Right now I’ve got a lot of friends in my calendar who are having their babies very soon! I’ve been in contact with each of them about what to do to prepare for birth and post-birth, and I thought I’d share some of the tools that got me through my own birth process here as a blog post.

Now, these resources are predominantly for vaginal deliveries of full-term babies. I’m not a doctor and there are so many ways that birth can happen, that I’d recommend talking with your doctor, doula, and friends to get as much information as you need to feel ready. (Feel ready… that’s hard to do, from what I recall).

Remember that every birth and every experience is different, so if what I write below stresses you out, don’t take it. Use what helps you, and skip the parts that don’t fit with your own experience. Also, this is tailored for the first 30 days, and things change so quickly with little ones, that the third and fourth month might make you want very different things, too! Start here, and feel free to leave a note in the comments with any other tips you’ve used that helped you.

Here’s a list of things that helped me prepare for the first 30 days postpartum:

1. Before your baby arrives, have phone numbers for a lactation consultant and sleep consultant

Breastfeeding and sleep are very hard, and I didn’t realize how hard they would be even though I had plenty of people tell me to expect it. I thought (naively) that it would be easy and natural for me. It took me twelve weeks of pain to figure out all of our latch problems. (Thankfully it’s easier now!). In retrospect, I’d recommend researching local lactation consultants to have on hand, and local sleep consultants to have on hand. Keep a list so that if and when you’re going crazy with either, you already know the numbers to call.

One friend of mine reminded me that the sleep consultant number is just to have — you probably don’t need it right away. Lily says, in the beginning, “There’s not much to be done at that stage other than meet baby’s needs. I personally found external expectations of what my baby ‘should’ be doing to be a huge source of anxiety. I wish I’d have ignored all that advice and just soaked up baby cuddles, like my mama instincts were telling me. Anything we can do to help moms stress less and feel successful is a win in my book. Again, in the context of the first 30 days.”

Use this as a note to have the numbers on hand—and then ignore them if you don’t need them!

2. Your prep kit for immediate bottom and belly care

In the first ten days post birth, I lost all sensation and connection with what was happening down there — it felt like my brain’s connection to myself had been cut loose, and I had to slowly re-learn what was what, and how it worked. For me, it kind of felt like everything turned itself inside out (well, hemorrhoids are actually that), and it took a while for all of my organs and parts to re-sort themselves.

First: know that everything changes every week or two. Two or three weeks of pain plus heavy bleeding is normal. Bleeding should look like clotting (turning more brown) than continuously bright red. You will heal. It takes time.

Here’s what helped me:

  • Sitz baths and the sitz herbs— a bucket that you plop into the toilet basin of your toilet to cover it (lift the seat up) and fill it with hot steaming water or tea, using the herbs for soothing. I found it especially relieving both for my vaginal tearing as well as for my urethra, which felt pretty banged up. Heat can really help speed the healing process. Get it as warm as you can stand, and sit for 15 minutes.
  • Depends — Honestly, high-waisted, full-pad underwear was perfect for the three weeks of postpartum bleeding that’s normal as you recover from birth. I was still quite large and round (belly stays for a few weeks post birth!), and these felt somewhat wrapping and comfortable and took worry away.
  • Dermoblast spray — relieves pain and itching. I was spraying this 3x a day for the first two weeks. If you have a hospital birth, they may give you some of these.
  • Cold packs — these got a bit pricey for ice, so I took a bunch of pads from the hospital (a 20-pack) and I sprinkled water on them and stuck them in a freezer (on a cookie tray works well, if you really want to know) and then had cold packs for instant soothing. SO GREAT.
  • A donut — to sit on. It’s really hard to sit sometimes post-birth.
  • Witch hazel — stick it in the depends or on top of the ice pack post-bath for soothing of hemorrhoids.
  • Spray bottles — for cleaning up and spraying with warm water.
I asked a few more mom friends for advice, and they added:
  • Lily Nicholes of Pilates Nutritionist said: “An electric heating pad was a lifesaver for me, both for perineal pain (ice was the opposite of what I wanted and many traditional cultures stress the importance of staying warm early postpartum – look up “mother warming”)… and for engorgement. I’d alternate ice packs and heat to manage the crazy boobness of early breastfeeding.” She also had some great advice for breastfeeding specifically.
  • Dacy said: “I knew breastfeeding would be tough on my boobs, but didn’t realize how hard it would be on my body. My back and shoulders were screaming in pain from contorting myself to feed. My doula helped me get set up with my feet up, support under my arms and the baby and something to support my neck. That, or laying on my side with the baby next to me.”
  • Also, the whole incontinence issue… yes, pooping postpartum can be hard! I took colace per my doctor’s recommendation to keep the stool soft, and pooped about 3 days postpartum straight into my sitz bath. (It was an accident!). It can be mentally stressful to wonder how it’s going to work.

3. Let yourself rest

Recovery from this massive thing you’ve done will take some time. For me, it came in stages: I needed to rest and sleep as much as possible (hard to do during the time when you’re not getting much consecutive sleep because of the little one who needs you so much).

I learned that if I need 8 hours of sleep, to try my best to stay in bed until I accomplished that — even if it took 16 hours! Getting up and doing things could wait. My to-do list needed to be radically different: feed myself, feed the baby, get us all to sleep. Change some diapers (and if someone else can do that, even better!). I’ll admit this was really hard for me to implement, but I knew how important it was.

Some research suggests that the more you rest in the first 30-90 days, the better you all do long-term. It helps stave off some of the anxiety, and whatever sleep you can get (seriously: whatever, whenever), the better you’re able to handle the first year. It’s not a short-term game. It’s a long-term one, and you’re in it for several years. So soak up any and all sleep you can get.

4. The hormone shakes are normal!

During the first week home from the hospital, I had night sweats and shivers for a few nights. When your body does this massive switch in terms of hormones, from an always-on growth state to contracting the uterus, to turning on the breasts, your body is undergoing some massive hormonal changes. To “release” the excess hormones, a lot of women will sweat profusely and/or get night shakes. They can last for a few days up to a few weeks. We ordered an extra set of sheets for this week, and it helped.

5. Learn about the philosophy of “the first 30 days”

Some cultures highly prioritize the first thirty days as a time of cocooning, rest, and family together time. It’s a time when the woman is healing, when the baby (and the mother’s!) feet “don’t touch the ground,” because everyone is helping and your job is to sleep and feed.

Western culture doesn’t follow this, but it was, for me, a good reminder to take it slow and rest as much as possible, whenever and wherever we could. We’re bombarded with images of people hustling and being super heros and entertaining others and making it all look easy, and this, more than any other time, is time to rest and recover. The amount you can rest now, if possible (and maternity leave policy in America makes it really hard to do), has long-term payoffs for months and months to come. Consider having your baby registry a fundraiser for a night nurse, or for a meal train. Those things can be so much more beneficial to your long-term wellbeing that a perfect crib or a new paint job for the nursery.

6. Keep visitors away — plus my scripts for telling people to stay away or only do short visits

For some reason, people really feel like they need to come visit within the first four weeks. Frankly, I wasn’t ready until about 8 weeks to have people over and visit, and once you hit 12 weeks, then it flips and it feels like the visitors dry up. The only people I could have over were the people who really knew how to dig in and help and work. If you weren’t doing laundry, doing dishes, or bringing food, it felt like a burden to have to have you over.

For guests — the more you can space them out and spread them out, the better. If people do have to come, I told people to expect to stay for only 15 minutes. Here’s what you can say to set that expectation:

“Deep breath — one thing I’m learning how to do is be more straightforward, so here’s the real deal: no one tells you how hard it is in the first few weeks, and visitors can be a real challenge. So if we have visitors, we’ve got three rules:  (1) come with food, (2) do the dishes in the sink, and (3) stay for 15 minutes. I’m barely sleeping as it is, and when you stop by, I end up losing my chance to nap or eat, and not sleeping or eating makes me feel insane. Thanks for understanding and I love you!” 

Here’s the thing—people actually like to be told what to do and how to help. Set the expectations clearly and then rejoice when everyone (save one crazy person) follows the rules.

If that’s too hard, then use the doctor as an excuse to say no. Works well—and it’s true!

“Doctor said to keep visits to a mimimim under 8 weeks because the baby has such a new immune system. If you want to send food or drop a casserole by we’ll run downstairs to pick it up and give you a hug, and you can come back in a few weeks to meet our little one when they are 2 months old!” {Then insert a cute photo.} 

7. Accept as much help as you can:

It seems counter to keeping visitors away, but there’s a difference between help and people who want to see the baby. The latter can wait. The former? Accept as much help as you can.

Here’s what one friend, Bridget, said about this:

The best advice I received was to make a chores list and tape it to the fridge. Mine said “want to help?” In big bold letters at the top, and on it were things like “take out the garbage, wash bedsheets, fold laundry in the dryer, bring Starbucks, bring wine”. It was AMAZING because people did it!! They would come in, look at the list, pick the task they wanted, and help! It saved me having to ask for things and people felt good helping. (When my parents came, my mom did everything on the list every day lol). I didn’t take it down until 6 weeks!

8. If you want to think about wrapping or binding

In some cultures, women undergo wraps and treatments to remind the body of where the edges are. I found that I kept holding my belly long after birth because I’d been with her so long. I liked the feeling of a wrap because it reminded me of the edges of my new body, and felt like I was guiding my body back into shape. Even today, 18 months postpartum, I’ve still got a bit of excessive swayback from my physical memory of pregnancy.

I used both this wrap, which felt good on my lower abdomen and while sleeping as a gentle pressure, and this corset, which I started using at 3 months postpartum.

As a reference point, in my experience, I started out at 150 pounds, was about 204 pounds when I delivered, and was 184 pounds when I returned home from the hospital. At three months postpartum, I was 168 pounds (still 18 pounds heavier than the starting weight). It was at that point that I started using the corset wrap, above, for about six weeks.

My yoga teacher guided me and reminded me of the philosophy “ten months on, ten months off.” Some researchers have shown evidence of a theory of maternal metabolic rate on human gestation times, which, in plain English, means that we have our babies at 9 months because we can’t keep up with the physical metabolism of growing the baby inside of us; and then our fat stores kick in to provide the stored-up energy that turns into breastmilk. The fat stores slowly melt off with months of breastfeeding, and it takes time. (Fascinating, right?).

Those are all the tips I’ve been texting my friends who are about to give birth. What about you? What tools would you recommend and share? What do you wish someone had told you about those first thirty days postpartum?

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