After my daughter popped out at 8 pounds, 2 ounces, I stared at my still-protruding belly in shock, and cried when a man asked me when I was due — two weeks after I had delivered. I cried pretty often back then: news stories, Kleenex commercials, at one wrong word said by my husband. I spent my days at home, wishing I could get some sleep and lying to my friends who called to ask if everything was OK. I was exhausted, hormonal and grumpy, and I felt trapped in my house, wondering if I’d ever feel normal again. I knew those first weeks with baby would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard.
YOU'RE ON A LOOP
Everyone warns you that you won’t be sleeping, and they aren’t lying. During the first few weeks, your baby will spend his days and nights eating about every two hours – and that’s an optimistic number! Just when you’re about to drift off to sleep for the third time that night, you'll hear the cry of your hungry newborn waking you again. Imagine your alarm clock going off every few hours for five weeks straight. Not fun.
YOU'RE SLEEP DEPRIVED
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“Understand that sleep deprivation is going to be there. You’re going to be tired,” says Karen Deighan, MD, FACOG, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital of Loyola University Health System in Melrose Park, Ill. And we’re not talking the kind of tired you feel when you stay up to watch the Oscars and have an 8:30 a.m. meeting the next day. This new type of tired may cause headaches, depression, irritability, memory problems and confusion.
How can you manage with disrupted sleep? The age-old advice rings true: Sleep whenever you can! You'll have to let go of the notion that you'll get a full eight hours, but a little here and there can really add up. In fact, some experts believe that “bimodal” sleeping — two phases of four hours of sleep — may be a more natural sleep pattern. Good luck getting that four-hour stretch, though!
That meltdown you had while shopping for the perfect crib is nothing compared with what is in store for you. “Progesterone levels drop dramatically when you drop your placenta, and new mothers are in a very low hormonal state,” says Yvette LaCoursiere, MD, MPH, assistant professor and associate residency director in the Department of Reproductive Medicine at the University of California San Diego Health Sciences, adding that the “baby blues” — the moodiness that goes along with that hormone flux — happen in 80 percent of women. Add those whacked-out hormones to lack of sleep and you'll feel pretty low.
YOU FEEL ALONE
Emotional support will help. Turn to moms who have been there. Can’t get out of the house? (Who can with a newborn?) Online forums and support groups help you find other women going through the same challenges you are.
YOU'RE A ROOKIE
For many moms, feeding and caring for a newborn baby will bring on the most stress. Should you nurse or bottle-feed? Is baby producing enough wet diapers? Is she still breathing? (Seriously, you will check your sleeping baby’s breath more often than you can imagine.) The questions go on and on and are all-consuming —because you’re worrying about your baby, as any mom does.
Try not to let all the details stress you out. Just focus on what’s really important: feeding — the baby and you! “I tell new moms to be realistic about what they'll accomplish when they arrive home with their new baby,” says LaCoursiere. “They have three basic tasks: Feed your baby, feed yourself and sometimes bathe one of you.”
BREASTFEEDING CAN BE TOUGH
This may not be as easy as you think. If you’ve decided to breastfeed, there’s a lot of trouble that could arise – like baby not latching, painful feedings or lack of milk production. “Society makes it seem like breastfeeding is intuitive, but it’s actually more difficult,” says Deighan. If you’re having trouble, it’s important you get breastfeeding help as soon as possible to decrease your likelihood of long-term issues. Seek guidance from a lactation consultant, baby’s pediatrician and/or the hospital support center.
YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE YOU
Many women are shocked to learn they'll still look pregnant after delivering. “I tell women to bring pregnancy clothes to wear home from the hospital, since they'll look about seven months pregnant when they leave,” LaCoursiere says. “Many women aren’t back to pre-pregnancy weight six weeks after having a baby; it takes time.” Don’t silently criticize your body – think of the amazing thing it just did: create and deliver a baby! Try to stay positive and remind yourself that your body doesn’t have to be like this forever. Go to a new-moms’ stroller-cise class and enjoy some fresh air (and make new friends!) while slimming down.
There are other not-so-fun body changes that are common in the first few weeks, including swelling, hemorrhoids or stitches after a vaginal tear or C-section. Says Deighan, “Women think they'll never feel normal again, but they will.” Ice packs, witch hazel pads and a peri bottle can help with some of these. For the rest, you'll just have to wait it out as your body heals, making sure you get proper nutrition and rest so you’re on the road to a full recovery. Ask your partner, friends or family members for help with baby and other tasks when you’re sore or hurting. And don’t try to push yourself, even though you want to do it all.
BABY IS STILL A STRANGER
There’s now a strange creature who looks a little bit like you, sleeps nearly all the time, covers you in spit-up and poop, and barely acknowledges your existence. It’s not uncommon to sometimes wonder why you haven’t bonded just yet. Reassure yourself that it takes time to get to know each other.
YOU WON'T GET THANKS JUST YET
“Babies don’t smile until one month, and moms won’t get immediate feedback that what they’re doing is creating a bond,” says LaCoursiere. “Babies need food, warmth and sleep — just provide these basic needs and know that the bonding will come later.”
The first few weeks are difficult, no doubt about it. But doctors and mothers who have been there all say it goes by fast. Trust us! It will be over before you know it — and you'll be proud you survived!