Childbirth is wild. I’ve spent some time reflecting on my most recent postpartum experience after delivering my second child, and thinking about what I’ve learned. I had two hospital births attended by nurse midwives, so this advice is mainly for those mamas planning to deliver in a similar setting.
Pack for After
When you pack your hospital bag, don’t focus only on labor. Think about what you’ll need afterward, and the reality of how you’ll be feeling physically and mentally. Consider that you may be in the hospital for several days (longer if you have a C-section or a long induction of labor) and will want changes in clothes. There can be a lot going on with your body, so pack several changes of comfortable pajama-like pants or flowy dresses. Go for dark colors that won’t show stains.
Take a Breastfeeding Class
If you’re hoping to breastfeed, it may be worth taking a class beforehand. You’ll learn about the mechanics and also what to expect in the hospital. I didn’t do this, and I regret it. I went into breastfeeding with no sense of what I’d need to do during the first few days and it was very overwhelming.
Get to Know Your Breast Pump Before the Baby Comes
Initiating breastfeeding can be tough. I left the hospital with bleeding nipples, a baby that wouldn’t latch, a pumping schedule, and a vague knowledge of how to use the hospital pump. But when I went home, I was on my own with a different type of pump. I hadn’t planned to pump until I went back to work after 12 weeks, and it never occurred to me to open the box before the baby came. When I got home, I had to frantically read the instructions, sterilize the pieces, and figure out how to use them, all while holding a screaming and hungry newborn I had only just met.
Ask about APNO
If you start breastfeeding or pumping in the hospital, your nipples may be painful and may crack, blister, or bleed. All-purpose nipple ointment (APNO) is a prescription ointment that combines antibacterial, antifungal, and steroid medications to help heal nipples quickly. It has to be made at a compounding pharmacy, so you may want to ask for it while you’re still in the hospital.
Enjoy a Sitz Bath
The best advice I received from my nurse midwife was to take twice daily baths with Epsom salts. She said they were to promote the healing of my stitches, and they also felt nice on my achy, post-delivery body. But even more than that, it will allow you to carve out ten minutes twice per day to be by yourself in a quiet bathroom. Whether you listen to a podcast or cry quietly to yourself, it’s a nice chance to focus only on yourself for a few moments.
Ask for Help, Seriously
There’s a reason this advice is repeated to new moms over, and over again. Whether you lean on a partner or family member, or an expert like a lactation consultant, or a postpartum doula, or a house cleaner, now’s the time to ask for help. Don’t fall into the trap (I did) of thinking things like “people have been having kids for thousands of years” and “I chose to have this baby, it’s my responsibility.” If people want to help; let them.
Go Easy on Yourself
No matter if this is your first baby or your fifth, the postpartum period is a wild ride. Lower your expectations for what you can accomplish each day and know that keeping yourself and your baby fed, clean, and safe is really all that matters.