So much of the planning and preparation that happens during pregnancy is focused on the baby. This is wonderful and very helpful indeed. However, I’d like to remind you that you have another person to take care of too – you! Here are some of my tips for looking after yourself in the postnatal period.
None of us can see the future so I don’t know what type of labour and birth you’ll have. It might be really long and painful with lots of complications. It might be really quick and intense. You might deliver the baby by pushing him or her out yourself. Perhaps you’ll need a little extra help like a forceps or ventouse delivery (oh, look, another blog post explaining them to be written in my future!). You may have an emergency caesarian or you may know the date already for your planned caesarian.
However this baby arrives, you will be tired and sore and sensitive in various ways and places. In all of the excitement about finally meeting your little one, you need to take some time to take care of yourself. Having a postnatal care kit set up already can make doing this much easier.
Here are my recommendations for your postnatal essentials. Feel free to choose them all or just pick one or two that you know will be helpful for you.
If you are looking for gifts for friends who have had or are about to have a baby, check out my gifts for new parents post here.
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1. Maternity Pads
What to expect after birth:
You will bleed after you’ve had the baby. Women are always asking me how long they will bleed for, but unfortunately, that’s one question I don’t know the answer to! Every woman bleeds for a different amount of time and in a different way. There is even a difference in bleeding after each baby a woman has. Some women will bleed red blood for 6 weeks. Others have a really heavy loss for a couple of days then it changes to brown then creamy before disappearing about 10 days after the birth. I know some who bleed heavily for a few days, then the bleeding seems to settle down, only to come back heavier again when the baby is 10-12 days old.
Most of the time the bleeding will be like a heavy period for the first couple of days before settling down. It will probably be a little heavier if you have a busy active day and be lighter if you are resting at home. You might have a gush of blood after feeding your baby or when you first get up in the morning. You will also notice some contraction-like feelings after the birth. These are perfectly normal and are helping your body reduce the size of your uterus so you can fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes!
The time to seek medical advice is if you have a gush of blood unrelated to feeding or getting up after sitting for a long period; if you think the blood smells funny or infected; if you are passing clots of blood over 4cm diameter after the first day or two; or if you have severe abdominal pains.
What to buy:
Anyway, all that information leads me to my first recommendation: Buy some maternity pads. Don’t get too fancy with them. The thick unscented kind are softer for the first couple of days. You may want to wear two of them – one towards the front of your underwear, layered over one towards the back of your underwear – to catch any leaks or gushes. Eventually, you’ll probably want to go for the thinner kind with the fancy coloured lines of super absorbent somethingorother, but not for the first couple of days.
Even if you have a caesarian, you will still bleed after the birth. Having some maternity pads on hand is essential. They can even provide another benefit for you. Your scar will be covered by a dressing for the first 5 – 10 days. After that the dressing is removed, and whilst this is good for healing, it can be nerve-wracking! Put a maternity pad in the front part of your underwear over the area of the scar, and you’ve got some padding. This makes you a little more confident when moving around and prevents clothes rubbing on the area.
2. Big Undies!
Your inspiration for this period should be Bridget Jones, not a Kardashian of some kind. Get the underwear that reaches right up above your bikini line, towards your umbilicus. Honestly, you are not going to be showing it to anyone so no one needs to know, and comfort is essential for the first few days and weeks. Leaks are also inevitable, especially overnight, so it might be worth buying some mesh underwear which you can either wash and re-wear or dispose of after one use. Big undies help to pull in your stomach, which will look a little like jelly for a while. They are also really helpful if you end up with a caesarian as they don’t end right on the scar line like normal underwear tends to do!
3. A jug or glass
Weird recommendation? Maybe, but entirely essential. Keep it in the bathroom, right next to the toilet. When you go in to pass urine, fill it up first with warm water, then pour it down over yourself as you relieve yourself. The warm water will be soothing and help to dilute your urine so that it is less stingy!
4. Pain relief
You’d think having the contractions was the most painful part of the whole giving birth process, right? Although this is true for most women, I must warn you that you’ll find lots of achy painful bits after the birth too. Whether it’s your breasts, your perineum or even after pains, you may well need some pain relief. Stock up on paracetamol and ibuprofen before the baby arrives. That way you won’t have to send your partner out to the 24 hour supermarket for urgent supplies in the middle of the night.
Sometimes, ibuprofen and paracetamol won’t be enough to control the pain. This might be because of the type of delivery you had or if you get an infection. If you find the pain is still unbearable, please speak to your doctor or midwife about it as they may recommend taking something stronger. There are other pain killers that are safe to use in the postnatal period and while breastfeeding. Generally, if you need these it is just for a couple of days to get the pain under control before it naturally settles and subsides.
5. Breast pads
Even if you aren’t planning on breastfeeding, it’s worth grabbing a pack or two of these. That’s because your body is going to automatically make milk, and that milk might well automatically flow when your baby cries! Having pads on hand to catch any wayward leaks saves the need for multiple changes of top each day.
6. Nipple cream
If you are breastfeeding, you need to check out my post on Breastfeeding Essentials. If you don’t have time to read another post, then let me encourage you to at least get some nipple cream. Nipples can get sore, even when the baby has a good attachment. Nipple cream will be your best friend for the first few days or weeks.
Ok, this one is a big deal! It’s one of the most frightening things you have to do after birth – opening your bowels!
Some women find that they don’t need to open their bowels for a few days after birth. This is very normal, especially as some women have a clear-out as they go into labour (yes, I do mean diarrhoea). Other mums empty their bowels as the baby is born – this is also very very normal and shouldn’t be something you worry about.
The key is to keep eating and drinking, including plenty of fluids, fruit and fibre. It’s also really important to go to the loo when you know there is something there to get rid of. Don’t hold it in out of fear! The longer it stays inside, the more water gets reabsorbed from it, so the harder it is to push out!
When you decide to face the music, make sure you have someone you can leave baby with, so that you can relax and sit on the loo for as long as it takes. Try holding a maternity pad over the front area to give that support as you push. Most importantly, don’t worry! I’ve never seen anyone split apart from opening their bowels. It’s definitely a psychological challenge rather than a physical one.
If you decide that you need to go but it won’t happen naturally, ask your doctor about getting some laxatives. There are some that are safe to use when breastfeeding and can help ease things along.
8. Pregnancy pillow – v or c shaped
Pregnancy pillows must be the world’s best kept secret! I really don’t understand why everyone doesn’t have one. They make everything so much comfier! You may well have found a V shaped pillow helpful during pregnancy to get into a good sleeping position. In the postnatal period, that pillow comes in very handy again. You can sit up in bed, or lounge on the sofa. It can be useful to support as you feed. So many uses!
You can also get C shaped pillows, generally described as breastfeeding pillows. They can be really useful for some mums, as they can help support the baby at your breast during a feed, or give some cushioning to a caesarian scar. However, some people find that they are more of a hindrance than a help to good positioning and attachment. They seem to report that the V shaped pillows or ordinary rectangular ones work better. Try it out for yourself and find out what works for you.
This is a definite essential because ‘Baby Brain’ is real, people! After a night of non-stop feeding and a day without naps because all your friends want to hold the baby, you might not even remember your own name!
Keep a notebook and pen handy wherever you go. You can makes notes on baby’s feeding and nappy habits. You can write down which breast you fed from last and how long for. Keep a record of your gifts so you can write thank you cards later, or simply start your to-do list for the day. Whatever you can think of, a notebook will help. It can be a fancy smart phone app, or an old-fashioned paper one. It doesn’t matter, just as long as it helps you to stay sane and remember bin day! How does a little one fill up the rubbish bin so quickly?! Personally, I think a paper one might be a lovely memento to keep and look back on in the future, but I’m just a sentimental kind of gal. 😉
10. Water bottle and snacks
This one shouldn’t really require too much of an explanation. You are going to be busy being a mum and partner and life coach and cheerleader and friend and comforter and all the other brilliant things that make you you. It can be hard to remember to feed yourself, so make it a little easier by keeping a water bottle close at hand and some pre-packed calorific goodness by your side. That way, even when you don’t manage a proper meal, you’ve got some supplies on board to keep you going.
11. Wine and chocolate
Also an essential that should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Having a baby is hard work. Keeping that baby alive is seriously stressful. Staying kind and welcoming to an endless procession of visitors who want to hold the baby when you can hardly keep your eyes open is a feat of strength! Treating yourself is not only OK, it’s important. One glass of wine at lunch is not going to be the end of the world, and if the only calories you get for a 12 hour period come from a chocolate or two, it doesn’t matter.
I would recommend keeping the wine as a midday treat if you can. That’s because often newborn babies like to co-sleep, and co-sleeping is safest when you don’t have alcohol in your system. A small lunchtime glass will have worn off by bedtime, so it’s less to worry about on that score.
So there we have it – my list of essentials for a smooth and comfy postnatal period. Let me know what you think in the comments. Have I missed something? What helped you most in those early days?