light new born baby or hear a new born cry in a store. You remember those post-partum weeks, and you promise yourself that you will just take it as it comes and enjoy every moment of it intensely with your next baby.