Postpartum was a mix of many emotions - joy, wonder, sadness, nerves, excitement, love, loneliness, and more. Some of it I expected, but some of it surprised me.
During my pregnancy, all I did was read, listen to podcasts, and dive into Instagram posts to prepare for postpartum. My snack basket was beside the bed, we had meal-prepped a few weeks' worth of food, and I had my postpartum supplement routine on my dresser.
I found that many of my difficult experiences were common when talking with other mamas. But, since they aren’t covered in many popular outlets, new moms experiencing them feel think they’re doing something wrong or that they’re alone.
Here are the lessons I wish I knew before I entered my postpartum:
Lesson 1 – Set up your room with postpartum in mind
Everyone’s bodies are different and react differently to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Although I planned for so many things, one thing I wish I had done was plan for unexpected circumstances postpartum. I planned a homebirth, and my postpartum space was set up perfectly for it – but I ended up with a c-section and hadn’t optimized my area for the extra recovery from surgery.
We realized how the space wasn’t going to work almost immediately and started rearranging, but it was already late at night, and we were exhausted. That first night at home was quite stressful and ended the opposite of what I had dreamed of.
Remember that you might not be moving around easily—plan for multiple scenarios. Declutter, organize, and have what you’ll need ready at your bedside. I had the snacks and the comfy clothes, but the space was hard to maneuver in. I had little room to spread out all the baby items and comfortable myself.
Lesson 2 –Set a timer for yourself to do a 5–15 minute stretching routine once or twice a day.
I had planned and envisioned a beautiful, restful two-week period immediately after birth. I planned to stay in or near the bed that whole time to allow my body to recover.
What I didn’t expect was how painful post-surgery healing was. I was healing reasonably well thanks to working with a pelvic floor physical therapist (more on this in a bit). However, recovering from a c-section meant I spent most of my days lying down..except for when my husband helped me hobble to the bathroom.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great. Extended snuggles were exactly the recovery tools I needed. But I ended up paying for this as my body got too used to staying still and immobile. I started to feel so sore and also a bit antsy.
Committing to a small amount of stretching each day will pay off once you start your active recovery. Focus on simple, gentle movements you can do from the bed in those first few days, as it’s still important to limit the strain on your pelvic floor.
Lesson 3 –Breastfeeding should not hurt
The part of postpartum I most looked forward to was breastfeeding. I knew that the miracle of feeding my child, exchanging oxytocin, and having blissful bonding times was the best medicine for us both.
But it hurt, and I wasn’t sure why. The lactation and postpartum nurses at the hospital said his latch looked okay, so I pushed through the pain for a few days until I realized something wasn’t right.
Luckily, I did have a few IBCLCs (short for Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultants) that I had networked with online, so I reached out to get some tips. I also saw one in person and worked through some of the problems over the next few weeks.
The most important realization was that I didn’t have to endure that pain. Her encouragement was critical to my successful breastfeeding start when my anxiety got the worst of me or when I felt like I was doing everything wrong.
The big lesson here was that breastfeeding should not hurt. It doesn’t always come naturally, although we’re built for it. If you can manage it, see an IBCLC during pregnancy to get some initial tips and advice before you’re overwhelmed and tired with your new baby. The real value is having that support immediately after the birth. Having that relationship will be so helpful and encouraging. Many LCs will even make a home visit in those first days!
Lesson 4 - It can be stressful waiting for your milk to "come in"
I see many new moms struggle with feeling like their milk isn’t “coming in” soon enough or dealing with the engorgement in the first few days. This can be highly stressful.
Here’s what I learned from my IBCLC:
- Relaxing and doing gentle lymphatic massage will help relieve stress and help move any extra fluid you might have accumulated in labor (especially if you had an IV). This will ensure the excess fluid is out of the way when your mature milk comes. DON’T start aggressively massaging or pumping around the clock, or you can possibly make things worse.
- All your baby needs the first few days is colostrum, but not as much as you think. They might be attached to the breast 24/7. This is most likely normal; they’re just bonding and soothing themselves with the best tool they have available … you. As long as they have an appropriate amount of wet and dirty diapers and are alert for parts of the day, they are likely getting what they need. But again, if you’re concerned, reach out to an IBCLC.
Lesson 5 – If you can, work with a pelvic floor therapist before birth.
I saw a pelvic floor physical therapist during pregnancy to help prepare for labor and birth. I had no idea how crucial hard work on my core and pelvic floor would be for my recovery.
The pain subsided earlier than I'd seen others report, and I never took anything stronger than naproxen and Tylenol. Once I could crawl out of bed and stretch, I had a full deck of gentle exercises from my therapist.
When I saw her again in person for the first time, she was impressed at how well I was recovering.
I believe this is because of my exercises during pregnancy, like diaphragmatic breathing, core activation, and purposeful strength training. Since I already had that foundation, the PT could work on scar mobilization and desensitization immediately, and now my scar is entirely healthy.
Your pelvic floor works so hard during pregnancy and birthing. It’s important to learn to relax it for labor, and it’s essential for a fast recovery. If you can’t afford to see one or don’t have one nearby, there are many Instagram accounts with great information for prenatal and postpartum exercises.
Overall, there was still so much I was surprised by, even though I felt prepared for postpartum.
Even something as basic as postpartum nutrition and supplementation is the first thing that gets forgotten when you’re busy with your newborn. Despite having them all in the basket by my bed, I wasn’t as consistent as I should have been in taking my supplements.
You have your hands full most of the day with this sweet little baby (as it should be!). But I paid for it. Hair loss, fatigue, and mood instability hit me hard. Getting back on the supplementation regimen wasn’t a cure-all, but I wished I hadn’t let it lapse.
These are just a few examples, but they are ones that I didn’t find in the basic lessons and advice you get during pregnancy.
If there’s one thread between all the lessons I learned, it’s to explore beyond common knowledge or what you hear repeatedly. Seek out personal birth stories, and ask people about their postpartum period experiences.
Photography: Kayla Grey / Austin Birth Photos www.austinbirthphotos.com