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Postpartum: What’s the first month like?

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Pamela Warren RN, BSN, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Saint Mary’s Family Birthing Center

We are kicking off a fantastic partnership with Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center as a Reno Moms Blog sponsor! This is the first in a year-long series of posts on everything you need to know to become a healthy mom and help your family thrive. If there’s a topic or question you’d like Saint Mary’s to blog about here, send an email to: editor@renomomsblog.com

Most preparations during pregnancy are spent planning for delivery and getting ready to care for a newborn. What some mothers may not be prepared for, however, is how their bodies will feel after delivery.

After delivery, your body will be “back to normal,” right? Well, during pregnancy, you experience many changes to your body including hormones that prepare your body to nourish and carry your baby. Additionally, the six weeks after delivery is called the postpartum period which is the time your body is busy returning to a new normal.

I asked mothers in our postpartum mothers group, New Mom’s Support Group here at Saint Mary’s, how they felt after delivery. Answers were varied: emotional, wonderful, unpredictable, busy, lack of sleep, better than I thought, painful, tearful, hormonal, in awe, not emotionally prepared, busy… and the list goes on and on. So, to help you prepare for postpartum, I’ve put together some thoughts to give you a better idea of what to expect after delivery.

First and foremost, the uterus will reduce in size after delivery, but many mothers are surprised that they feel they still “look” pregnant. Through a process called involution, the uterus will reduce in size and shrink deeper into the abdomen so it might be a good idea to bring some maternity clothes or something loose to the hospital as your “going home clothes.” This will make you feel more comfortable and relaxed post delivery.

I also get a lot of questions about prescription medications post delivery. It is perfectly acceptable to take prescribed medications if you are experiencing discomfort after delivery, however, it is not recommended to drive when taking any narcotic medication. The best practice is to speak with your nurse or physician to ensure the medications you need or would like to take to reduce pain are in line with your care plan.

Planning ahead is important to reducing the number of surprises that may occur. For most women post delivery, it is normal to have bleeding and/or drainage from your uterus called Lochia. This happens because the uterus is being cleansed of the tissues where the placenta was attached. So, you may need large sanitary pads during the first couple of nights after leaving the hospital. Purchase some in advance so you are well prepared.

Another important aspect of postpartum is to allow healing and rest. Your body has just experienced a significant amount of stress so it’s critical you give yourself the time to heal from the process. Your care team will likely tell you to observe pelvic rest during this postpartum period (no tampons or intercourse) to allow healing and prevent infection. It is recommended you continue to clean the perineal area with warm water as long you have a flow of Lochia (bring your squirt bottle home with you from the hospital). If you notice any foul odor from the vagina, have heavy bleeding or a temperature above 100.4, it is possible you have a postpartum infection or hemorrhage and you should call your obstetrician.

You may also experience vaginal soreness because the perineal area stretches during the delivery process and there may be tearing of the tissues or a cutting by your doctor called episiotomy. Soreness in this area is normal and expected, however, each week you should see improvement.  After 24 hours from delivery, warm soaks called sitz baths may be recommended. Additionally, do not be alarmed if bowel and bladder functions are sluggish and slow to return to normal after delivery, this is normal. We also recommend you drink plenty of fluids and consume sources of fiber such as fruits and vegetables to prevent constipation from pain medications. As always, call your doctor if you are not emptying your bladder completely or have any pain or burning with urination.

After leaving the hospital and getting back into the comforts of your home, you will experience a new schedule and process with your baby. Whether you are new to breastfeeding or if you have already birthed a child, there are some easy recommendations to help you with this process. Simply speaking you may experience some discomfort with breastfeeding. Sore nipples are most often caused by an improper latch and often times, improving the latch is what is needed. Breast fullness or engorgement can happen a few days after delivery. Experts recommend applying ice to the engorged breasts. Some sources also suggest applying a warm, wet compress before breastfeeding, followed by ice after the feeding. Use whatever feels best for you. If you have questions about breastfeeding or unresolved discomfort, seek professional help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

Lastly, you will read and hear conflicting advice from your family, friends, medical professionals and online sources. Advice is influenced by personal experience so listen to advice given and make your decision based on what seems right for you and your family. Also, let your family and friends care for you. Accept the offers of food, household tasks and the caring for other children or pets. A great resource that I learned about during our moms support group is TakeThemAMeal.com which is a free website that allows you to record your food preferences, leave a personal note, and track daily meals, among other options. Also, others can read what meals have already been delivered to you, so you won’t have to eat lasagna three nights in a row!

Being a new mom or mom to an additional child can see overwhelming at first but I encourage you to stay positive and utilize the resources around you. As a certified lactation consultant and nurse, I have worked with new moms and babies for the past 23 years at Saint Mary’s.

Part of my role includes providing breastfeeding support at our New Mom’s Support Group which meets weekly to learn, share ideas and feel the support of others who are going through similar experiences. Our meetings are held on Thursdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m. for newborns and 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for mothers of older babies – everyone is welcome, no matter where you had your baby!

If you are interested in joining us or for any follow up questions, call Saint Mary’s Family Birthing Center at 775-770-3000.

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