From the moment you read that positive pregnancy test, your gestational period and delivery take centre stage. Sure, you might have a baby shower and you need to set up a nursery (possibly for the second or third time), but for the most part everything is focused on the events of the nine months or so that lie ahead of you.
But what about when you come to the end of your pregnancy? As you’re discharged from the hospital with a new family member in tow, what happens next? Sure, everyone has a vague idea of the struggles and challenges of the postpartum journey, but what do those struggles really look like?
There’s no one answer to that question, thanks in large part to the countless, beautifully unique elements in each woman’s life. Nevertheless, there are still a few important things that are worth considering as you prepare yourself for the strenuous, demanding, sleep-deprived, yet absolutely beautiful postpartum experience.
A large part of the postpartum struggle can come out of a simple lack of knowledge. That’s not to say that all you have to do is inform yourself and all of the challenges will go away. Nevertheless, the simple act of arming yourself with an understanding of what you’re about to go through can make it much easier to self-diagnose symptoms, address needs, and avoid unnecessary situations.
For starters, it’s worth understanding just what the postpartum period officially is. While it lacks a hard and fast definition, it’s typically divided into three phases:
- First phase: 6-12 hours after your birth.
- Second phase: 2-6 weeks after your birth.
- Third phase: Up to six months after your birth.
Of course, all of these are approximations. Your own experience will be, well, uniquely your experience.
Along with the basic timeline, it’s helpful to know what symptoms to expect. Common physical postpartum symptoms and struggles include:
- Swollen feet
- Breast soreness
- Hair loss
- Joint pain
- Vaginal pain
- Abdominal pain
- Urinary or bowel problems
- Stretch marks
While none of these are automatically going to be a concern, it’s helpful to be aware of the possibility that they could cause trouble.
Take Care Of The Basics
So how do you care for yourself while your body is going through such a dramatic time of transition? Make no mistake, it can be difficult, especially with a little one demanding so much of your attention.
It’s helpful to start with some of the basics. For instance, try your best to drink plenty of water and eat healthy food during the postpartum period. If you’re struggling to come up with a good eating plan, look for a health educator to consult with you.
Also, remember to continue taking your vitamins, take baths if and when you can, and get some good compression socks.
Maintain Your Mental Health
So far we’ve addressed the physical. However, some of the nastiest concerns of the postpartum period actually tend to revolve around your mental health. Postpartum depression, which can start as the “baby blues,” is a very common struggle that many women experience.
This depression is thought to occur due to a shift in hormones as your body returns to normal, lack of sleep, the dramatic shift in your routines, your overall emotional reaction to becoming a mother, or a combination of them all.
Regardless of the cause, though, it’s important to keep an eye out for depression and anxiety symptoms. First and foremost, you should keep very up to date and honest lines of communication open with your healthcare professional throughout your postpartum experience. In addition, you can also address any depression that crops up through a variety of stress and anxiety management methods such as:
- Communicating and spending quality time with loved ones.
- Looking for cognitive distortions in your thinking.
- Maintaining mindfulness, thankfulness, and gratitude.
- Practicing breathing exercises.
Small disciplines like these can do wonders in keeping you from slipping into a state of despondency and despair.
Along with the mental health exercises, it’s wise to strive to keep a good perspective throughout your postpartum journey. Each day with your infant is fleeting and precious, and yet it can be so easily robbed by depression and discouragement.
It can be helpful to fight against this tendency towards pessimism by focusing on enjoying the experience. Everything should be seen through the lens of the journey, from setting health goals to learning to love your body again to choosing an outfit for your little one each morning.
Figure Out Your Finances
Finally, on a more practical note, make sure to take some time to address the changes in your finances. A newborn baby can add a variety of different financial stresses, from the cost of diapers to complicated new health insurance.
Take the time to set a budget beforehand, try to save an emergency fund, figure out maternity and paternity leave, explore your healthcare and insurance options, and generally do your best to consider your finances before the baby arrives.
Having A Positive Postpartum Experience
At the end of the day, so much of the postpartum experience boils down to what you make of it. If you are able to prepare yourself beforehand and take care of yourself throughout the journey, you’ll be able to successfully take on the cares and challenges ahead.
Of course, there will always be bad days and unexpected struggles, but by making an effort now, you can rest in the fact that you’ve set yourself up for the best experience possible.